Monday, 5 March 2018

Success of #MeToo Does Not Translate To Real Workplaces

On a day when the elite of Hollywood gather to congratulate and award themselves, I am listening to a radio report about abusive behaviour towards women in the workplace.

On Hollywood's night of nights, much is being made of the #MeToo movement and its success in raising awareness of abusive, exploitative and discriminatory workplace behaviour, and quite rightly too.

The fact that very wealthy, successful and empowered stars of the screen have had difficulty finding the courage to “call out” bad behaviour in the film and television industry only highlights how difficult it is for let's say normal everyday people to make a complaint or raise a behaviour issue.

I am listening to how women generally feel a lack of empowerment to follow internal complaint procedures when they feel they have been treated or behaved towards in the wrong way.

A highly qualified, confident woman is outlining her workplace experience and her efforts to tough it out before finally leaving, but not before her health was impacted. She was a senior professional working in a professional environment and one dominated by males.

She admitted being aware of the policies and procedures in place to protect her and being aware of complaint procedures she should follow.

She also admitted having little or no confidence in the role the Human Resources area would play in addressing her issues. She said it is a common perception that HR exists to protect the employer and not the employee in cases of complaint.

This is a perception I heard many times during my Corporate Life and I add, one from my observation to not be correct.

My observation was that a formal complaint was always handled professionally and correctly by HR. My concern is HR would not look in to a matter brought to their attention unless a formal complaint was lodged.

In my opinion, Corporates are serious about addressing and correcting any and all cases of inappropriate behaviour and to do so in a way that is fair to all.

However, if significant progress is to made to eliminate inappropriate workplace behaviour, the process for raising issues needs to change and the perception of HR areas needs to be respected. As the saying goes “perception is reality”.

It can no longer be the domain of HR to be a part of the process of investigation or recommending any action based on an investigation. It is not uncommon for a complaint to be quite correctly un-substantiated. When this happens, HR are accused of being biased in favour of the employer. It is a no win situation.

The process for making a complaint needs to involve an independent party and this needs to be the first step in the process. It needs to be taken outside of the employer’s domain.

The identity of the complainant needs to remain confidential and recommended actions following an investigation needs to be provided in the first instance to an independent Director.

I realise my suggestion is extreme and I also realise I have included very few operational details including how an investigation would be conducted.

My key point is, most employees do not feel empowered to take action when feeling bullied, harassed or discriminated against and a better pathway needs to be found.

Employers are serious about stamping these behaviours out of their workplaces. To do so, they need to put in place far better and more meaningful processes for doing so.

And at the same time, simply knowing there is an independent process in place will have an immediate positive impact on workplace behaviour.

It is time to back up the words with meaningful action.

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