Chitra Anand is a corporate adviser, doctoral researcher, and innovation and culture change speaker, formerly with Telus and Microsoft Canada. She is the author of the upcoming book The Greenhouse Approach: Cultivating Deliberate Innovation in Organizations.
Having given a lot of thought to the #MeToo movement, I have realized that the issues affect both women and men, and that they are impacting people across industries – no one industry is immune.
As a female visible minority, I have worked mainly in industries that predominantly have been led by men. I am also a woman who is very comfortable around men.
What I mean by this is that I can converse, socialize and joke while still using my intellect when the occasion suits. For most of my career, my male colleagues have respected me, recognized me when I did good work and sometimes complimented me when I looked nice on a particular day; I am okay with it and actually it made me feel good. I will take a compliment – thank you.
Sexual harassment, typically of a woman, involves unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks. But the #MeToo campaign is about more than sexual harassment: It is about the abuse of power by women and men, both of whom can be either the abusers or the victims.
In my career, I have experienced the abuse of power. This ranged from sexual harassment to bullying by both men and women, and I did not know how to handle it. I remember times not wanting to go to work because of it. I did not know who I could talk to or what the protocol was for situations of this nature.
It is extremely important to recognize that abuse of power is practised by both men and women. Bullying can show up in all sorts of forms. I have had female team members ask me to attend meetings with them in the fear that they would be bullied by men who would belittle their ideas and raise their voices. I had to attend to protect my direct reports.
I would also experience and observe "mean girl syndrome" in the workplace. This behaviour has been defined as a type of behaviour between women that would result in relational aggression. This kind of behaviour would include things such as manipulation, control, leaving one out of important meetings, undercutting, taking credit for work that is not yours, which would ultimately diminish your relationships and status in the workplace.
In order to solve these kinds of problems, we have to identify that abuse can show up by both genders. We need to realize that this is not just a man or woman problem: It is a human problem.
The problem that I see is that organizations are not set up or designed to deal with such situations. Why? Because they are difficult conversations to have. You are dealing with human beings: emotions, ego, pride – a whole cocktail of things that are very challenging. Organizations don't have a human-relations department or clinical psychologists on staff. For me, speaking with human resources never crossed my mind. Why? Because I felt that there was risk associated with this in terms of my career, and how I would be supported. Would I be muted, not understood, dusted under the carpet or would I be pushed out of the organization as a potential person who may tarnish their reputation?
What I believe we have failed to do in this dialogue is to equip, empower and educate people on how to deal with such situations if they were to arise. We need to force the dialogue. We need to have uncomfortable, authentic, honest conversations on how to best address this problem.
For me, I confided in my manager and my manager's manager at the time. Both were male; both were very senior. I was scared. I did not know how they would react. I did not know how they would view me and perceive me when discussing the topic of harassment and bullying. The conversation was emotional and difficult. They both listened, and together we came up with things we would do to address the situation and move forward. Both men were super supportive.
The question becomes what can organizations do to empower and support people with problems such as abuse of power, while still preserving a collegial spirit in the workplace?
I would like to propose #forcethedialogue, and say clearly what is acceptable and what is not. People need to understand what they can and cannot do; it cannot be subjective. Here are some guiding principles on how I believe organizations can help counter abuse of power in the workplace:
1. Companies need to clearly identify what kinds of behaviours are and are not acceptable in the workplace. For example, can two people date if they are in the same department or is that a conflict of interest? Can a superior date a subordinate? We spend a lot of time at work and this is going to happen, so what are the parameters around this?
2. If someone is a victim of harassment or bullying, where are their support systems from within to effectively manage it? In my case, I had to figure it out on my own and hoped that I would find an ear as I very delicately broached the topic.
3. Have direct conversations. If someone has said something to offend you or you believe is inappropriate, tell them directly. We spend much time talking about what someone did; how they made you feel. Let's tell them. Sometimes people may not realize or they may have said inadvertently made an unwelcome comment: #forcethedialogue and address it head on.
Executives, employees, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.