What Every Advancement Leader Needs to Know in a post-#MeToo World

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, leaders and organizations are coming to terms with a new understanding of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. Advancement leaders are taking an unanticipated crash course on a topic that can have a bottom-line impact on fundraising, not to mention the culture of your institution.

But where should advancement leaders start? What are the critical things they need to know to navigate their organizations through this new moment in time? Here are seven things you need to consider in your role as a leader in a post-#MeToo world:

1. Your employees are being harassed.

A recent survey from the Chronicle of Philanthropy revealed that one in four female fundraisers has experienced sexual harassment on the job—in the majority of the cases, the perpetrator was a donor or prospect. Other surveys indicate that as many as 50% of women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Good missions and intentions do not make our institutions immune to sexual harassment or abuse.

2. Gender is only part of the conversation.

In the U.S., one in four women will be sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetimes. And so will one in six men. Among transgender individuals, the rates are one in two. Survivors and perpetrators exist across genders, and all genders can play a role in creating environments that either support or prevent sexual harassment and abuse. A training program that stereotypes men as perpetrators and women as victims will miss the mark.

3. Sexual harassment and sexual abuse and assault are inter-connected.

The conditions that permit sexual harassment to take place also permit sexual abuse and assault to go unchecked. When we prevent sexual harassment, we are also making the world safer for children and adults at risk of other kinds of sexual violence.

These topics are inter-connected for another reason. Those statistics mentioned above? They apply to your office, too. Survivors of sexual abuse and violence may experience a different kind of vulnerability and exposure during workplace discussions about harassment. Sensitivity to survivors is critical in policy development and training—something most advancement leaders fail to consider.

4. It’s about more than your policy.

If a zero-tolerance policy could end sexual harassment, we wouldn’t be here right now. Of course, every organization should have a good policy, but the work doesn’t begin and end there. A policy is only as good as its implementation plan, and better yet, a focus on prevention makes the policy something you’ll only need to use on rare occasions.

Speaking of policies, your central human resources office and/or Title IX office may not have thought through how to develop a strong policy that addresses third-party harassment involving donors. Understanding what kind of behavior your president and board will tolerate and who is best positioned to hold donors accountable are two uncomfortable conversations you’ll need to navigate.

5. There is a new reporting option: the media.

The #MeToo movement called attention to the many ways typical legal and human resources approaches keep victims of workplace sexual harassment or abuse silent.

Today, your leadership playbook on harassment needs to go beyond legal and human resources tactics. You need an internal and external communications strategy that will help your employees understand where you stand. It’s a lot easier to have conversations about sexual harassment before an incident takes place than after, but many leaders shy away from these conversations because they are uncomfortable.

Your voice—your public voice—matters. Trust in the process has been broken. You have to repair it.

6. Frame before you train.

Most of what I do with advancement offices is framing. People come to this topic with varying degrees of skills and experience talking about it. While some may have experienced harassment directly, others may be surprised to learn how frequently it occurs. Some may also be fearful to ask the wrong question in an emotionally charged environment.

Getting people on the same page is critical before jumping into training on bias, scenarios, or bystander intervention. You can see a non-advancement version of this framing in my 2016 TEDx talk.

7. Build skills.

No single conversation or workshop is going to magically transform your culture and prevent sexual harassment from taking place. It will require ongoing skill building in the following areas: having difficult and uncomfortable conversations, awareness of what sexual harassment and violence looks like in the workplace, how to intervene directly and engage others in successful interventions to address troubling behaviors and attitudes, recognizing one’s own power, privilege and bias, responding legally and compassionately to disclosures of sexual harassment, and building a more trauma-informed workplace (which also helps with prevention). The good news is that all of these skills build better employees and fundraisers, and contribute to a happier, healthy workplace.

I wish there were one magical piece of advice I could give advancement leaders to make the issue of sexual harassment disappear like a rabbit. The truth is that this issue is messy and uncomfortable. The truth is that a culture free of sexual harassment means we have to talk about sexual harassment even more than you are today. You’re probably going to mess up and say the wrong thing from time to time. But you can get better at feeling uncomfortable, and helping your organization do the same. Together, we can advance our missions and create cultures of safety and respect.

Sarah Beaulieu

Sarah Beaulieu is an expert at engaging men in conversations about sexual harassment and violence and founder of The Uncomfortable Conversation, a nonprofit that produces short-form videos that normalize conversations about consent, healthy relationships, advocacy and supporting survivors of sexual violence. Previously, Sarah held senior advancement roles at Brown University, Boston College, and University of Massachusetts Foundation.

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