Time’s Up in every workplace, not just Hollywood

Time’s Up in every workplace, not just Hollywood
January 15, 2018

Recently, Oprah Winfrey was given a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes. This coincided with the rollout of the “Time’s Up” movement, designed to raise awareness about the state of sexual assault, harassment and inequity in Hollywood, and to a large extent, the professional workplace in general.

The new “Time’s Up” movement was created by strong women with ties to Hollywood who are not only using their status as icons to raise awareness, but are also starting a legal defense fund designed to help women who don’t have “Hollywood” resources to pursue legal action against those they feel have violated their rights. The group will also use their clout to develop ideas and lobby for more equitable legislation between men and women in the workplace and are trying to right their own house in making Hollywood a place men and women are treated the same.

During her speech, I was so moved when Oprah said: “But it’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So, I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science.”

Outside of Hollywood

She’s absolutely correct. I can’t say that I ever walked a red carpet at a movie premiere or recorded a gold record, but like many of you, I’ve seen some sexual harassment – and a ton of gender inequity – in and out of the workplace.

Prior to striking out on my own, I spent many years working as an HR executive for some of the world’s largest multinational companies. You’ve heard of these companies.

I don’t have any scathing or salacious stories to share. I didn’t deal with felony-level issues of sexual impropriety, but when you’re referring to lower-level offenses, there certainly was a culture of silence and poor decision-making surrounding harassment. And I find this to be very common.

That “culture of silence” made me mad then and it makes me furious now! There has been a systematic acceptance of sexual harassment that has been adhered to by everybody: accuser, victim, management, ownership and co-workers. How a case is handled in most organizations had just as much to do with how much people respected the accuser, what the CEO believed actually happened and of course, the lawyers. It never seemed to matter whether there was credible evidence or if an accuser had nothing. The lawyers always wanted to buy their silence and send them on their way.

What can we do?

Are things going to change in the workplace outside of Hollywood? I hope so! But the only way that they’re going to change is if women and men – yes, men — take action in changing the culture.  The first necessary change must be one that promotes a cultural shift from tolerating lesser levels of sexual harassment and allowing bribery to take place. The truth of what’s happening must be front and center instead of lying dormant in the background behind closed doors with hushed conversations.

So, how do we all work together to achieve some real change in the non-entertainment professional world?

  1. We talk about this. Awareness is huge. At the office and at home. Encourage conversations, especially among young people. Today’s high school football captain is tomorrow’s captain in industry. Conversations must take place that define what is acceptable behavior and what is not so that both young men and young women are not confused. “Time’s Up” cannot be just the “cause of the moment.”                                                     
  2. Recognize that it is a systemic part of almost every professional business sector and has been for a long time. There are still industries that are male-dominated. There are still men who came of age at a time when women were seen in only subordinate professional roles. The kind of men who still have “secretaries” while the rest of the world has moved onto virtual administrative assistants. And sadly, there are men entering the workforce who have antiquated gender views passed down from their grandfathers that may have even embarrassed them at the time.                                                                                                                      
  3. Call out harassment (or the appearance of it) when you witness it. Decipher what is sexual harassment and what may just be an innocent compliment. For instance, don’t embarrass the guy who may have meant nothing when he told a co-worker she had great legs or when he mentioned how sexy one of the Game of Thrones women was during last night’s episode. Just let him know in today’s day and age, not everybody wants to hear it and in the workplace, if somebody doesn’t want to hear it, nobody should hear it.                                                                                                                                                                 
  4. Be wary of supervisor/subordinate romantic relationships. Some companies try to forbid them, while others ask that employees fill out relationship acknowledgment forms if there is a romantic involvement taking place. I’ve seen boss/employee relationships end in long, happy marriages and I’ve seen the opposite occur where the relationships do not end well and  they destroy everyone involved. What I’ve never seen is the continuity of power in the professional relationship remain unchanged. It’s just a stupid idea to date someone you’re in charge of and just as stupid to date a person who has some control over your professional fate.                                                                                                                                
  5. Support the alleged victim. A culture of silence evolved not only to protect the accused, but also because the accusers don’t feel safe to come forward. Victims are both ashamed of what happened on a personal level and afraid for their professional future. If they know that they will be supported before anything ever happens, it will go a long way to creating a harassment-free workplace. They don’t want to be seen as a boat rocker, not a team player or as a prude. Someone standing up for themselves should not be viewed negatively, but should be valued for their courage and honesty.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
  6. Stay away from the booze. I have witnessed so many times where two people thought they were on the same page with how a liaison was unfolding, but when both sobered up, they saw things very differently. Even if the two parties can agree to disagree and try to move on professionally, things never return to normal. Alcohol impairs people’s judgment. It makes it that much easier to become an accused or accuser.
  7. If you feel that you are in a situation where you are being sexually harassed, speak up! Let the person who is making you feel uncomfortable or putting you in an awkward situation know about it in the moment. They may genuinely be unaware of how you feel, and it will address the situation so that you can both move on. If not, you have at least gone on record. Then, feel comfortable and confident going through the proper channels.

We must all speak up to change this world. While the accused have every right to be heard and defend themselves, it is time for legitimate victims to know that they can come forward and speak the truth without intimidation or retribution. The toxic culture of silence, fear and shame for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace must be eradicated forever!

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Posted in Blog, Uncategorized by Mari Pizarro