This week, Techopia Live called on some of Ottawa’s largest tech firms to tackle an issue bigger than tech: Me Too and sexual harassment in the workplace.
A bit of background: American activist Tarana Burke started the Me Too movement more than a decade ago to show the widespread prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, but in the past year actresses such as Alyssa Milano and Jennifer Lawrence have brought the conversation into the mainstream using the hashtag #MeToo.
Me Too has raised the voices of women and held powerful men, such as producer Harvey Weinstein, to account for their actions. The movement went beyond Hollywood and brought issues of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace to the forefront of tech, with companies such as Uber seeing a purge of employees over incidents related to sexual harassment.
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Workplaces closer to home have also felt the effects of Me Too. Amy MacLeod, the vice-president of strategic communications and corporate diversity officer at Mitel, told Techopia Live that the conversation around sexual harassment in the workplace has never been louder than it is today.
“The discussion is open, the awareness is up, we have all had an incredibly shocking wake-up call that this is an issue that must be addressed in the workplace,” she said.
The increased awareness has also led to a degree of uncertainty. Amanda Gordon, vice-president of HR consulting with Techopia sponsor Stratford Managers, said she’s been approached by a number of clients in recent months who are worried about stepping over a line.
“What I started seeing is people coming out of their business, asking to meet me for coffee, and started having this conversation about, ‘How do I handle Me Too?’” she told Techopia Live.
Clients’ questions mostly revolved around everyday things – holding the door, getting dinner with a female colleague or going on work trips – that weren’t top of mind for some men before Me Too.
While the full Techopia Live panel agreed that Me Too was driving progress in the workplace, the conversation shifted to the movement’s next steps. If there’s an air of confusion about proper conduct between employees, that could have negative impacts on corporate culture.
Megan Paterson, chief human resources officer at Kinaxis, noted there are valuable connections within companies that could be hindered if the rules of engagement aren’t clear. She hopes that Me Too will lead to more comfortable professional workplace relationships between men and women, rather than dividing them.
“What I’m worried about is men really withdrawing,” she said. “I think it’s something we should be aware of, and not over-rotate.”
Each guest agreed that the way forward was for management to focus on open conversations that encompass not only Me Too, but the full scope of healthy workplaces. MacLeod noted that for startups, it’s productive to establish a “tone at the top” for what behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t.
Me Too is irrevocably shifting workplace culture across North America. The way forward now, according to Ottawa leaders, is to define the lines of acceptable conduct so that everyone understands and feels comfortable in the office.
“These are things that have been happening for years and years, but we finally have a platform where we’re talking about it in a really transparent manner. I think that can only benefit both men and women in the workplace,” Paterson said.
To hear the full conversation about Me Too in the workplace, watch the video above.