Navigating Office Life In The Era of #MeToo

Navigating Office Life in the Era of #MeToo

We spend more time at work than at home with family and friends.  #MeToo is making people rethink how they interact at work.  Countless male leaders have reached out to Inspire for advice, with concerns that their well intentioned comment could be misconstrued in this climate.  The conversation typically starts with something along the lines of “I am not a predator, I am actually a good guy, but I feel like I am walking on eggshells around the women in my office.” Their confessions continue: “I do not want to be alone with a female colleague,” or “I do not want to compliment a woman’s new hairstyle, much less invite her to talk about our latest project over dinner.” This is the new reality of today’s work environment.  Each and every one of us must challenge ourselves to play an active role in continuing to create a workplace that is comfortable for all, and make sure the progress made through #MeToo does not create a barrier to women’s career progression.

Here are some ways to check in on your culture:

1. Speak out if you see a lack of gender equality.

  • Do colleagues equally offer compliments to females based on appearance (sweet shoes, great dress, pretty haircut) vs. a male’s appearance (sharp cufflinks, neat ties, colorful socks)?
  • Does your culture equally compliment females on their skills and expertise (strong analytics, fierce creativity and over the top attention to detail) vs. their appearance?
  • Do you hear phrases that put women in weak or powerless lights such as: We really need to bring women along?; Might as well get the girls to weigh in with their opinion.

2. Foster mentorship between male leaders and female subordinates.

  • Lean In recently launched a campaign, #MentorHer, which encourages male leaders to mentor women. This has the potential to foster renewed trust between men and women in the workplace, increase promotion of women, and shrink both the gender and pay gaps.
  • Purposefully tasking men with taking an active role in developing the careers of women puts the focus back on cultivating diversity in leadership.
  • Seek opportunities to create more workplace gender partnerships where men and women can learn from one another in a leadership capacity.

3. Challenge men who say they fear being alone with women.

  • Suggest reserving a glass conference room, or leaving the office door ajar.  The point is to still meet with women, develop skills and promote their career growth.
  • Encourage men to act as if they are not alone.  If it would be inappropriate with an audience, it’s likely inappropriate in private.
  • Inspire HR consultant and D&I expert, Wendy Wark, consistently recommends that male counterparts who fear false sexual harassment accusation “conduct themselves in a professional, ethical, and consistent manner.  This is the best protection from having false allegations stick because others in the organization will vouch for their character should there ever be an investigation.”

4. Encourage men to be allies.   

  • Over the past few months, it feels as if all men have paid the price for the ones who have taken advantage of women in the workplace. This generalization has silenced the voice of so many men who respect the contributions of their female counterparts. Establishing and enforcing consequences is important, but there must be equal value placed on encouraging men to be a voice for those without one.
  • Companies should regularly reiterate their appreciation for men who go above and beyond to display role model behavior, and are courageous enough to speak up against inappropriate behavior that they witness. This behavior speaks volumes about the culture of a company, and is invaluable in fostering a harassment-free workplace.

Across these last few months, Inspire HR has helped organizations of all sizes improve their culture as a result of #MeToo.

Here are our top recommendations to build respectful workplaces without limiting opportunities for women:

1. Set principles and policies. It is important that this information is not only communicated, but also demonstrated by management. Policies must be crystal clear, and management must display model behavior to serve as an example for their teams.

2. Create an investigation process. There should be multiple paths to report workplace harassment, as well as any other action that goes against company policy. An effective allegation intake process ensures that claims are appropriately documented, and can be thoroughly investigated and resolved. Most importantly, it makes employees feel safe.

3. Clarify the role of HR. Often times, when a workplace issue arises, HR team members are the first to learn about it. Since the fallout of #MeToo, victims have placed some of the blame on HR’s inability to help. HR employees must understand the importance of the role they play in ending workplace harassment, and should feel empowered to act as a first responder. Policies are only as good as those who will apply them, and more specific role identification is crucial to the success of established processes.

4. Train leaders. Workplace harassment is especially common where power over one party exists. Leadership training is a huge opportunity to drastically reduce its occurrence – not only does training improve the tone at the top, but it also holds leaders accountable for their behavior, and can be instrumental in fostering gender equality. Leaders should be encouraged, and perhaps even required, to attend training on unconscious bias, gender inclusion, respect at work, inclusive interviewing skills, inclusive leadership, management and supervision, and managing difficult conversations.

5. Educate employees. Employee training is also key to implementing an organization-wide solution. Workplace conduct is everyone’s responsibility, and helping employees understand how they can also contribute to fostering a safer workplace for everyone, empowers them. Sessions should be facilitated in person. They not only share the basics of diversity and inclusion, and well as the policies about workplace relationships, but it also provides the opportunity for participants to safely discuss this complex and challenging subject.

6. Build, measure and reinforce a culture of inclusion. Every organization can benefit from a regular culture check. Firms should be in a constant flow of building, measuring and reinforcing the culture that supports and strengthens its talent. If you find that your organization’s culture isn’t reflective of what the company stands for, and does not support a respectful workplace, a cultural “cleanup” program would be extremely beneficial. Company-wide gender equality and high-potential programs are also instrumental in increasing the number of women in leadership roles. Equitable representation of men and women in leadership creates a more diverse and inclusive culture, and research has shown that this often has a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. Firms should also consider forming a gender communication committee, or implementing a gender KPI and measurement program.

Together, we can create inclusive environments that promote gender equality and help men be allies to women.  To learn more about how Inspire HR can help your organization cultivate a respectful and safe workspace for all, contact me at [email protected] or (917) 612-8571.