Some Insights on the #MeToo Movement and Harassment in the Workplace


This was first published as the “Ask HR” column in USA TODAY.


(Photo: Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images)

A year ago, high-profile allegations of sexual harassment set off the #MeToo movement. Since then, the shockwaves have disrupted workplaces across the country.

Employers and employees at workplaces from hotels to Hollywood continue to raise questions about this critical issue.

I can’t answer them all in this column. But I can share some insights and offer my answer to what I think is the most important question.

First, let me say that some progress has been made.

With the help of HR, many employers have stepped up to establish or clarify policies to make sure that everyone knows what the rules are and what to do if someone breaks those rules. About 94 percent of U.S. organizations now have anti-harassment policies in place­­.

We also have seen more workplaces offering anti-harassment training. They are conducting training in person and on a regular basis and making training mandatory.

At the same time work is being done to prevent future harassment, many current offenders are being shown the door. HR pros, CEOs and boards of directors have made difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions to stand up to bad actors, no matter their title and rank.

Additional action has also come from the top. More executives are strongly and publicly communicating that inappropriate behavior won’t be tolerated at their organizations. They are also changing their own behavior, with one-third of those polled in a recent Society for Human Resource Management survey saying they have changed their conduct at work to eliminate the perception of harassment behavior.

Why? Because executives see first-hand how sexual harassment negatively affects morale, productivity and employee turnover.

I applaud these bold actions. But I do caution executives not to overcorrect. If they go too far in changing their workplace relationships, there may be unintended, but real, consequences. Women might find fewer opportunities for networking and promotion because of arms-length or no professional relationships with male superiors, for example.

So overall, there is indeed good news. But is it enough?

Has #MeToo moved beyond a hashtag to become a movement that results in a real, lasting cultural transformation in our workplaces?

That’s my big question that leaders need to answer honestly.

What’s my answer? I believe that, for there to be significant and long-term change, more needs to be done.

The improvements in training and education must continue. This includes helping employees understand what sexual harassment is and what it is not under the law.

Everyone has a role to play. Employees must know that if they see something, they need to say something so that their HR department and company can do something.

The right decisions and the right education will go far to help address this issue. But one critical step remains: We must do more to cultivate and encourage a healthy culture.

An organization’s culture is defined as how things really work there. A culture is not healthy when it fosters or tolerates harassment of any kind. A healthy one provides the compass for acceptable behavior, policing itself for inappropriate or harassing conduct from anyone at any time.

What’s more, we must:

  • Push for real diversity at all levels, including the C-suite and board room.
  • Apply rules about behavior consistently. They must apply to both women and men and to those in the C-suite as well as the cubicles.
  • Expect leaders to be role models, setting the expectations for a culture that values everyone and treats everyone with respect. Others should also take on the shared responsibility for change.

The past year has been a difficult one in many ways.

But I believe we are headed in the right direction. Now, we must commit to keep moving forward to cultivate a culture that does not tolerate harassment of any kind.


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