Are workplaces actually changing as a result of #MeToo?

Companies aren’t doing enough to address the revelations from #MeToo, according to a new Harvard Business Review survey.

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have certainly raised awareness about sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace, and along with that awareness, the hopes and expectations that finally some corrective action might be taken to shift the culture of sexism and misogyny.

But are employers actually taking concrete action to make their companies safer and more inclusive places for women? A new study released this week from Harvard Business Review (HBR) shows mixed results.

The HBR research polled 1,100 people via an online, opt-in survey. Only 19 percent of women and 23 percent of men say their workplace has offered additional training. Only 23 percent of women and 17 percent of men have seen tangible change at work that leads them to believe the system will respond appropriately if issues arise in the future. And only 16 percent of women and 14 percent of men say, "My workplace has introduced new policies, procedures, or systems that make it easier for people to speak up when they have concerns."

That doesn’t sound promising.

Some good news from the survey

The good news from the survey is that more people are comfortable speaking up.

“Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of the respondents in our survey describe #MeToo as ‘healthy,’ and 45 percent say talking about harm they are experiencing is now safer. In fact, 41 percent of the women in our survey know someone who has shared their story of harassment since these movements began, and 28 percent have shared their own story. However, about half of the women (48 percent) reported that they have a story they haven’t shared,” according to the report.

In addition, more men seem to be reviewing their behavior; nearly half now say they’ve done something in the past that could be construed as sexual harassment or misconduct.

But there’s evidence, too, of a backlash. A third of the women and half of the men surveyed say they know someone who’s been “excessively harmed” or wrongfully accused of sexual harassment since the movements took hold. And the research shows that in some cases, managers aren’t holding women as accountable as they could for fear they’ll be accused of inappropriate behavior. “Men and women aren’t talking to each other. The environment is becoming sterile and completely unenjoyable to work in,” one respondent noted.

Wrongful accusations are rare, and I’d honestly rather work in a “sterile” environment than one that is openly hostile and sexist, but that’s just me. As the survey authors, Candace Bertotti and David Maxfield, say, this represents a great opportunity for company leadership and managers to step up and commit to changing company culture. Some of their suggestions include creating a measurement and accountability system, publicly championing change and supporting initiatives to eliminate hostile environments, and going beyond the “information dumps” tactic of training to constantly and consistently reinforce new skills.

“People need to know how to coach, mentor, and meet one on one with members of the opposite sex without creating discomfort or running the risk of false accusations. Teach employees to address uncomfortable or awkward situations well before they rise to the level of harassment or misconduct. Rehearse the reporting process, including how to document, report, and escalate a problem. Create anonymized case studies that tell the story of how incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct are investigated, adjudicated, and punished,” Bertotti and Maxfield say.

Employers can’t drag their feet here – these movements are gathering momentum, and it’s time to lead before they’re left behind.

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