#MeToo, Now What? How to Move the Conversation about Sexual Harassment Toward Concrete Action

#MeToo, Now What? How to Move the Conversation about Sexual Harassment Toward Concrete Action

There are many women across America who are celebrating that men are finally seeing repercussions for their sexually inappropriate behavior.  It surely is a time to sit back and thank all women for their sacrifices in getting to this point and shared their #MeToo stories.  From Minakshi Jafa-Bodden who was brave enough to file suit against Bikram Choudhury for sexual harassment and won to Ann Curry whose career was derailed simply because she set appropriate professional boundaries with Matt Lauer, women are standing up and finally receiving the recognition for their reports of unprofessional and inappropriate behavior .  All over the country, men whom we perceived to have a great deal of power are being told that at the end of the day, they abused that power and now, for the first time, must face the consequences.

It is unclear how long this trend of bestowing consequences for, unfortunately, very common behavior will last.  Human resources managers and attorneys are likely to be kept very busy for a long time.  Yet, as a professional with forensic psychology training and expertise in domestic violence and sexual abuse, I can tell you that while we may get excited by the progress that is happening now, it would be foolish to think that this battle is over.

In fact, smart women know that the war has just begun.  Smart women know that not every organization will support them, even with these changes.  Smart women know that white women may be safer to report sexual harassment than women of color.  Smart women know that just because you report sexual harassment does not mean it stops. Smart women know that startups or companies without actual human resources departments likely do not have the staffing to handle these reports appropriately.  Smart women know that our world is quickly turning into a freelance dominated culture where human resources simply will not exist to help a solopreneur.

A problem that will not go away

Sexual harassment is a problem that will not easily disappear.  Power and control are intoxicating feelings and are often heightened in high stress situations.  If we as women are to have any true impact on the future of the workplace environment, we must come to terms and LEARN how best to manage power dynamics in the workplace.  Mimicking the perpetrator in the office is likely not a good long term strategy but education about power and control is.  Learning to identify the dynamics well before a line is crossed is good prevention.  Knowing how to protect yourself and build alliances in the workplace will continue to be necessary.  Gaining an understanding of why our culture rewards narcissists and other antisocial individuals will help build resilience. These are all skills that traditionally men have been better at than women and we can no longer afford to let these aspects of the game slide.

Young women are at highest risk for thinking that this does not matter.  In her book, Nice Girls Still Don’t Get the Corner Office, Dr. Frankel’s statistics indicate that women still have a long way to go to earn the money and the power that men have. Over the past few years, I have helped numerous clients transform his or her own image to deal with a multitude of environments.  I continue to convey that having a strategy that aligns your personal and professional goals is as necessary for your career as it is for your personal life. Women are the first to say they don’t want to play games.  Unfortunately, in both areas, if you do not play, you likely do not get what you really want and if you are a solopreneur or in a freelance/creative industry, isolation can quickly kill your career.

What is troubling me today is the naïve idea that if we simply tell our stories that the world will change. While building a community is helpful, statistically we have known for years that between 40% – 60% of women in the workplace have experienced behavior that is classified as sexual harassment.  These numbers do not highlight the additional smaller percentage of men who are experiencing it as well.  What the #metoo campaign did well was show men how close to home the problem was but in lacking a further goal, the #metoo campaign also scared a lot of the men that are capable of supporting women.

#MeToo is just a start.  We need a new definition of masculinity.

For a problem that is so common and widespread, the underlying issues will need to be addressed over the long run.  In my opinion, the biggest reason why such behavior is so frequent and common is related to the fundamental lack of respect for relationships in general and a complete lack of communication skill across the board.  Further, we have a culture that teaches men that masculinity is related to how many women you sleep with.  If you want to better understand what is wrong in our workplace, look at the dating industry where young men still pay obscene amounts of money to pick up artists to learn how to sleep with women.  Or visit a high school and listen to the stories of dating violence and bullying.  The behavior starts at a young age and we are doing very little to circumvent it.

Where are All the Good Men?

Over the past five years, I have heard stories from women about why they left their firm to start their own practice or set out to become an entrepreneur.  Most of the time the story highlights a man who made them feel uncomfortable at work and didn’t want to deal with the drama anymore.  Yet, I have also worked with amazing men who are now living with high levels of anxiety about NOT sexually harassing women and are scared that women will misinterpret their behavior if they are friendly towards them.  These men have experienced women in their personal life who have given them feedback that their behavior is in some way inappropriate when they were in no way intending to harm them.  While they take the feedback seriously, they find themselves confused and hurt choosing to avoid contact rather than risking offending another woman.

These men are hiding themselves both personally and professionally at a time when we really need them to step up beside us not behind us.

There has been story after story of fathers who do not know how to address this topic with their daughters or whom think, because they are not a woman, that what they should say does not count.  Silence now sends the message to all the women that their experiences have been trivial.  If you are one of these good guys, it is imperative now that you figure out why you are staying silent.  Women need you more than ever.  Daughters need you to lead and these perpetrators need to know what masculinity really is.

To move the #MeToo conversation forward, these are recommendations we all should consider.

