True confession time.
I've been working on this particular little snippet for a while. I've written over 2,500 words of rough draft — some coherent, some much less than coherent. It has always been planned to be a part of what has grown into a 13,000-word (and counting) onslaught regarding past risks, current risks, and the need for internal audit to pay attention. I'll skip all the background information this time. To learn more, you can check back through my previous posts.
Two thousand five hundred words that, in the process of trying to say just the right thing, resulted in saying nothing. I threw it all in the electronic waste basket. This is what I really wanted to say.
Last year the entire world went verklempt over the Me Too movement. I say it that way not to denigrate the movement, but to denigrate the huers and criers and renders of garments and gnashers of teeth who screamed "Woe, woe is us, we are so sorry, we will change things, we will make things better." And then, after applying a few bandages to a situation requiring major surgery, they went on to the next shiny risk-bauble that was waved in front of their eyes.
Yeah, I'm not too keen on how any of us have responded to the underlying issues and real problems that were at the root of Me Too. I'm not too happy with the way the systemic harassment, hostility, and inequality were addressed. And I'm not too happy with the way internal audit jumped on the bandwagon, danced along, and then jumped again as soon as another wagon appeared.
Harassment, inequality, second-class citizenship. Even as a white male with all the associated privileges, I am sickened by the events that precipitated Me Too and by the action and inaction that resulted.
And don't give me any of your excuses about the onslaught of new and emerging risks and literal life-and-death impacts from a pandemic, social unrest, and political upheaval. Yes, big things are happening. And we have all had to adjust our priorities. But the Me Too movement was becoming the lining in Tweety's cage well before this tsunami of disasters.
Look, I know there were people/organizations/audit departments that made, helped make, and helped champion real change. In some situations, effective change was accomplished. But those examples are few and far between. They stand out because they are so rare. (And, come to think of it, I dare you to name two instances where effective change was accomplished? I'll wait.)
The problem and the risk have not gone away. Just last week, sexual assault allegations were leveled against Netflix comedian Chris D'Elia. I will quickly add that we do not know if the accusations are true, and I do not write this to condemn him; it is a breaking story and facts still need to be retrieved and reviewed. But the story itself is evidence that the issue is still out there. And that means the issue almost assuredly exists within your organization.
And my personal belief is that the current environment will not make things better, but worse. Back in July 2017, I related a story of misogyny and email harassment faced by a female internal auditor. You can see it here. Isolation will not solve the problem.
In addition, the new environment will result in new opportunities for impropriety. I can't imagine what they will all be, but I will share this one thought. Fewer people in the office mean fewer witnesses.
And, as with everything else, we better look in the mirror at the same time we look across the organization. We are not immune to the disease. You know as well as I do that harassment is occurring in some internal audit department. I hope I am wrong. But you know such hostile work environments exist. And as much as we might not want to believe it, you know that respect, opportunity, and pay within internal audit departments do not reflect the skills women bring to our profession.
There was a time when Me Too was all we could talk about. And it is still out there. But it is as though we have forgotten it ever existed. As philosopher George Santayana famously said, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." We have forgotten a significant part of the very recent past, and it will soon be back to bite us in the collective rearview mirror.
Yes, there is a lot going on. But, as I said, the efforts related to Me Too were dying on the vine long before all hell broke loose. And the issues surrounding Me Too are still there. Internal audit has the duty and a moral obligation to ensure the organization has not forgotten: that it is making a safe work environment and a structure that promotes — No! promotion is not enough — a safe work environment and a structure that will not accept anything but equality.
I titled this piece "Whatever happened to #metoo?" The answer? Nothing happened to it. It is still there, it is still relevant, and internal audit better wake up and, in the process, wake up the rest of the organization.