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#METOO

By Erica Whyman

I tend to lean toward article topics that are relevant to the national landscape and important to the audience of the business owners and executives of McHenry Consulting, Inc.’s newsletter.

This month, I thought it would be amiss as a Human Resource Professional working in an HR industry, to not speak to the allegations against Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein, of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

Over 65 women have come forward with various allegations spanning decades, Mr. Weinstein has been terminated from The Weinstein Company, and subpoenas have been issued for all documents related to complaints and any settlements.

Following the allegations, a social media campaign erupted, when Alyssa Milano, tweeted, asking men and women who have found themselves victims to change their status to #MeToo and the internet was flooded. The Associated Press reported that Facebook shared the hashtag more than 12 million times in the first 24 hours. When you look at what is happening on social media, it almost seems as if this is not an issue but an epidemic.

The story continues to capture headlines, from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley.

This though is not new, the EEOC has been telling us that harassment in the workplace is a problem, they have released more guidance, polls, and laws have been enacted at both the Federal and State level. In fact, California, home to Hollywood, is one of the strictest states in regards to anti-harassment regulations.

The EEOC also reports that people do not report harassment, about 1 in 4 people have been victims and 3 out 4 victims did not report it.

As an HR professional I have developed and conducted thousands of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace trainings, and usually to bored crowds, who know everything that I am about to say. Lots of eye rolling and weak jokes.

When I speak to executives I get serious questions about reducing liability and protecting the organization from unsubstantiated complaints.

Are these trainings redundant and actually ineffective? I looked it up, and sure enough there are studies that show harassment training can actually have the opposite of the intended effect, resulting in people being less likely to be able to identify harassment and become more likely to place the blame on the victim. Great.

In 2017 this seems like a problem that should not exist. I ask myself from an HR standpoint, is just having the policies and procedures or a section in the handbook about harassment enough? Are we in a moment, when maybe companies need to take the conversation from Twitter to the Boardroom and start looking at preventing this problem in a new way. From a business perspective, do we need to hear more and do more?

I listened to an interview with EEOC commissioner, Chai Feldblum, who spoke about this. She summed it up well when asked about how you make a change,

“The first is leadership. It's actually telling employees, we do not tolerate harassment in this workplace - and then having employees believe what they say. Leaders say a lot of things. It's about demonstrating authenticity. And you demonstrate authenticity by your actions - having a good policy, having an investigation system that takes people seriously, holding people accountable. The harassers - holding them accountable. Their managers and supervisors who hear about harassment - holding them accountable if they didn't respond appropriately.”

Feldblum suggests changes to our training, including bystander intervention training, to encourage bystanders to stand up on behalf of our colleagues.

“We cannot be complacent bystanders and expect our workplace cultures to change themselves.”

Another interview I listened to on the topic spoke about the traditional structure of Human Resource Departments and how they are a hindrance to the process when one of their primary roles is to protect the company.

"There's a misconception [about] HR," Bryan Arce, the managing partner at New York City firm Phillips & Associates, tells Newsweek. "The HR department has an inherent interest in helping the company, because the company's name is on their paycheck."

Of course people disagree, including the Society for Human Resources.

I wonder if reporting and subsequent investigation were done by a third party with no skin in the game, would it be easier to report and investigate the issue, thus coming to unbiased findings.

When it comes to eradicating harassment in the workplace, maybe we need less boring trainings from people like me, and we need powerful leaders stepping up to the conversation, and policies that work for employees.

I think regardless of how we got here, this is becoming a national conversation and as business owners in the HR arena, I think we should join it.

On a personal note, I was twenty-two years old when I started working in PEO. I was lucky that my role gave me direct interaction with executive leadership. We were in growth mode at the time, and involved in various acquisitions and due diligence events. We found ourselves working late hours and weekends. I was never once made to feel uncomfortable by these men. There were no crude jokes made and no inappropriate advances. I never felt threatened. These men were more mentors to me than bosses.

This is not the experience of everyone, but it is worth when having a conversation, national or otherwise to tell the other side of the story.

To comment on this topic or contribute to our human resources conversation, follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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About the Author

Erica Whyman is the Director of Human Capital Strategies at McHenry Consulting, Inc. and an authority on the delivery of high impact HR services as well as the development, and talent management of human capital within the professional employer industry (PEO).

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