Appropriate Workplace Behavior in the Age of #MeToo
On Thursday morning, July 26, we attended a panel discussion regarding "Appropriate Workplace Behavior in the Age of #MeToo," presented by United Way of Lake County's Women's Leadership Council at the American Croatian Lodge in Eastlake, Ohio.
About 125 people signed up in advance for this program, which featured Ms. Kathleen Buse, President of Advancing Women in the Workforce and United Way Board of Lake County chair. Questions were directed to a prestigious panel consisting of Mr. Pat Perry, Chairman and Past President of ERC; Ms. Kristen Kraus, Partner at Dworken and Bernstein Co., L.P.A.; and Ms. Kristin Marquardt, Director of Ethics and Compliance at Lubrizol.
Among the issues explored were:
- Legal aspects of determining appropriate workplace behavior and how employees should report and how management should deal with complaints
- Changes that have taken place since the #MeToo movement got started
- Pressures placed on women who are working in occupations that were previously male-dominated
- Backlash to the #MeToo movement in terms of men and women being afraid to work too closely together or to mentor someone of a different gender
- How should a situation in which employees are dating be handled so as to avoid charges of favoritism?
- Whether there now is a place in the workforce for questionable joking, touching (i.e., hugging), and complimenting a co-worker on her/his choice of clothing
All resolutions to the above were dealt with in more than a few words, but most importantly, it was indicated that #MeToo was sometimes a messy but necessary phenomenon: issues are now being addressed—however painfully—that need to be addressed, and the backlash will hopefully be worked out in time through honest interactions and counseling.
What we took away from the session is that one of the best ways to avoid inappropriate behavior is for employers to seek to hire the most qualified people available regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation. This diverse approach has proven to be wise both in terms of allowing different points of view to have an impact on company policy, but also to help the business become more financially lucrative. It was said that a prescription for trouble is a boardroom/supervisory staff composed only of white males, as was so often the case in the past.
In terms of handling complaints, employees should feel free to report something that is truly bothering them without fear of retaliation, so that the issue can be addressed in its budding stages before it escalates and someone is faced with the possibility of termination. To be sure, professional conduct must be the standard at all times even during socializing; of course, one can have a good time working, but one does not go to work to have fun.
Moreover, often times an employee might not be aware that his/her behavior is adversely affecting another employee. In such cases it takes courage to acknowledge that he/she was wrong, apologize, and move on from there.
Margaret W. Wong & Associates, LLC