The Role of HR in the #MeToo Movement

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In the months since the start of the #MeToo movement, human resource departments across the country have been accused of dismissing complaints of sexual harassment. As this new era of social reckoning continues to expand, many human resources professionals are struggling to find a balance between protecting their organizations and listening to employee complaints. For many, the question now is how their departments should adapt to this rapidly changing world and the new expectations that come with it.

In a stimulating discussion of this question and its many implications for the future of HR, senior vice president of talent engagement and inclusion for 4A’s, Keesha Jean-Baptiste, was joined by Juris Doctor and senior professional in human resources, Natasha Bowman; and co-founders of HRuprise, Nickolett Hocking and Rebecca Weaver.

The panelists began by sharing their backgrounds in HR, all of which included times when they were on the employee side of a negative HR interaction. For two of the speakers and countless other employees, these conversations typically end in what Bowman has cleverly termed “take the pay and go away.” That is, many employees who bring cases of discrimination and harassment to their HR departments are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements and oftentimes choose to leave their jobs as a result.

However, Bowman explained that if an HR department is actually acting in the best interests of its organization, it will by default also be protecting its employees. And when it comes to actually advocating for employees, Hocking believes HR is in a very privileged place within companies.

“HR is in such a unique position. There’s very few members of your organization…that actually have a holistic view of what’s going on in your company left to right,” Hocking said. “So, the fact that we have all that information and we’re not doing anything with it — that’s a massive act of [complicity] right there.”

Being complicit is something that all three speakers touched on throughout the conversation when discussing HR’s role in the mishandling of past harassment cases. But as Hocking pointed out, even though many departments may have been wrong in the past, it doesn’t mean they can’t improve in the future. Most importantly, HR professionals need to get comfortable being uncomfortable and choose to view the changing atmosphere as a positive occurrence.

“Organizational leaders right now are a little scared. They are finally ready to address these issues,” Bowman said. “This is our prime opportunity to walk into the office and say, ‘let’s start over.’”

But changing a company’s culture and policies needs to be done in the right way, for according to Weaver, good policies don’t mean anything if they aren’t enforced. That’s why all panelists agreed that employee and procedure handbooks should be revamped and simplified if they are to serve their purpose, as the way they’re currently written clearly has little impact.

Ultimately, the three women asserted that the best thing companies can do right now is work on changing employee behavior through constant communication and education. Because as the panel repeated countless times throughout the session, nobody has the right to remain silent in this environment.

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