The hashtag #MeToo has unified millions of people, empowering them to come forward with their stories. In December, TIME magazine made these “silence-breakers” their Person of the Year, placing five on the cover—a range of backgrounds and ethnicities, from an anonymous migrant worker to superstar Taylor Swift .
Fortune reports the #MeToo movement has caused an abrupt shift in acceptable workplace behavior; and that 2018 will mark “a turning point for women in the workplace.”
The term “sexual harassment” surfaced in 1975 at Cornell University, after an employee resigned due to her supervisor’s inappropriate behavior. Activists there formed a group called Working Women United to build awareness; but legal and policy protections lagged behind. Even after sexual harassment became illegal in the 1980s, it was difficult to define; and harassment training seemed to leave confusion in its wake.
“The prospects of being labeled a problem employee or even hustled out the door with a severance package, a gag order and a derailed career have long kept many people from coming forward,” says a piece in the Times Union. That’s why many victims either suffered in silence or quit their jobs.
With the advent of #MeToo, women are less likely to feel vulnerable, “branded” with shame, or fearful of retribution. They feel empowered to speak up against unwanted sexual advances, even from men long considered invincible, knowing they have a network of support in their colleagues and in the culture.
Some prominent women – like Sheryl Sandberg – warn of a #MeToo backlash that will create equally difficult scenarios: “rumblings of ‘This is why you shouldn’t hire women.’” She says male managers may fear or avoid being alone with, promoting, mentoring, or even hiring female colleagues—which undermines the equitable workplace that #MeToo has struggled to advance.
She writes: “Doing right by women in the workplace does not just mean treating them with respect. It also means not isolating or ignoring them — and making access equal. Whether that means you take all your direct reports out to dinner or none of them, the key is to give men and women equal opportunities to succeed.”
In our view, a climate fostering equity, parity and a balance of power is a safeguard and an asset — benefitting all workers and their business. Productive employees who feel secure, engaged and respected at work align with our core values of honesty, transparency, and remaining proactive instead of reactive. For more information, visit us at TYSLLP.com.