On Friday, the federal government announced funding for a project that aims to improve the process of reporting sexual harassment in workplaces.
More than $2.7-million will go to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, along with partner organizations that include AfterMeToo and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. The money is going toward the project Roadmap to Future Workplaces, which targets federally regulated sectors, including the arts, and will encompass research, education and a digital platform.
For all the increased awareness around sexual harassment in the workplace, employees who wish to report it still run into significant barriers. Unclear policies and procedures, a lack of resources to address poorly handled investigations, even something as mundane as difficulty in accessing the correct forms can get in the way of reporting. Canadian actor Mia Kirshner, co-founder of the group AfterMeToo, has been working since the fall of 2017 to support survivors.
“It feels like a watershed moment," says Ms. Kirshner, who says it is “incredible” that the government is acknowledging and addressing the demands for change that she and her team have been making.
“We never imagined that this [idea] would grow into this, what it is now.”
AfterMeToo is launching an initiative they’re calling Rosa, whose aims include collecting research on the experiences of employees who have been the target of sexual misconduct at work, and educating those who need a better understanding of their rights and protections. The initiative also includes an online hub that will provide information about workplace laws and procedures, as well as resources for employers to improve workplace culture.
“Policies and procedures are actually what you come up against when you’re reporting workplace sexual harassment. And to be able to work with unions and employers on how to rethink policies and culture that create an environment that allows for workplace sexual harassment is really a pretty wonderful thing,” Ms. Kirshner said in an interview ahead of the announcement.
The issue of sexual abuse and harassment in the entertainment industry blew up in October, 2017, when allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein were published in the news media. On social media, people shared their own stories using the MeToo hashtag. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Kirshner, an actor whose work has included regular roles on the TV series The L Word and 24, co-founded the organization AfterMeToo, with goals that include improving policies and bringing clarity and accessibility to the process of reporting harassment and assault.
At what Ms. Kirshner calls a game-changing symposium on sexual harassment in the entertainment industry (sponsored by The Globe and Mail), a collection of AfterMeToo organizers issued a report with recommendations that included establishing an independent body to investigate harassment complaints; providing mandatory training; harmonizing policies and reporting mechanisms; and developing online reporting systems so complainants can report, and repeat perpetrators can be tracked.
At that gathering, Ms. Kirshner said she herself had been the victim of “something very bad” in a hotel room 22 years earlier, at the hands of a man who "continued to systematically abuse women across the industry.”
In an interview ahead of Friday’s announcement, Ms. Kirshner did not want to speak about her own experiences, but wanted to focus instead on the work being done to create better systems for vulnerable and precarious workers dealing with harassment and abuse.
“This, for me, is I would say the most important thing that I’ve worked on. And it really reflects my own experiences. This wasn’t created for me. But it was created by watching and listening. I’ve been in this industry since I was very young and I’ve seen these gaps in access to justice and understanding of what to do in creating accountability. It’s essential for the workforce,” Ms. Kirshner says.
“We knew that legislation alone wouldn’t fix the pervasiveness of workplace harassment and violence," Patty Hajdu, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, said in a statement ahead of Friday’s announcement in Toronto. “That’s why we’re also supporting projects like this one that will get us closer to eliminating these behaviours in our workplaces. … This project will help push forward the much needed culture shift in Canadian workplaces.”
Ms. Kirshner says the aim is to launch the comprehensive digital platform, wearerosa.com, in early 2020.