The #MeToo movement fundamentally changed the conversation around sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault in the United States and around the world. Before the start of the movement, such behavior was not accepted, but #MeToo brought a heightened sense of awareness to these issues, as well as much greater accountability, particularly for those in positions of authority.
The Downside of the #MeToo Movement
Certainly, this has been a positive for victims and potential victims of sexual misconduct in the workplace; however, some commentators suggest there may be a downside to this heightened awareness, as well.
In an interview with NPR’s Marketplace Morning Report, Brody Zucker of Mammoth HR notes that #MeToo has boosted awareness of workplace harassment and misconduct so much that some HR professionals have felt there is less of a need to warn employees of such behavior.
“Employers have the expectation that employees are more comfortable reporting bad behavior. And employees themselves hopefully and likely have less fear of retaliation,” says Zucker.
Still a Critical Role for HR
While that is certainly a positive, the possible consequence of HR departments’ giving fewer warnings to employees could signal a dangerous trend.
Simply because a traditional media and social media phenomenon has made employees more aware of issues around sexual harassment and misconduct doesn’t mean that employers and HR departments have no role in guiding that discussion.
There’s a big difference between reading scandalous stories of powerful men behaving inappropriately and understanding the more nuanced aspects of sexual harassment and misconduct issues in the workplace.
Keeping the Conversation Going
#MeToo significantly raised awareness of issues around sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault, particularly in the workplace and particularly by people in positions of authority; however, it certainly didn’t make those issues go away.
And just because staff may have had more exposure to discussions of those topics in the media doesn’t mean HR professionals shouldn’t be talking about them.
In fact, it’s perhaps more important than ever for companies to spend time discussing such issues so they can shape the workplace narrative around sexual misconduct rather than allowing the media to control that narrative.