Time’s Up in our industry too

Sexual harassment is not just a problem in Hollywood, it’s across our entire culture – especially the workplace. As leaders in our industry, it’s our responsibility to create a culture that puts a stop to this problem. #TimesUp

Sexual harassment is not just a problem in Hollywood, it’s across our entire culture – especially the workplace. As leaders in our industry, it’s our responsibility to create a culture that puts a stop to this problem. #TimesUp

Were you as taken as I was by the power of Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globes Awards? Her words about the harassment of women in the entertainment industry have been swirling in my head ever since.

What really hit home for me was her point that harassment is…

“…not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace.”

The #MeToo movement Oprah praised has, in a few short months, exposed just how pervasive sexual harassment is across our entire culture, especially in the workplace. It has forced us to confront the issue head on, and for leaders in my industry to figure out how it impacts us – and how we can act to end it.

I am a woman leader in a field where a majority of the workers also are women. Despite the dominance of women in the industry’s workforce, there is still a larger percentage of men in a position of power over them, whether on the client or the agency side. It is my belief that because of this, the communications industry has a special responsibility to address the issue. Given how many women have experienced harassment (or worse)  wherever they work, chances are high that the problem is even more prevalent in communications.

We need to act, and with urgency

The question becomes how should we respond, so that we address not just the symptoms of the problem, but its roots.

Clearer rules and policies. Faster and more stringent investigations. Harsher and more certain consequences for serious offenders.

All of these are important. But we can’t solve the long-term problem simply with policies.

Terminating someone for acts of harassment may weed out one symptom of the problem, but it doesn’t cure it. Elevating more women to leadership isn’t a cure-all either.

The solution is about a more fundamental change. We must review and reinvent the culture of our workplaces around respect for all.

The kind of culture I’m talking about is one where people feel empowered to speak up about this issue, at any level. It’s one where we can have honest conversations about the issue. It’s one where we’re able to step in early and correct people before problems develop, rather than waiting for the consequences to become more serious.

That culture doesn’t happen by itself

It takes leadership, inclusion and effort.

First, leaders – women and men alike – not only need to take the issue seriously in words, but also demonstrate their commitment. Change starts with us. Leaders who model the behavior they expect of others in the workplace are a lot more likely to succeed in changing how everyone else behaves. This is about more than lectures; it’s about establishing that respect for others and for individual differences is the norm in the workplace.

Next, just as they do in society, workplace cultures and values develop collaboratively. Dictates from the top don’t work. There are significant differences in expectations among people of different cultural, geographic, economic, age and gender backgrounds. Inclusive collaboration across every office at every level will allow culture to develop naturally.  These ways are just the beginning of the action which will begin to create the foundation of respect that is the real cure for the prevalent problem that gave rise to the #MeToo campaign.

Then, and only then, can we begin to imagine the reality of what Oprah wishes that “all the girls watching here, now, know that a new day is on the horizon!”

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