#MeToo, Now What?

February 28, 2020 Kathleen Brennan

A day after a New York jury found Harvey Weinstein, 67, guilty of rape and sexual assault - in a watershed moment for the #MeToo movement - a dozen women, who accused Weinstein of the crimes, held an emotional news conference in Los Angeles, according to Reuters.  Those listening to the news conference may have thought it sounded like some women felt some amount of justice was served.  Yet, for others, it’s clear the full reckoning for Weinstein and Hollywood is not yet over.

The same could be said about the #MeToo movement generally.

Since #MeToo had the initial public benefit of puncturing the silence about sexual harassment in the workplace, we witnessed a first-time, national dialogue on its effects. 

Many organizations, in response, took some hard looks in the mirror and evolved positions to ensure harassment would not be accepted in their work environments.  Still others took concrete steps to create cultures of two-way dialogue, mutual respect and inclusion.  Others have initiated new education initiatives to enlist people to think deeply about the repercussions of harassment and the benefits of using values, such as mutual respect, as a means to guide workplace behaviors. LRN’s own research shows that moral leadership grounded in values is the most effective way to prevent harassment and other misconduct.

Other reports indicate there is a long path ahead to make real and lasting progress.  LRN’s annual Program Effectiveness Report for 2020 shows that:

 

· Only 53% say senior leaders at their companies take action and responsibility when there are compliance failures. 

· Only 46% say their company’s senior leaders support effective sanction or penalties on senior executives and high performers involved in misconduct. 

· Only 39% say their organization makes ethics and compliance considerations a significant factor when they hire employees for managerial, executive or control functions; and

· Only 31% say their organization recognizes or celebrates notable ethical conduct or leadership when it comes to bonus allocation, and only 57% when it comes to performance reviews. 

 

Other reports show the negative implications and disturbing outcomes of increased speaking out on harassment. 

One somewhat recent study found that in the age of #MeToo, 60 percent of male managers feel uncomfortable having an interaction with women at the workplace, and further, 60 percent of male managers say they are uncomfortable mentoring, socializing or having one-on-one chats with women. As for why this is happening, 36 percent of men say they’ve avoided mentoring or socializing with a woman because they were nervous about how it would look.  These numbers are on the rise over the past year, according to the study, signaling a troubling consequence of the decade-long movement.

‘#MeToo, now what?’ is the title of a five-part TV series streaming on PBS and promoted as a platform for open, authentic conversations about sexual harassment.  It’s also a reasonable, rationale and deeply philosophical question all of us should be asking in the #MeToo era.

Dov Seidman, LRN’s founder and chairman, recently sat down with Zainab Salbi, the humanitarian, activist, and host of the show, who has made it her personal mission to facilitate ongoing, open, transparent dialogue as a path for greater understanding, healing and reconciliation.  They talked as part of the #HOWMatters conversations series to assess not only the extent of the pain and anguish the perpetrators, the systems and the cultures of harassment have caused, but to consider: what has changed and are we on a productive path toward progress?

Zainab is the founder of the aid organization Women for Women International.  She has written four books about her work and her personal journey, including her latest Freedom is an Inside Job, in which she details the emotional and spiritual challenges she has overcome in the past 25 years. Part of that journey, she told Dov, was overcoming fear, learning how to be authentic and embracing the power of forgiveness. “When I do something bad, it’s not because I am bad,” she says. “It’s because I’m afraid.”

Placing this perspective at the center of a #MeToo conversation is incredibly relevant because let's acknowledge that, at some profound level, #MeToo involves a reckoning, a straightening out, a comeuppance, a redressing, according to Dov and Zainab.  Most importantly it is a real attempt to make the world more equal.  Historically, there has been an inequality of truth in our world, and as we move forward, a woman's truth has to be of equal value as anybody else's truth. 

