A woman I work with — I’ll call her Jenna — had a conversation with Brian, a friend and male colleague, about how the #MeToo movement has opened her eyes to how pervasive and entrenched the problem of sexualized behavior is in the workplace. Brian agreed, and then added that there needs to be a distinction in behavior that is traumatizing, like rape, and other behavior, like an inappropriate sexual comment at a work dinner. The degree of anger Jenna felt at his response took her by surprise. Here, a friend who considered himself a proponent of change, missed an opportunity for self-reflection and empathy, and instead turned the conversation into how women should experience varying degrees of degrading behavior.
Jenna believes everyone needs to be part of the conversation to change the culture that produced the need for #MeToo. She herself was initially uncomfortable with #MeToo, concerned that men could feel attacked. After this conversation with Brian, she had an ‘aha’ moment — a recognition that perhaps men are processing this cultural movement very differently than women. Although #MeToo is a learning opportunity for everyone, she believes men are more challenged when it comes to perspective-taking and deep listening. With this insight, Jenna committed herself to having more of these uncomfortable conversations, because they are the necessary bridge between perspectives.
The #MeToo movement makes it clear that now is the time to transform workplaces to address inequities and foster more evolved ways of doing business. Now is the time for companies to be intentional in making workplaces dignified and diverse. Practicing intention promotes skillful reflection and cultivates the capacity to challenge entrenched and outdated beliefs that minimize and excuse bad behavior. Systems that haven’t evolved until now are invested, consciously or unconsciously, in the status quo. But companies that create an intentional work culture around dignity and diversity will be sought out as desirable workplaces, and consumers should take note and support these companies.
How does intention foster transformation? It changes the conversation. It places these two core values — dignity and diversity — as central to a company’s purpose, where they belong. After all, how can a company identify as truly innovative when it doesn’t provide a safe, vibrant environment that enables and encourages all employees to thrive? And innovation is lacking when a company’s leadership and employees don’t reflect the diversity of the customers it wants to attract. To change culture, make every person, at every level, part of the solution.
Change is usually uncomfortable. Tolerating discomfort while remaining open is an important skill to develop. Take the lead from women and other underrepresented groups in finding ways to creatively implement a culture that is dignified and diverse.
Although everyone is part of the cultural transformation, leadership is ultimately held accountable. In an intentional workplace, continued lack of diversity reflects an inability to effectively promote change. Imagine a CEO, at a quarterly shareholder meeting, saying, “We are trying to be competitive but it’s really hard to implement good ideas.” How would that fly? It wouldn’t. But until now, consumers have not demanded proof of diversity.
Bringing greater intention into the workplace shines a brighter light on promoting good than on stopping bad. An intentional workplace creates a culture that identifies, reinforces, and promotes evolved behavior. Employees who work creatively to promote dignity and diversity are held up as leaders. Employers should explicitly identify ways in which their company is becoming more inclusive, and then build on them. A dignified and diverse culture non-defensively welcomes feedback from women about how outdated beliefs and behaviors continue to manifest. It champions active listening as a desirable trait and cultivates healthy cooperation rather than divisive competition. And it celebrates movement in the right direction, while recognizing that transformation requires persistence and ongoing commitment.
#MeToo is a movement about empowerment, not victimization. It can be the springboard for maturing as a culture and moving beyond entrenched, pervasive, and limiting beliefs that are at the root of ill-dignified behavior. A critical ground zero for this evolution is the workplace, where every employee seeks economic stability, respect, and recognition for their efforts. Companies that proactively take the #MeToo message to heart, by setting explicit goals for fostering dignity and diversity and holding leadership accountable while involving every person in the organization, will be at the cutting edge of the change that is needed — and is coming.