#Metoo changed the gender equality landscape dramatically in the space of a few months. Here’s how we can build upon those hard-won gains.
#Metoo has shaken the world – and rightly so. That it has taken until 2017 for significant attention to be paid to the harassment and abuse that women have been subjected to by men they know, in workplaces that proclaim their ‘values’, is staggering.
In the U.S., the #metoo movement has raged its way through Hollywood, the music industry, the church, the military, and government. The corporate world won’t escape this tide of transparency. While corporates have historically been under more pressure to stamp out sexual harassment and discrimination, it still occurs and is often poorly handled.
The big myth that organisations ‘protect us from harm’ has been outed. Even in the days when it was acceptable for organisations to be benevolent and protective, they weren’t. The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is a prime example of this. As is #ChurchToo, #MeTooMilitary and #MeTooCongress in the US, the closure of the Presidents Club in the UK, and other responses across the world.
Why has it been so hard to attract a spotlight with sufficient wattage to this issue?
Because women know it’s dangerous to be outspoken on gender equity – you get targeted if you are.
Sustaining a focus on harm, abuse, and violence is exhausting. It’s overwhelming and becomes depowering. We go elsewhere to be replenished, and then lose momentum.
When we see white men persistently holding on to power, and not sharing it, it is unclear what can be done.
And what we now know from the unconscious bias research is that women have the same biases and inconsistencies; it isn’t women versus men, it’s gender-based views about women’s and men’s roles, which is complicated, and confusing.
This year’s International Women’s Day refocuses the #metoo momentum in a positive way. #Pressforprogress provides an optimistic, action-oriented window of opportunity for change. #Pressforprogress calls on us to set up a virtuous cycle instead of staying trapped in this one. To focus on rights, rather than wrongs.
A clear focus on progress will help make progress visible, and make more progress.
What has #metoo achieved?
One of the intentions of the #metoo campaign was to draw attention to the prevalence and unacceptability of sexual harassment. It has done much more than that.
On a personal level, #metoo reminded me of my own small experience of harassment. In my first days as a full-time worker in a large organization I was told by co-workers that my new boss, a middle-aged man, chased female employees around the office on a regular basis. I was staggered by this news. At first, I couldn’t believe it.
Then I saw it happen.
And yes, he did it on a regular basis. Thankfully, I learnt pretty quickly that if you didn’t play the game, that is, run when expected to, he didn’t play either. What a relief! What strikes me as I remember it is that slight frisson of fear ‘What if he catches me?’ So far as I know, he didn’t ever catch anyone, but that isn’t the point. The point is the intimidation and fear that is caused by something projected as a seemingly harmless ‘game’, but which clearly is not.
Ironically, his name was Mr Speed, so perhaps he thought that gave him some kind of license. But his license also came from our collusion in being chased. There’s a kind of helplessness to do anything different even though it’s clear that it’s not OK. More frighteningly, tacit license came from the organisation and its authority figures. His behaviour wasn’t a secret. And it wasn’t sanctioned.
This is minor in comparison with the abuse that many have suffered. I appreciate that I have been lucky – there’s no other way to explain it – to have avoided serious abuse and harassment in my life. And for that I remain extremely thankful.
What progress has #metoo made?
On a broader level, #metoo:
- Saw public, tough consequences for some (admittedly high-profile) abusers;
- Opened to scrutiny what had been widely known about, but not subjected to public awareness. It created a sense of transparency and accountability;
- Catalyzed men and women into joining the movement against widespread, endemic abuse. We stood up and said publicly that it wasn’t acceptable.
#MeToo has put serious dents in some myths about women (and they still need work):
- ‘Women don’t enjoy sex’: men who believe this don’t buy ‘no means no’, and expect women to resist;
- ‘Women are men’s property’ which means that consent doesn’t matter;
- ‘She must have provoked it’ which means that it’s her fault;
- ‘She could have just said no’, which means that she said no and I ignored her anyway.
There’s certainly been some collateral damage, and if only it could have been avoided. Victims are traumatised, there are false accusations, not everyone has been called to account, there’s backlash and disagreement about what it means.
It’s time to shift the dialogue, and #pressforprogress makes for good timing. We’ve outed past wrongs. We’ve gone some distance in redressing some wrongs. We’ve challenged myths. Now how do we get better gender equity so that we don’t backslide; so that we keep these gains and build upon them?
A relentless focus on progress will speed the rate of change. We need to see the task ahead as akin to rain falling, collecting and being channelled along the rocks. As it collects and gathers force the runnels go deeper and wider. The flow increases and gathers force. The underlying rock is eroded and the runnel becomes a river that becomes a waterfall. Like water pouring over a waterfall, each drop, each surge of progress, erodes the resistance, deepens the possibilities, and increases the momentum.
How organisations can #pressforprogress:
As a foundation, organisations must provide a safe environment for all workers, and pay particular attention to those who have lower levels of power. They need to ensure there is a zero tolerance policy for harassment, and actively grow a culture founded on respect for others. They must be both deeply committed to safety, and advocate strongly for equality, to create a culture that is true to their words. Nothing else is good enough.
The single most important factor in motivating people to put in effort, is the perception of making progress in meaningful work. When people experience a sense of progress, they are more intrinsically motivated.
Organisational leaders should ensure that they:
Notice all progress towards safety and inclusion, no matter how small;
- Provide structure, resources and help to support diversity and inclusion;
- Provide emotional support to nourish human connection and belonging.
And do these things relentlessly.
What can individuals do?
The best way to use our effort to make progress is to be hyper-aware of even very small signs of progress and draw attention to them.
Notice some signs of progress every single day. Notice even tiny amounts of progress. Share your own. Share other’s stories. Tell progress stories whenever you can. This magnifies motivation to make progress.
While we are not there yet, there have been many gains, and 2017 has increased the momentum for equality. The ability to notice even small amounts of progress reduces the impact of setbacks, boosts positive emotions and engagement, and sustains effort to achieve long-term outcomes.
Progress motivates people to accept difficult challenges more readily and to persist longer.
#Pressforprogress in 2018 by noticing and sharing your progress, and the progress of others.