In the recent “lean in” era, there has been plenty of speculation about why the number of women in the C-suite lags dramatically behind men.
Unfortunately, a recent survey of TEMPO Milwaukee’s female business and organization leaders highlighted another reason — two-thirds of respondents have experienced sexual harassment in the office, when traveling for business, with clients or contractors and even in single-gender offices.
One of the reasons this issue continued to build silently for many years before the proverbial top was blown off in 2017 was also demonstrated in the TEMPO survey — for many years women were not reporting incidents for fear of retribution, isolation or opportunity loss.Oprah Winfrey said it so powerfully at the Golden Globes on Jan. 7: “Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we have.”
The high number and public nature of cases reported in 2017 took tremendous courage on the part of the women who came forward. It also signaled that employers have worked hard to build the necessary human resources infrastructure around these women, where hopefully they felt enough support from policy, company culture and mentorship to come forward without fear of losing their jobs or opportunities.
Although it has taken us far too long to get to a place of simply reporting incidents, let’s hope this movement catapults us into a new era of zero tolerance, or as Winfrey calls it, #TimesUp. Let this era represent a time when the vast majority of men continue to be good colleagues, good leaders, and supporters of a culture where there is zero tolerance for harassment, inappropriate behavior, or appearance-driven comments. This needs to be an era in which men too believe that intolerant attitudes and sexist bias are wrong, and speak their truth to denounce it.
And lastly, it needs to be an era that continues to empower women to speak their truth about other issues that keep them from achieving equality in the workplace, including pay equity and shared duties in the home.
Lori Richards is president of Mueller Communications LLC, Milwaukee, and chair of TEMPO Milwaukee’s communications committee. This piece was previously published in Milwaukee Business Journal.