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#MeToo Broke The Silence, But Employees Still Struggle To Be Heard

Dec 2, 2022

Even though the #MeToo Movement originally began in 2006, it peaked in 2017 with the Harvey Weinstein trial. The indictment, guilty verdict and conviction signaled that things were about to change. #MeToo went viral. High-profile corporate cases became headlines: The president of Activision’s Blizzard Entertainment stepped down. Founder Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts stepped down. Fox News chairman Roger Ailes resigned. Across industries, HR rewrote policies, ramped up sexual harassment training and made sure employee culture would #believeallvictims.

As we approach the five-year anniversary of the #MeToo movement gaining traction, it’s clear we still have work to do. Just last month, former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates dropped a report about decades of systemic abuse in the National Women’s Soccer League. The report reads like a laundry list of what’s still broken.

Why does it feel like we still have so far to go? Because clearly, we haven’t done enough. Five years in, I think we have to stop and ask an uncomfortable question: Did HR’s response really make an impact or did it miss the mark?

I believe that we left some culture-building opportunities on the table. A report by the EEOC found that only “30% of individuals who experienced harassment talked with a supervisor, manager, or union representative.” Why do they hesitate? Certainly one reason is fear of retaliation. Another is a lack of confidence that the issue will be properly addressed.

HR teams swung hard to solve the widespread issue of harassment. If our policies and processes are built just for the outliers, we’re missing a huge opportunity to create really equitable workplaces.

While we can’t control everyone’s behavior, we can control how we set policy, communicate expectations, respond to allegations and support victims. We can control whether we’re creating an environment where employees feel safe and do their best work—or not. It’s our job to protect employees by building a culture that understands what harassment is and doesn’t tolerate it.

Here Are Three Places To Strengthen Your Policies

1. Make sure your investigation process prioritizes the facts.

It’s true that some people lie and make false accusations to damage someone. It’s also true that those accused of the worst behavior are sometimes high-profile leaders or very successful money-makers for an organization. Multiple things can be true at once. It’s important that HR teams protect the employees with consistent investigation practices that protect everyone by staying focused on the facts. Are your witness guidelines published? Have legal and your IT team already agreed upon what digital footprints are accessible and admissible?

2. Send a clear signal that employees are safe.

Show employees that you have their back when they come forward. Beyond clear policies and investigative processes, there is plenty you can do to send a clear signal that victims are safe. Do you have a way for employees to report issues they actually feel comfortable using? And when they do come forward, do they know what to expect? All of these actions signal to employees that accusations are taken seriously and acted upon swiftly and with competence.

3. Take responsibility to fight retaliation.

It takes enough courage for employees to come forward when something has happened to them in the workplace. Don’t force them to continue carrying the weight by making them responsible for fighting retaliation. Create clear policies that spell out what constitutes retaliation and make sure they’re part of both your leadership and employee training. Make sure all stakeholders, including any witnesses, are reminded about what retaliation can look like across specific situations. Finally, make sure your aftercare process includes the right type and frequency of check-ins and digital documentation.

No organization should allow employees to wait until something bad happens before they feel safe enough to come forward. As HR and ER professionals, we have to protect employees and remove the fear undermining the true intent of the #MeToo movement.