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#MeToo at work: We need to move from talk to action

The #MeToo Movement is already one year old.

I think you’ll agree with me that it was hard not to be shaken by it.

The movement came like a ‘tsunami’, going viral on all social media, and on our TV screens for many weeks.

Statistics are scary. Depending on the article you read, whether of American or Canadian source, numbers range anywhere from 1 to 3 out of 4 women, who will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.

The #MeToo movement definitely threw a light on sexual assault and harassment as being a much wider spread, and deeper-routed problem in our society than we could ever have imagined.

The message is clear: WE CAN NO LONGER IGNORE IT.

SO NOW WHAT?

Now I’m thinking, the courage demonstrated by these millions of women can’t have been in vain.

And a problem as deeply entrenched in our society as this one calls for profound change.

Especially in the workplace, as this is where the #MeToo movement showed us the problem was mostly found.

Sexual harassment seems more likely to happen in the workplace than anywhere else. After all, perpetrators are often in a position of power.

While companies’ existing ‘zero tolerance policies’ may have been a step in the right direction when introduced, the #MeToo movement tells us that much more needs to be done.

What I want to address

To me, the #MeToo moment serves as a warning that we need to act and bring about change, on all types of harassment that take place at work — whether sexual or psychological.

I will not pretend that finding solutions is an easy matter.

However, dividing the problem into different parts might help. Most importantly, I believe we can effect change if everyone takes part in the conversation on how to drive change — men, women and companies.

This article is the first in a series of 3 on workplace culture, where I will explore the woman side of the equation.

Article #2, will look at men’s reality. Following the #MeToo phenomenon, many male colleagues and friends confided to not quite knowing what they were allowed to say or do anymore. I will attempt to define what the boundaries for acceptable behavior should be for men in the workplace.

Article #3, will concentrate on how crucial companies and their senior management’s roles are, and analyze how they could expand their authority in this much needed culture change.

CAN WE ‘DEWOMANIZE’ OUR BEHAVIORS A FEW NOTCHES?

I want to talk here about one of the many angles of gender equality.

My idea is not to have women behave like men. However, I believe women could largely benefit from working in what I would call, a ‘gender neutral’ environment.

In other words, in a place where there would be no ‘men and women employees’, but simply ‘employees’.

Now I’m thinking, to achieve this, could we ‘dewomanize’ our behaviors a few notches?

So that men are not distracted by the fact that we are women. So that deep down — most often unconsciously — men who perceive us as fragile, less powerful creatures they can dominate, will start seeing us as equals.

For example, when you step foot into your office in the morning, put your ‘neutral-gender’ hat on. Switch your mental state to set yourself to behave as an equal to your men colleagues.

Leave behind the behaviors that are often wrongly expected of us: to be a nice girl, to smile and laugh, to be generous, to be polite and not occupy too much space, to not come out as too bossy or ambitious, and so on.

In the workplace, these traits don’t have to be any more prevalent with women than they have to be with men. When you’re on the job, you’re there to perform and compete. Whether you like it or not, that’s the reality.

Not only will this help women in general establish their credibility and show they mean business, but it will increase their chances of moving up the corporate ladder.

ADAPTING THE RIGHT BEHAVIORS WILL INCREASE WOMEN’S POWER

To provoke profound change in our work culture, women and men must have a clear understanding of what is unacceptable behavior at work.

Since this article speaks about women’s side of the equation, women must be aware of the impacts certain behaviors can have, and work on how men perceive us on the job.

In certain cases, the goal is to help men stay focused on their work. In other words avoid awakening men’s ‘sexual antennas’.

Avoid placing yourself in a position of weakness and instill respect by adopting these behaviors at work:

1. No conversations about sex

Women also have a role to play if we want a culture where sex jokes, sexist remarks, and stereotypes, are non existent in our work environments.

Never initiate conversations about sex— even if your story or joke seems totally harmless to you — there’s nothing cool about that in a professional setting.

As a general rule, stories you wouldn’t share with people you barely know, shouldn’t openly be shared in the workplace.

Moreover, do everything you can to condemn these conversations, even when you’re not taking part in them.

It may sound stiff at first, but as you know, there’s still a lot of work to be done to get to gender equality in the workplace, and it’s with an accumulation of small changes that we will get there.

2. Women support is key

Women should absolutely look out for each other.

Offer your help if you notice something is wrong with a colleague. It’s easier to build courage as a group than as one individual. Plus, a group is always more powerful when comes time to denounce bad behavior.

Real life story: Many years ago, I contributed to the termination of another team’s Director. Not a pleasant thing to do. But I had been witnessing the way he was bullying one of his female employees for some time and couldn’t accept to let this go on. I approached an HR manager I had trust in and she right away took this very seriously. The fact that I was corroborating the employee’s story ended up making a huge difference in the case. I never even spoke to the woman employee about my intervention, it wasn’t needed.

3. Don’t keep it to yourself

If you’re going through a difficult situation with a colleague or boss, don’t keep it to yourself. Act on it early on.

Draw on the courage and strength from the millions of women who broke silence with the #MeToo movement. Enough is enough!

These women have now opened the door, sending a clear message: It is not in our interest to keep quiet anymore.

Look for support from people you trust inside the company, your colleagues, your boss, or another manager, and talk to HR.

Sometimes, official channels within the company are so heavily processed, it can be easy to get discouraged right from the start.

My experience tells me that getting one or more people to support you, will provide a much better guarantee that your complaint will be taken seriously.

If nothing is working, I hate to say it, but start looking for another job. Your health comes first.

