The #MeToo moment has been more than a moment. In just over a year, it has transformed the global conversation about the ‘workplace’. It’s an illustration of how quickly change can happen. Society accepts the status quo – until it doesn’t. The speed of change can be breathtaking as it has been with #MeToo and companies are innovating in different ways to make the most of this moment. KPMG, for example, has added men to the advisory boards of their women’s networks, bringing men into the process, creating allies, and making the point that the response to #MeToo has to involve everybody.
But mentorship and sponsorship, as important as they’ll always be, are not enough. The task now is not only to extend what has been achieved, but to broaden it. Yes, it’s great that instances of unacceptable conduct are being uncovered, rooted out, and declared no longer acceptable; yes, we absolutely need to continue to address all past abuses and bring justice for any victims; and yes, we need to be explicit and deliberate about creating, reinforcing and expanding mentorship programs — but while we’re rethinking the rules and conventions of the workplace and the assumptions that underlie them, we need to go upstream. #MeToo isn’t just about shining a light on the worst examples of sexual harassment, it’s also about creating a workplace that truly works for women, one that allows women to reach their full potential; and to do that, we need to look at some of the factors that help create conditions that lead to ways of working that advantage women in more subtle but systemic ways.
Far too many workplaces are fueled by a culture of machismo and burnout.
And it’s the women who pay the highest price at workplaces in which sleep deprivation and exhaustion are taken as proxies for dedication to the job.
Given that even when they’re working, women are usually doing the lion’s share of the work keeping up the household, becomes a backdoor way of excluding women, or at least making it harder for them to have their voices heard or to advance. Not only does this keep women out, it makes their day-to-day experiences worse. When people are burnt out, they lash out and act out. And unprofessional behavior inevitably includes sexist behavior.
We can – and should – talk about gender parity and how there should be more women at the top of every profession, but change has been slow. And we’re never going to truly move the needle if we don’t change the day-to-day experiences of women at every level. Stressed out, burnt-out work cultures locked in a state of perpetual ‘fight or flight’ mode are more likely to be fertile breeding grounds not just for harassment but for the idea that it’s okay to talk over women, devalue them, ignore their contributions, and silence their voices in ways big and small.
We need diverse and inclusive workplace cultures that allow everybody to unlock their full potential and realize their talents and goals; and this starts with leaders who model a way of working that acknowledges that we bring our whole selves to work. It’s not about work-life balance – which was always a losing game for women – but about work-life integration. Maintaining a healthy workplace culture is also about surfacing problems immediately. At Thrive Global, it’s one of our core values and we call it “compassionate directness.” Employees are empowered to speak up and raise problems as they arise, which enables continuous course-correction and rooting out not just misbehavior – including sexual harassment – but any challenges or obstacles to someone’s voice being heard. Another way to create a healthier culture for women, and one not fueled by burnout, is to be comfortable with incompletions. This means realizing that there isn’t anybody in any demanding job who can complete everything on their to-do list each day. So people should be encouraged to prioritize their tasks and structure their day so they’re able declare an end to it, knowing that they’ve handled the essential priorities – but also knowing that they’ll arrive back at work the next day recharged, refreshed, and ready to tackle challenges and seize opportunities.