"I am the storm”: Reflections on Dr. Ford’s testimony

 The world was transfixed by a courageous woman who has been willing to withstand a political and cultural storm in order to tell her story. In the telling of her story, she has empowered women who have never spoken up about their experiences to open up about theirs and she has started conversations that otherwise may not have happened. In those conversations, we are learning about so many experiences that women have been too ashamed or fearful to share and in doing so, we are beginning to understand the depth of this issue in our society.

For many, this means that they are learning about what women have been keeping quiet about for years or even decades. A woman shared her assault story for the first time while on national TV as she confronted Senator Flake, and a Fox news anchor shared how the discussion about Christine Blasey Ford's testimony sparked his two daughters to share their own experiences in high school. While not as traumatic as Ford's he had never heard about this before.  These are just two public stories of the perhaps thousands of stories being shared across the USA.

Like many, I have been transfixed by the events happening in DC, and as a diversity professional, I have been considering how the response has been the same or different to the Anita Hill’s testimony 27 years ago. In some ways, things haven't changed - three senators (Grassley, Leahy and Hatch) also heard Hill's testimony nearly three decades ago in a similar situation. Like Ford, Hill said in a speech I heard this spring that she was very aware of what she was doing and the impact it would have upon her life, but she, like Ford, chose to come forward anyway. But, in many other ways, this time it’s different.

The past few years have seen some dramatic events that even five years ago would have seemed unimaginable. Famous men are being held accountable for their actions in the #MeToo era. Social media is providing a collective voice for people not seen individually as they band together using hashtags to find common threads. And, male allies are stepping up to support women. 27 years ago, 1600 women took out a one page ad in the New York Times proclaiming their support for Hill. This time, it was 1600 men.

With all of the emotion turmoil swirling around us, I am certain that societal change will continue to happen, hastened, perhaps by the catalyst of Ford's calm testimony. Change is also coming to our workplaces as organizations grapple with how to create respectful workplaces that show all employees that they are valued.  In a Pew Research study released this past week, 89% of adults said it was "essential for today's business leaders to create safe and respectful workplace." This was the top ranked list of qualities that people want to see from corporations. And, when asked if women or men were better at creating that safe, respectful workplace, 43% said women and 5% said men.

As our society and workplaces change, leaders need to keep in mind employees’ emerging focus and awareness of social issues, and their desire to work for organizations that support this. In a survey of our future workforce (5,000 college students) by Door of Clubs, 72% said that racial equity is the most important issue today and 35% said they want their employers to support equality. And it is not enough to just pay lip service to the cause; as more people are actively seeking inclusive work environments and prioritizing workplaces that align with their values, leaders must listen – to their employees, and to the communities that they serve.

It remains to be seen the long-term impact of Christine Blasey Ford's willingness to step forward and speak her truth. But it is without question known that norms are shifting - change is coming. Leaders across America need to consider how they will weather the storm of impending change, for if they do not manage to build safe and respectful workplaces, they may be reminded of a quote that is circulating lately: “‘You cannot withstand the storm,’ they whispered to her. She whispered back, ‘I am the storm.’”

-Kari Heistad


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