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Guest blog: Wising up to a post-Weinstein workplace

It was the film industry that first exposed the abuse of power that was being swept under the (red) carpet and since then there has been a flurry of sexual harassment allegations, national press exposure and the career implosions of high-powered men that shows no sign of abating.  

Every organisation in every industry is now grappling with the issues exposed by the #MeToo movement and looking to manage the risks posed to their business.  The stakes are high - we have already seen litigation, loss of talent, reputational damage and broken client relationships.  We have also learned how sexual harassment (and the culture of silence that has allowed it to endure) has stymied women’s career progression and undermined efforts to improve gender representation at senior level. 

So how can organisations respond positively to the challenges posed by the #MeToo Movement? Many have looked to their Employment lawyers and HR Professionals for active support on rising to the challenge, but the #MeToo movement also calls for a cultural shift driven by strong leadership and a sense of collective responsibility.  I have been working recently with leadership teams to consider their response to the #MeToo movement and how they can communicate that response effectively within their organisations.  This is a valuable opportunity for them to come together and explore: 

Raising Awareness

  • Where responsibilities lie within their organisation and their role as leaders;

  • Raising their own and others’ awareness of power dynamics in the workplace and the impact on others of what they do and say from a position of power;

  • Exercising their own power and influence over others appropriately so that they are impactful role models

  • Enhancing their awareness of the risks of inappropriate behaviour at work;

  • The issues that arise in relation to both consensual relationships and unwanted attention and how they affect individuals and the wider team; 

  • Calling out and challenging inappropriate behaviour in others and supporting others who call out and challenge;

  • Challenging assumptions about people that sometimes underpin inappropriate behaviour;

  • The potential tensions when clients of the business are harassing staff; and 

  • How to raise awareness of these issues throughout the organisation so as to develop a culture in which everyone can thrive and be comfortable at work.

Practical Steps:

  • Do they have a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and if not, where do they draw the lines? 

  • Do their policies reflect their approach and do they protect those who are accused and those who call out too?

  • Do they apply their policies consistently or will the successful rainmaker be treated differently to the average performer?

  • Are they publicising their policies and making it easy to report issues confidentially?

  • Do they investigate thoroughly when an issue is raised and take disciplinary action when warranted?

  • Do they have a support system in place, such as external employee support or internal champions?

  • Do they have good PR support in case an incident arises?

Longer-term investment in creating a diverse, inclusive culture that minimises the risks of harassment occurring:

  • Support and encouragement for sponsoring high potential talent in their organisation, whatever its gender;

  • Parental leave coaching;

  • LGBTQ, social mobility and ethnic minority initiatives;

  • CV-blind recruiting; and 

  • Support for flexible and agile working for all employees. 

It is rare that anyone has a handy copy of their HR Manual or the Equality Act 2010 with them when they are at work, or socialising with colleagues. What they do have is their judgment, their values and their awareness of the impact of what they do and say on others.  Therefore, by responding proactively and positively, leaders can serve to make #MeToo a movement that acts as a catalyst for positive change in the modern workplace and delivers tangible business and cultural rewards in the process.

About Julie Gottlieb

Julie Gottlieb is former lawyer and executive coach working with Sherwood PSF Consulting.  She works with individuals and teams on making the most of their talents and navigating the complexities that inevitably form part of any successful career path.