6 things to keep in mind when hosting a #MeToo discussion circle at work

Michelle Kim
Nov 27, 2017 · 5 min read

This is a follow-up post from the initial How companies can respond to the #MeToo movement blogpost.

Some people thought the #MeToo campaign would blow over shortly after the initial allegations against Harvey Weinstein.

But something went different this time.

Since the fall of Harvey Weinstein, survivors of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence are feeling emboldened to finally tell their stories. More than 35 men have since been accused of sexual misconduct, and the media is busy updating their “List of Powerful Men Accused of Sexual Harassment After Harvey Weinstein.”

People are starting to recognize the magnitude of the problem. There’s less victim-blaming. There’s less doubting of survivors’ stories. People are angry. Like, really angry. People are waking up to the reality that some people (*cough* women of color *cough*) have been shedding light on for decades (thank you Anita Hill, Ellen Pao, Tarana Burke, and countless others who have spoken out despite much higher retaliation risks). Well, better late than never, I guess. Anyway, I digress.

With the flame only getting bigger, companies are having an “oh, shit” moment.

“Uh, do we need to talk about this? How?”

Here, here, I spelled it out for you in my previous blogpost: “How companies can respond to the #MeToo movement.”

Some companies have opted to host discussion spaces where employees can freely engage in open dialogues about the #MeToo movement. This is great, provided it’s executed well. If done poorly, these “safe” discussion spaces may end up causing more harm than good.

If you wish to host an informal discussion group about #MeToo at work, follow these 6 steps to plan it before sending out those calendar invites!

1. Define the goal of the discussion space

What is the goal of the discussion space? Some distinct goals may be:

  • To debrief and analyze the media stories (without drawing parallels or relating to your org)
  • To action-plan what your org can do to create a more inclusive / safe workplace culture (specifically looking at your policies, procedures, and culture building practices, etc.)
  • To provide a safe space to process trauma that may be being re-experienced by survivors
  • To educate people on sexual violence and raise awareness while empowering people to act (intervene, prevent, reduce)

Depending on the goal, the audience and set-up will change drastically.

2. Specify target audience or participant requirements:

  • Option 1: Open to everyone. Will the space be open to everyone? If so, the discussion should remain at a high level, discussing company policies and stance on sexual harassment.
  • Option 2: Gender specific closed space. Alternatively, you can opt in to provide a gender specific (e.g., closed space for women identified folks) space: there are pros and cons to having a closed space for one gender identity group, the main benefit being a sense of security and safety, particularly for survivors of violence perpetrated by someone of the opposite gender. Be careful when specifying who is welcome in the space, as sexual violence is not limited to women / female-bodied people only.
  • Option 3: Survivors only. If you’re wishing to provide a healing space for survivors who may be feeling overwhelmed or triggered by the recent events, it’ll be important to spell this out and also find ways to protect anonymity. Building a sense of community among survivors and people with common experiences is one of the most powerful ways to empower people. However, the question is whether your organization and culture are optimal for this type of empowerment. You will definitely need a skilled / experienced facilitator for navigating this space.

To determine the right target audience and what types of space to provide, you can try to field feedback from people leaders and employees on how people are feeling, what questions they have, and what support they need.

3. Assess the role and skillset of the facilitator(s)

Depending on the goal of the meeting, ensure you have the right people to take on the facilitator role. Do you need to bring in a third party facilitator with the right skill sets and experience? Don’t assume anyone can do this!

Having an ill-equipped facilitator can cause more harm — navigating conversations about sexual violence requires accurate knowledge and inclusive facilitation skills.

4. Secure the right space and time

  • Consider the size of the group depending on the goal of the conversation. Discussion group size of less than 15 people is optimal for open and honest discussions.
  • Consider the physical space and meeting time — if you want anonymity of participants, open conference rooms and high-foot-traffic spaces are not recommended. Depending on the target audience, be mindful of what space you utilize to hold the space and the time in the day.
  • If you’re thinking about holding a virtual space, consider similar parameters around confidentiality and time.
  • Create a set of agreements and solicit input from the audience prior to beginning the discussion — these agreements can include confidentiality, right to pass, etc. and will help create a safe space where people can be more open.

5. Commit to action items and follow through

Depending on the goal of the meeting, there may be specific action items or commitments that need to be addressed after the conversation. What are they and who is responsible? Be prepared to follow-through if you make commitments.

Also consider what the next steps are after a lively discussion session. What comes next in your organization’s continued effort towards inclusion?

6. Remember this is just a starting point

This is just a starting point. As an organization and as individuals, to truly embrace diversity and to cultivate an environment that is inclusive, you need build the muscle to engage in uncomfortable conversations productively. This takes practice. And feedback. And some more practice.

As an individual and company, you will make mistakes. Learn how to deal with getting called out/in, not being thanked for your effort or intentions, and taking responsibility for your actions.

I commend all leaders looking to build the muscle to become more aware, inclusive, and conscious. It’s thankless work, but we are not trying to be good people for cookies and gold stars, right? We do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Remember this is the right thing to do. And there are people rooting for you and your company to do the right thing.

If you want to stay connected with other leaders building the same muscle, join Awaken’s Inclusive Leaders Circle.

Good luck, and don’t forget to report back on your progress!

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About Michelle Kim

Michelle is an entrepreneur, activist, speaker, and a coach passionate about empowering individuals and organizations to create positive change. She is the co-founder of Awaken and owner of Michelle Kim Consulting.

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Michelle Kim

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Co-Founder & CEO @ Awaken | Activist | Diversity & Inclusion Advocate | Keynote Speaker | Writer www.visionawaken.com & www.michellekimconsulting.com

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Creating compassionate space for uncomfortable conversations