Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock — or in the midst of a social media sabbatical — you’re no doubt familiar with #MeToo, the hashtag that took Facebook and Twitter by storm about two weeks ago.
The campaign, which was originated by activist Tarana Burke in 2007, found new life when actress Alyssa Milano sent out a Tweet encouraging all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to reply by writing, ‘me too.’ Milano is one of many celebrities who has spoken out in the wake of the accusations against Harvey Weinstein.
The hashtag caught on like wildfire. According to CBS News, it was tweeted nearly a million times in 48 hours, and has generated more than 12 million posts, comments, and reactions on Facebook. As of last week, Facebook reported that 45 percent of users in the US had friends who posted “Me too.”
Those are some staggering numbers.
Of course, like any social media campaign, it has drawn criticism, largely for the fact that, as columnist Heather Wilhelm noted, “the blanket hashtag fails to discriminate between a ‘me too’ for a catcall and a ‘me too’ for sexual assault.” As a journalist, that was my second reaction.
My first? Sadness, because the posts I saw weren’t from random strangers; they were from friends of mine. In fact, the first #MeToo I saw came from someone I used to work with, and I knew exactly what she was referring to. Years ago while at the same company, our manager made multiple comments to colleagues questioning my friend’s sexual orientation.
“Don’t you think it’s strange she never has a boyfriend?” he said to at least three different people. This happened in an office, during work hours. When my friend heard about it, she was understandably upset. But, as is often the case, nothing ever came of it, as we worked for a small company that didn’t have much of an HR presence.
Maybe, maybe not.
I’d love to say she’s the only person I know who has experienced this type of treatment in the workplace, but it’s not the case. Unfortunately, we all have our stories — especially those of us who have worked in male dominated fields. For example, here are some actual comments I received while working in newspapers:
“Are you sure you want to work in sports, honey? You realize you have to know sports, right?”
“Some of us had to do more than wear a skirt to earn this job.”
“I’d send you to the conference finals, but it’s a really big game.”
Yup, all true.
I’d love to say it stopped when I moved into different realms of journalism, but no such luck. While on a job interview about 8 years ago, I was asked TWICE if I planned to start a family any time soon. And sadly, I’m the rule, not the exception. I’ve seen women get passed up for promotions shortly after getting married, and had friends tell me they were encouraged to take off their wedding rings before job interviews.
And here’s the thing, I never thought much of the comments I received while working in sports, because I figured (and was told) it came with the territory. When male colleagues were given more desirable assignments, I figured I just had to work harder.
And I did, but I quickly learned that chauvinistic behavior crosses into every industry — including health IT. I’ve spoken to several high-level executives who’ve dealt with sexist comments, questionable decision-making, and outright discrimination. One woman told me about a conversation she had at an industry event. She was speaking with a male colleague who looked at her pregnant belly (she was in her third trimester) and scoffed, “How do you expect to do the job of CIO with a baby?” She didn’t dignify it with an answer. Although if she did, she could’ve informed him that she already had two kids at home, and was managing just fine.
Another woman told me that after telling a male colleague about her responsibilities as CIO, he looked surprised and said to her, “that’s quite a big job.” She was stunned at his candor. “Can you imagine him saying that to a man?”
No, I can’t.
Unfortunately, even women who rise to the highest ranks aren’t insulated from sexism—not by a long shot. No position and no industry is above it. Fortunately, health IT has made strides in addressing the shortage of female leaders, thanks to tireless efforts by Carla Smith of HIMSS, Liz Johnson and Myra Davis of CHIME, and many others.
But we still have a ways to go, and it needs to start at the most basic levels, like speaking up if you hear degrading comments about women, and building a culture where sexism isn’t tolerated. And of course there’s more that can be done, like starting mentorship programs, and encouraging women to join professional organizations and pursue further education.
Most importantly, keep in mind that creating a better environment for a group that comprises half of the work force isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. And so I urge all of you to maintain open communications and encourage your staff to come forward with concerns at any time.
Because hashtags are well and good, but real conversations are much more effective.