In the year since the #MeToo movement surfaced, we have seen many powerful men topple. We have heard many egregious and disgusting stories from victims with diverse backgrounds, careers and jobs. Many have bravely come forward sharing stories in an effort to enact change.
Change to broken workplace systems and norms that have, for decades, catered to top-performing, powerful males. We thought we addressed sexual harassment in the wake of Anita Hill’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony in 1991 on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — but things never truly changed.
Corporate, company and government leaders only halfheartedly followed up back then, and that laughable training video played throughout the country to prove steps were taken in addressing inappropriate situations. Sexual harassment continues to exist in boardrooms, break rooms, hotel rooms, work parties throughout the country and most women of a certain age (and minorities) have an experience they have suppressed, felt embarrassed about and have not wanted to share.
It’s a year after #MeToo, and we still need change to happen. Change, in general, is hard and takes time. Changing systems that continue to protect abusers is even harder. Through all the frustration, it is reassuring to see many times over that victims continue to speak out.
Finally, this issue is less secretive and embarrassing because the abuses are not isolated.
Recent news of the Dallas Mavericks organization taking steps to change their work environment and improve it for female employees is welcome, but it took 18 years to conclude their investigation. Eighteen years for their leaders to stop looking the other way, take accountability and own up to serious problems. Like many organizations, the Mavericks chose to protect abusers, chalk bad behavior up to something else and continue for years as if nothing was wrong. Changing minds and hearts is downright difficult and, let’s face it, some people never will change.
I continue to hear from women who are angry about how bad men are and how things never will change. And they are right, things never will change with a pessimistic attitude and inaction.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of “Lean In,” conducted a study through her Lean In organization and found that after the #MeToo movement surfaced, male managers feel more uncomfortable than ever mentoring women. In fact, 30 percent of men who responded said they felt uncomfortable working and socializing alone with female co-workers. Sandberg has started MentorHer through Leanin.org to foster better relations between men and women to continue to advance women’s careers. While commendable, starting another group is not enough.
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Holding abusive men and perpetrators accountable is a must, and we also must stop grouping all men together and bashing them. The reality is there are good men out there, and they make up half the population and slightly over half the workforce.
We must continue with the tough and uncomfortable conversations with men and encourage the men in our lives to stand up for and with us; engage them in thoughtful dialogue and continue to open their eyes to our realities and the broken systems that surround us. Equity everywhere is key if we are going to put #MeToo to rest once and for all.
A year after #MeToo, we all should be thankful that this pervasive problem is front and center now more than ever because that is progress. Now, let’s continue to work for equity where it is needed most so that next year, we have more to discuss.
• Kirsten Anderson is an advocate for harassment-free workplaces after being fired from her job as communications director for Iowa Senate Republicans, where she spoke out about repeated sexual harassment and retaliatory behavior by staff and lawmakers at the Iowa Statehouse. She sued the state of Iowa and Iowa Senate Republicans for wrongful termination, harassment and retaliation, and won.