Manitoba·Point of View

'It was never OK': The work started by #MeToo isn't nearly done, and employers have a big part to play

It has been more than one year since the #MeToo hashtag went viral and I have been reflecting on what, if anything, has changed. Although I believe a lot has changed, we are nowhere near finished.

Excuses for harassment are increasingly being rejected, but good policies still essential: Klinic director

Since the #MeToo movement began, people have become less likely to accept excuses like 'I came from a different time,' for harassment, says Klinic executive director Nicole Chammartin. But employers still need clear policies and procedures to prevent harassment and deal with complaints, she says. (Doidam 10/Shutterstock)

It has been more than one year since the #MeToo hashtag went viral and I have been reflecting on what, if anything, has changed. We continue to see the impact for individuals and workplaces within our own community, and globally.

Although I believe a lot has changed, we are nowhere near finished.

More than a decade ago, I attended a work-related event where a colleague, who was obviously inebriated, groped me in a room full of people.

Once I had succeeded in convincing him to sit down, I went back to eating dinner with my colleagues and my partner and we all agreed it was unfortunate that it happened. After that, I took more precautions with that individual to avoid scenarios that would place me at risk.

I do not imagine that his behaviour changed in any way as a result, but mine did.

Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at a Los Angeles #MeToo March in November 2017. Instead of excuses, people who experience harassment and assault may now hear messages like 'it is not your fault,' and 'you can say something,' says Nicole Chammartin. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

When people have asked me why I didn't say anything, report anything, let me be very honest: It may not have been OK, but in my head it was a pretty unremarkable occasion. Though upsetting, it was something I think most women have experienced at some time or another in their workplace.

I also thought I should have known, things had been said, and how bad could it be? Lots of people actually witnessed it happening! He apologized many months later, blaming his state of inebriation. I accepted his apology and continued to be cautious in his company.

I am sharing this example to illuminate the insidious nature of sexual harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. Part of what we hear in response to people being called out for their behaviour includes "I came from a different time," or "things have changed."

And while I do not doubt that, we need to be crystal clear — it was never OK.

The difference now is that the people who experience harassment and assault may hear a different message, including "it is not OK," "it is not your fault," and "you can say something."

Employers can be part of culture shift

This is a time when employers have a great opportunity — you can be a part of the workplace culture shift.

The key to a supportive workplace is good training, policies and procedures that clearly outline:

  • The type of behaviours that are unacceptable. For assistance, you can access resources such as SAFE Work Manitoba.
  • The process for making a complaint and how it will be handled. Ensure employees know who to talk to, particularly if the complaint is about management.
  • What supports and services are available. This may include an employee assistance program, and/or community programs such as Klinic's crisis lines.

As employers, we are obligated to create safe workplaces and it is our legal responsibility under the Manitoba Human Rights Code to ensure our workplaces are free of harassment and discrimination.

For some people, there may be a feeling that this current environment is difficult and different from the past — that they are worried about saying the wrong thing. As a leader myself, I understand that it can be challenging sometimes to communicate to many people your intentions and get it right.

At Klinic we describe all sexual harassment and sexual assault as existing under a continuum of sexual violence. This may include any of the following without clear and expressed consent:

  • Any non-consensual sexual contact that is verbal, emotional or physical.
  • An act of violence or aggression involving a sexual attack that is verbal, emotional or physical.
  • Unwelcome sexual comments, harassment or threats that make you feel uncomfortable, violated or under attack.
  • Touching in a sexual way without permission.

If you are unsure or would like to talk to someone about what you have experienced, please contact Klinic's 24/7 sexual assault crisis line at 204-786-8631, 1-888-292-7565 (toll-free) or 204-784-4097 (TTY).

Allegations have surfaced recently of workplace harassment, unfair treatment of staff, racism, and sexual assault at Winnipeg's Stella's restaurants. Chammartin says resources are available, with more coming, for employers who want to be proactive about dealing with harassment and assault in the workplace. (CBC)

If you are an employer looking for resources, we are happy to share that in the New Year, the Sexuality Education Resource Centre training institute will offer sexual harassment in the workplace training for both private and public sectors in Manitoba.

Rooted in consent, sexual violence prevention and SERC's values of rights-based sexuality education, these interactive training sessions will equip both staff and management to develop and enhance a culture of consent in the workplace. If you are interested in learning more about these please, contact us at info@serc.mb.ca or sign up for our E-News at serc.mb.ca.

In every societal shift, we all have an opportunity to look inside and think about how we may be part of the problem, and how we can be part of the solution.

This is our opportunity — let's not let it go to waste. 

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Nicole Chammartin is the executive director of Klinic Community Health Centre in Winnipeg and the Sexuality Education Resource Centre. She is the co-chair of the Canadian Association of Community Health Centres.

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