12/17/17 • Five Ways to Respond to #MeToo

As posted in The Gaston Gazette

A recent movement to enact cultural change is the #MeToo campaign. Although its roots are a decade old in the work of activist Tarana Burke, the hashtag – and people’s confessions of how sexual harassment and assault have affected their lives – went viral on Oct. 15 after Alyssa Milano asked women to share #MeToo as their status in the wake of accusations against Hollywood film producer and executive Harvey Weinstein.

Since mid-October, a number of men in Hollywood, politics and the media have also been accused. The revelations have left many reeling: how do we grapple with the pervasiveness of these allegations? Most of all, how do we respond effectively, especially since it’s clear that these words matter. According to CNN, in the 24 hours after the hashtag went viral, 4.7 million people around the world shared over 12 million posts related to #MeToo. The hashtag also received esteemed recognition by Time on Dec. 6 when the publication named the #MeToo movement as its “Person of the Year” for 2017.

As business owners and entrepreneurs, it’s equally important to determine how to respond to something that affects so many and to find strategies to help your business prepare for what is sure to be #MeToo’s lasting impact on business culture. Here are a few tips for things that businesses large and small can do:

  • Evaluate your harassment policies – now. As #MeToo has made clear, the sexual harassment training offered in most businesses is insufficient for weeding out offenders and protecting employees. That’s because those offenses are often committed in situations where power dynamics and complex interpersonal relationships make reporting difficult. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), three-fourths of people harassed on the job don’t report. As a result, it’s imperative for businesses to know if they have a problem and to change their business’s culture if a problem exists. But don’t wait until your business or someone in it is facing an allegation. In a Chicago Tribune article on how businesses are addressing the changing landscape of sexual harassment, Professor Lauren Edelman states that employers must be proactive in specific ways: “midlevel managers must be accountable for what happens in their departments, and companies should conduct anonymous surveys to measure whether employees have been harassed.” The best companies, says Edelman, take another step: they return to the victim after the situation’s resolution, tell the victim the outcome and ask if they are comfortable with the result. Consider this a preemptive PR strike; you’re showing employees and the public that you won’t tolerate this behavior.
  • Put the women in your business in charge of the situation. The methods listed above are great options if your business is relatively large. But for small businesses, ensuring anonymity and resolving situations may be more difficult. So what to do? Put the women in your business in charge. Form a female committee to look at current policies on sexual harassment and assault and have them suggest changes that will make them feel confident to come forward. The focus on women is intentional; research tells us that women are predominantly the victims of these crimes. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), approximately 91 percent of victims of assaults and rapes are female and just 9 percent male. Not only is it empowering for women to have control over creating policy to deal with situations primarily perpetuated against women, but it also supports a culture of feminine success. That’s important because one of the reasons that women aren’t yet equals in the workplace is because of sexual harassment and assault. Finally, make sure you share this news – not for the PR accolades, which of course are nice, but to spread the word to other businesses that putting women in charge is something you stand by publicly.
  • Put together a plan to enact change. What if your business doesn’t have any women (or very few) working for you? What if you have a great team, but they are overwhelmed by their task? Lots of organizations can help you enact substantive change. The EEOC is always a resource since they investigate sexual harassment in the workplace. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) also offers assistance as does the NSVRC. But entrepreneurs have also started tackling this challenge. Silicon Valley’s Tammy Cho and Grace Choi, for example, performed hundreds of interviews on sexual harassment and its impacts and co-founded BetterBrave, an excellent resource for dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. See what these organizations have to offer and pass the information on to the women in your organization. Then plan to implement the action steps that they feel are most helpful. Again, make this process visible: share the news on social media and invite journalists to discuss your organizational changes. Show other entrepreneurs the benefits of transparency when it comes to #MeToo.
  • Do a crash course in crisis communications. There is, of course, a chance that, despite your proactive measures, an incident of sexual harassment or assault may happen on your watch. Our recommendations will help you illustrate that you take the situation seriously and are actively working to change your climate. But it’s also helpful to use crisis communications to respond to the situation effectively. After all, as the Forbes Agency Council notes, one of the 13 golden rules of PR crisis management is to be prepared. Remember that if an accusation is levied, you are not being punished but presented with an opportunity to respond ethically. Instead of wondering “how can I save my business,” consider “how can my business serve as an example to others for how to act when implicated in something terrible?” The only way to save face is to do the right thing, and there are ample resources available to help.
  • Support the causes that are supporting #MeToo. Once you’ve updated your internal policies and handed women more control, the next step is reaching beyond your own walls. If you have the means, match charitable donations to your local rape crisis center or hold a fundraiser for an organization that supports victims of sexual harassment. If you are on a shoestring budget, volunteer your time. Choosing to be more public-facing in your support for those who have come forward will illustrate your commitment to changing a culture that has long silenced those who speak out against this abuse.

 Steps like these provide manageable ways to deal productively with the implications of #MeToo for your business and to encourage the kind of change that will make the workplace more welcoming for women. That’s the kind of tangible action that female customers, who make 70-80 percent of consumer purchases, will support with their dollars time and again.