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How #MeToo helps prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

The #MeToo movement was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke and gained attention quickly. Organisations must learn from it

Sexual harassment in workplace

Finally, the world has woken up with the #MeToo movement, with several women breaking their silence and accusing men of sexual harassment and sexual assault. It is a great movement globally to ensure the dignity and honour of women. When the victims levelled sexual harassment charges in the past, courts and corporates addressed them earnestly. With the #MeToo movement, victims can come out openly both online and offline to speak against the tormentors, perpetrators and predators who abused them.  

There are several advantages of the #MeToo movement. Office romances have decreased drastically as employees are scared about its misuse by others to settle their personal scores. Previously office politics were confined to the office alone. Now they have hit the social media platforms.

Consider the following tips to avoid getting into sexual harassment cases in the workplace:

  • Be assertive while handling your colleagues, superiors and subordinates
  • Avoid excessive socialisation in the workplace
  • Avoid inappropriate behaviour in the workplace such as unwanted touching and comments, especially others’ dress code and style
  • Avoid sexually explicit forwards on social media and WhatsApp
  • Don’t stare at a person for more than five seconds
  • Be professional and stick to office ethics and etiquette, roles and responsibilities
  • Keep cultural aspects in view when you work in a global environment because what might appear as normal for one individual may appear as  sexual harassment for another individual
  • Gifting is a great habit. Ensure that the recipient doesn’t view it negatively in the workplace
  • Understand the difference between intentions and actions and intent and impact. At times, it is the impact rather than the intent that constitutes sexual harassment 
  • Avoid conversations with difficult individuals and jerks
  • Behave carefully, as relationships are dynamic in the workplace with changing equations and challenges
  • Use your head, not heart when you associate with your colleagues especially the opposite sex or with the same sex if you are  gay or a lesbian
  • Draw a clear line between your professional responsibilities and personal relations in the workplace. Don’t interfere excessively in others’ personal issues and don’t allow them to enter into your personal issues

The #MeToo movement is neither a male bashing nor a female bashing. It is neither a social media steroid nor a publicity stunt. It is the voice of the victims that was suppressed for many years

Organisations must provide anti-harassment training to educate employees about the dos and don’ts in the workplace. They must educate employees about the activities and behaviours that fall into the bracket of sexual harassment.  They must strengthen their existing laws to prevent sexual harassment and abuses in the workplace. Adequate care must be taken before firing the accused employees. Apart from rules and regulations, there must be change in the mindset of the people to respect diversity and inclusion.

At a time when fake information goes viral much faster than factual information, it is essential to ensure the sanctity of the #MeToo movement by checking the accusations for accuracy and authenticity. The investigators must be unbiased and professional. They must check whether the claims are credible. They must check the facts before coming to the conclusion. They must check whether the allegations have been made to settle their personal scores in a professional environment and public places.

So far, #MeToo has remained as an elitist movement. It must reach average and ordinary individuals to enable them to come out openly and boldly to punish the culprits. It is essential to sustain this movement in the larger interests of society.

The #MeToo movement is neither a male bashing nor a female bashing. It is neither a social media steroid nor a publicity stunt. It is the voice of the victims that was suppressed for many years. It is a cry of the women and men who have been harassed and abused. It must be taken seriously and addressed earnestly. It must be welcomed wholeheartedly to build better societies globally. If we want to survive as a healthy civilisation advocating this movement is essential. To conclude, the #MeToo movement helps advance women empowerment and achieve gender equality globally. Hence, everyone must welcome this movement irrespective of their gender to ensure dignity and honour for both sexes.

28 November 2018. This is an adapted excerpt from MS Rao's upcoming book tentatively titled 'Strategies to Build Women Leaders Globally: Think Managers, Think Men; Think Leaders, Think Women'

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