MeToo, inclusion & freedom of speech

A year ago I fronted MeToo in global shipping. Based on the fact that no one had initiated the public debate, and a big and growing frustration from many young females in the industry, I chose to share some of my personal experiences, with specific ideas on a joint effort to create a more inclusive industry.

Many of those I’ve spoken with over the years, who have had MeToo related incidents or faced discrimination, have put the blame on themselves. Focused on what they could or should have done to avoid the situation. That’s what I wanted to shed light on. To point out what is unacceptable behavior, and that power abuse and harassment can happen to all.

After using my voice to push change within areas I believe to be key in the process of modernizing the maritime industry and increase its attractiveness and public image, I didn’t consider it too controversial to engage.

And I didn’t have the imagination that my post would create a fury at my former employer and cause sanctions.

Rather the opposite, as we had a very clear and open commitment to be the global arena leading the way to push diversity. But I had to apologize and defend myself in a meeting, and got a gag order.

Despite of engaging and writing as a private person, which was very clearly pointed out in the article and a following interview, it was required that all communication with the media should be directed to and handled by the employer. Alternatively, I would have to reconsider my employment. I obeyed. And what happened?

In Norway the big discussions were not raised, the topic and debate was chocked. We’ve seen the same in other industries and all around the world. There are various ways to efficiently stop the debate; a female surgeon who has worked on challenging the health sector, and a who founded a campaign to create awareness on unconscious bias, had to leave her career. Female athletes are forced to sign confidentiality clauses that hinders them from actively challenging their organization. Other sign clauses as part of an exit agreement.

The question is; how long will this work?

And is this really the path we wish to be on? Shouldn’t we, when faced with a time where change affects all part of our business models and core structures, welcome a necessary and healthy debate? When individuals are restricted from or warned against participating in public debates, we lose something very valuable- the opportunity for changing society for the better.

Female leaders stay silent because they don’t wish to be associated with MeToo. The elephant in the room in most male dominated industries has been that we tend to avoid the topic, and constructively focus on “show don’t tell” the value of diversity. Through taking a seat at the table, demonstrate results, but otherwise fit in. And no smart leaders wish to be seen as victims or weak – neither do I.

Many also fear that increased attention towards diversity challenges can increase the challenges, scare talents and build a negative reputation.

And parallel to this, we have discussed a new challenge; the MeToo aftermath seems to have increased the distance between men and women, that more executives seems to wish to get rid of “obnoxious” outspoken women or even being alone in a meeting room with a women, out of the fear for potential MeToo incidents. What a paradox! (Just be decent, by the way, and there’s nothing to worry about)

Succeeding with diversity and inclusive business culture is not only a nice thing – it pays of in a bottom line and competitive perspective. The approach of letting change happen organically and without implementing tangible, measurable efforts is nice in the theory. But as with any opportunity area or pain point, it’s extremely naive to think that it can be solved without applying what we do in other aspects of business; identify the challenge, work methodologically to resolve it, and measure how we succeeded.

The lack of a professional, measurable way of approaching this subject, also represents a huge problem, as we need the smartest, best brains and unconsciously fail to attract and retain half of them. There’s a gap between young talents’ expectations towards equal opportunities, and the reality of today’s business world. As a leader; do you realize the value of radical ideas and involvement from your employees, as a tool for succeeding with change?

I have been confronted with people asking me why I’m constantly “seeking attention”. I would say that once there are plenty other voices raising these topics, I’ll be happy to mute my own voice. So to anyone who are fed up with me appearing here and there, who’d like me to shut up; join the open debate now so that the mobilization of many voices and change agents accelerate. And I’ll happily lean back with a glass of wine, and enjoy the discussions.

And by the way; change always feels much better when we’re taking charge of it

proactively. So let’s create it together – from the inside – instead of passively waiting for it to hit us from the outside…

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