Yesterday should not have been about flowers and chocolate. International Women’s Day, should it be reminded, highlights the fight for women’s rights and a reduction in inequalities compared to men. In the wake of #metoo, this edition of March 8, should provoke an even deeper reflection about workplace safety, crisis management and internal communications.
The Harvey Weinstein and Gilbert Rozon scandals of last October and the #metoo and #timesup movements completely redefine the concept of occupational health and safety. More and more women are now finding the courage to report the abuse they have suffered and the humiliation they still endure at work. Message to CEOs: #metoo is not going away; you have to create a safe workplace and you have to state your intentions on the matter.
The term “workplace safety and security” used in human resources and in the field of crisis management is therefore being redefined. And more than ever, internal communications managers (and their advisors) will need to do their homework in advance and establish an intergenerational dialogue within the company. As we saw last fall, hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs can collapse following the criminal actions of abusive leaders. Publicly traded companies can also lose all value and credibility in the public arena due to the actions of one person.
Actions of one boss or corporate culture?
Those responsible for internal communications therefore have a role to play: that of ensuring that good communications tools are developed to train teams in dealing with this issue of health and safety at work and what constitutes sexual harassment and physical or psychological assault. New communications campaigns are needed to reach new cohorts of workers as well as baby boomers and members of Generation X. We must educate teams on how to behave at work in 2018, but also on how to file a complaint, how to report the abuses we witness and confidently using the mechanisms the organization has put in place to receive reports. From our point of view, this is the great strength of the #metoo movement: it now demands that organizations have credible protocols and explain them clearly. What are yours?
#metoo: what’s your plan?
Having clear protocols also works in an organization’s favour, supporting it in the event of a crisis. If one of the top leaders takes irreparable action, such as sexually assaulting or humiliating a female colleague or subordinate, we must be able to demonstrate how the organization behaved in the face of the situation, how we received the complaint, how we dealt with it, what objective and neutral mechanisms were in place, how the victim was protected from intimidation.
We are obviously not talking about implementing an internal culture of popular justice. Rather, it is to convince leaders (my clients, your bosses) on this March 9th, the day after, to create internal intervention units, to be ready in case a member of the management team were the subject of a complaint. This may require some form of courage and selflessness on the part of the bosses, but the liquidation of the businesses of Eric Salvail and Gilbert Rozon should be proof enough to convince them to undergo an internal evaluation process. Perhaps even the exercise would deter certain behaviors in the process. Message to CEOs, reminder: #metoo is not going to stop.
When the crisis breaks out
This means that if a boss is accused of having committed an aggression, the company must have the capacity to bounce back and immediately equip itself with an interim, credible and competent management team, capable of driving the company and following up on a possible permanent removal process, remedial measures for the victim(s) and/or cooperating in the criminal investigation process. If financial catastrophe looms, even if they are only allegations at first, it should not create such a vacuum at the top of the pyramid that an empire literally crumbles. This does not help anyone’s cause. At the end of the day, if the sale of the company proves to be absolutely necessary, it can be done in an orderly manner.