It’s like a stick of dynamite with a very long fuse. Burning for years, or even decades, until the doors were blown off.
What was hidden is now if full view – and it’s not pretty. But it’s really important.
It’s important that we talk about it, evaluate it, acknowledge it, and just as important – that we do something about it so that it stops.
I’m grateful that the news media has had the courage to finally cover these stories. But I’m also concerned that the victims of sexual harassment in the workplace who don’t have “newsworthy” aggressors or employers will be no better off tomorrow than they were a year ago when this was not a national story.
Fear and greed are powerful motivators
Let’s not delude ourselves here. Just because Bill O’Reilly and Matt Lauer were “outed” doesn’t mean the VP of Whatever Department, working for Something Company, in Any Old Town USA is going to stop his predatory behavior.
He’s powerful. He’s above the rules. He’s too “valuable” to the company to fire. And the New York Times is unlikely to do any investigative journalism resulting in him being “outed” – and he knows it.
And so, out here in the workforce of the “non-newsworthy”, we should be realistic. Lip service will be paid, trainings will be given, attestations will be signed – but little will fundamentally change.
Unless we push through the fear, walk boldly through the blown-off doors and use our voices to make change.
While sexual harassment happens in isolated incidences in the best workplaces, you’re more likely to find it in workplaces that allow cultures of harassment to thrive.
Employers who condone cultures of fear and secrecy are ripe for abuse of power. Secret settlements, gag orders on settlement victims, the absence of public information and the fear of coming forward all contribute to the perpetuation of the problem allowing harassers to keep their jobs while the victims go quietly away.
The power of All
This is not women’s issue, it is a workplace issue. Men are also victims of sexual harassment.
Most of the men I know are appalled by the stories of sexual harassment and want to be part of the solution, as do women who have never experienced sexual harassment. We all need to come together to make change, I encourage everyone who wants to contribute to do so.
I challenge you to begin using your voice
#metoo is a powerful movement. I’m challenging you to build on this movement and use your voice in your workplace and community. If you have ideas I encourage you to share them!
Ask your employer if they have internal grievance procedures in place to address sexual harassment. If your employer does not have procedures, you think the procedures are insufficient, or not well understood by employees, request changes.
Encourage your employer to adopt a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment. If they don’t know where to start, volunteer to assemble a group of fellow employees to outline what such a policy would look like.
When you interview for a job, ask questions to help you determine if the employer will protect you against sexual harassment.
If you are asked to sign an employment contract , or you already have an employment contract, evaluate if there are any red flags like the need to settle claims through arbitration.
If you know you are working for an employer that condones a culture of harassment – speak out. Be the squeaky wheel. It’s scary but it’s the right thing to do when done constructively.
Get your financial house in order. Ensure you have at least three months of living expenses in an emergency reserve. Victims of sexual harassment are more vulnerable if they don’t have the financial resources to quit their job.
Knowledge is power. Educate yourself on what constitutes sexual harassment and then share your knowledge with others. Harassers rely on the fact that victims will doubt themselves and the validity of any claims they may make against the harasser.
Document, document, document. Facts are stubborn things and if you document unwanted advances and speak out against them you are more likely to stop the harassment.
Your voice can be used to make change. Are you willing to use it?