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Costello dives into sexual harassment culture
03:08 - Source: HLN

Story highlights

Many women say they feel more empowered in ways big and small after sexual harassment allegations

Greater psychological security in the workplace is vital in today's society, a CEO coach says

CNN  — 

The other night, I was chatting with women at a work event, and the conversation turned, as it typically does these days, to sexual harassment.

But beyond talking about the latest allegations and wondering who might be next, I was struck by a sense of how women seem to be feeling more empowered in ways big and small.

Alisyn Camerota, co-host of CNN’s morning show “New Day,” told me she finds herself, even in her personal life, saying “let me finish” in conversations. “I’ve ceded the floor out of courtesy in the past. And I will continue to be courteous … as soon as I’m finished making my point,” she said.

I remarked that I’m aware of how I’m asserting my physical space on the New York City subways more than ever before, especially when a man is guilty of “manspreading,” sitting with their legs wide apart and taking up more than one seat. Now, instead of holding in my frustration every time I see a man doing it, I sit right next to him and claim my space.

In conversations with women across the country via email, I saw several examples of how women are asserting their power after the wave of sexual harassment allegations that have rocked media, Hollywood, politics and many other industries.

Lori Day, board president of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, a Massachusetts nonprofit fighting to end domestic violence, told me she had quit feminist blogging a few years ago after she endured “an extended and particularly vicious” cyberattack.

“Now I have stopped being afraid and gone back to using my voice publicly, because I feel I need to show the same kind of courage so many other women are showing,” said Day, who is also an educational psychologist and author of a book on mother-daughter book clubs.

Janeane Davis, a business consultant and founder of the blog Janeane’s World, said she is increasingly hearing from men who say they are afraid to pay women compliments in the workplace.

“I feel obligated to jump in online and in person and tell them they are being ridiculous,” said Davis, a mother of four. “I find myself saying, ‘If a man doesn’t know the difference between giving a woman a compliment and making sexually harassing and disparaging remarks, they should be silent at work.’ “

Davis also said that when she asks a man whether he would like another man to make comments to them that they might make to women about their looks or sex, they always say, “No!”

“This means they know what they are saying and doing is wrong which means they could stop if they wanted,” she said. “These conversations are important and I am having them more often and it is a good thing.”

Seizing on opportunities to share, organize and build power

Cherylyn Harley LeBon is a former legislative aide and counsel in the House of Representatives and Senate. As a young lawyer working on Capitol Hill many years ago, she saw what she calls “hints” and “actual evidence” of inappropriate behavior.

“I am glad women have the courage to tell their stories and recount years of painful abuse. Despite what others allege, they don’t do it for publicity. We are simply fed up,” she said.

She is responding by seizing on the opportunity to share articles about all of the men who are being accused of harassment. “It’s our obligation to share that news and by doing so, if we can spare another woman from enduring what others have – even better!” she wrote.

These examples of empowerment illustrate how women everywhere are rising up and taking the women’s movement into the mainstream, says women’s rights champion Marianne Schnall, author of “What Will It Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations about Women, Leadership and Power.”

“Women are protesting, marching, organizing and building power. From the millions who joined the Women’s March to the survivors who have bravely come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and assault, to the millions participating in the #MeToo movement, it’s become clear that women are not going to stay silent anymore,” Schnall wrote recently for CNN Opinion.

“The ‘women’s movement’ has been swept into the mainstream and become more diverse, and social media has become increasingly effective at mobilizing younger generations of women and girls,” said Schnall, founder of and the “What Will It Take” movement.

Rachel Simmons, a leading expert on girls’ empowerment, bestselling author and educator, said that when women are silenced, they’re isolated from each other, and that “exacerbates shame about their experiences.”

“Shining a light on harassment has forged a community where women feel authorized to raise their voices in ways they never have before,” said Simmons, whose newest book, “Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy and Fulfilling Lives,” will be released early in 2018. “The conversation has legitimized their experience – and they are infused with a sense of authority to tell their stories.”

‘Psychological security’ vital in the workplace

The hope is that this feeling of empowerment will spread to women who may feel that things haven’t changed much for them in the workplace, such as some in blue-collar professions.

Sanyin Siang, a coach and adviser to chief executive officers, said that when workers feel more empowered, they are more likely to thrive in the workplace. This is vital, especially at a time when society faces immense challenges and needs to draw on the best talent in every corner of every organization, she said.

“If people don’t feel psychologically secure, they are not going to be able to give their best and we’re at a time when we need everyone, every single organization, whether they’re in a social sector, private sector, public sector … we need talent to be at their best and contributing their best and that psychological security is so vitally critical to that,” said Siang, who is author of “The Launch Book: Motivational Stories to Launch Your Idea, Business or Next Career.”

One of the “wonderful upshots” of the sexual harassment allegations is a greater sense of psychological security in the workplace, “and hopefully that trajectory will continue in that direction,” Siang said.

“When you have that psychological safety, whether you’re man or woman, black, Asian, white, you’re going to be able to bring your best to your organization, to society,” she added.

Louise Sattler, co-founder and owner of 411 Voices, a digital media marketing company, said she doesn’t know whether she is feeling more empowered, but she believes that recent events seem to have opened opportunities for dialogue between men and women.

“For example, I have noticed my recent business conversations with males often end up with a discussion about specific cases of sexual harassment or abuse that has been announced in the news,” she said. “Many of the men in my meetings seem distressed that some of their role models have now been accused of heinous crimes.”

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    This opportunity for deeper dialogue between women and men also equalizes the situation in the workplace, where it’s about women helping men as well as men helping women, Siang said.

    “We’re seeing a deeper dialogue happening that cuts beyond just clichés and … that enables both men and women to help each other and more effectively work together,” she added.