Needed: A Woman’s Voice in Workplace Relations

Menacing and toxic workplaces. We’re hearing a lot these days about some pretty harsh workplaces and the individuals, bosses and employees who build and maintain them.

Most employment contracts guarantee basic civil rights and legal protections and imply our safety. Yet we’re reading about some of the worst violations ever; rape, sexual assault, and emotional and other forms of physical harassment.

Many brave women and former employees spoke truth to power in the case of Harvey Weinstein despite the fear of retaliation. To deal with and share this experience publicly and come out of hiding took considerable courage. Words can barely express the thanks many of us feel for the amazingly brave, intelligent and persistent human beings, who have come forward with their experiences to help raise awareness of these issues, in order to bring much needed change. Thank you to Ronan Farrow and all of his collaborators at the New Yorker who put Weinstein’s accusers on the front page.

Collectively these stories fit a widely known pattern of abuse and it’s been intense to hear about, for all to many women who’ve had their share of unwanted attention in the workplace. My clients not infrequently share stories of workplace violence and sexual harassment. Inappropriate touching in front of co-workers and even choking from a supervisor are a couple of examples that led to incredible intensity, confusion and shame. The loss of self-confidence can be so overwhelming that the accused women are challenged to navigate effectively in the workplace. The trauma will often affect their career trajectory; some clients opt to take time off or go back to school to give themselves time to heal and move on. Without the cooperation and support of management, HR or a union, my clients tend to leave the company as soon as possible.

What’s needed to heal and remedy workplace abuses?

The cultures we work and live in need to change. Danger in the background of one’s work environment has a huge impact on the quality of one’s whole life. Is a lack of respect coming from the top making it hard to speak out if something’s wrong? Is the company keeping up a good front for the media and investors? Inadequate systems of communication and support keep us out of the loop. Consequently,  we are unengaged in solving the real problems and we feel unsafe and unconnected when there’s a crisis.

If we could change our culture at work would the above-mentioned abuses stop? What should we do? Starting from the bottom, top, middle or side: Speak out. Share what’s occurring in concrete terms. Without calling anyone a bully, what is the behavior that you’ve experienced that’s made you feel uncomfortable or unsafe? What changes would you like to see? Find supportive people to talk to about your experience and involve HR whenever possible. Similarly support the people who are coming to you with their experiences.

To progress beyond the experiences motivating and sustaining the #Me Too movement, women’s voices need to be heard and continue to be heard in every aspect of today’s economic world.

Focus on sharpening your soft skills, along with firmly clarifying the unacceptable. Keep talking about what matters; soft skills are about relating, enhancing and making our work relations more honest and relevant, more inter-connected and productive, as well as safe.

Feeling safe makes it possible to believe in what your workmate say they’ll do. Many say that success in business is largely based on “doing what you say you’re going to do,” delivering on promises. If employers don’t deliver on their promises to employees to provide a safe work environment, how will they deliver on what they promise to customers?

So much comes down to genuine communication in a business or organization. If you’re going to make a decent go of your mission and do right by yourself and others, develop mutually beneficial relationships. Long-term relationships in work and business nurture our mutual success and all the people we come in contact with.

So what about those soft skills? How might they help us improve our ability to get the right things done?

What might strengthen the soft skills all of us bring to the workplace?

  • A sense of fairness, that one’s efforts and efforts of ones’ co-workers are appreciated for their importance and duly noted, regardless of contributor’s status in her workplace hierarchy.
  • All-important, value-flexibility. As women tend to be oriented towards caring for their children and partners while working outside their homes, being able to be there for family when needed is key to happy employment.
  • Speaking of caring: The best non-profit and impact entrepreneurs’ missions are built on premium definitions of caring for others. These and other organizations offer a supportive work environment, valuing emotional expression and reaching out to others when sensing a problem.
  • Mentor promising talent. Spend time to bring people on board, foster a sense of community, which we all crave. An established community implies sustainability.
  • Life work balance. Kids and family matter. Anybody want to work from home or a desert island? If you can dream it, you can create it with the proper perseverance,  though the form will change and change again.
  • A generally collaborative approach to engage everyone, gather the best ideas, intentions and energy from all.
  • Rewards for participating, of course equitable pay and pay transparency are important to reward all measures of contributions.

Our world-changing women’s movement, the 3rd wave of feminism in the United States which began in the late 60’s early 70’s was sparked by conversation. Conversation about our everyday reality that was meaningful because it wasn’t censored. Create safe spaces among your colleagues and co-workers to talk about what’s happening at work. Be true to the words you and others express and follow up appropriately.

Thanks to my co-conspirators and writers with the Portland Career Counselors in Private Practice, especially Evan Dumas.



Originally posted on Career Transition: The Inside Job