Leadership and #MeToo : Some Thoughts

Over the last several weeks, headlines have been filled with stories of Harvey Weinstein and his ejection from the Hollywood echelons due to his boorish and abusive behavior, which has evidently lasted for the entirety of his career. There is no shortage of excellent pieces of writing on this, and I'm confident that if you're reading this, you're familiar with the case. 

Over the past few days, a hashtag has gone viral on social media, which you may be less familiar with. Women started posting #metoo, signifying that they have also been harassed, raped, assaulted, degraded. Some women posted details, some just the hashtag. Some called for action, some expressed mourning that this is now the third time a hashtag encouraging women to be vulnerable about their sexual assault has gone viral and how many more times are we going to have to do this? 

Perhaps, as you read this, you are a survivor of a particular assault or simply a woman in public space who has dealt with the daily onslaught of sexism. Maybe you're a gentleman who loves a survivor, or one who is just finding out you know one. If you're a leader of any fashion, I urge you to pause and consider this situation deeply. 

As Abbey Research is run by two women, this issue hit particularly close to home for us. To say otherwise would be disingenuous, and we value candor here. We have both been maligned in professional settings due to gender, both have experience working in 'boys clubs' and both have thought long and hard about all of this. I (Dr. Donnelly), in particular, spend a lot of time. I'm currently conducting a research project on sexism and rape culture in Baptist higher educational institutions and have spent the last 18 months listening to stories that appeared on the hashtag

I know, therefore, that this issue feels overwhelming to so many people. I've sat with leaders of organizations who are mystified that they allowed a culture of harassment to exist and have no idea how to change it. I've talked to men who are so desperate to show respect that they actually over-correct and perpetuate sexism. I've chatted with women who know the men in their lives are good men, but chuckle at the ways they're casually sexist. 

So, gentlemen, allow me to speak directly to you for a moment. 

If you know women, then statistics tell us you most likely know someone who has been assaulted; verbally, physically, or emotionally. This could mean their body was touched in public without their consent (unwanted groping in a bar, being grabbed on the street, a doctor's hand lingering just a little too long), could mean that they were harassed online (rape threats through Twitter or email, death threats through the same), could mean that they were raped.  

If you know women who have ever been in professional spaces, then statistics tell us you most likely know someone who would sagely nod to any of the following scenarios: female executives being asked to make coffee when they're the only woman in the room, colleagues repeatedly talking over women, being called 'sweetie' in professional settings, being told they're 'too emotional' when advocating for an issue. 

In other words, I'd bet dollars to donuts that you know a woman (or a man, goes both ways) who did or could have put #metoo on their feeds. You probably know several hundred. 

Most importantly for this blog, some of them work for you

Even more importantly, folks who perpetuate the problem (either casually, intentionally, or subconsciously), work for you too

So what on Earth do you do? 

First of all, you acknowledge that this is the case. In your organization are victims, survivors, and perpetrators. You may not have rapists working for you (you honestly probably don't, according to statistics), but you probably have people who believe women are so fundamentally different than men that difference means deficiency. You make sure respect is not just a buzzword in your organization, it's a fundamental element. 

Second, you ensure you have a clearly written harassment policy. I am consistently shocked at how many organizations we work with that have no clearly stated position on harassment, sexual or otherwise. Make sure the reporting structure is clear, as are the consequences. If you don't tolerate sexual harassment, you can't tolerate bullying either. 

Finally, you educate yourself and your colleagues. Bring in guest speakers (not just the corporate ones) who know this topic well and can guide you through the right way to handle it in your organization with your specific culture. This is a difficult issue to wade through, no doubt about it, but there are clear cut facts that will help. Find an expert you trust, someone who is willing to work alongside you. You really don't want someone who sees themselves as a consultant, you want someone who is a temporary employee - invested in the vision and the wellbeing of your team. 

Of course, if any of that feels daunting, this kind of work is directly in the middle of our wheelhouse and we'd love to have a chat about it with you. Consultations are complementary, so please get in touch if we can help

Most of all, I would encourage you to search out the #metoo hashtag and sit with some of the stories. Bearing witness to trauma is a very holy reaction and one that anyone who speaks out values. So most of all, listen well