Me Too and the Workplace

Me Too and the Workplace

September 25, 2018Culture Change

Cultural change after Me Too: Where to next for Australian workplaces?                                                                                 

When revelations of the stomach-turning behaviour of a powerful Hollywood mogul hit the headlines last year, something broke across the globe and women in their thousands and the Me Too Movement emerged. Movie stars, lawyers, sports heroes, high schoolers – opened up and put their #METOO stories and their pain in public view in a show of solidarity and rage unlike anything we’ve seen. It was time. The World Health Organization tells us that sexual violence is experienced by one-third of all women worldwide – and given the long history of women keeping quiet, the real figure is likely to be higher still!

It’s almost been a year since Me Too. The last 10-11 months have confirmed what at least 51% of us already knew: something has to change.

All the women we’ve spoken to, and almost all the men, understand the need for urgent change in the way we live (and work) together. We keep coming to the same conclusion: if the first place this shift has to come from is in our homes, a close second has to be in our workplaces.

Sexual Harassment and the Workplace

Here in Australia this message is landing, and the response has taken the form of a national enquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace led by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) with a highly qualified female commissioner at the helm. The findings will be handed down in twelve months’ time, and it’s no stretch to imagine that a lot of very senior leaders will be feeling very nervous in the meantime. Smart businesses will be doing everything they can to proactively shift their workplace cultures in the right direction before the major changes come into place.

Where on earth should an organisation start with something that is, sadly, as deeply ingrained as the culture of sexual inequality, discrimination and harassment is in this country?

It’s not an easy subject to tackle, and it won’t be a quick fix. This change has to be deep, it has to be real, and it has to last. Those businesses that get it right will be celebrated. Those that get it wrong, or bury their heads in the sand, will be made examples of.

Unhappy Woman sitting at desk looking at man who is talking and pointing to a laptop sharing a Me Too moment

Cultural Change for Us and for Clients

As change practitioners at Blue Seed we are looking at this from two lenses:

  • how we address this within our own business, and
  • how we can help our clients navigate the rocky road ahead.

For our own part, being led by two savvy women doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. Our Blue Seeders work across all kinds of businesses, embedded into work teams and work places throughout the public and private sectors. We take our duty of care to our team very seriously and have always been conscious of looking after our people (both men and women); which at times can be challenging given they predominantly reside with our clients in their workplaces.

Being in the ‘people business,’ we are (naturally) sharply tuned in to how people interact with others in work environments.  We’re not over-sensitive either, but we do have clear and active incident reporting, a sharp focus on personal safety and wellbeing (day and with late working nights) and do everything possible to ensure every member of our team feels empowered to do their best work in safety and security.

Taking “Me Too” Seriously

We have recently worked through two separate incidents of inappropriate workplace behaviours – in both examples we called it out, stating clearly that the behaviour was not OK and took appropriate action accordingly.  No hiding behind it. Clear and simple.  Our approach is zero tolerance.

For our Clients, we work in active partnership to help them stay true to supportive behaviours and outcomes; particularly when the stakes are high and it’s tempting to let our guard down.  When the pressure is on at work, we need more leadership, not less.  And together, we simply must be accountable for keeping on our radar and scanning for appropriate behaviours that are aligned with our collective values and our business imperatives.  This calls for a healthy dose of change intelligence.

Here are a few more thoughts on how to shift culture successfully:

Leaders have to lead it, everyone has to own it

Business leaders (both men and women!) have a critical role to play in shifting the attitudes, structures and behaviours that currently allow sexual harassment to thrive. There are two key things to think about here.

1. Leading by example

It’s amazing how influential the behaviour of leaders can be – not only CEOs but senior managers, team leaders, and everyone in between. By closely interrogating the example you are setting – the things you say and do, verbal and non-verbal – does have a major impact on the culture of your team.

2. Resetting the field

For all of us, it’s time to start looking not only at our own behaviour but that of others – and to call out the unacceptable stuff where and when we see it. As a leader, this is likely to mean resetting the goalposts by taking a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment. The days of chuckling awkwardly at sexist jokes, just to avoid making waves, are over!  And if you need to make an example of people who have behaved inappropriately, so be it.

While leaders have a huge role to play in changing culture, something as big as this needs to be owned by everyone, at every level, of the organisation. That means broad and meaningful engagement. Perhaps establishing forums in which staff can come together to constructively and respectfully address this issue will be critical.  Importantly, everyone needs to understand their individual responsibility to make change happen.

Look for the positive

A lot of light is going to be shed on bad things in the next twelve months. This is how it has to be. But for organisations genuinely trying to turn around bad behaviour or reinvent their business cultures, it will be important to capture the good news as well.

If your organisation has already put strategies in place to combat sexual discrimination, celebrate this and talk about how you can build on a strong foundation. If the women in your workplace report a shift in micro behaviours, or even see a decrease in sexual harassment as a result of changes that have been made, make sure you shout about it! Acknowledge every positive sign of change as a step in the right direction.

women and man sitting around a desk of open laptop having a meeting

Get help from the experts

HR staff have been dealing with issues of sexual harassment in the workplace for a long time, but the scale of what’s coming means businesses will need further support and expertise to make change happen. One of the biggest challenges in trying to change culture is knowing how to measure success. What do you look for to know that things have changed? How do you track this over time? Who is responsible for creating and owning this knowledge? And what do you do if it’s not working?

This is where a Blue Seed change consultant can help you join the dots. Our practitioners have deep expertise in cultural change at every stage of the journey. This means:

  • Understanding the scope of the change and how to set your organisation up to succeed
  • Establishing a pathway and meaningful measures of success
  • Equipping leaders to drive difficult change with grace and sensitivity
  • Standing shoulder to shoulder with you during implementation to deliver and embed cultural change
  • Helping you assess the adoption of change over time, and course-correct where necessary

Where to Next?

It’s important not to underestimate how much change is needed, or how hard it’s going to be.

Setting up your business to respond to the challenge now, by leveraging smart strategies, strong leadership and targeted expertise could see your business leading the way into a brave new world.

Your organisation could be an example to the rest – and for all the right reasons.

By Chantal Patruno  

Want to learn how to equip your leaders through constant change?

Learn more about our practical Change Leadership program beginning in October.

Or Contact  (02) 8231 6438

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