Real life story: I wish I could’ve helped a younger woman a while ago. She’d confided to me that things were getting really difficult with a teammate. But for some reason (and I certainly cannot judge), she didn’t want to give me any details about what she was going through, and insisted on wanting to deal with it by herself. Unfortunately, it got to a point where the situation became unbearable, resulting in her having to take a few months in sick leave. Managers and HR finally found out the truth about the bullying that had been taking place and acted on it. However, this shows us that there was no gain in waiting to take action.

This touches on one fundamental problem: Communication channels and processes put in place by companies to allow employees to file complaints are not working as they should. Stay tuned for article #3 where I will address this issue and propose solutions.

4. Do not flirt

You can charm colleagues and bosses to like you without being flirtatious.

Sexy outfits, sexy talk and sexy moves, do not make the cut as appropriate in any work environment. On the contrary such behavior will only diminish your credibility. And in my opinion, can go so far as undermining the power of women in general the workplace.

One final rule I wish women would all abide by at work: NEVER SHOW CLEAVAGE. I’ll even go so far as to say that all companies should include this rule in their dress code policy.

5. Power dressing

Such a perfect expression.

Don’t go thinking it should only be applicable to ambitious women looking to climb the ladder.

Every woman should adopt ‘power dressing’ as her workwear styling philosophy. Sometimes the workplace can feel like a battlefield, so you need the right armor.

Men have adopted the suit as their business attire dress code. An attire that’s conveys a message of power and credibility.

Women should aim to make an equal statement. Looks do matter and will influence how people perceive who you are.

Wearing appropriate clothes in the workplace also means by ricochet, there are many things you should not wear to work. This previous post provides style advice on that matter.

RELATED POST: ULTIMATE GUIDE TO WHAT NOT TO WEAR IN A CORPORATE ENVIRONMENT

6. Anticipating awkward moments

My philosophy at work is that I’m there to do my job, and that must always remain my priority.

Which means for instance, that I choose to maintain relationships with my colleagues and bosses to a business level.

It doesn’t mean I can’t socialize and have lunch with my colleagues, and once in a while do activities outside of work with them. But it means that for the most part, I will not develop close friendships with them.

I’ll be especially prudent with my boss — and even more so if my boss is a man. I just don’t want to open the door to getting into awkward moments where my relationship with my boss could get mixed up with personal emotions, or worst, flirting.

RELATED POST: REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD NOT BE FRIENDS WITH YOUR BOSS

Here’s another example of why we should anticipate awkward moments.

Real life story: A long time ago, I was only a few months into a new job. My boss had young children and hated traveling for work. He tells me one day that I’ll be replacing him on a business travel that had been planned with his boss. I ended up leaving with our Director, a very nice man, but whom I knew very little of. Once there, when driving from the airport we realized that our reservations had been made in two different hotels. Since it was getting late and we needed to go to dinner, the Director suggested we save time and stop by my hotel to change. He would wait until after dinner to check in his hotel.

We ended both in my room, taking our turn to change for dinner in the bathroom. Nothing bad happened. But I remember feeling really awkward sitting on the bed waiting for him to come out of the bathroom. I realized only then, that I had been naive and careless. I should have waited for him in the lobby section, using the argument that I wanted him to have his privacy, or something like that.

Just because it’s always better to play it safe, instead of assuming everything will go fine.

7. Knowing when to leave

I’m thinking of situations like: when you go out for a drink with colleagues after work, or you attend a conference and a group of people decide to go for drinks after dinner.

Needless to say, you don’t want to drink too much. But on top of that, learn to detect when it’s time to leave — e.g. before people start having too much to drink.

And if you’re the only woman in the group, then you need to be even more conservative. If they’re all going to a bar after dinner, it would probably be wise to let men party on without you. Or if you know them well, go for one drink and retreat early.

8. Don’t be afraid to try new things, be ambitious

We often hold ourselves back, thinking we’re not that talented, or not intelligent enough. Too easily we convince ourselves that our colleagues are smarter than we are.

However, this is just an unconscious reaction to our fears. A ploy to make us stick with the easy route. Because status quo is much less frightening than change — you don’t have to deal with any unknown.

In truth though, we are much better and capable than we allow ourselves to recognize. And when we do take on new challenges, we get much greater satisfaction out of completing the tasks at hand than we’ll do when performing routine responsibilities.

These new experiences make us grow, evolve and develop more skills. This is when our job is most rewarding. You want to feel you make a difference at work.

Not only should we give ourselves permission to be ambitious for the reward that comes with it, but increasingly, we see that companies with more women at the top are doing better.

The more women let their talent lead them forward, the more we’ll see them in positions of power.

More importantly, increasing the number of women in companies’ top executive positions is bound to help decrease the rate of sexual harassment inside companies.

The more women will reach positions of power, the safer our work environments should become.

ONLY ONE PIECE OF THE PUZZLE

Remember, this is only the first out of a series of 3 articles I will publish. Articles 2 and 3 to look at how men and companies can take part in effecting change in the workplace.

My intent being that together, they form a bare minimum solution that could be implemented in the workplace.

I truly believe that it’s the accumulation of a multitude of small changes that will drive change.

So stay tuned for my 2 additional posts!

Please do take part in this conversation and share your reactions, opinions and ideas. In agreement or not! Because the more we are getting involved in this discussion, the better the solution will be for everyone.

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  1. Dominique Laflamme

    Totally agree with what you talk about in this article.. Women need to step up in the workplace as do men. I once worked in a bank where there was a system of mentors for women (since at that time there were not many women in higher jobs). You had someone from the organization attributed to you who had no official power over you so you could address any issue with her. It worked well. I have no idea if it still exists but even an informal system would be great.
    Thanks Martha,

  2. Martha Morrice

    Thank you Dominique for your feedback! This mentor type of program you’re suggesting makes so much sense! I’ll keep that in mind for my post on companies roles 🙂

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