As the role women in the workplace gets surprising, sudden revisions, there’s never been a better time for professional coaching to help navigate the changes.
It seems only yesterday (it was a month ago) that we wrote about the importance of getting the appropriate professional advice about the way you, individually, navigate the workplace at high tide in the #MeToo movement. There’s no doubt that a collective movement opposing sexual harassment of women—not just in the workplace but in general—is having its moment. Perhaps even, as is often said now, its “watershed” moment.
That would be great. The goal of the “movement” is not just to speak out against the aggression directed at women in myriad ways, it is to stop it. The mood of the moment is not to settle for merely impeding it.
The cascade of events that has rocked the US and the UK since the high-profile take-down of Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein has been breathtaking. Only last week, a political force that is feminist at its core managed to force a progressive Democratic US senator to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct.
To seek for evidence that the groundswell movement has become international, look no farther than the voices of women in Asian countries from China to India (via Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia!) who are collectively saying both “enough” and “cease and desist” to groping and other forms of sexual harassment on public transportation.
It’s nothing short of a Rosa Parks moment. A signal moment in the US civil-rights movement was on December 1, 1955, when Parks, an African-American, refused to surrender her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to a white person.
If anything, what’s startling is the speed with which today’s female commuters using public transportation are getting responses from their governments to support their efforts to stop the groping. Surely social media, internationally and locally, is playing a major role.
With equal speed word, is coming—significantly, from powerful women—that there’s already a backlash. And, many would say, a place it could be felt—and acted out—most easily is in the workplace. In discussing the current trends, the BBC observes that women are feeling, along with the elation, marked anxiety.
An election tomorrow in Alabama, Rosa Parks’ home state, will say something about where the markers on the field of skirmish are now set. Unfortunately, they may not say anything clear.
Roy Moore, a judge twice removed from the Alabama bench for judicial misconduct, is in a close race for a Senate seat despite decades of accusations that he sexually assaulted young women, including some well below the age of consent. But socially conservative Alabama is not the US. The US is not the world. And people throughout the world have been given reason to be suspicious of vote tallies however they are announced.
Late in the fevered month between Weinstein and Moore came the most startling “revelation” of all. A US congressman resigned effective immediately to head off an investigation into charges that he had asked female staffers if they would consider helping him and his wife with their infertility problems. His alleged proposal was that they be surrogate mothers, and that the business of conception be handled “the old-fashioned way.”
What was nearly as interesting but at least as revealing is that an amorphous collective of male managers sent out word of their exasperation about no longer knowing what’s allowed in the workplace. Their question was: Is it still OK to ask to borrow a pen?” The immediate response from women was, “There’s a difference between borrowing a pen and borrowing a womb.”
Problematically, the difference is not yet spelled out in the employee handbook. And, at least in the US, worker lawsuits against employers are increasingly difficult and more regularly unsuccessful.
It would appear that we’re already at the gates of #You Too? And women in a position to make meaningful warnings are saying, “Expect a backlash.”
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Who are they and what are they saying?
Easily the most high-profile woman to have spoken about a backlash is Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook. Her Facebook post began: “The 1992 presidential race was once summed up in a pointed phrase: ‘It's the economy, stupid.’ Today, as headlines are dominated by stories about sexual harassment and sexual assault at work, a similar phrase comes to mind: ‘It's the power, stupid.’”
She went on to say that there was an increasingly loud voice among male managers that the sexual-harassment and –assault accusations were “the reason you wouldn’t hire women.” Her response was: “It’s the reason you should.”
As reported in Huffington Post (among many other outlets), Sandberg elaborated by asserting that “hiring, mentoring and promoting women is the only long-term solution to sexual harassment.” Sandberg added: “Ultimately, the thing that will bring the most to change our culture is the one I’ve been writing and talking about for a long time: having more women with more power.”
Weighing in from a different, if not opposite, feminist point of view was author and activist Masha Gessen, who recently won a National Book Award for The Future is Now, her study of the rise of fascist states. In several strong essays on the website of The New Yorker, which warrant reading in full (neither is long), she warned about potential hitches to the progress of #MeToo.
In one, she addressed what she called problems of “misplaced scale.” In no way excusing any form of sexual abuse, she spoke about the very real vagueness that underlies most matters of “consent” and that when it comes to retribution and punishment, “misplaced scale” has its own negative consequences. Her point, in sum:
“The timing of this current sexual renegotiation makes sense. Sex is one area where, it seems, we can change something. In this way, sex is different from a nuclear holocaust or a climate disaster. But, while we think we are moving forward, we may be willingly transporting ourselves back to a more sexually restrictive era, one that denied agency to women.”
In another, “When Does a Watershed Become a Sex Panic?,” she makes a clear personal identification with #MeToo while looking at the matter from the vantage point of having been born and raised in the Soviet Union and being a close observer of present-day Russia. Her concern is the speed with which calling attention to sexual inequities can lead to the policing of sex.
“Of course,” Gessen concludes, “the balance of power favors men so much that it’s more likely that the guilty will get away with it than that the innocent will suffer. Still, we would do well to be aware of the risks to our perception of sex, and to this culture, as it grows ever more divided.”
In yet another, she asserted that “Should [US Senator] Al Franken resign?” was “the wrong question.” “Those [sexual assault] cases illustrate the real issue here: the power imbalance that allows some men to take women hostage using sex.”
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What does this have to do with women in less extreme workplace dynamics?
To be clear, the last thing we are saying—what we are not saying—is anything like “Down girl” or “Back to the kitchen.” What we are saying is that women from across the spectrum and in a position to know are warning of a backlash to #MeToo, one they think is likely to be as strong and cross-cultural as the current wave of boosted gender equality, and fundamental rights, both in and outside the workplace.
In short, we’re saying that things did not just get easier. As long as a US President can remain impervious to serious charges of sexual assault (supported by his own admissions), and an alleged “child molester” can be a serious candidate for a Congressional seat, men who “get away with it” can get their revenge by sidelining women. (And this goes for all people of minority status, not just women, though women have center stage at the moment.)
In light of all this, now is the time to achieve–and operate from—a level of self-understanding that gives you maximum, real power. That as opposed to a kind of power that derives from slogans free-floating in the culture. That as opposed to asserting a claim to power in a way that all but guarantees some kind of retribution.
The terrain is familiar despite the recent upheavals. The path through the altered terrain is coming to know who you are while negotiating a terrain both familiar and changing.
There is no better armor and weaponry than deep self-knowledge, the kind that asserts itself without the distracting noise of shrill rhetoric—or docile verbal platitudes. It’s exactly the kind of self-knowledge best acquired by close work with a qualified and professional coach.
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