Me Too & What Human Resources Can Do About It

Like many of you on social media, I posted and tweet and a status update with the words “Me too” this week. I scrolled through and was disheartened by the number of updates I saw just like me. These were friends, colleagues, peers, family members, and friends.

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. And so that is why I was extremely sad and disheartened to see in an industry that is 85% female to see so many me too’s in my social streams most of these my peers and colleagues. It taught me that just because we work in HR doesn’t protect us from sexual harassment or assault ourselves.

At a young age, I learned a hard lesson about sexual assault while in high school. Someone very close to me was raped by their best friend at a party. My friend walked away to go to the bathroom. They left my sight for 20 minutes, and my friend became a victim. The trauma of this single incident even now 20 years later still runs deep.  Only just a year later, I myself experienced sexual assault and the personal struggle, trauma, and baggage it leaves. It’s not something I think about every day, but the memory creeps up on you and hits you at different times like it did when I wrote 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 assault and harassment doesn’t just happen when you are young, and it is not just limited to women. It’s both sexes that are the predators and the victims. Whatever the reason it just needs to stop. We need to personally and professionally take a stand to end these attacks being so commonplace.

Me To and What’s Next for Individuals

Now that we’ve all shared “me too” we need to do something about it. This means to stand up for ourselves and others when we see assault and harassment happening even if it means our reputation or our job is at stake. It’s not enough to drive awareness. We need to take action, help others and have those hard conversations with people who are singling our the people (men and women) who are doing these things.
It means we won’t be popular when we do it. We might receive backlash, loose friend, or even be reprimanded at work. These people do these things because they can. They have the power and in order to keep it from happening. Which is why we need to take a strong stand against. It might mean talking openly about a sexual assault that has happened in the past or boycotting a person for their behaviors that you knew/know about. It’s not enough to avoid them or talk about what they did in the shadows because we know it will happen again.

And that’s exactly what happened recently when a friend told me in confidence a personal story of her being drugged and nearly assaulted that until that moment by someone I considered a friend and colleague. This was a guy who my family had visited his family’s home on multiple occasions. I walked away from all that because of his pattern of sexual assault later learning this had happened to others on multiple occasions.

We need to truly support each other when a woman or a man comes forward. We need to quit with the gossip, sideline cowering, or the mudslinging when someone stands up. Just tell that person who came forward, “I got your back,” and really do. This is truly the only way “me too” will move forward. And that’s what I told my friend when she shared her story with me. I walked away from that friendship with that man and have never looked back.

Me Too and What’s Next for HR

I want to see change not just because I work in HR but also because I work in HR. I want to see equal representation of women and male leaders speaking at events, on panels, and the misogyny and stories of sexual assault to end. And that starts with us especially when the industry is 85% female. While I love and respect so many in my industry and in my work, I do not support the objectifying and assaulting of women or men even if by name only. For example, there is an HR women technology group called the “Brazen Hussies.” Hussy is a synonym for floozy, tart, and tramp even if by implying only. I won’t don’t support, promote, and celebrate these words because they give everyone outside of our industry or those who are not familiar with the group a bad name and reputation. So yes, I am publicly calling for this well-respected group to re-brand, re-name, and end this use of this name which sends a wrong message to so many in our industry. It is an example of a how a small thing is impacting something much bigger.

I won’t don’t support, promote, and celebrate these words because they give everyone outside of our industry or those who are not familiar with the group a bad name and reputation. While this is a little thing to some, it is an example of a how a small thing is impacting something much bigger we really need to consider.

Call me brazen myself for suggesting that in order to make the change we must call out these behaviors ourselves. I’m not suggesting that public shaming, defamation, slander, or libel should occur, however, there needs to be a way to find a pattern of behavior or to openly discuss things without fear or hurting those who might be wrongly accused or receiving backlash when we do move forward to openly discuss the behaviors of someone we know, work with, or collaborate.

I mentioned that HR is often looked at as the neutral party when it comes to workplace investigations. We know so many of the company and employees secrets. It’s time we take a stand against these behaviors as it relates to sexual assault, misogyny, and harassment.

HR leaders need to step up and call attention to employee or manager patterns of behavior while also providing leaders and employees the training and resources they need. I want complaints whether they happen in the workplace, after hours, or at industry conferences to be taken seriously and addressed. Everyone needs to do their part to help end this type of behavior from being brushed off and pushed under the rug. I don’t care how much money, power, or influence the person may or may not have.

I think a lot about my daughter as she grows up and how I can help prepare her for this world. Ryleigh is eight right now and knows nothing of my own personal experience or the experience of others on the subject of sexual harassment or assault. She is just a little girl, and I don’t want her to have to face this issues at all. I’d like to let her enjoy childhood and just be. “Me too” has no meaning for her personally. The best thing I can do is be open and brave so that people know that it’s not an isolated incident and that harassment or assault shouldn’t be just laughed off. I don’t need to prepare her for anything except for standing up and supporting others against this behavior. “Me too” is just the beginning of an ongoing conversation and a movement to call out and end this behavior against men and women. So yes, I’ll be brazen at calling out these behaviors, supporting, and working to drive meaningful change.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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