That same study referenced earlier found that while sexual harassment remains pervasive in the workplace, there are startling discrepancies in how men and women view its frequency and impact.  For instance, 57% of women report that they’ve experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace, from hearing sexist jokes to being touched in an inappropriate way. And 24% of women say harassment is on the rise. By contrast, 27% of men say that harassment is decreasing. And 50% of men say that the consequences are more damaging to the careers of harassers, not victims. Women tend to disagree: 64% say it’s the victims who end up paying a heavier price.

So going back to that philosophical question: “#MeToo, now what?”, here’s a bit of what Dov and Zainab discussed relating to the importance of truth, authenticity and dialogue in the #MeToo era:

1. Naming names is only a first step.  Deep reflection must follow – individually and institutionally.

“To name only the individual men who have been named is only the first step, and if we stop there, it's the cheapest way out,” Zainab told Dov.  “There is a much larger issue where we all have to reflect on the parts of ourselves - women and men - where we have been complicit and complacent. So just to say, ‘He did that, fire him. Done.’ That’s not enough.” We must, instead, reflect deeply as individuals and as institutions.  “If we are to be honest, most of us have these stories – both women and men.  That honesty is not happening yet because everyone is afraid and defensive.”

2. Only victims have the legitimacy to pave the path for reconciliation.

“Once that truth is shared, what's the path forward?,” Dov asked Zainab: “One path forward is for the accused to show up, speak their truth, and try to have, in that speaking of the truth, healing.”  She points out though that, in most cases with #MeToo, this approach has backfired.  “I talk to a lot of men, for example, who've been #MeToo'ed and they send these very politically-correct apologies drafted by lawyers.  It’s not authentic.  It doesn't settle.  My advice for them is you have to show up authentically, tell your truth authentically. It doesn't matter if it's perfect or imperfect, what's important that you are showing up and telling your truth. Now you cannot be attached to outcome.  You can only attach to your own compass and it is the compass that is important.”

Not all truths are equal, however.  She explains, “from my overseas experiences, the victims are the ones who ultimately have to actually speak their truth, even though it's unfortunate and unfair.”  For instance, in South Africa, it wasn't Africans, but the African National Congress, and Nelson Mandela particularly, who lead the truth and reconciliation effort. In Rwanda, it was Tutsi's, not the Hutu's, who said we need a reconciliation process.  “The victim has, for whatever reason, more moral authority in articulating the reconciliation process.”  So learning from that, she believes, the female and male victims cannot linger in anger but start articulating the reconciliation process.

3. Restorative justice is a step on the path

“What I learned from Rwanda, for example, is that if you kill a woman's son, the restorative justice in how they define it is you have a choice of going to prison or acting as her son in service to your mother. If you burn a farm, then prison or farm the farm. That's restorative justice in a very clear way.  You restore the damage you have created.”  Articulating this path for the accused is critical for real progress.

4. Two-way, authentic conversation is critical to building a culture of respect and equality.

How does this relate to the workplace more broadly, where these assaults were deeply connected to power, livelihood, opportunity, freedom, equality, respect, etc?. “When I went around the country interviewing the men and women from all walks of life, a lot of executive men were like, ‘Oh my God, we can't believe this is happening.” Their hearts were pouring out for women.  But when I asked them, "Did you talk to your staff?"  The answer was no.   The first step is have real conversations with the staff, and Zainab suggests asking bluntly: "Are you facing this in our company?" and allow space to discuss and consider and keep that dialogue going.

“Second when I talk to women who have actually spoken up about #MeToo, including those celebrated as courageous women who broke their silence, they tell me two things happened afterward:  ‘The company erased us from our professional identity and started to speak to us as only victims’” and they instituted no reform.  While there are some proposals to outsource HR for complete independence, others are calling for more training while others are doing nothing at all.”

We’re still miles away from ending this journey of understanding and reconciliation of course.  But for workplaces committed to creating culture of respect and inclusion, it’s really the questions we ask of ourselves along the way that matter most, not that we have all the answers. Watch the full session: Freedom in a Conflicted World and read more about LRN’s approach to fighting against harassment and developing cultures of respect.

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