The powerful wave of sexual misconduct scandals that has swept across the country in recent months has yielded a nation that is just as much reeling as it is galvanized.
At an overwhelming rate, women from all walks of life have come forward to recount tales of inappropriate — and sometimes criminal — behavior on the part of men in power. Simultaneously, an alarming number of previously well-respected men have taken a long-overdue fall from grace.
As more and more of these tales make their way to the public stage, many women who have sat in silence for countless years are finding a new sense of empowerment. But without a collective strategy that endeavors to put action and urgency behind this newfound empowerment, there is an inherent risk that very little will change.
“Even though all these stories are very painful, this needs to happen,” said Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors of America. “It’s a good and edifying process. I hope, in the long run, we’re in the midst of an appropriate correction in terms of how we interact with each other as human beings at a time when indecency seems to be at an all-time high in the way people treat each other, talk about each other and troll each other.”
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Here, we round up four ways corporate strategy must change in the wake of #MeToo, the social media hashtag movement of women denouncing sexual assault and harassment.
Remove the Red Tape
For many victims of such misconduct, the very process through which they must file complaints often adds another layer of victimization — either through embarrassment or excessive red tape that discourages them from seeking proper recourse.
“We need to take away some of the stigma and the bureaucratic nature of the process,” Priest said. “It is important to have policies and procedures in place that are standardized and broadly accepted and that provide opportunities to file complaints if there is an accusation. But oftentimes — and particularly in the political world — it takes a long time [for a victim] to make [their] way through the process before you’re even able to make a official complaint. I think that’s got to stop. You’ve got to create a foundation and environment of collaboration, honesty and integrity.”
State Your Position
In matters of politics as well as controversial social and civic issues, for decades, it has been a widely held best practice for corporations to play it safe. But nowadays, employees and the public at large have an elevated expectation from corporations and their leadership to state their position on the hot-button topic of the day — especially when the topic could be an issue lurking in their own backyards.
“Employers should come out with a statement which, at a minimum, reaffirms the company’s commitment and highlights a robust reporting process — which encourages people to come forward,” said Melissa Raphan, partner and chairwoman of the labor and employment group at international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, referring to the wave of sexual harassment allegations as a public health epidemic.
Ditch ‘Victim-Blaming’ Dress Codes
The current pervasive nature of sexual misconduct allegations may prompt some companies to reexamine their employee dress policies in an attempt to “sexual assault-proof” workspaces.
But Rob Wilson, a human resources expert and president of Employco USA, suggested that companies that take such an approach could be perpetuating the exact cycle some are hoping to stop.
“In the light of these sexual assault accusations, many people have blamed the victims and suggested that they invited the attention due to their dress or appearance,” Wilson said. “This has created a tricky line for employers to walk … When wording your dress code policies, make sure to focus on your employees’ dressing professionally rather than modestly. The goal is not to police women’s bodies or suggest they mustn’t lead men astray but to create a workplace in which every person is dressed appropriately for their position and title.”
Take a Better Approach to Office Gatherings
Of course, the frequency of company soirees vary from business to business but the current time of year will see a large number of companies host holiday office parties. These occasions — where alcohol is often the centerpiece — can be fraught with bad behavior and inappropriate interactions.
To quell this, some experts have suggesting nixing booze, but Raphan views that approach as a means to fixing a symptom and not the root cause.
“The time for excuses is over,” she said. “Companies don’t have to ban alcohol; employees need to know that they will be held accountable for their conduct even if they had ‘one drink too many.’ The ‘it never happened’ (assuming it never did) defense will go much further than the ‘yes, but’ defense. Those days are over.
“In 2017, every action of every individual is captured in one form or another — there are no excuses for bad behavior. It is not a question of political correctness gone too far; it is a question of employers holding people accountable for their conduct.”