What have been the effects of the #MeToo movement on companies' harassment policies?
The #MeToo movement started in 2017 and ramped up through 2018. We examine the aftereffects the social justice movement has had on professionals everywhere, including small business owners and HR representatives.
Started by civil rights activist Tarana Burke, the #MeToo movement rocked the business world in 2018 and culminated in, according to The New York Times, 201 men getting fired and replaced. Of course, the majority were replaced by other men, not women, but at least action was taken. Unfortunately, movements are short-lived in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, and many of the men who were publicly accused of harassment are back in the workforce, while countless others were never disciplined at all.
We're taking stock of the effects of the #MeToo movement on workers everywhere, HR representatives and, of course, small businesses.
#MeToo inspiring people to speak out and organize
The most obvious positive outcome of the #MeToo movement has been the platform it's provided for people who face sexual harassment and violence. Discussing traumas, especially when speaking up can jeopardize employment, has always been a huge obstacle to resolving sexual harassment issues. The creation of a shorthand phrase (#MeToo) for such experiences has made it easier for people to share their struggles and connect with others who are in the same boat.
Activists and community organizers have mobilized around the hashtag, too, by creating new outreach organizations, taking to the streets in protest and drawing attention to existing support groups. Heal Me Too is one such organization, which provides people with resources for PTSD following sexual harassment or assault, and works with other outreach groups like RAINN, After Silence and PTSD Alliance.
Positive changes one year after #MeToo
Online movements are often criticized for being all bluster and no bite, but the effects of #MeToo appear to be going strong in real life. The Society for Human Resource Management did a follow-up survey of more than 18,000 workers and supervisors, which showed that 1 in 3 executives had changed their behavior in the workplace following #MeToo and that 72% of employees were "happy with their employer's efforts to stop sexual harassment."
Another follow-up study, based on Meltwater data and publicized by Bloomberg, charted the progress of the #MeToo campaign and posited that it had "created an opportunity for women in smaller, less-well-covered industries to speak up, find each other and effect change." The snowball effect of #MeToo publicity touched industries as varied as publishing, finance, entertainment and healthcare. While formal allegations of sexual harassment aren't new, it appears that the deluge of voices has had a real impact. According to the Bloomberg article, "For many, the past year has brought a reckoning, forcing accountability where social shame, nondisclosure agreements and sealed settlements had previously kept victims silent."
#MeToo criticism and backlash
Two steps forward and one step back tends to be the trend when it comes to civil rights issues, and #MeToo is no exception. The coverage of the #MeToo movement has been criticized extensively for being both too white and too male-dominated.
The #MeToo movement, though started by Tarana Burke, was popularized by actress Alyssa Milano and continued to be largely dominated by white actresses until press coverage began to push Burke back toward the spotlight. In a similar vein of erasure, the actual coverage of #MeToo was male-dominated as well. According to Vice, "The Women's Media Center found that during a 15-month period, 53% of sexual assault story bylines came from men." Another issue many have taken with the movement is its focus on individuals rather than overarching patterns of sexual harassment and the abuse of power.
The other, perhaps not entirely unexpected, result of the #MeToo movement has come in the form of male fear – or, to be more precise, the fear that some men in power feel now that their power is slightly less omnipotent than it was before. The New York Times covered this well by interviewing men at the World Economic Forum, many of whom were so scared of being accused of harassment, they said they would no longer be mentoring women. According to the article, "companies seeking to minimize the risk of sexual harassment or misconduct appear to be simply minimizing contact between female employees and senior male executives, effectively depriving the women of valuable mentorship and exposure."
Independent surveys confirm that this is an actual trend and not restricted to the apparently skittish attendees of the World Economic Forum. According to Lean In's survey, the number of male managers who are uncomfortable working alone with women has doubled; the number of male managers uncomfortable with mentoring women has tripled; and about half of male managers are afraid to work, mentor, or socialize with women on their team one-on-one. There have also been reports from the female side, with some professional women reporting difficulties getting their male peers to meet with them out of fear that they will be accused of sexual harassment for no reason.
HR trends in a post-#MeToo world
For human resources professionals, the #MeToo movement has been a long time coming. Following the waves of #MeToo in 2017 and 2018, there was an uptick in reports of sexual harassment in the workplace. HR Acuity delved into the details in #MeToo in the Workplace: A Special Report, which revealed that "Fifty-three percent of businesses reported that after #MeToo began in 2017, their reported sexual harassment cases went up. Only 4% saw a decrease." HR Acuity also reported that 55% of companies surveyed were in the process of revising their policies on reporting and responding to sexual harassment, while 72% of employees "have either received new training or will receive training within the next year."
Small business reactions to the #MeToo movement
While examining broad trends regarding sexual harassment in the workplace is important, we also wanted to get feedback from real-world small business owners and HR representatives to find out their take. Here's what some of our readers had to say:
Midge Seltzer, co-founder and executive vice president of Engage PEO, said, "Engage PEO's approach to preventing harassment in the workplace has been consistent before and after the #MeToo movement, because best practices are just that – best practices to keep the workplace free from harassment. This prevention includes looking to leadership to lead the prevention efforts and help to create a zero-tolerance culture, regular training and communication to ensure awareness and understanding, strong anti-harassment policies, reliable complaint and investigation measures, and more."
Gargi Rajan, assistant general manager HR of Mercer-Mettl, told us, "[The] #MeToo movement has become a mandate, bolstering the sexual harassment policies at the workplace to a massive extent. A lot of emphasis is now placed on how hiring is done, what kind of people are brought inside the organization, and to give positions of power to people after their thorough background check and validation. This movement has pushed the use of dark personality traits inventory and tests in the spotlight to a huge level."
Joni Holderman, founder of Thrive! Resumes, said, "As a former HR exec, the biggest change I've seen is that male executives and managers are now listening to what we as HR executives have been telling them since the 1990s […] The only thing that's surprising for a lot of longtime HR execs like myself is that it took this long for many senior executives to start practicing the policies that we've been preaching to midlevel managers in most industries for 30 years."
If you are dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, as an employee or an HR professional, please seek out resources. If you are a victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse, reach out for help now.