  1. Encouraging people to simply report sexual harassment may put them at risk if they are reporting in an environment that does not value relationships or a healthy work culture. Workshops to train men and women about how to navigate their own work culture prior to making a report will give men and women the tools they need to take a step forward with confidence.
  1. Immediately respond to sexual harassment by saying no and asking for it to stop. This can be verbal or written.  Do not feel ashamed if you realize that certain behavior was sexual harassment at a later point in time.  Simply ask it to stop when you realize what is going on.
  1. Men need to take a hard look at themselves and commit to ongoing personal growth and development. This may mean learning more about relationships and communication at a young age and making the conscious choice to stop using women in their personal lives as validation for their masculinity.  Our culture needs to help men redefine what masculinity is and give our young men choices to find themselves.
  1. Women need to take a hard look at why they often give up their power in both their personal lives and their work lives while trying to find “the one.” Women are so willing to give their power to someone else that it is little wonder why we think men have all the power – they do because we gave it to them.  Books like The Rules are basically manuals on how to be assertive and know your worth.  We have a self-esteem crisis among women in this country and it needs to be addressed now.
  1. Most women feel ashamed that they did not say no right away especially if they have been victims in the past. We have an epidemic of sexual assault and domestic violence in this country and we need to start paying attention and funding the programs that we know work to stop the violence.
  1. Women need to consciously build relationships and create a support team to call upon in times of crisis. Women in relationships are more likely to have no support team outside of her spouse. We need to support everyone in building their team.  Women always do better when they seek legal counsel immediately. Hire a therapist or a coach for a few sessions.  Sometimes even the right career coach can help you navigate this situation.  DO NOT GO IT ALONE.
  1. We are in a dangerous place if we simply focus our attention on the men that commit horrendous behavior and do not validate the men that do the right thing. Individuals and organizations should start to find ways to highlight those people who embody the values and the ideals of company culture.  When we focus on the positive and ignore the negative, everyone’s behavior changes for the best.
  1. We need to focus on social skills and assertiveness training of our for both young men and women starting in middle or high school. Training young women to just get your education without giving attention to the social skills they need to handle future difficult situations will mean that women will stay at the bottom and be scared to assert themselves when needed later in their career. Training men to “be a man” does nothing to give them the skills they need to communicate with women.
  1. Organizations need to start getting smart about using holiday parties and corporate retreats to begin to train men and women about appropriate conversation and respect – and no I don’t mean more of those horrible sexual harassment videos. The biggest issue I see is in the inability of men and women to read nonverbal body language.  The easiest way to teach these skills is to hire a well-trained social dance instructor with psychology training to come and give a lesson.  You may be surprised how easy it is to spot problematic people by watching them lead in a dance lesson and having them experience what it is like to be a follower.
  1. Women need to mentor other women and encourage them to participate in the office politics and help them strategize their career from day one.
  1. Women in their 20s need to realize that dating is a wonderful opportunity to practice boundary setting, negotiation, and relationship skill building Avoiding all dating because you are focusing on your career means less opportunity for practice and a decreased opportunity in better understand men in general. Mindfully cultivate a group of people in your personal life who are supportive and be quick to eliminate anyone who does not meet your standards.
  1. Women need to hire mental health experts to help them deal with their emotions and learn skills to manage their anxiety. Anxiety and fear is often what hold women back whereas men are more likely to simply move forward even if they are scared.
  1. Women need to learn how to think like a detective. Documentation, keeping a journal, knowing how to write emails to collect data etc… go a long way to making a woman feel empowered to take ownership of how she responds to sexual harassment.  Most women do not know how to write effective emails or understand that emails can form the basis of documentation.
  1. Women need to monitor their social media profiles and be active in their industry. Relationships make it easier to find other work if you really need to make a change.  Do not get complacent in your current job.  Always be interviewing.  You will feel more powerful always knowing you have options.
  1. Women need to learn to waste a little time and learn to work smarter, not harder. I can’t tell you the number of women who sacrificed their entire life for a project only for that project to be taken over simply because her boss did not respect her as a colleague.  Boundaries make you more powerful and respected.  Men do not give up their poker game for a date or a business meeting.  You shouldn’t give up your exercise or hobbies.
  1. Money gives women credibility and power.  Be assertive with negotiations and with what you are worth.  If you are in a helping profession or a creative field, do not think that you must be poor to help people.  Money is the tool that will help you help more than a handful of people.  It is why it is the Time’s Up campaign is so powerful.
  1. Invest in learning how to manage your personal image with your hair, makeup, and clothes. I recently gave feedback to a 35-year-old man that he should be wearing a blazer to meetings since he was not the engineer on the project but rather than an attorney. A few weeks later he did it and was shocked with how much more respect he received. Women need to do the same and invest in their appearance as an assertiveness tool.  Men are inherently visual – if you want to give them something to look at, make sure it is your face so they listen to what you say!  In fact, men often dress this way to convey their power.  If you do not match it, you leave yourself vulnerable in some industries.  Learning how to use your dress for different environments is also a powerful tool.
  1. Build your personal life around your core values and value your personal time.  You will need these outlets to cope with difficult work situations.  Life should exist outside your work.  Take the time to focus on your passions – you never know when you will need them or who you will meet participating in them.

So much of what I see in my clinical practice is being experienced in the work environment.  Both men and women need assistance in navigating the new realities of their work and personal lives.  If we all begin to focus on the research that indicates that healthy relationships are vital for our wellbeing and happiness more and more men and women will act more assertively to make change in line with the research. If we also actively reward the women and men who are treating everyone with respect, we can finally change our culture.

Relationships simply make or break our lives.  It’s time to treat them with the respect they deserve.

Dr. Jennifer Rhodes

Dr. Jennifer Rhodes

Licensed Psychologist | Founder of Rapport Relationships | Founder of VAR

Dr. Jennifer Rhodes is a relationship expert and licensed psychologist.  She provides dating strategy, consultation, and date coaching services to clients all over the world.  Dr. Rhodes is a frequently sought media expert on the topics of seduction, sensuality,  dating, divorce, and relationships.  In addition to Rapport Relationships, Dr. Rhodes is the founder of Visual Arts Reimagined (VAR) where she provides services to visual artists interested in entrepreneurship and leadership.