I have a confession to make. Several years ago a colleague, I will call her Jane, told me that our boss was being too friendly. As she was telling me this, her ebullient and positive self I knew was replaced by a timid meek individual I did not recognize. The tone of her voice was much lower and tentative, while I was simply tone deaf.
I laughed at the time and I suggested that she should take advantage of it! Jane’s mood changed right back to her usual self and joined me in laughing things off. We never talked about our boss again. A few months later she left. It was time to let her husband pursue his dream job in another country.
It wasn’t until I witnessed another abuse that it finally struck me. A friend of mine was pushed out from a big US multinational finance company for being the only one to stand up to her manager’s unethical behavior. She asked for help from her peers and got none. How collectively dumb are we? We had failed to recognize what it actually meant: these leaderswere “work predators”: individuals who recognize how power and gender differences can get them what they want and that includes, but it is not limited to sexual favors.
I vowed to never ignore pleas for help when power and gender differences were at play. Then today I saw Time Magazine nominate the MeToo movement Person of the Year 2017. The cover labels those who started the MeToo movement silence breakers. In that label I recognize the same mistake I made. Victims of abuse have been talking all along. We finally (maybe) have chosen to listen.
There is a lot more we can do. Here are three things I do now that I never did before:
- Make sure everyone knows how I feel about harassment and abuse. Sounds trivial, but if everyone joins in, then predators will feel less comfortable with making a move and victimize others.
- Talk more frequently about shared values. Integrity and transparency are important were I work; they get actively promoted and rewarded. Make sure your workplace talks about shared values.
- Spend more time to listen and check in with others. I will never laugh again when I hear of bad behaviors at work. I will spend time to check in with others and build safe space for difficult conversations.
We simply cannot brush these events off and we need to develop our ability to listen. There are very practical implication for the victims as Jane became a stay-at-home mom. What would have happened to her career, had she not been the subject of unwanted attention? Sadly we and Jane will never find out, because I never took the time to listen.