The Business Mentoring Center
The Business Mentoring Center

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How to Navigate Workplace Relationships in the #MeToo Era: Practical Advice for Business Owners/Leaders

Sharon Berglund | Bergland HR Consulting

Not since the days of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings has there been so much talk about sexual assault and sexual harassment. Just about everyone has an opinion about the Christine Blasey Ford/Brent Kavanaugh hearings and Justice Kavanaugh’s recent confirmation into the Supreme Court. To complicate matters further, divisiveness in our Country is worse than it was in 1991 and opinions and arguments are publically displayed on social media.

As a business leader, how do you monitor and navigate these discussions without alienating your employees? From my perspective as a Human Resources Executive with many years of investigating sexual harassment claims, let me offer a story to illustrate some “Do’s” and “Don’ts” in this situation. 

Situation: 

You are a white male business leader. You are politically a moderate conservative and while you thought Ms. Ford was credible and Mr. Kavanaugh was a bit “over the top,” you ultimately support the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh.

One day you return from lunch to a loud argument between two of your most valued employees in the Break Room. It is clear they vehemently disagree about the recent confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Their voices are raised and other employees are starting to gather around them, and they can be heard in the reception area where customers are waiting.

  • Kristin, your Customer Service Manager, is a Republican who is convinced that the Democrats were behind Ms. Ford’s and Ms. Ramirez’ complaints. She believes Judge Kavanaugh was wronged and his reputation forever ruined.
  • Samira, your Finance Director, is a Democrat, has been involved in the #MeToo Movement as a protester and is strongly critical of the way the Republican majority and the President handled the Confirmation Hearings and FBI investigation. She believes Ms. Ford was disrespected in the process.

You are irritated by the public nature of their argument and your first instinct is to pull them aside and admonish them for their behavior. How do you confront this situation?

  • Don’t discipline them (assuming this is an isolated incident). Instead use it as an opportunity to build stronger relationships with both women.
  • Don’t share your personal thoughts and experiences. As the Leader and person in power, you must be neutral and willing to hear both sides.
  • Do take a deep breath and approach them in a calm, non-threatening way and ask them to continue the exchange in your private office.
  • Do acknowledge you have great respect for them both. Communicate that you understand there are strongly opposing viewpoints on this situation and we each view the facts through our own lens.
  • Do ask them if they might find common ground with their viewpoints. There are very few absolutes in this world. Ask them to try to look at the situation from different perspectives, i.e., as a woman who is a survivor of sexual assault, as a man who has been wrongly accused, as a woman who fears for her sons, and how that might change their perspectives.
  • Do acknowledge as a male who has never experienced sexual abuse, you are willing to learn more about the #MeToo movement to better understand the perspective of people who have experienced abuse, assault or harassment.

If you are willing to go one step further and build open communication and employee engagement, reach out to your employees in a meeting or email and acknowledge that you encourage sharing of ideas with colleagues on this or other controversial topics as long as it remains respectful of all viewpoints. If there is a lot of interest in further exploring a controversial topic, consider bringing in a facilitator to host a brown bag lunch session.

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