That [insert derogatory word here] Harvey Weinstein sure started something. The conversations, articles, op-eds and “me too” hand-raising have been crushing.
Unfortunately, it also hasn’t been shocking to any woman. In fact, it’s been more than a little depressing to those of us who have been around a while. I keep thinking “it hasn’t changed” … “it’s not changing” … “how is this the same as when I was young”?
Most importantly: How do we make this go away for good?
Very early in my career, fresh out of college, new to the world of business and afraid to speak up, I was humiliated by what I brushed off as harmless behavior. Part of my new job required me to speak in front of men in a male-dominated industry. Many times – actually, most times – I heard snickers and comments and crude references to my obvious female physique. I was embarrassed, self-conscious, uncomfortable. These were respectable, professional, middle-aged men who were married, well-educated and, in most cases, fathers. But one would start and they would all chime in. Whispering, but purposefully loud enough for me to hear. I continued on: that is what I thought I needed to do. They had the power; I wanted to fit in and I sunk deeper into my insecurities.
Fast forward to today. I have two girls, ages 23 and 20. I spent a lot of time teaching them to be tough. To not worry about what they look like and focus more on being interesting and smart – to not concern themselves with male attention. Much to my dismay, they both have experienced different levels of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault. They both would raise their hands on #MeToo.
Raising strong, confident women is not enough
That’s one of my revelations. Clearly, we must do more to ensure the culture changes so this type of behavior is never, ever acceptable and never, ever kept secret. Especially to employees who may feel helpless.
This is a plea to all my fellow women and men who are in management positions: Consider this problem differently. Maybe because we’ve allowed many of these situations to get swept under the rug and dismissed this behavior as the price you pay in certain industries, we’ve perpetuated the problem. But where does it start and how does it stop?
Don’t swing the pendulum too far
Part of the challenge is to truly identify and understand unacceptable behaviors and help women and men in vulnerable positions find their voices sooner. I fear for the good guys that the pendulum will swing too far. If we aren’t smart about how we solve this problem, we can end up with a cold, heartless and unfriendly culture.
Help people find their voices (I admit, it’s not easy)
I think our obligation as a person in authority is to help everyone find her or his voice. It seems to me that in the Weinstein case all was acceptable because no one spoke up, and now the floodgates are open and, well, everyone knew. Now, we judge these women for not speaking up sooner. Clearly none of them felt safe or that it would be in their best interest to speak up. We saw the same thing with Bill Cosby. We can’t fault victims for not speaking up sooner but we can create cultures that allow and encourage the reporting of these acts to escalate as they should. But along with that we must teach women specifically to have the confidence to walk away. I say that, but admittedly understanding that it isn’t that easy. You could be walking away from a career opportunity that you won’t get back. That’s why we need to call out where the control is and how it can be transformed.
Let’s not forget about the good guys
There are a lot of them. For every horribly behaved man I’ve encountered, there are five good ones. But sometimes those good ones stay silent too, for the same reasons women do.
We need to educate male and female employees on what’s acceptable and what to do about behavior that’s not
That’s a huge part of solving this – what can and can’t be done. It sounds simple, but there are different levels of tolerance based on all kinds of factors – money, position, age, industry, education, reporting structure, team dynamics and many more.
It should start with our own behaviors. In our own businesses. In our small towns and our big cities. We need to enlighten our sons and daughters and teach them to be good, respectful people. To not go along or participate in this type of behavior. And we need to be less tolerant of these situations by not explaining them away as acceptable in this industry or because “that” person is powerful. There are a lot more of us on the right side of this issue. If we pay attention, band together and refuse to ignore or brush off the behaviors, we can affect change.
Want to let us know what else to do about #MeToo? We’re eager to hear it. Comment here or contact us.