A human resources expert reached out to me this week as part of her research on how leaders in different industries are reacting to the #MeToo movement. Coming from commercial real estate, a traditionally male-dominated industry, I’ve certainly heard it all – from both ends of the spectrum. “It’s a witch hunt” and “I won’t dare be alone with a female colleague ever again” to “I’m glad this is happening because I have a [daughter, sister, wife or mother] in the workforce.” Sadly, despite all the good that’s happening, there is a backlash that is beginning to stifle the necessary conversations and put a chill in gender relations. But this doesn’t have to be the case.
For those leaders and others who are struggling with what to say or do post-#MeToo, here are a few guidelines to consider implementing or at least discussing.
1. Do not hire, promote or reward employees who are disrespectful. We interview candidates at restaurants so that we can observe how they treat wait staff. We tour them around the office to watch how they interact with potential colleagues. This apparently gives us insight into their character. Why not apply this same character test to their treatment of women? When you are interviewing a candidate or considering someone for a promotion, really listen to how they speak about their female colleagues and the other women in their lives. Disrespect is disrespect. It is never professional. And, a disrespectful employee, no matter how much rain they make today, may ultimately do irreparable damage to your company’s productivity and reputation.
2. Private body parts, male or female, should never be displayed or discussed in the office or at a work-related event. I can’t believe this needs to be said, but apparently, it does. This goes for both genders who may not be aware of the colleagues and clients who they are making uncomfortable. We call them “private parts” for a reason. Keep them private. The rest of us would really appreciate it.
3. If it’s not a compliment you would say to a colleague of the same gender, then don’t say it. I often hear men compliment their male colleagues for having a good sock game and for sporting a fashionable shirt or tie. As well they should. We all want to look professional and some of us like to be stylish. But they don’t say “I bet your toe cleavage looks sexy under those socks,” or “your pecs are looking particularly luscious in that shirt today” or even “you know what I’d like to do with that tie.” If you can’t tell the difference between complimenting a colleague on a nice outfit and a sexualized statement, then it is probably best you don’t say anything at all. However, you might want to ask yourself, why is it that you don’t know the difference?
4. What was socially acceptable in the 1980s and 1990s is no longer acceptable today and that’s ok. Cultural change happens. Emotionally intelligent employees and companies learn, evolve and move on. Those who cannot do so probably do not have the necessary skills to make it in our rapidly changing work environment. This does not mean we go back over everything that happened in the past 30 years with a 2018 cultural lens unless there is an ongoing pattern in the present day. However, there is an exception to this…
5. Assault is assault is assault no matter when or where it happened. There is a huge difference between assault and an inappropriate comment. Assault has never been ok, is not ok, and will never be ok. But, let’s be clear – reporting an assault is akin to being assaulted all over again. It is not something anyone wants to go through once, let alone twice. This is why, despite rumors to the contrary, women are not racing to HR in order to make up false accusations in hopes of furthering their careers. Could it happen? Possibly. Does it happen to the male colleague who treats both genders with the respect a professional colleague deserves? Rarely. Should we punish an entire gender for the actions of individuals? No. And that goes for both men and women.
6. No more meetings in hotel rooms. This is apparently a thing in some industries. But it needs to stop. At no point should a business meeting or work-related event ever take place in an individual’s hotel room. We have so many alternatives for professional meeting spaces now from coffee shops to co-working spaces to hourly boardroom rentals. The responsibility is not on those with less power to refuse the meeting (although it should by now raise some red flags); the responsibility is on the individual calling the meeting to arrange an appropriate workspace.
7. The core of the #MeToo movement is not about dating. Yes, the stories about awful dates with celebrities, tech leaders, and venture capitalists are part of the conversation, but the core of the movement is focused on the misuse of power within the workplace and work-related environments. Admittedly it gets difficult when it’s unclear if the meeting is for work or social reasons (see tips #2, 3, 4, and 6 to help avoid some of the confusion). However, if a situation falls into that confusing “date-working” category, then the onus is on the individual in the position of power (male or female) to clarify if this is a work or social meeting right up front and then behave accordingly.
For most of us, this appears to be common sense and we can continue to treat both male and female colleagues maturely, professionally and equally. But it is proving to not be so common in certain industries. This is why the responsibility rests on leaders within each company and industry to step up, set the tone, continue the conversation, and model the appropriate behavior. You’ll be surprised what it will ultimately do for attracting and maintaining talent as well as increasing the overall productivity of your company.
Diane Danielson is the Chief Operating Officer of SVN International Corp., a commercial real estate franchisor with over 200+ offices and 1600+ advisors in 6 countries. SVN was recently recognized by CREW Network as one of 10 companies modeling best practices for gender equity and inclusion in commercial real estate.
+1 “Share this one, how many people in #CRE do you know who should read this? Play it forward like the professional you know you are!” -Duke Long