When Stephanie Brock found out that the male colleague who had made inappropriate comments and attempted physical contact with her had behaved the same way with her friend, she realized there was a pattern to his misconduct.
On Tuesday, Brock, who is vice president of sales and general manager of the Portland-based Red Thread, joined two others to advocate for creating safe spaces for victims of workplace misconduct to be able to report their offenders.
At an event organized by Bangor Daily News, Brock, Heather Robinson of Camden National Bank and Kerem Durdag of GWI talked about what had changed for Maine workplaces after the 2017 #MeToo movement spread awareness about sexual harassment across the world.
Robinson, senior vice president and chief HR officer for Camden National Bank, said it had become important to her company to emphasize a zero tolerance policy.
“As an organization, that’s really the only answer,” Robinson said. “If we take a stance it empowers people to come forward. Otherwise [harassment] happens below the surface and nothing gets done about it.”
Zero tolerance policies are evaluated on a case by case basis, Robinson said. If there is any attempt of physical contact involved, it presents a clear case for termination of employment.
Even though #MeToo has made large companies such Camden National Bank and GWI more aware of workplace harassment, most of Maine is rural and dominated by small businesses. A significant number of Maine companies do not have an HR department or an employee handbook.
In June 2018, Brock and 12 other professionals joined forces to tackle this problem.
They founded a website called MaineCanDo.org that provides model policies, training information and a checklist for management for companies. It also offers help for victims of harassment and their allies, and guidelines for investors.
Organizations such as MaineCanDo and the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault are another consequence of the broader public discussion of sexual assault that the #MeToo movement has spawned.
At the event, the speakers agreed awareness was the first step. According to a Maine workplace sexual harassment study that MaineCanDo commissioned, more than 49 percent of the 518 respondents reported being harassed, but fewer than 39 percent reported it.
Since the #MeToo movement gained traction, is anything really changing?
“The statistics are saying no,” Brock said. “What’s changing though, is our ability to have these conversations. That has to be a precursor, I think.”
She’s worried about organizations getting roadmaps to better protect offenders instead of using it as an opportunity to come forward by creating a safe space.
All the speakers said one solution that could help create a better work environment for all employees is hiring people of different races, genders and ages. When employees see their own demographic being represented in management, it makes them feel more comfortable about speaking up, Robinson said.
“We will have evolved when you start seeing boards and executive leadership that is diverse,” Brock said.
Through the event, the speakers emphasized the need to keep discussing the issue of workplace misconduct, both professionally and in a forum setting like the one Tuesday.
“We’ve come a long way in two years,” Robinson said. “One hashtag, #MeToo. Look at the conversations we’re having that we didn’t have before. We have a long way to go, but I’m hopeful.”
Watch: What’s changed in Maine since the #MeToo movement?