Put down the phone, walk away from the tweets and posts and hashtags and let’s talk. Drop the defenses and attitude for a few moments. #MeToo shed light egregious forced assaults, degrading groping and humiliating innuendo in the workplace. Now, Three months post Weinstein, what sound likes “embarrassing choices” and “regrettable sex” have crept into the conversation. This week, I asked two men, “What impact has #MeToo had on you in the workplace?”
“I’m scared. I don’t know what to say or do.”
“I’m not saying anything to anybody, period.”
Harassment is to create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive. If men are scared, we have to ask, has #MeToo created a hostile and intimidating environment? Seriously, we need to talk. The good guys are replaying conversations, examining their behaviors and realizing they have #HeToo” stories. But they aren’t talking.
Women haven’t come forward sooner because of shock, fear and stigma. Over 20 years ago, a male friend told me he was molested repeatedly by his mother’s friends when he was in high school. He felt helpless, confusion and shame. When he sough supports and help, he was met with belittled and met with ridicule, yeah right, you’re a guy, how does that even happen or dude, you should be loving life. After a few attempts, he shut down. Don’t doubt, men have #HeToo. The tendency is to think, well that is rare, but, how would you know? Men don’t talk. In the workplace, men are approached by women in power and have to respond with a firm, “you are making me uncomfortable.” The providence of #MeToo is both men and women in the workplace.
People are messy. The odds are good you will have a workplace incident, but none of us are particularly inclined to have an uncomfortable conversation. Yet, it’s pretty basic. Be prepared. At the moment, you’re shocked, you try to think back to what may have provoked this, you want to be fair and reasonable. Tick, tick, time, time is passing. You need to have a response ready, such as “that is inappropriate”, “you’re making me uncomfortable,” “would you find this behavior acceptable if someone did it to your daughter, “etc.. Your objective is to respond immediately, seriously and firmly. Avoid the nervous laughter. You are setting a boundary, your expression says back off, I’m putting you on notice, this is not OK and it should be done with the first incident to prevent others.¹
Look, good people are scared. The not so good people; it’s doubtful they have had a brilliant moment of clarity. They don’t magically change. So all of us have to define the boundaries and own it. This week, let’s talk. Ask men how they feel about #MeToo and if they’ve experienced a #HeToo. Ask women what makes them uncomfortable in the workplace. Let’s talk about the differences and the degrees of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault. Let’s talk to each other rather than at each other. This is an incredible time rich with opportunity to learn and grow, if we shift from the hashtags of me and go into the future of we.
¹The service industry is problematic, and not a matter of no and boundary. I can’t even begin to break down what needs to happen in this sector. Attitudes shifts and policy changes are overdue, support those advocating for a better work environment.