The Me Too movement — a national social media campaign using the #metoo hashtag to give personal accounts of sexual harassment — has reached the marine industry.
Lawyer Jamy Buchanan Madeja, who addressed a Massachusetts Marine Trades Association conference on Thursday about regulatory and government relations, spent a significant chunk of time discussing sexual harassment in the workplace and the potential repercussions of such cases.
“Me Too is what we hear as a catch phrase for the movement, but what it stands for is the fact that — and it’s not up for dispute — the fact that prominent people have lost their jobs,” Madeja said. “It is a seismic change. It is a tipping point. It’s not just Hollywood. It’s on Wall Street, in the statehouse, in the capitol. Whether you think it is or not, it is your business.”
The hashtag began well before October, but that was when millions of posts went out on social media, many that included very personal accounts from women who had experience sexual harassment “to give people an idea of the magnitude of sexual harassment in the workplace,” Madeja said.
What it is about, Madeja asked the conference room.
“It is about respect in the workplace and safety in the workplace,” Madeja said. “Safety is about physical safety — nobody’s going to assault you there — and it also means emotional safety in the workplace. Is it a hostile environment?”
A hostile environment, from a legal perspective, means someone in a protected group is being singled out. Those groups include gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity or race.
“If you’re really in doubt about whether it’s respectful, don’t do it,” Madeja said. “I can promise you nobody wants to see your boy parts in the workplace. Nobody wants to see a text of your body parts. No. It’s not just teens we’re telling this to. All you adults out there: no, not interested.”
There can be gray areas, Madeja acknowledged, a topic that drew many questions from attendees. Some people want to be asked out; some people ask others out.
“There are all kinds of gradations. You’re asked to learn about Me Too. Ask girls and women what do they know about it, and listen. And ask in an appropriate context, not during a lunch in front of a table of people. No. Ask in a context that allows her some real conversation, and listen. And don’t assume they’re going to tell you everything because we, as women often say, ‘I’m fine, I got this,’ when we’re not fine.”
Make sure employees feel they have a place to go for help, and be vigilant, Madeja said. For example, if a saleswoman is being harassed by customers, ensure she knows that is not part of her job and give her some tools for responding.
“Quietly find out what’s happening,” Madeja said. “People get a little scared when I talk about this, but the tipping point is now. And lot of us are happy about that because it’s going to be a better world.”
“Be part of the solution and definitely not part of the problem because you could lose everything,” Madeja said. “Here’s the beginning of this conversation, not the end of this conversation. We all have to talk to our families, our friends and our co-workers. It will become commonplace … for girls and boys to train side by side, to work together with people of color; it takes time, but it’s the future of this industry. If we’re only working with white males, we’re dead. So I don’t want to go to the funeral. I want to go to the party.