You’ve seen the stories. You’ve followed the #MeToo movement. You’re an ally of women. You understand. Your company has policies, procedures, precedents. No woman at your workplace would feel anything other than complete and total support.
Hmm. Okay. Have you vetted this with the women with whom you work?
All the policies and procedures, the shelves full of binders, will not make the alternative for female whistleblowers any less terrifying. You see, no matter what your “official” policy is, there is the more pervasive “unofficial” way things really work. And the way that works is very often in a manner that is contrary to female empowerment.
Let us take a moment and consider pharmaceutical giant Novartis. In an incident from the early 2000s, a female sales rep for the company alleged that she was raped by a doctor/customer during a company event. The ensuing events were and are shameful. In court testimony in 2009, the victim recounted that not only did the customer attack her but that he grilled her about what had happened. Her (male) supervisor put his finger in her face, asked her how much she’d had to drink, and warned she needed to take responsibility for what happened.
Maybe she should have gone to HR.
Oh, wait. She did. Here’s what the (male) HR director advised her (this is from the court record):
And then he started to tell me how I should have had another set of keys. That my phone was low on battery that night, I should have [gone] to a landline. Asking me how much I had to drink. Telling me how I needed to take accountability for what happened that night… He said I need to stop calling HR; that HR is not for me…
So let’s get this straight. Female employee reports assault to management. Management, rather than a) investigating and/or b) having the employee’s back, makes this all the employee’s problem. Simply put, they blamed the victim.
Well, okay, Deb, but that took place almost 20 years ago. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff, so this stuff surely doesn’t happen anymore!
Really? Do you think that because 20, 40, or 60 (or 200!) years have gone by that women are now treated equitably by their management?!?!?! I just spoke with a woman last week who is going through this very thing. She was horribly sexually harassed by a coworker. When she reported it, she did so in a matter-of-fact way, so as to not betray any desire for retribution. She even stated that she did not want any action taken against the perpetrator, only that she wanted her management to be aware of the behavior. The result? She was placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP) and was reprimanded for performance. Needless to say, she is disgusted and is now looking for a new role.
What were you wearing? Why were you there? Didn’t you think that….? Why didn’t you say something?
Women—whether your employees, your daughters, or your coworkers—don’t report because they fear being victimized again. Regardless of the context of the abuse, the questions are the same. If you want to create a culture of female empowerment, it is incumbent on everyone in the organization to embrace open and honest communication and to enforce real consequences for unacceptable (or criminal) behavior.