How Can a Hashtag Help Us Rethink the Way We Operate at Work

We are still in the middle of the #MeToo movement and that should make everyone want to continue the conversation. For those at the back that were not paying attention #MeToo is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault (not to be confused with the song Mr Me Too by The Clipse). The phrase “Me Too” started being used in 2006 by Tarana Burke, an American social activist and community organiser. In October 2017 it became a viral hashtag on social media after being popularised by Alyssa Milano, an American actress, in an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment.

It led to several men and women, particularly in Hollywood, sharing their own experiences of harassment and abuse in their places of work. There were individuals who also challenged their own past behaviours towards women and sought ways to change and improve for future generations. The conversation expanded from just being a Hollywood problem and spread to opening up discussions of sexual harassment and abuse in the music industry, sciences, academia, politics and many more. The hashtag became a conversation about society to the extent that Jackie Speier proposed the ME TOO bill in the US Congress (Member and Employee Training and Oversight on Congress Act) on November 15, 2017.

#MeToo and Hollywood

The #MeToo movement also led to the charges and arrest one of the most powerful and influential film producers in America. The movement helped shed light on the numerous stories of women who reported harassment and abuse in their work place only for it to fall on deaf ears. It highlighted the challenge people faced when dealing with someone in a position of power and influence. A lot of women who were victims of the film producer where blacklisted in Hollywood for daring to report an assault and in some cases their career never started. And in the cases they could report/confide in the equivalent of HR in their workplace, the individual in question had employed the HR person. Herein lies the challenge.

Compliance with employment law

The HR department has traditionally been focused on ensuring compliance with employment law and maintaining employee levels + morale. In recent years we have seen a shift in the role to become more strategic and more involved in business operations. Most employees will be aware if there are any issues affecting them, they can always approach HR to get advice on how to move things forward. At the same point, there are certain issues that are sensitive, might affect the business and in some cases difficult to talk to with someone you know.

Some organisations have helplines where you can report cases of misconduct in the workplace. That system becomes flawed in scenarios where the abuser is the person with the most influence in the organisation. In the case of sexual assault/ harassment, the victim wants to remain anonymous and also avoid being judged. The amount of times you hear the victim being asked “Why were you wearing that outfit”, “Why did you go back to their house” instantly shifts the blame from the abuser. The victim becomes the point of focus and the conversation changes leaving the victim facing the blame.

The need for an anonymous helpline

Anonymity is key and when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion, companies should be implementing a truly anonymous helpline. There are certain issues that are very difficult to discuss or solve and victims in a lot of cases prefer not to report for fear of being reprimanded. Sexist remarks and behaviours can be difficult for the victim to prove, but if they have a safe and anonymous platform to report these incidents then an organisation can start to investigate in a discreet manner. If other staff members are brave enough to report the same individual(s) because of the anonymity factor, an organisation can quickly get to the root of the problem. Anonymity protects the victim and also gives the accused a fair investigation especially in the cases where the accused is innocent. The most difficult challenge is anyone accused of wrongdoing is automatically guilty in the court of public opinion even if no case is ever brought forward. An anonymous D&I helpline can protect the rights of both parties and allows the organisation to take necessary action.

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