There was such high turnout at our first Seattle HR Collective meetup on the subject of #MeToo, that we decided to have #MeToo, Part II to keep the conversation alive. We believe our meetups come alive with the sharing of personal stories and our speaker gave us a heartfelt sharing to solidify our learning together on this important topic.
Nickolett Hocking worked in the corporate world and had a good paying salary. She left the corporate world two years ago when she took a job at a non-profit paying a third of her previous corporate salary. She referred to it as trading in her corporate heels for non-profit waterproof boots and she threw her heart and soul into the mission of the non-profit around taking care of animals. Unfortunately, her experience on the job, was not a good one.
The male CEO made many comments to her such as “You always have something to say”, “Why don’t you just agree with the group?”, “You are too loud & opinionated” and “You are difficult”. It became evident that Hocking was the black sheep at her new job. Then she got pregnant. Once showing, she started hearing comments at work such as “Sit down” “When do you go on leave?” and “You’re so pregnant, you’re making me feel uncomfortable.”
Hocking went on unpaid maternity leave, and when she notified her employer that she was coming back, she was notified that her position had been eliminated. She was told she could come back to work but in a less senior role. She was told “we couldn’t assume you were coming back to work.” Hocking considered taking legal action but chose to drop it due to the stress that it would cause her family and because there was no guarantee that the outcome would be in her favor. Hocking then went on to work at Rational Interaction. She was immediately interested in the HR position after reading that they needed someone who was “a poodle with a mohawk”.
Hocking went on to create HRUprise in the wake of the #MeToo Movement with her Rational Interaction colleague, Rebecca Weaver. While in this new position, Hocking had a high-profile case where an employee who had just brought in several million dollars in sales was found to have acted inappropriately in the workplace. This time, the board gave her the option to determine what to do. She wound up terminating him.
From there on, Hocking made sure there was a more open dialog about what was considered appropriate and inappropriate in the workplace. She realized HR doesn’t need defending—it needs a revolution through the following actions:
- It’s time to get uncomfortable. If leaders in the workplace aren’t willing to get uncomfortable, how do they expect their employees to? It’s important to be open to acknowledge our unconscious bias and expose ourselves to material that we normally wouldn’t seek out. We live in a time where we have endless amounts of free information and we should be open to others’ perspectives.
- Make it easier to talk about difficult things- Earlier this year, Hocking was devastated by the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. She and her colleague decided to email their staff and admit they’d both suffered from depression and anxiety at certain points in their lives. They encouraged others to share their struggles and the response they received from their employees was overwhelming. She felt her team respected her and her business partner more and that they felt more comfortable talking after this action was taken.
- Open the conversation- There was another sexual harassment case at Hocking’s work, so she decided to put together the option for employees to submit anonymous questions via an online form. She wanted this to open dialog between staff and leadership regarding what behavior was acceptable and unacceptable for the workplace that weren’t in their employee handbook. In a way, Hocking’s staff created rules that they held each other accountable for.
- Shift Your Thinking – A safe space for employees needs to be created in order for them to speak openly. Consider ally training instead of sexual harassment training. Sexual harassment training has proven to be ineffective. It’s important to show examples of what good behavior looks like instead of focusing on what bad behavior looks like. Both men and women can harass his or her colleagues. Also, it’s important for leadership to encourage their employees to speak up if they feel uncomfortable about someone’s behavior in the workplace.
- Stop Lying to your Employees- Be transparent when someone gets let go for harassment in the workplace. It’s important for a company and HR leaders to take a stand on what is acceptable and unacceptable in the workplace.
- Rethink Everything You Know About Your Company Culture- Company leadership might think that culture has to do with bean bag chairs and beer kegs when it’s actually the shared consciousness a group of people have when their leaders are not around. Positive climate creates culture. Climate is all the interactions one has with his or her immediate surroundings. Leaders create that culture. It’s not about perks. It’s the shared consciousness and behavior when those in charge aren’t there.
- It’s about Commitments, not Action Plans- The way a company evolves for the better doesn’t happen overnight and isn’t a box to be checked off. When leaders make commitments to create change there is the acknowledgment that they are constantly evaluating themselves and checking in with staff to make sure the changes they want to make are happening and that it’s an ongoing process.
What if leadership doesn’t want to know how they can improve and support the issues employees are having in the workplace? Unfortunately, if those at the top aren’t willing to listen or examine their company policies, Hocking advised the best decision might be to leave and find another employer that is open to change.
Hocking also encourages others to take acts of courage by speaking up and telling their stories. It’s a powerful way for people to bring about change in the workplace and beyond. Her presentation that evening and the stories shared by audience members were evidence of just that.