In Wake of #MeToo ...

By Mary Lynn Fayoumi, CAE, SPHR, GPHR, President & CEO
Published July 9, 2019

A plethora of new employment laws are impacting Illinois employers since Governor Pritzker took office. The “Workplace Transparency Act”  has several important provisions, including one that requires ALL employees to receive annual training on sexual harassment prevention. HR Source has been providing anti-harassment training for more than 30 years and will be offering even more options to help employers comply with this new legislation. 

I was recently featured in Burt Constable’s timely Daily Herald article on this topic.


In Wake of #MeToo, Sexual Harassment Training Needed More Than Ever

By Burt Constable
Daily Herald, June 24, 2019

Mary Lynn Fayoumi
The demand for training to prevent sexual harassment has grown in the wake of the #MeToo movement, says Mary Lynn Fayoumi, president and CEO of HR Source, an employers' association with more than 1,200 member organizations.

 

An old newspaper book on my desk, titled "Gimme Rewrite, Sweetheart," predates the start of my career by only a decade or so. I can't remember when sexual harassment became a concern in the newspaper world, but I had been working in the business for a couple of decades before I got training in how to avoid it.

That first training featured a lot of jokes -- "So I can't call you 'doll' anymore, babe?" or even "That sexual harassment presenter has got great gams." It was mandatory to attend, but the seriousness was optional.
"That's totally changed. I don't think people think it's funny anymore," says Mary Lynn Fayoumi, president and CEO of HR Source, an employer's association based in Downers Grove that offers human resources and management support to more than 1,200 organizations. "Based on the #MeToo movement, we've seen a strong increase in demand for this training."

After a series of sexual-abuse allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, #MeToo became a way for people to share their stories online. Weinstein recently reached a $44 million settlement in some of the cases, and still faces criminal charges in a trial set to start Sept. 9. But his fall led to a rise in people willing to talk about sexual abuse and harassment.

The Illinois Legislature this month passed legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake, that requires all state officials, employees and lobbyists to receive annual training aimed at preventing sexual harassment. All companies doing business with the state also are required to have an official sexual harassment policy.

"We need to understand what it is and what you can do about it," Bush says. "Things that we laughed about in the past are not funny anymore." 

The bill, which is expected to be signed soon by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, was part of a two-year campaign to find ways to stop harassment and discrimination, Bush says. As part of the law, free online training will be available from the state. Sex education at public schools will add lessons about consent.

"Our organization has been offering training since the '80s on this topic," Fayoumi says. Today's workplace is far better than it was a decade ago, she notes, but even in our post #MeToo world, problems abound.

A recent online survey by a not-for-profit called Stop Street Harassment reported 81% of women (and 43% of men) had experienced some fashion of sexual harassment in their lives. Another survey conducted by Leanin.org and SurveyMonkey found 60% of all male managers are "uncomfortable" mentoring, having one-on-one meetings, socializing or merely conducting other common workplace interactions with females, which clearly affects a woman's chance of moving up in the workplace.

"That's been an unfortunate underbelly of the #MeToo movement," Fayoumi says.

Avoiding interactions between people of different sexes or genders "obviously is not the answer," Bush says. Men who are afraid their interactions with female workers will open them up to sexual harassment allegations simply need more training.

"If you are behaving in a professional, businesslike fashion, you should not have any concerns about working with people of the opposite gender," Fayoumi says. "When I first started delivering this in the '90s, we'd say, 'Would you want your mom, or your girlfriend, or your sister, or your daughter, witnessing what you just did?'"

If people still weren't sure of the boundaries, "the #MeToo movement made it more clear what people deem appropriate," Fayoumi says.

One of the common misbeliefs is people think they can't be nice to a person of another gender for fear of crossing some nonexistent line. "I tell my son, 'Opening a door for a woman, or a man, is a kind act,'" Fayoumi says. And the world can use some kindness.

Illinois' new law barring employers from asking about a prospect's salary history also removes a barrier. Studies that show women make only 78 cents for every dollar paid to male peers won't change if employers depend upon those biased salaries as the guidelines for new salaries. Instead of figuring out what an employee might be willing to be paid, employers should figure out what the job is worth, Fayoumi says."We all have unconscious bias, but we should be talking about and seeing how it impacts people in the workplace," Fayoumi says, urging people not to ignore harassment or injustice even if they are not the target. "There is a need and hope people will come forward to help others."

Younger Americans who grew up in an era with same-sex marriage, gender-fluidity, #BlackLivesMatter and an understanding of how stereotypes can hold back groups of people aren't willing to accept harassment as part of a normal work environment, Fayoumi says. She says companies need to stop harassment and discrimination if they want to attract the best workers.

New laws and training bring attention to an old problem, which might not have been considered a problem back in the day when newspaper reporters could call a co-worker sweetheart. Change is healthy.

"I can be pretty sarcastic," admits Bush, who suspects she probably has been guilty of saying something in the past that she might consider offensive today. "I'm more aware myself. It's good for all of us to check in." 

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