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  • Bob Knight

Navigating the Workplace in a Post #MeToo World

Since its resurgence two years ago, the #MeToo movement has become a global phenomenon, signifying a new worldwide awareness about sexual assault and its impact on women. The movement has also focused attention on sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace, shining a light on the obstacles women face every day in their personal and professional lives.

Are things improving? Are people behaving better at work in a post #MeToo world? Yes and no.

“I do think things have changed and the hope is they will continue to get better,” says Mecca Mitchell, Senior Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement, Westchester Medical Center. “Everything that’s happening now is acknowledging there were power dynamics at play. We’re all collectively recognizing that and working on remediation.”

Mitchell will be a featured speaker at the dynamic, all-day Westchester Women’s Summit on March 19 at the Doubletree Hilton in Tarrytown. Her workshop, “Navigating the Workplace in a Post #MeToo World,” will provide tips for women on how to be their own best advocates, she notes.

New data supports a cautiously optimistic outlook: Over one-third of American workers say they’ve talked with their co-workers about sexual harassment and have changed their behavior in the office as a result of the #MeToo movement, according to a recent survey conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

But not all are embracing the movement: the AP survey showed just over 3 in 10 men still viewed the movement unfavorably and a Lean-In Survey revealed that 60 percent of male managers are uncomfortable engaging in common workplace interactions with women, including mentoring, socializing, and having one-on-one meetings—a 32% increase over a previous poll.

Why the uptick in hypersensitivity? And how are women to navigate these tensions?

“It is not our obligation as women to ease those tensions for men,” says Mitchell. “It’s our collective obligation to make sure everyone has an equitable place to work. Men who can’t understand that intellectually, who are scared to behave a certain way, are further excluding their female colleagues and shouldn’t be in leadership roles.”

Challenging discrimination

Mitchell says she has always had an affinity for these issues — discrimination, harassment, equity, justice — and finds value in working for those who are disenfranchised and whose rights had been violated.

After graduating from SUNY Albany with a degree in political science, Mitchell earned her law degree at Hofstra University and went to work as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, focusing on cases involving sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and crimes, domestic violence. She later served as the executive director of the EEO & Diversity Management at the NYC Department of Education, where she continued to “fight for those who have been wronged,” as she puts it.

It was at the Department of Education where she started to think about a new approach.

“I realized we were always working after the fact. We investigated problems, and meted out justice. What if we could create better work environments to prevent the discrimination in the first place?” says Mitchell.

So, she took action and earned certification in Equal Opportunity Studies & Diversity Management from the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She established a new Diversity and Inclusion program at the DOE, facilitated training and professional development, and engaged in several new diversity outreach initiatives. Her work attracted the attention of Governor Cuomo, who appointed her in 2013 as the state’s chief diversity officer.

After almost two years of working in Albany, she left to be closer to family, and took on her current role at the Westchester Medical Center, where she is focused on diversity and inclusion in healthcare.

“The professional realm has changed, but I’m still fighting for people who can’t fight for themselves.”

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