Just days into the #metoo social media campaign in October 2017, it became clear that the fallout wouldn’t be limited to the mounting number of sexual assault allegations against director Harvey Weinstein.
The campaign, which asks survivors of sexual assault and harassment to publicize their experiences in order to demonstrate the breadth of the problem, has resonated across every industry because nearly every woman and a significant percentage of men has had at least one encounter with gender-based violence.
Facilities management is no exception. No industry is. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
How Harassment Impacts Facilities Management
Because this type of mistreatment affects every industry, it’s not surprising that facilities management has seen its share.
Meredith Thatcher, an IFMA Fellow and founder of Thatcher Workplace Consulting, has led the “High Heels and Hard Hats” panel at IFMA’s World Workplace conference since 2010 and says attendees have brought up personal safety and harassment issues since the panel’s inception.
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“On the very first panel, what came up was the issue of fear on the job site. In facilities, a lot of people work late at night or on weekends, and they discussed who hasn’t felt safe on the job site. It was quite a hot button topic that year,” Thatcher explains. “If you’re the only woman at work and you’re on a job site in an elevator at 2 a.m. and someone is making you feel uncomfortable, what do you do? Most men don’t recognize the underlying level of fear that women experience when they’re trying to stay focused while still paying attention to their surroundings and who’s around them.”
This year’s panel focuses on advocacy – not just for oneself, but for other women. The #metoo campaign is likely to become a major topic of conversation, Thatcher says. “If the perpetrators realize they’re not going to get away with it anymore, the rate of occurrence will reduce,” Thatcher says. “The men in my life were quite shocked as to what they’re hearing about and they’re saying, ‘I don’t understand how people can do stuff like this.’ The answer is because they’ve gotten away with it for a long time.”
3 Ways to Take Action
Sweeping assault and harassment under the rug won’t make the problem go away. In fact, a lack of consequences encourages bad behavior to continue. Fortunately, a continued emphasis on accountability and real consequences may mean a brighter day is dawning.
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“A number of years ago I did a women’s panel and one of the members asked everyone in the room how many of them had experienced sexual harassment on the job and everyone put their hands up. This was probably 300 women,” Thatcher adds. “Then she asked how many of them were defended, and only about seven hands stayed up. Now, for the first time, we’ll be in a position where women can talk about this a little more freely and expect that they’ll be believed and that they can do something about it.”
Rather than pretending the problem doesn’t exist, it’s crucial for allies who want to end the problem to address it head-on. Facilities management professionals can help stop harassment and assault on the job by implementing these three core concepts:
1) Don’t discount victims if they accuse someone. “In the past, it was almost like a badge of honor if you dealt with this in the workplace and you fought your way through it. It was like, ‘I dealt with it, now let’s move on,’” Thatcher says. “I’m guilty of this as well. What it did was enable the harassers to continue doing what they were doing. We all knew if you said something, in many cases nothing was going to happen. Having somebody in your corner saying ‘We believe you’ is really important in feeling like you can come forward.”
2) Create a culture of accountability. If you witness bad behavior, a simple slap on the wrist is not enough. “At one men’s panel, someone described an incident in his office where he had to remove one of the young men from a meeting,” Thatcher explains. “They needed to move forward on a project, and a young man said to the woman who was working on the project ‘Buckle up, buttercup.’ He was removed from the room and had it explained to him that that was inappropriate.”
3) Focus on growing individuals instead of emphasizing stereotypes. “When I speak to most women about this, their concern is that there will be too much focus on them and not enough on getting the job done,” Thatcher says. “We don’t have to talk about a woman learning how to be a leader – people learn how to be leaders. We can take some of the gender bias out of that discussion because it’s no longer valid.”
Janelle Penny (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Senior Editor of BUILDINGS.