By Laura Lorek
Publisher of Silicon Hills News

Voice can be a powerful lever for change, said Adam Grant, bestselling author and professor at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Grant moderated a panel at WorkHuman 2018, a meeting of human resource professionals put on by Globoforce, at the Austin Convention Center Wednesday morning featuring key leaders in the #MeToo movement including Tarana Burke who started the Me Too movement in 2006. Other panelists included Ashley Judd, actress, and activist, who came forward early on to accuse Hollywood Producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and investigative journalist Ronan Farrow, who broke the story with the first allegations of assault and rape against Weinstein in The New Yorker.

“You three have literally changed the world,” Grant said. “You’ve raised awareness about bias and harassment and you’ve given people the opportunity to speak up and drive real change.”

Burke, a survivor of sexual assault as a child, created the Me Too movement as a way to change the lives of other survivors who had also been assaulted. She also works to educate and prevent sexual assault and harassment.

“It’s not just about healing the individual, it’s about healing the community,” she said.

Tearing down the wall of shame and talking about sexual violence lets victims know that it isn’t their fault, Burke said.

At the age of seven, Judd said she was sexually assaulted and she told two adults who didn’t do anything to help her. From a young age, she vowed to always speak out when something didn’t seem right.

“People like Ashley speaking out early on were absolutely a lifeline,” Farrow said in getting the story out there about Weinstein. “Every single voice counted.”

“For the victims of sexual assault in this story, the women who spoke out about harassment were part of the foundation they could stand on,” Farrow said.

This was about systems ultimately, Farrow said.

“This was not just about Harvey Weinstein, this was not just about the entertainment industry, this was a phenomenon that it was very clear to me it was playing out in every single industry,” Farrow said. “And that men and women from blue-collar workers to executive boardrooms were dealing with this range of issues from harassment to assault. And that there were elaborate systems in place that could be utilized by the most powerful and the wealthiest, usually men in this country, to silence voices that spoke out against them.”

It became apparent that the systems were just as much of the story as the underlying allegations, Farrow said.

“A lot of those systems play out within structures of the private sector and powerful companies and they involve people at the very top of those companies commandeering the process and what you do is important,” Farrow told the HR professionals in the room.

People who speak out can make all the difference, Farrow said.

The systems at companies are set up to silence and intimidate women and the criminal justice system is not set up to help them either, Farrow said. And the media landscape, before these stories, was very inhospitable, Farrow said.

Reporting systems inside companies are broken Grant said.

Companies can’t create policies after things go wrong, they must create a culture beforehand that prevents sexual harassment and assault in the workplace from the beginning, Burke said.

Institutional courage comes from individuals that just grow “a damn backbone” to stand up and do the right thing, Judd said.

Judd cited University of Oregon Professor Jennifer Freyd’s work with the acronym DARVO that refers to a reaction sexual offenders may display in response to being accused of wrongdoing. DARVO stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.”

“Cherish the whistleblower is really important to protect that culture of it being Ok to come forward and divulge,” Judd said.

Hiring and promoting women is absolutely key, Judd said.

“Because it’s fundamentally about the asymmetry of power,” she said.

To affect change, individuals in companies need to have difficult conversations, Burke said. People are deathly afraid of being uncomfortable even for a couple of minutes, she said.

“We need to be uncomfortable as a country,” Burke said. There is still so much more to unpack, she said.

People need to learn how to listen on a more deep and humane level, Judd said.

Grant brought up the topic of Intersectionality, which refers to the ways different forms of discrimination intersect like racism and sexism in the experiences of marginalized people.

Amplification is what makes a difference, Burke said. Right now, people don’t talk about R. Kelly or Bill Cosby as much, the focus has been on Weinstein, she said. White women of privilege need to speak out on behalf of women of color too, she said.

Starting with the most privileged people and hoping that it trickles down to those that have the least, those people will get left out, Burke said.

“We have a very unique opportunity in the world to have a culture shift,” Burke said.

In the first 24 hours that #MeToo went viral there were 12 million engagements with the hashtag MeToo, Burke said.

“Everyone of those persons represents someone with courage,” she said.

And if 12 million people were infected with some disease within 24 hours all conversations would be focused on finding a cure, Burke said.

“We would be talking about how did we get here. How do we stop it and how do we make sure it never happens again,” Burke said.

It’s important not to derail the conversation with talk about inappropriate hugs and abstract concerns in the workplace, Burke said. Farrow echoed that sentiment.

The focus should be on sexual violence that is destroying lives, Farrow said.

“Place principles above personalities,” Judd said.