The #MeToo movement has been front and center recently with Hollywood leading the charge during this awards season. Whether it’s wearing black or donning a white rose, people are showing solidarity and support for victims of sexual assault and harassment. Beyond just wearing a black dress, stars are also putting their money where their mouth is. The Time’s Up initiative was started by 300 prominent actresses, agents, writers, directors, producers and entertainment executives to fight systemic sexual harassment in Hollywood and to provide legal defense funds to women in blue-collar workplaces. Stars like Ashley Judd, Eva Longoria, America Ferrera, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon have lent their names, power, and money to the movement to help women far beyond the Hollywood lights.
Virtually no industry has been left untouched by these accusations, and many high-powered executives are now experiencing the consequences of either their personal actions or those of their employees. According to one survey, one in three women ages 18 to 34 have been sexually harassed at work and 71 percent said they did not report it.
No matter your industry, it is likely that your organization has experienced or will experience this movement and it’s important to decide how your company will react. Will you be a company who responds swiftly, like NBC did when they fired top anchor Matt Lauer without a shadow of a doubt just two days after an accuser came forward? Or will you be an organization like USA Gymnastics who required outside pressure to do the right thing and clean house?
Now, more than ever, consumers place a high value on supporting a brand that exhibits some kind of social responsibility. This is especially true for millennials, where 70 percent are willing to spend more on a brand that supports a cause they care about. How your organization responds to an accusation of sexual assault or harassment can define how your customers view you, and how they consume your products or services in the future.
So, what’s a company to do in the current climate?
One of the main pains that women have expressed during this movement is that they didn’t feel comfortable coming forward with an accusation against someone they worked with. Whether it was because they didn’t think they would be believed, they feared retaliation, or they feared they would lose their job, to put it plainly, they didn’t feel safe. Now is the time to be a proactive leader. By putting out a message of support for the #MeToo movement, and letting your employees know that you have a zero-tolerance policy for that type of behavior, you are helping shape a culture where people feel safe and supported.
It is critical to have a plan in place before an accusation like this – or any other crisis – hits. Your company should have a stance on what would happen if an employee or executive is accused of sexual assault or harassment within your workplace, and what your message would be to your employees, customers, and community. As important as having the plan, is following it. If the person accused just happens to be the salesman who brings in the most money for your organization, it shouldn’t matter. This is not the time to live in the gray area.
Be transparent and genuine
Accusations of sexual assault or harassment are personal and can create a situation with heightened emotions. Now is the time to show people that there are actual humans running your organization, not a robot with a cookie cutter message stating, “Our policy on this is X-Y-Z.” People want to know that you and your organization care about what is happening, so your message needs to reflect that. It’s time to be humble, admit there is a problem and figure out the best way to rectify the situation.
Have an action plan
Last, but not least, you need to create a plan to move your organization forward. Let your employees and customers know how you plan to support the victims and change company culture so something like this won’t happen again.
-Rachel Dilling, Director of Public Relations
Plaid Swan is a full-service
marketing communications firm,
providing crisis public relations to
many companies across the United States.