How #MeToo redefined authenticity, teamwork and public trust

The #MeToo movement represents a landmark moment that went beyond gender politics & helped restore trust in leadership. 

#MeToo was a landmark moment in recent history, because it represented a significant turning point in our relationships with our workmates, institutions and in many respects, our own personal narratives. It was a moment of profoundly authentic communication, on a global scale, which has sparked a shift in the way we think about diversity and inclusion as business performance enhancements.

#MeToo Addressed the Erosion of Public Trust
In many respects, you could draw a direct connection, a line of declining public trust from the financial crisis of 2008 right the way through to the 2017 #MeToo scandal. The public outing of abusive Hollywood figures?—?prompted by Alyssa Milano encouraging victims of sexual harassment to begin tweeting about the pervasiveness of the abuse she had encountered in her own career?—?was just the tip of the iceberg.

The term was originally coined by community organiser Tarana Burke in 2006, to build activism around the issue of workplace sexual harassment, however, it took the confluence of Twitter and big-name celebrities to really drive the issue into the mainstream media, and social media, spotlight. This was an interesting development, because previously, a great deal of sexual harassment and bullying was conducted within the mainstream media and via social media.

Hollywood’s infamous casting couch was publicly exposed and rejected at C-suite, sponsor, advertiser and shareholder levels. Similarly, social media and digital culture was about to undergo policy shifts on all major platforms, to limit anonymous abuse.

#MeToo Addressed Post-truth Digital Disruption
The digital transformation that has taken place in our daily lives has contributed to an erosion of trust as well, in some respects.

We lack trust in high street stores to offer the same good deals we can find online, we subscribe and stream on demand rather than buy and keep, or rent and return. We price match everything, and compare cheap deals in marketplaces that turn everything from car insurance to sportswear, holidays and health food into commoditised online offers, with unsolicited adverts that seem to stalk you from your phone to your laptop, to your Facebook feed and your Amazon app.

However, we also have more channels than ever before to complain, to rate and recommend, to share our experiences of sloppy service and poor quality. In that sense, #MeToo leveraged the tools of the mass digital world for social good, and reminded us of the empowering nature of digital communication for people who were previously voiceless compared to the big brands, TV channels, record labels and publishers. #MeToo gave us an object lesson in personal and digital expression, and the power of authentic communication.

#MeToo was Authentic
Authenticity is a word that is often misused, or muddled in business jargon, however if we use the example of the #MeToo movement, it becomes a much clearer, simpler concept.

One of the core concepts of authenticity, is a sense of self, of knowing who you are and owning your personal story. This is a critically important factor in defining leaders we want to listen to, and follow. Glossing over your past, and the often difficult circumstances you have overcome on your life journey, used to be a defining characteristic of celebrity, and business leaders too. Many musicians, actors and famous athletes or personalities took pains (and super injunctions) to bury their pasts.

However, in the #MeToo movement we saw people speaking-up, owning their past and turning the notion of being the victim of abuse into being powerful through transparency and authenticity in the face of the abuser

By speaking up, and being authentic, #MeToo empowered others in the same situation to do the same, which achieved two important outcomes. Firstly, it made us listen and engage with issues because they are made relatable when told as part of a true story of human experience. Secondly, it forged networks of trust between people who previously felt isolated and distrustful. Trust builds effective movements and increases our ability to affect change in our communities and workplaces.

#MeToo demonstrated that leaders who have a grounded sense of who they are, and how they came to be where they are, can own their past and use that narrative to engage hearts and minds. This is a proven leadership approach, that enables people to say what they mean, comfortably and confidently, because they really mean what they say.

#MeToo Delivered Results
If the #MeToo movement was a powerful lesson in authentic communication and leadership, then it also represents the improved performance of authentic leaders over traditional leadership models that rely on tenure, privilege and status. There was, beneath the moral argument, an economic incentive expressed by #MeToo: Diverse, inclusive companies perform better.

Beyond the surge of resignations, apologies, and criminal investigations into the abuse of power by senior male figures and celebrities, #MeToo was a catalyst to reconsider diversity and inclusion in workplaces. There has been, in the two years since, a noticeable shift away from thinking about diversity in two dimensional gender or ethnicity terms, but a much broader movement to consider diversity in terms of personal needs, mental health, stress, and diversity of thought. In fact, diversity itself has given way to the more nuanced?—?but more relevant?—?issue of belonging.

In many respects, belonging takes diversity and inclusion and defines the difference between being included, and feeling like you belong. A sense of belonging is an indicator of psychological safety, a belief held by individuals that their team (or workplace) is safe for risk-taking without being labelled ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive if you make a mistake.

High psychological safety environments mean teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea. It also means feeling included, and belonging in the team even if you aren’t part of the dominant social, ethnic, or gender group (the somatic norm).

According to research by Google, high psychological safety tracks with high performing teams. It is a necessary precondition for effective agile methodologies, product innovation and handling rapid change effectively. Psychologically safe workplaces perform better because of improved communications and accountability, lower staff absenteeism because of sickness and stress, lower staff turnover rates, lower HR costs and better C-suite performance because of a more diverse (and therefore balanced) attitude to risk.

#MeToo prompted many organisations to reconsider their own psychological safety record. It wasn’t merely a concession to political correctness (a common criticism from reactionary voices) but an important way to increase team performance and improve productivity

#MeToo Benefitted Everyone, Not Just Women
If we consider the events of the financial crisis in 2008, one thing that is clear is there was a lack of psychological safety in many of the companies involved at the heart of it, either in terms of risky practices which have since been regulated out of existence, or pressure placed upon individuals to perform, leading to professional misconduct and malpractice. These are the typical business risks in companies where the motivation is high, but the sense of psychological safety is low.

Since then, we have witnessed many public trust issues?—?Brexit, Trump, Black Lives Matter, Fake News, Wikileaks, data privacy, tax-avoiding global corporations, charities exploiting vulnerable women, Facebook political advertising and allegations of Russian interference?—?it hard to imagine a time when we were less likely to have faith in the traditional organs of civil society, newspapers, politicians or CEOs.

It’s promising that leaders at all levels, in all kinds of organisations, are starting to engage more openly and authentically to redress these issues, but clearly there is still a long way to go and always more that can be done. The power of a movement like #MeToo, is to affect positive change through authentic communication, and create an authenticity template for others to follow.

The lesson #MeToo teaches today’s leaders is applicable to every organisation: Build trust, be authentic, perform better as an organisation. Win:Win.