The #MeToo Movement has had an unprecedented impact on our working lives, with more and more women coming forward to report on abuse suffered by them at the hands of colleagues and bosses.
But what role does HR play in the ongoing struggle to inform and evolve broken workplace cultures? We caught up with Karla Jo Helms, founder and chief evangelist at JoTo PR Disruptors, who explained how public relations could be the key to enhancing the people function’s impact.
“There’s so much data out there on sexual harassment in the workplace, but the one report that stood out to me was from Vox,” explained Helms.
“They did a survey which found that the majority of women, 63%, are somewhat concerned about false accusations of abuse. A lot of women are afraid of losing their jobs and their stature over false claims; equally they’re afraid for their men at home - scared for their fathers and brothers and husbands. Because there’s no clear-cut response plan on re-education, rehabilitation and punishment in our culture, this uncertainty makes people wary and afraid.”
As a PR veteran for a long time, Helms looks at things from a PR stand point – something which she believes can be used to HR’s advantage.
“PR’s purpose is to change people’s minds and get them to think a certain way,” she told us. “This creates action. When you have an organization or culture or race that hasn’t been listened to in a very long time, it culminates in a protest.”
The #MeToo Movement was actually started in 2006, according to Helms, to inspire black women who’d been victims of sexual assault. Since the advent of social media and the instant gratification it has brought, information – both negative and positive – can be shared in seconds.
“Social media plays such a powerful role in resetting the status quo,” continued Helms. “It gives everyone a voice – everyone is their own publisher. It instantly impacts people’s minds and affects how they feel about things.”
Highlighting the bad is not necessarily a negative thing, as Helms explained, it facilitates a change for the better. However, social media should also be used to showcase all the positive amendments certain sector leaders are rolling out.
“HR is always looking at these sorts of issues,” continued Helms, “which means they work well together with PR. Just like in public relations, the people function looks at how to shift paradigms, highlight best practice and give employees their voice; making them instrumental in supporting campaigns such as #MeToo.”
So, what does Helms advise when it comes to improving the current state of your workplace? The key is, as with many HR-related issues, training and transparency.
“It’s up to HR to really look at how organizations are going to implement sexual harassment training. You can’t just set up one training session with staff just to tick it off a checklist – it’s an ongoing cascade of modules that should cover all aspects.
“It cannot be a silver bullet; rather it’s something which has to be consistently monitored and reported on.”
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