Over the past few days, I have had the privilege of being involved in 2 conferences which dealt with mental wellness, psychological safety, culture and leadership, and these have caused me to reflect.
What I’m about to talk about is an uncomfortable topic and if it causes anyone distress then I apologise and would urge you to seek out someone to talk to.
I’m middle aged, middle-class, white and male, so this puts me in a position great privilege and advantage, one where I have not had direct experience of this so I can only talk to this from a second-person but deeply personal level, if you know me well enough you’ll know what I’m referring to…
Sexual harassment is ugly, and it is almost always perpetrated by men in positions of power against women – the studies are apparently that 1 in 2 women are targeted in this way although that number might one day prove to be a low estimation; and I’m using the word targeted deliberately as it was pointed out yesterday that most who suffer this don’t wish to be known as victims. And in the conference on Friday there was a robust conversation around this subject and some incredibly brave, very senior, and very successful women took the mic and shared their stories of sexual abuse and harassment – stories no one else in the room knew – that sort of bravery cannot go unacknowledged or ignored; to each of you, thank you.
Those stories and one particular 6 minute speech from Tuesday have made me reflect on my conduct over my adult life and wonder how many times I in some way have also been one of the men who have caused a level of discomfort of whatever scale to the women with whom I have interacted but have not been called to account on through fear or resignation that I was just like every other man – and before anyone says “oh, I’m not one of those guys” or “yeah, that doesn’t happen in our office” let me say yes, you are and yes, it does – even if you don’t believe that you have touched someone inappropriately and caused someone discomfort by a look or an expression, or the telling of a sexist joke, you’ve either ignored that behaviour from someone else or been blind to it; so we’re all responsible.
It’s time for change; in fact, it’s past time. We are all children of mothers, most of us ether have sisters, daughters, wives or partners or ex-partners to whom this pattern of conduct has been displayed, yet we don’t get told about it, or we don’t find out until it’s too late.
We need to have a conversation on how this appalling behaviour can be prevented – the women to whom this has happened deserve this, and so do all women because what became clear to me is that they too have a fear that they’ll be the next target of someone who feels that it’s their right to show such disrespect.
I took hope out of our conversations yesterday, hope that as the leaders of our industry, we have undertaken to change the conversation, to take it away from one which is on the fringe and put it in the light of our businesses – there was a resounding commitment that the threat of this should be removed from the industry. We have created a charter, a commitment that it’s time to recognise the diversity of our community and to ensure the psychological safety of all of us, and while the subject of sexual harassment should not be the only thing that we undertake to address it’s nonetheless a vital part of an enduring conversation.
Change of entrenched behaviours are never easy or quick, but they can be accomplished where the will exists, so I’m going to close with this quote from the opening session of Tuesday’s conference…
“Be proud of what you do, and only do what you can be proud of”