He Said, She Said

The #MeToo move­ment is chang­ing the work­place by high­light­ing gen­der power dy­nam­ics. But men and women per­ceive ha­rass­ment and or­ga­ni­za­tions’ re­sponses very dif­fer­ently, ac­cord­ing to our re­search.

Working Mother - - Best Law Firms For Women 2018 - by bar­bara frankel and stephanie fran­cis ward

The impact of the #MeToo move­ment on the Amer­i­can work­place is al­ready ap­par­ent less than a year af­ter sev­eral pow­er­ful men were charged, in late 2017, with sex­u­ally ha­rass­ing women. It seemed like a story tak­ing place in Hol­ly­wood, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and Wall Street, but as #MeToo went vi­ral on so­cial me­dia, women across the coun­try came for­ward to tell their sto­ries and share their col­lec­tive un­ease about be­ing safe at work.

We wanted to know how these head­lines were play­ing out in or­ga­ni­za­tions through­out Amer­ica, so we sur­veyed al­most 3,000 em­ploy­ees of busi­nesses and law firms to ex­am­ine sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place, how of­ten in­ci­dents were re­ported, what pre­vented peo­ple from speak­ing up, and whether senior lead­ers are step­ping up to cre­ate en­vi­ron­ments where ha­rass­ment or boor­ish be­hav­ior is not ac­cepted. What we found was all too com­mon—while both women and men have a grow­ing aware­ness of the need for or­ga­ni­za­tional change in this mo­ment of reck­on­ing, not every­one is in agree­ment on what ex­actly needs to shift or how per­va­sive the prob­lem is. In our new re­search, 61 per­cent of women sur­veyed thought men held a dis­pro­por­tion­ate share of the power in their or­ga­ni­za­tion, and only 31 per­cent of women said men are al­lies in reach­ing gen­der equal­ity. The sur­vey also asked for so­lu­tions, and many of our re­spon­dents spoke out, ad­vo­cat­ing open dis­cus­sions led by senior lead­ers, clear def­i­ni­tions of what is ac­cept­able, and no fear of reprisal, among other ideas.

“We’re hav­ing a cleans­ing mo­ment for or­ga­ni­za­tions and for women,” says di­ver­sity con­sul­tant Jen­nifer Brown, au­thor of In­clu­sion: Di­ver­sity, the New Work­place & the Will to Change. “Those in power (mainly men) have not been aware of the level of priv­i­lege that they and their col­leagues have taken for granted. It’s time to have a big­ger con­ver­sa­tion.”

To have that larger con­ver­sa­tion in the work­place, we must un­der­stand what fac­tors cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where an em­ployee is com­fort­able re­port­ing in­ci­dences of ha­rass­ment, and, for those afraid to speak out, what fac­tors are hin­der­ing them.

Op­pos­ing per­spec­tives

Upon ex­am­in­ing the find­ings, it was clear that women and men see their or­ga­ni­za­tions very dif­fer­ently, even down to ac­knowl­edg­ing that a prob­lem ex­ists. For these women, #MeToo ap­pears to be pri­mar­ily about women tak­ing on their com­pa­nies and firms to change the way sex­ual ha­rass­ment is ad­dressed and the cul­ture that con­dones it hap­pen­ing in the first place. “It’s un­fair that the bur­den falls to women who haven’t had a voice to hold or­ga­ni­za­tions ac­count­able. There has been an un­spo­ken per­mis­sion that ex­isted [for men] to treat women this way,” Brown says.

Most of the men sur­veyed didn’t agree with women’s per­cep­tion—al­though the guys rec­og­nized that ha­rass­ment ex­ists, they felt the work­place is more equal, and more of them saw men as sup­port­ers in ad­dress­ing ha­rass­ment. In our sur­vey, when asked if men and women are al­lies in reach­ing gen­der equal­ity, 54 per­cent of the men said yes; that’s

23 per­cent more than women who said the same.

Howard Ross, founder of di­ver­sity con­sul­tancy Cook Ross, ex­plains the com­mon male view­point this way: “The #MeToo move­ment is also a re­minder of the roles women and men have played at work. But men might not see how this re­lates to them. A man who be­lieves he treats women fairly might not un­der­stand why this is about him. This is of­ten be­cause dom­i­nant groups tend to see of­fend­ing be­hav­ior as one- offs, rather than part of a larger struc­tural is­sue. Un­til we can get men to see that, it will fall on women to bear the bur­den of speak­ing out.”

Evolv­ing def­i­ni­tions

Anne Lawton, pro­fes­sor of law at Michi­gan State Univer­sity, says the le­gal def­i­ni­tion of sex­ual ha­rass­ment is that it is “se­vere and per­va­sive” and can in­volve a quid pro quo—“you’ll get the pro­mo­tion if you have sex with me”—and a “hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment,” where lead­ers ac­cept and/or ig­nore ha­rass­ment. How­ever, she adds, un­der #MeToo, many peo­ple are now speak­ing up about un­der­the-radar work­place abuses of power.

Al­though most peo­ple agree that sex­ual ha­rass­ment ex­ists in the work­place, some fe­male re­spon­dents ad­mit­ted they don’t al­ways make a big deal about some be­hav­iors be­cause it’s too much trou­ble or be­cause they don’t think com­plain­ing will help. But some fe­male re­spon­dents com­mented that it can be dif­fi­cult to dis­cern what’s real ha­rass­ment and what’s of­fen­sive be­hav­ior—and when and how to call it out.

For ex­am­ple, one fe­male re­spon­dent wrote about com­ments: “I some­times al­low older men a pass be­cause I know they are not try­ing to be of­fen­sive, even when the be­hav­ior both­ers me. It would be nice if there was a way to say ‘I don’t like it’ with­out them be­ing hurt.”

Sur­viv­ing a back­lash

The data showed that more men are feel­ing ner­vous about en­ter­ing into one-on-one pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ships with women, such as men­tor­ing and spon­sor­ship. When asked if these re­la­tion­ships are at risk be­cause of the per­cep­tion that un­ac­cept­able be­hav­ior could be oc­cur­ring, 56 per­cent of the men agreed, com­pared with 35 per­cent of the women.

One male re­spon­dent had an ex­treme re­ac­tion: “What I do know is that one al­le­ga­tion can be a ca­reer killer. So, as a male who is in a lead­er­ship role in my of­fice, I will not be alone in the of­fice with any fe­male—whether she is a col­league or a sup­port-staff mem­ber. This is to pro­tect my­self,” he ex­plained.

The prob­lem with that, of course, is that women have fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­cel if men in power are too afraid to sup­port them and give them one-on-one time. Com­ments like these demon­strate that while more peo­ple talk about sex­ual ha­rass­ment, bound­aries must be set by or­ga­ni­za­tions so peo­ple feel safe in pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ships.

“It’s time to have a big­ger con­ver­sa­tion.” —Jen­nifer Brown, di­ver­sity con­sul­tant

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.