THE INC. LIFE

What the #MeToo Campaign Teaches About Fighting Sexual Assault in the Workplace

Career women supportive of the campaign offer their two cents’ worth on the topic

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BY Melissa G. Bagamasbad - 23 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

As of this writing, around 13 million stories have been told surrounding #MeToo, with the hashtag “breaking the internet,” according to this story.

The campaign is a result of the sexual abuse stories of Hollywood bigwig Harvey Weinstein, whose victims broke their silence in the last weeks. Hollywood actresses Rose McGowan and America Ferrera have come out and are now joined by women around the globe “posting messages on social media to show how commonplace sexual assault and harassment are, using the hashtag #MeToo to express that they, too, have been victims of such misconduct,” reports The New York Times. This story also says that the movement has given voice to the victims, has woken everyone up, and scared current and potential abusers.

As a start-up, there’s a great deal that founders can do to prevent such things from happening in their workplace. Begin by taking these insights shared by #MeToo participants to heart:

1. Be more sensitive with the comments you make about others in the workplace, especially when it comes to the body, clothing, etc.

Men tend to make more insensitive comments about women in the workplace, but this principle can easily apply to both sexes. Anne (not her real name), a Manila-based employee and entrepreneur, recalls a time when she felt violated at work. She was wearing a dress that was different from her usual, and her officemates complimented her outfit. When her boss came in, a male officemate told her to remove the cardigan so her boss could see the dress. Anne felt awkward and embarrassed by the encounter, looked at her colleague, and walked away. Her officemate apologized to her afterward.

“It’s a professional setting — people should be more careful not to make specific comments about a person’s figure or clothing. It can put one’s colleague in an awkward position,” she says.

Mika (not her real name) echoes the sentiment. Teammates from a former office would make jokes about her not being as sexually experienced as they were, with her male boss even joining in and joking about her weight. In the end, Mika told her officemates to stop the teasing. When she resigned, she also told the HR about her boss’ jokes which she felt were unprofessional.

2. Call it as you see it.

Rappler social media producer Marguerite de Leon had her own encounters of sexual assault at the work place. In her #MeToo post, she relates, “…a male co-worker from a previous job kept grabbing my thighs whenever I wore shorts; an indie director grabbed me and tried to kiss me (and when I said no, he moved on to the next available girl).”

De Leon believes that calling it as you see it is something both men and women can do. “The reason [sexual assault] continues to exist is because people refuse to speak up about it, so the more it’s pointed out, the clearer the message is that it’s not okay.” Anne and Mika agree, saying this is especially prevalent in Asia where people aren’t as straightforward as Westerners and are afraid of speaking out.

3. Advocate to have a gender sensitivity workshop.

After de Leon’s experiences, she became more aware of the prevalence of sexual assault in the workplace. “After that incident, I’ve been more aware of sexual assault and the little, dangerous things that happen in the workplace. In one of my jobs a few years later, I’ve openly advocated to my bosses to have a gender sensitivity workshop. I’m not sure if they ever pushed through with it because I moved jobs soon after,” she shares.

Writer, marketer, and resource speaker Jonah Chipeco supports the idea. “The simplest way employers can prevent sexual assault cases in the workplace is to discuss the topic during orientation for new hires,” she says. “[In the Philippines] despite being under Dept. of Labor and Employment’s Labor Law Compliance System, new employees have little knowledge about how the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act can be enforced in the workplace.” Other countries can research on their own anti-harassment laws and what actions can be done against it.

4. Be wary of sexual assault outside the office.

Chipeco says that employers should also emphasize that sexual assault in the workplace could happen outside the office. Examples include field staff or sales representatives attending events or meetings with clients outside the company.

“The role of the company in addressing related cases in these circumstances should be clarified,” she says. “I used to attend social events happening late at night as part of my job as a marketer. My former boss understands my request to inform him of my location and status to ensure my safety. I can also make a decision to leave the place early or end a meeting with suspicious prospect without notice.”