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#MeToo: Where Was HR?

Amid the sexual harassment discussions, the same question keeps cropping up.

A man in a blue suit posing for a photo.
​Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

​Amid the #MeToo discussions, the same question keeps cropping up: “Where was HR?”

It’s a fair question. Employees look to HR for answers because part of our job is to foster a respectful, safe and productive workplace. While most employees may not know about HR’s successful interventions behind the scenes to prevent sexual harassment, we must acknowledge that this national conversation is a plain signal that in many workplaces, something is broken. As a profession, HR must do more.

Given that nearly every U.S. organization (94 percent) has a sexual harassment policy, clearly the problem is bigger than policy; it’s a matter of culture. This is where HR can do more. This is where HR must lead.

Our profession’s highest and best value is defining and keeping a healthy culture for employees. We can never forget that every decision our organizations make reinforces or undermines culture—from who is recruited, rewarded and recognized to how to prevent bad behavior or handle it when it occurs. Good HR fosters a culture that holds every employee accountable to the company’s defined values and behaviors, and responds in the moment to the rare violation. 

Culture can be a competitive advantage, or it can undermine your entire business. It may not even be what you think it is, nor what you are saying it is. That is why you may need to challenge C-suite colleagues and your board to step back and ask: “What do we really believe in as a company and workforce?” And if the answer to this simple question does not support a positive culture, you must be prepared to lead a change or muster up the courage to leave.

SHRM has many strategies and resources to help you shape and improve your organization’s culture. We also know that even the best cultures cannot prevent every complaint. One of this month’s feature stories, “How to Investigate Sexual Harassment Allegations,” offers practical steps to take when allegations arise. 

Most importantly, I am calling on all SHRM members to take our pledge to end sexual harassment in the workplace. Culture is everyone’s responsibility, but HR has a key role. Together and forward, we will lead. Let’s make sure no one ever again needs to ask, “Where was HR?”

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is SHRM's CEO. 

Photograph by Delane Rouse for HR Magazine. 

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