SHRM CEO: 2 years after #MeToo, we still need a culture shift

MeToo 2 year anniversary
A little over 2 years ago, actor and activist Alyssa Milano was immersed in the news of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein, and felt the time was right to seek Twitter solidarity.

Milano asked her followers who had been sexually assaulted or harassed to reply “me too” to her post, and a viral typhoon ensued–toppling senators, publishers, thought leaders and A-listers, changing laws and uplifting generations of victims who had felt unheard and unbelieved.

“The collective pain we’ve felt has turned into a collective power,” Milano told NBC a year later.

Now, another year has passed. #MeToo has made the working world different, but is it actually better? A new poll from SAP and the Associated Press offers some mixed conclusions. MeToo has brought on more conversation about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, the poll says, and 4 out of 10 people say that in the past two years their firms have started new training or policies around diversity and inclusion. But more than 70 percent say that any improvements that movements like MeToo bring to Americans won’t likely affect their workplace.

To determine what headwinds MeToo is still facing and why, CultureIQ turned to a global HR leader–Johnny C. Taylor Jr., CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.

Taylor and SHRM just announced a major initiative in September to curb toxic work culture, which gives him a unique and powerful perspective on the impact of the #MeToo movement. Here’s what he has to say:

CultureIQ: Oct. 15 marked two years since the #MeToo movement began. What are some of the big changes you have seen in workplace culture and attitudes toward gender bias and harassment in that time? And what, if anything, hasn’t changed? 

TAYLOR: I’ve seen big changes—both good and bad. The greatest positive is the increased awareness of, not only the harassment itself, but the high human and business costs that come with it. That’s forced executives to take note and, in fact, one third have changed their behavior since #MeToo.

But there are also unintended consequences. This year, sixty percent of male managers now say they’re uncomfortable socializing, mentoring, or working with a woman—a shocking 32 percent increase from 2018. In effect, women could be less able to network and build valuable professional relationships. Managers need to check that bias whenever they experience it or witness it—otherwise businesses risk sidelining a huge segment of talent, and that will show up on the bottom line.

Do you think it’s safe to say that two years after #MeToo, we have fully turned a corner? That we’re not going back to the same levels of gender bias and harassment that existed before?

There’s progress—but we’re not there yet. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) actually received more sexual-harassment complaints in 2018 than in 2017 when #MeToo took off. Similarly, SHRM’s recent report on workplace culture found nearly 40 percent of HR professionals claim there have been more complaints of sexual harassment and discriminatory treatment in the past two years. That’s good if it means more true victims feel safer speaking out. But it also shows we’ve got a lot of work left to do within our workplaces.

What is the most important work that HR leaders and corporate leaders still need to do to fight gender bias and harassment in the workplace?

Leaders need to take culture seriously. This problem can’t be solved by simply putting policies or laws on paper. There needs to be a cultural reality where every employee—from the C-Suite to the cubicles—knows and feels there is never a time, place, or excuse for bad behavior.

Laws have been on the books for years—it keeps happening. Companies pass policies and post 1-800 hotline numbers—it keeps happening. For it to stop happening, we need to start a conversation. We need to talk about culture.

CultureIQ offers insight and guidance for companies who want to begin the culture conversation. Here are a few of our resources that can help: