A year after #metoo and change is still needed

In the year since the #metoo movement surfaced, we have seen many powerful men topple. We have heard many egregious and disgusting stories from victims with diverse backgrounds, careers and jobs. Many have bravely come forward sharing stories in an effort to enact change. Change to broken workplace systems and norms that have, for decades, catered to top-performing, powerful males. While we thought we addressed sexual harassment in the wake of Anita Hill’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony in 1991 on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas – but things never truly changed.

Corporate, company and government leaders only half-heartedly followed- up back then and that laughable training video played throughout the country to prove steps were taken in addressing inappropriate situations. Sexual harassment continues to exist in board rooms, break rooms, hotel rooms, work parties, and statehouses throughout the country and most women of a certain age (and minorities) have an experience they have suppressed, felt embarrassed about and have not wanted to share.   

Naively, I thought once I came forward, spoke out about the poor atmosphere at the Iowa Statehouse, things would change quickly to better-protect victims of harassment and make workplaces safer throughout the state. Surely everyone would see the ineffective procedures, processes and standards Iowa politicians hold themselves to at the workplace within the Statehouse and want to change things. Surely the strife and struggle I experienced would prompt procedural if not legislative change. (It is worth noting that small change occurred in the form of new policies adopted and a human resources staff person hired at the Statehouse.)

A year after #metoo and we still need change to happen. Change, in general, is hard and takes time. Changing systems that continue to protect abusers is even harder. Through all the frustration, it is reassuring to see many times over that victims continue to speak out. Finally, this issue is less secretive and embarrassing because the abuses are not isolated.  

Recent news of the Dallas Mavericks organization taking steps to change their work environment and improve it for female employees is welcome, but it took 18 years to conclude their investigation. Eighteen years for their leaders to stop looking the other way, take accountability and own up to serious problems. Like many organizations, the Mavericks chose to protect abusers, chalk bad behavior up to something else and continue on for years as if nothing was wrong. Changing minds and hearts is downright difficult and let’s face it, some people will never change.

I continue to hear from angry women about how bad men are and how things will never change. And they are right, things will never change with a pessimistic attitude and inaction. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In conducted a study through her Lean In organization and found that after the #metoo movement surfaced, male managers feel more uncomfortable than ever mentoring women. In fact, 30% of male survey respondents said they felt uncomfortable working and socializing alone with their female co-workers. Sandberg has gone on to start MentorHer through Leanin.org to foster better relationships between men and women in an effort to continue to advance females’ careers. While commendable, starting another group is not enough.

Holding abusive men and perpetrators accountable is a must and we must also stop grouping all men together and bashing them. The reality is there are good men out there and they make up half the population and slightly over half the workforce. We must continue with the tough and uncomfortable conversations with men and encourage the men in our lives to stand up for and with us; engage them in thoughtful dialogue and continue to open their eyes to our realities and the broken systems that surround us. Equity everywhere is key if we are going to put #metoo to rest once and for all. A year after #metoo we should all be thankful that this pervasive problem is front and center now more than ever because that is progress. Now, let’s continue to work for equity where it is needed most so that next year we have more to discuss.

Kiss Self-Doubt Goodbye! by Barb Petersen-Fox, LISW

Kiss Self-Doubt Goodbye! by Barb Petersen-Fox, LISW