Me Too & What Human Resources Can Do About It

This week, I shared the hashtag “Me too” in a tweet and a status update on social media, just like many of you. I scrolled through and was discouraged by how many updates I saw from others who were similar to me. They included family members, friends, coworkers, and peers.

One of the biggest challenges is that I work in human resources. As an HR and recruiting leader, I am privy to private investigations and conversations that involve of sexual harassment, workplace misconduct, and other things I’d rather forget. Like many of you, I used the hashtag “Me too” this week in a tweet and a status update on social media. The number of updates I saw from others who were similar to me as I browsed through disheartened me. Family, friends, coworkers, and peers were among them.

When I was in high school, I had to learn a difficult lesson regarding sexual assault. Someone very close to me was sexually assaulted at a party by their best friend. My friend turned around and left to use the restroom. They were gone for twenty minutes, and my friend suffered as a result. Even now, 20 years later, the pain associated with this one event is still very present. Only a year later, I went through my own sexual assault and all the associated trauma, baggage, and struggles. Although I don’t think about it frequently, the memory sneaks up on you and sometimes gets the better of you, like when I posted “me too” on my social stream. I cried as I posted, and it was the first time I had publicly acknowledged what had happened to me.

Sexual harassment and assault do not only affect women and do not occur when you are young. Both sexes are the victims and the predators. Whatever the cause, it must end immediately. To stop these attacks from happening so frequently, we must each take a position personally and professionally.

Me To and What’s Next for Individuals

We must take action now that we have all said, “me too.” This implies that, even if it means risking our reputation or our career, we must speak up for ourselves and others when we witness abuse and harassment. It is insufficient to raise awareness. We must act, lend a hand to others, and engage in frank discussions with those who single out the men and women who are committing these atrocities.

It implies that if we do it, we won’t be well-liked. We can face criticism, lose friends, or even face discipline at work. These people act in this way because they are able to. They can prevent it from happening because they have the power to do so. Which is why we must oppose it vehemently. It could entail being honest about a sexual assault that has already occurred or shunning someone for actions that you either knew about or were aware of. Avoiding them or discussing what they did in secret is insufficient because we know it will happen again.

And that’s exactly what happened recently when a buddy confided in me a personal story of being drugged and almost molested by someone I thought of as a friend and coworker up until that point. My family had previously made several trips to the home of this man’s family. I left because of his history of sexual assault, and I later found out that this had happened to other people numerous times.

When a woman or a guy comes forward, we must genuinely support one another. When someone speaks up, we need to stop with the slander, sideline cowering, and mudslinging. Just genuinely say, “I got your back,” to the person that spoke up. The phrase “me too” can only progress in this way. And when my buddy told me her experience, I told her that as well. I ended my friendship with that man and haven’t looked back since.

Me Too and What’s Next for HR

Not just because I work in HR, but also because I work in HR, I want to see change. I want to see equal representation of female and male leaders speaking on panels and at events, as well as an end to misogyny and sexual assault-related stories. And that starts with us, particularly given that 85% of the workforce is female. Even if only in name, I do not support the objectification and abuse of either women or men, despite the fact that I love and respect so many people in my field and at work. For instance, the “Brazen Hussies” are a group of HR women in technology. Even if only by implication, “hussy” is a synonym for “floozy,” “tart,” and “tramp.” These remarks offer everyone outside of our profession or those who are unfamiliar with the group a poor name and a bad reputation, so I won’t support, promote, and celebrate them. So yes, I am publicly requesting that this well-respected group change its name, brand, and stop using it because it misleads so many people in our field. It is an illustration of how a simple thing can have a great influence.

These remarks offer everyone outside of our profession or those who are unfamiliar with the group a poor name and a bad reputation, so I won’t support, promote, and celebrate them. This may seem like a small thing to some, but it serves as a good illustration of how something small can have a significant impact on something much bigger.

You can call me bold for saying that we need to call these behaviors out on ourselves in order to effect change. There should be a way to identify patterns of behavior or to openly discuss issues without hurting those who might be falsely accused or face backlash when we do move forward and openly discuss the behaviors of someone we know, work with, or collaborate with. I’m not advocating for public shaming, defamation, slander, or libel, but there needs to be a way.

I said that when it comes to workplace inquiries, HR is frequently seen as the impartial party. We are familiar with a great deal of employee and company secrets. It’s time for us to speak out against these harassment, misogyny, and sexual assault practices.

HR directors must take charge and draw attention to employee or management behavior trends while also giving managers and staff the tools and resources they require. I want complaints to be taken seriously and addressed, whether they occur at work, after hours, or at professional conferences. To prevent this kind of behavior from being ignored and covered up, everyone must do their part. I don’t give a damn about a person’s wealth, influence, or power.

I give a lot of thought to how I can best help my daughter become ready for the world as she grows up. Ryleigh is eight years old right now and has no idea about my or other people’s experiences with sexual harassment or abuse. She is only a young girl, and I don’t want her to experience any of these problems. She should be left alone to enjoy her childhood, please. “Me too” means nothing to her specifically. Being honest and courageous is the best thing I can do to let others know that this happened is not unique and that harassment and assault are serious issues that shouldn’t be dismissed. She doesn’t need any preparation from me other than to stand up and support those who are speaking out against this conduct. The phrase “Me too” is simply the start of a movement and continuing conversation to expose and stop this discriminatory treatment of men and women. So, absolutely, I’ll be bold in calling these actions out, supporting, and fighting to bring about significant change.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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