#MeToo brings reflection, but must lead to cultural, workplace change
Tina Tchen, a partner at Buckley Sandler and former chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, gestures during the forum, “#MeToo, Time’s Up—Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,” on Thursday at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago./Photo © Kathy Anderson.
The country is at an inflection point, where companies and courts are engaged in an unprecedented level of reflection on issues of gender harassment and equal treatment of women. This was the consensus of panelists at the forum, "#MeToo, Time’s Up—Sexual Harassment in the Workplace," held Thursday at the 2018 ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.
But panelists agreed it’s too early for congratulations, as extensive work is still needed to change workplace culture and public perception.
“When we’re talking about sexual harassment in the workplace, what we’re really talking about is power,” said Tina Tchen, partner at Buckley Sandler and former chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama.
Tchen was joined on the panel by Judge M. Margaret McKeown, of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. McKeown was tapped to chair a national working group established after then-9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski was accused in December 2017 by multiple women of harassment. He stepped down less than two weeks later.
“We want to have a civil workplace, free of bullying and where individuals want to work,” McKeown said.
To that end, the federal circuit has created a new office of judicial integrity, a hotline for judicial reporting, and obligations to take appropriate action if a party sees improper conduct. McKeown pointed to TSA signs at the airport that urge travelers: “If you see something, say something.”
Microsoft Deputy General Counsel Teresa Hutson said her company is taking it even further: “If you see something, do something.”
“Even saying something like, ‘Are you okay? Do you want to do something about that?’ ” Hutson suggested. “Including everyone in the conversation—that’s the kind of cultural shift [within a workplace] that needs to happen.”
Although the program’s subtitle was sexual harassment in the workplace, Tchen said the focus solely on that issue was misplaced.
“What we’re really talking about is building workplace cultures that are diverse and truly inclusive,” Tchen said. “Safe spaces, respectful places. We need to change the way workplaces operate.”
Follow along with our full coverage of the 2018 ABA Annual Meeting.