With the #MeToo movement still going strong, it’s causing many to ask themselves either “has this happened to me?” or “did I do something like this to someone else?” It’s empowering victims to speak out while at the same time terrifying perpetrators to think about whether something they did in the past may cause them to be accused today. If you find yourself on the wrong side of this equation, know there are ways you can get back on the right side and help cultivate a healthier workplace for all of your coworkers.
Let’s start to break this fear wall down: first of all, if you’re generally a fair person and well liked by most people in your company, then you shouldn’t have much to fear. However, if you find yourself frequently acting like a jerk, a bully, playing favorites or pitting people against each other, then people will assume the worst of you and jump at the chance to call you out for misconduct. So if you fall in the latter category, you’ll have to work harder and start changing your behavior to give people a more positive impression of you.
Plain and simple, if you find yourself being accused of sexual misconduct — APOLOGIZE. This may come as a shock to some of you, but all most people really want is a sincere and honest apology. They want to hear that you’re sorry and that you will never do something like that again (important note, “I’m sorry you feel this way” isn’t an apology). If you can empathize with how the other person feels, this shouldn’t be hard at all. Just imagine if a bully from your past came up to you and gave you a sincere apology, wouldn’t it make you have more compassion for that person?
Now it’s time to evaluate your management style. Are you giving women a chance to lead? Are you seeking them out to mentor them in their careers? If not, then do something about that. Statistically, women are less represented in leadership the higher you go in a company. A hallmark of most harassment claims – and we’ve seen this over and over during the #MeToo movement – is that there is an imbalance in power. The results of this imbalance manifest themselves in the form of pay inequity, a lack of women in key leadership positions (and even worse, no pipeline from which to promote women) and in some cases, the presence of sexually harassing behavior.
Empathy and awareness should be listed as key traits on every job description because they are work skills that everyone should have or hope to develop. Look, you can’t change the past, but you can change how you act today and that will change the future for all of us.