And we can ALL learn something from it…
The past few months have seen thousands of women come out and report sexual harassment (predominantly in the workplace) with the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment allegations prompting the #metoo movement.
From Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow to Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and most recently Uma Thurman, high profile names have been at the forefront of the movement, from A-list actresses to business tycoons.
The latest woman to speak out about the movement is Facebook executive (and all-round inspiration) Sheryl Sandberg, but not to report an incident of her own with the me too hashtag – instead to warn other women of the viral movement’s bleak potential outcome.
‘I have already heard the rumblings of a backlash,’ the top businesswoman posted to her Facebook page, going on to explain her worries to women across the globe.
‘At 48 years old, I’m lucky that I’ve never been sexually harassed or assaulted by anyone I worked for,’ she explained. ‘The fact that this could be considered lucky is a problem in itself, but based on the numbers, I am lucky. I’ve only ever worked for men, and all of my bosses have been not just respectful, but deeply supportive.’
She continued: ’Like almost every woman – and some men – I know, I have experienced sexual harassment in the form of unwanted sexual advances in the course of doing my job. A hand on my leg under the table at a meeting. Married men – all decades older than I – offering “career advice” and then suggesting that they could share it with me alone late at night. The conference where a man I declined leaving a dinner with came to my hotel room late at night and banged on my door until I called security.’
Going on to talk about the relationship between sexual harassment and power, Sheryl explained: ‘I didn’t work for any of these men. But in every single one of these situations, they had more power than I did. That’s not a coincidence. It’s why they felt free to cross that line.’
‘As I’ve become more senior and gained more power, these moments have occurred less and less frequently. But they still happen every so often, even in my current job – but only ever with men who, in that moment, feel that they have more power than I do. That’s why I’m absolutely convinced that it’s the power.’
She continued: ‘This is a critical moment for anyone who faces unwanted sexual advances at work. Sexual harassment has been tolerated for far too long in the halls of government and companies large and small. For the first time in my professional life, it feels like people are finally prepared to hold perpetrators responsible. I’m cheering – both as my current self and as that younger self who jumped up to bolt the lock on a hotel room door.’
After explaining how businesses should deal with sexual harassment allegations, Sandberg went on to warn of a backlash to the movement that could cost women promotions or getting their dream jobs. ‘I have already heard the rumblings of a backlash,’ she explained. ‘“This is why you shouldn’t hire women.” Actually, this is why you should. And you shouldn’t just hire women – you should mentor, advise, and promote them.’
‘Four years ago, I wrote in Lean In [her best-selling book] that 64 percent of senior male managers were afraid to be alone with a female colleague, in part because of fears of being accused of sexual harassment. The problem with this is that mentoring almost always occurs in one-on-one settings. One of the most gratifying responses I got from Lean In was when senior men acknowledged that they had been giving fewer opportunities to women, often without really thinking about it. I got call after call where CEOs and some of the most senior men in many industries told me, “I never really thought about it before – but you are right that I take men on the trip and to the dinner rather than women and that is unfair.”’
She continued: ‘The percentage of men who will be afraid to be alone with a female colleague has to be sky high right now. Doing right by women in the workplace does not just mean treating them with respect. It also means not isolating or ignoring them – and making access equal. Whether that means you take all your direct reports out to dinner or none of them, the key is to give men and women equal opportunities to succeed. This is a critical moment to remind ourselves how important this is. So much good is happening to fix workplaces right now. Let’s make sure it does not have the unintended consequence of holding women back.’
‘Ultimately, the thing that will bring the most to change our culture is the one I’ve been writing and talking about for a long time: having more women with more power.’