The #MeToo movement has opened doors and set the stage for organizations to step up and fully address behaviours that have come under scrutiny, since conversations about sexual assault and harassment in the workplace have been brought into the open.
Harassment, bullying, and discrimination come in many forms, and it’s the law in Alberta for employers to have clear policies and codes of conduct to create a safe workplace that is free from these behaviours. It’s important that those policies not only align with government and human rights laws and standards, but also that they describe the employer’s obligation and commitment to managing reports or observed incidents of misconduct in a neutral, fair, timely, and thorough manner. Policies must also outline employee responsibilities when it comes to reporting misconduct. And none of this is effective without a robust, confidential reporting mechanism and process that protects employees’ health and safety and provides protection from retaliation throughout the process and beyond.
While the #MeToo movement has raised awareness about some of the issues we face, it suffers from a narrow focus. So, what are we missing?
Harassment Isn’t Always Sexual
The #MeToo movement has placed a significant emphasis on sexual harassment, and the media tends to highlight the very sensational cases, giving the public the impression that the majority of workplace issues are sexual in nature. While it is evident that sexual harassment is still greatly underreported, those cases appear to make up a small percentage of harassment cases overall. The vast majority are cases in which power is being abused, and harassment is perpetrated under the guise of performance management. Employees are experiencing bullying and discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, religion, and other differences. To truly work toward having safe workplaces, all cases should be given equal time and consideration.
The Movement Has Created a Culture of Fear
Every movement has its consequences, and some are unintended, perhaps even creating equal and opposite reactions. #MeToo seems to have created some fear which has, unfortunately, led to inaction. It appears that we would prefer to avoid each other rather than be caught saying or doing the wrong things, so we simply look the other way and don’t have those “difficult conversations.”
There Isn’t Enough Focus on Diversity
Unfortunately, this movement has focused primarily on women suffering from sexual harassment. As a result, other severe behaviours continue to occur because they aren’t receiving similar attention. For example, woman of colour face a unique type of discrimination, as do many LGBTQIA+2S individuals.
Change Hasn’t Reached the C-Suite
If we know anything, it’s that change is most effective when initiated and modelled from the top down. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 76% of employees say that CEOs should take the lead rather than waiting for the government to impose it, and 65% agree that CEOs can create a positive change in equal pay, prejudice, and discrimination. Despite some efforts since the #MeToo movement began, it seems attitudes among the decision-makers have remained largely unchanged, and it doesn’t appear that many have used the movement as an opportunity to make a real difference – yet.
The Human Toll
What we know for certain is that individuals suffer harm when a workplace ignores reported or obvious issues or complaints. The emotional and physical effects on the person experiencing harassment are numerous and many are serious. The impact on the workplace, the bystanders, and the organization as a whole can be widespread and just as serious. Organizations must stand up and start taking action – because of their legislated obligations, because reputations are at stake, and because it’s the right thing to do.
Our team at Cenera is focused on providing you and your team with the policies, procedures and other tools that allow you to create and sustain a fair, equitable and safe workplace, and the ability to respond appropriately when you are made aware of harassment, discrimination, ethical violations, and retaliation. An effective reporting and investigation process empowers your employees to exercise their rights within the workplace and under the law. To create safe and healthy workplaces, everyone must accept responsibility and to do the right thing.
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