The recent barrage of sexual harassment allegations has for the first time freed many women in the workplace to talk more openly about their experiences, a panel of female executives said at a Hauppauge forum Thursday.
“I think it allows us to have the conversation, and it’s allowed us to have the conversation everywhere, not just in small groups or protected places,” said Randi Shubin Dresner, president and chief executive of Island Harvest food bank in Hauppauge and one of three panelists who spoke at the HIA-LI trade group’s seventh annual Women Leading the Way leadership event.
Both the allegations and discussions about them have continued to build since the #MeToo social media campaign gained momentum in October to encourage women to talk about their experiences. Since then there has been a steady stream of allegations against Hollywood stars and power brokers, legislators and media personalities.
Candid discussions are key to helping women find solace and kinship among other women in the office who may have similar experiences, the panelists said.
“If there is anything I have learned in my career, it is that, as women in business, we need to talk among ourselves more, because we don’t understand what we are experiencing because we have no one to talk to,” said panelist Martha C. Stark, a senior vice president based in Signature Bank’s Garden City office. “There is so much we can learn from each other.”
Panel moderator Domenique Camacho-Moran, an employment lawyer and partner at Farrell Fritz in Uniondale, asked panelists if the speed of the accusations and judgments was harmful, and they noted both helpful and harmful aspects.
“I just think that there wasn’t the awareness that it happened as pervasively as it does, and there’s safety in numbers,” Shubin Dresner said. “So I think it just became comfortable to step out and acknowledge it.”
On the other hand, the speed of the Intertnet conversations could have some unintended consequences.
“There is some concern that the pendulum is going to swing too far,” Stark said. “And does that mean that when we turn on our TVs in the morning, we only see women newscasters?” she asked, alluding to this week’s firing of “Today” show co-host Matt Lauer.
Another panelist said she feared all men in the workplace could be “demonized” and afraid of any interactions with women.
“There are so many men in my career who have lifted me up and made sure I had the opportunities I have today,” said Kristen Jarnagin, the president and CEO of Discover Long Island, a Hauppauge marketing organization that promotes local tourism. “I don’t want to suddenly demonize the opposite sex.”
Camacho-Moran said she was concerned about due process being short-circuited by snap judgments.
“I am concerned that with the speed that people are responding and opining . . . that we have lost sight that there can be two sides, if not three, to most situations,” she said.