#MeToo: Is Social Media Driving HR Changes?

by: The Knowledge Group

February 13, 2018


Tarana Burke originated the now-viral #MeToo movement in 2006, while working with Philadelphia youth, and hearing their stories of sexual violence.

Burke was the earliest voice celebrated in TIME magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year, which named the leading “Silence Breakers” confronting sexual abuse.

Burke intended to make change in a community. Burke’s movement is changing workplace conduct across the nation and beyond. In October 2017, Alyssa Milano spread the concept by posting a #metoo tweet encouraging use of the hashtag to show the magnitude of the social problem.

Since then, an “unprecedented wave” of voices in print and through social media is doing what legislation could not, wrote Catharine MacKinnon in a New York Times op-ed this month.

Potential for Backlash

Professor MacKinnon spearheaded the equality-based sexual harassment law that HR departments work with today. In a sense, there has long been backlash against this body of law.

Just because a law exists doesn’t mean actions will change—particularly if the outlawed activity is culturally entrenched. While HR departments have the rules to work with, then, complaints were often dismissed.

And today, there is plenty of pushback against #MeToo’s call for safety and equality, with some, including the U.S. president, suggesting that it’s turned into trial by media.

Why Workplace Standards Are About to Change

The trajectory, though, is toward social change. “Women have been saying these things forever,” MacKinnon explains. But the response to them has changed.

A forward-thinking HR department will best respond by examining existing policies and practices.

Because people suffering sexual harassment or workplace bullying are finding a stronger collective voice, MacKinnon predicts, we can anticipate new statutory provisions to lengthen the statute of limitations in discrimination cases, and to increase transparency regarding the way a company deals with complaints.

Mechanisms could develop to end the isolation of affected staff, interns, and volunteers. Look for challenges to nondisclosure agreements and settlements, and arbitration clauses.