Since the #MeToo movement began, many male leaders have struggled to understand how to deal with sexual assault claims and prevention. Even the most well-intended CEOs, business tycoons, and leaders seem to not know the appropriate response.
This was best demonstrated earlier this year by the adored Tony Robbins, who claimed that the #MeToo movement may be damaging for women because now male CEOs are avoiding hiring them in fear of being accused of sexual advances. Robbins responded quickly and publicly apologized after widespread outrage to his statement.
Late last week, shortly after Trump's SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh had his confirmation hearings, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward with a statement that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.
The reaction of politicians, representatives, and leaders have been overwhelming. While many are trying to support Dr. Ford, others seem to be tearing her down. So much so that the Anita Hill case from 1991 has resurfaced, with many pointing to the similarities and grave flaws in the system.
No matter where you stand on the sexual assault claims against Kavanaugh, the #MeToo movement has proved that sexual assault is extremely prevalent. Here are three very important things not to do if you're in a leadership position and someone comes to you with sexual assault allegations.
1. Don't shut them down.
This is true for any complaint as much as it is for sexual assault claims. If an employee or subordinate comes to you with something they are upset or uncomfortable about, no matter the issue, as their boss, leader, or representative, you should let them feel heard. If you shut them down, you'll make them feel unimportant, and maybe even silenced, by your dismissive approach--and that's not how good leaders lead.
If someone comes to you with something as serious as a sexual assault accusation against another one of your employees, be sure to take the time to listen to them and to get necessary department heads (like those in HR) involved too. It's okay to ask the person coming forward how they would like you to proceed. This is especially true if you've never had to deal with sexual assault personally or in the workplace.
In the circumstance of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, she came forward stating she felt it was her civic duty to tell the truth before he was appointed to an extremely powerful position. After being asked to testify, Ford has asked that an FBI investigation be conducted first. Many Senate Democrats are supporting this, and requesting that this investigation should also call other witnesses to the stand.
Without taking sides, this approach lets the person coming to you feel heard, while also prioritizing the facts of the situation.
2. Don't limit them to a brief allotment of time to publicly confront the situation.
While you may have good intentions by trying to solve the situation quickly, this approach can be both disrespectful and unhelpful.
This week Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley set a deadline for Ford's legal team to respond to his request for her to speak with the committee directly about her sexual assault accusations against Kavanaugh. While it's understandable that Grassley would like to confront this situation, giving her less than a week to respond was quite abrupt.
In a sensitive situation like this, your role is a leader is to help navigate a delicate situation--not to jump to conclusions or spring on deadlines.
3. Don't assume your company's ability to vet sexual harassment claims is impeccable.
A huge reason so many sexual assault victims don't come forward is because they don't trust the systems that are provided to process their claims. This may be a good time to find out what your vetting process is, and how that could hurt and help both parties.
Anita Hill wrote in the New York Times last week that she believes the committee has a lot to learn. "That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement," wrote Hill.
In the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, it's incredibly important that leaders make sure victims of sexual assault have reliable avenues to come forward in your company. This is an extremely difficult situation to handle. As a leader, it's your job to ensure that there are sufficient processes put in to regulate and handle these sorts of issues and claims.
Sexual assault and harassment happen in every industry, not just in Hollywood and in politics. So do your best as a leader to make sure your employees feel safe and protected, and that they have a place to go to find justice.