Where to next for #MeToo? Embracing gender backlash and growing the movement

Left to right: Lenore Taylor, Tina Tchen, Sohaila Abdulali and Emily Steel during their panel discussion on #MeToo: Year Two

Left to right: Lenore Taylor, Tina Tchen, Sohaila Abdulali and Emily Steel during their panel discussion on #MeToo: Year Two

I felt inspired and privileged to attend a number of energising and thought provoking 2019 International Womens Day (IWD) celebratory events in Sydney last week.

I loved the way the IWD “more powerful together” #balanceforbetter theme came alive through the sharing of  inspirational stories about tackling gender equality challenges to shatter gender, culture and disability glass ceilings and walls.  These stories, shared by diverse speakers including parents, transformational leaders, investigative journalists, politicians and community members showed the ability to deliver real change, increasing women’s safety, equality, inclusion and contribution, through acting courageously and supporting others. 

As well as walking away inspired by the courage and commitment of speakers and colleagues in the room, I was also reminded of the ‘responsibility of privilege’ that many of us share as we stand on the shoulders of the women and men who came before us, paving the way to gender equality, at a critical moment in our history. The stars really do seem aligned for us to achieve ‘cut through’ by all working together to increase gender equality and inclusion so that everyone benefits.

I found the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AM’s IWD speech inspirational and brilliantly articulated. Oscar offered a vision of  how we can together achieve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander equality and inclusion. I was particularly moved by her comment that ‘a movement that leaves any of our women behind leaves all our women behind,’ and believe it rings very true.  

Another key theme across the IWD week that was echoed at every event I attended was that we need good men to walk beside women, not ahead of them, to enable us to achieve gender equality for everyone. This will ensure that we all will benefit.

There was also evidence to show we still have a lot to do as not everyone has had the opportunity to develop a thorough understanding of how we can achieve gender equality for everyone. This includes our current Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, based on his IWD comments that went viral globally over the weekend. His comments portray to me a lack of understanding in his belief that gender equality for women may come at men’s expense, which is definitely not my experience, and not the aim of the gender equality movement.  His comments demonstrate the importance of providing gender equity education and awareness beyond the converted to expand thinking, enabling more informed conversations and the creation of new solutions to develop a mutually beneficial gender equal world. He is not alone, and the gender equity issue is also not generational as evidenced by the recent NRL sex tape scandals. It is clear there is still much work to do to create a society where young men do not see women as trophy’s but as life and work equals.

This is not just a dream! I have seen the difference gender equality makes to women and men’s engagement and productivity in workplace teams. After my education sessions, everyday conversations with leaders and staff at all levels show increased buy-in and action to create workplace environments of respect and inclusion so that all staff can thrive and do their best work.

A final highlight of the week was attending the inspirational ‘All About Women - #metoo: year two’ panel at the Sydney Opera House to discuss what’s next for the movement. This included discussion of the need for everyone to get involved in identifying the structural, cultural and systemic gender equality barriers that still exist, and together create the safety to speak up and take action to address these. Such barriers hold women back from being able to fully contribute to the best of their ability in the workplace, their families and in broader society.

The all-star panel featured workplace culture transformation specialist and previous Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama Tina Tchen, Indian writer and advocate Sohaila Abdulali, and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Emily Steel, who along with her colleagues at the New York Times, investigated sexual harassment allegations against former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly that contributed to his removal from the role. The panel was expertly chaired by Guardian Australia’s editor Lenore Taylor.

The speakers described how the world has changed, but echoed that real progress for women does not happen overnight. My key takeaways were:

-          #MeToo has shifted the goal posts for acceptable behaviour in the workplace in the US while also having a global impact

-          the movement has given women more confidence to speak up and take action where previously they have been silenced to protect the careers of powerful men

-          harassment and discrimination is about power and respect – it is not about men and women

-          men who do not respect and support women’s professional contribution need to take notice as the world has changed

-          it’s important to find a way to embrace the gender equity backlash rather than working around it

-          everyone needs to be involved in the conversation about how to build inclusion in the workplace – it’s not about a 2-dimensional conversation on gender and/or race

-          it’s important to have a significant fighting fund to support the legal fees for people who speak up who have previously been silenced or marginalised

-          it’s not that hard to treat your work colleagues with respect!

If it’s time to increase gender equity, awareness, understanding and action in your organisation to capture the business benefits of diversity and inclusion, contact me today to organise a free one hour consultation.

Fiona KrautilComment