In her mesmerizing speech at the Golden Globe Awards on January 7, Oprah Winfrey challenged women to find their voice and speak out. She said a new day is dawning, and it is Now. Those brave women who spoke out in the past months, bringing down some of the most powerful figures in the film industry and the media started the ball rolling, and the thousands who now swell the ranks of the #metoo movement have given courage to those who have been silent until now.
It’s always been the time for women to speak up at that critical moment when pressured or afraid or intimidated or driven by need to say yes, (or say nothing) instead of shouting out, No way, me too! It takes courage to take a stand in the moment or years afterwards to finally find your voice to stop discrimination and harassment of any kind.
It was the right time when I was a young secretary in 1967, working in an advertising agency. It was the era of Mad Men for real. One of my bosses would summon me in for dictation into his office, blinds drawn, door closed behind me. He claimed he was hard of hearing and insisted I sit close to him, moving in as he spoke so our knees would touch occasionally. The subject matter would soon switch from ad copy to how lonely he was, and would I come up to his lake house over the weekend to talk about my future at the agency? I didn’t, but it was clear that opportunities and raises might just depend on accepting his occasional gifts, lunch invitations and, eventually, a weekend at his lake retreat. Did I come out, strong and fearless and say, No way, not me? Unfortunately, no. Did I feel sickened and trapped and degraded? Yes! But, like the thousands of women who are now standing up against sexual harassment, I kept silent and moved on.
The hope for the future are the young women and women of any age who encounter harassment, discrimination or demeaning behavior of any kind and will stand up and say, “no way – not me.” They won’t have to ever say, “me too.” While the ranks of the #metoo movement are swelling, the best hope for the future – a future without the fear and intimidation and harassment that so many women have endured in silence–is to raise up a generation of girls and young women who find their voice and speak up. Tell that boss that they aren’t afraid of them, learn to be clear about what they will and will not tolerate from boyfriends or bosses or relatives or strangers. To find their voice, speak their truth and say, “no way, me too.”
In her online blog post, “In case you missed it, we’re complicit: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,” (www.Futures without Violence.org), Lisa Kim makes the point that sexual harassment, in many cases, isn’t a well-kept secret. There are few secrets in the workplace. Things done and said in confidence or behind closed doors have a way of making headlines on the office grapevine or in viral texts. Someone knew about the Harvey Weinsteins and Charlie Roses but chose not to make waves.
It isn’t enough to know something is going on. It isn’t enough to just say, #metoo, and join the ranks of the victimized. It’ time for action, and taking personal responsibility for choices and situations. It is time for speaking out and speaking up. How do you find your voice? By taking a risk. By being so clear about your own values and boundaries that once crossed, you spring to action, raise up your hand and yell STOP! with your voice, body language and emotions.
In my book, “SAY IT NOW! SAY IT RIGHT! Tips on Handling the Tough (and Tender) Conversations in Any Business and Life Situation,” I encourage people to take a risk, find their voice and speak their own truth. Chapter 16, “Danger Zone: Watch Out for the Slippery Slope,” covers innocent workplace interactions that can quickly deteriorate into uncomfortable situations when one party misinterprets attention or concern to mean romantic or sexual interest. Now, no conversation, proximity, wardrobe choice or friendly personality is ever an excuse for or invitation to cross the line, but part of the “no way me too” movement is awareness of and taking control of your environment and situations to lessen the opportunity for harassment.
It’s time to stop confusing the boardroom for the bedroom. You may find your soul mate at the office, or on the assembly line, in the restaurant kitchen or in the cubicle two rows over. Let’s hear it for love! But in my 22 years in Human Resources, I never read a job description that included enduring or tolerating unwanted sexual advances, comments or personal contact listed in the “Job Responsibilities” section. Or workplace rules that list “title means privilege.”
It’s time for new rules for workplace behavior to make it safe and comfortable for everyone. My top suggestion would be, “No more one-on-one, closed door meetings.” Predators like the shadows, privacy. Keep the doors open. If one person insists, the other has the right to a bring in a second to protect her interests. Or, have the right to record a one-to-one meeting. More transparency, less opportunity for harassment.
No woman should every be a victim of sexual harassment. As women, we need to be aware of how powerful we are and how we are responsible for our actions and our honest, timely and direct communication on what will and will not be tolerated. Learn to Say It Now! and Say It Right! My hope is with the next generation, including my granddaughters, now 13 and 14, and their realization of how empowered and strong they are to direct their lives, live their values and insist on their boundaries — how they express what they will and will not tolerate from a boss, lover, husband, partner, co-worker or stranger on the street. My hope is that they find their voice and speak their truth and that they won’t have ever have to say “Me too”, but take a risk to speak up, loud and strong, and shout out, “No way, me too!”
Mary Nestor is a communications expert, author and speaker. Her book, SAY! IT NOW, SAY IT RIGHT! Tips to Handle the Tough (and Tender) Conversations in Any Business and Life Situation (Motivational Press 2016), is available on her website, www.maryjnestor.com, on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and www.motivationalpress.com.
Speak Up! Add your own new rule for the workplace to stop harassment in the comments section below.