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Trend #53: Business and the #MeToo Movement

The #MeToo movement is challenging social norms and making some companies pay attention to the real risks of sexual harassment and misconduct. The media have publicized the movement, helping it obtain attention and momentum. Their coverage has encouraged people to speak out about the way they have been treated. This highlights the rampant and unaddressed problems with workplace harassment.

Companies are increasing their harassment discussion and reporting. They are working to change their policies and codes of conduct to address these concerns. Required anti-harassment training is becoming more common, both at companies and from a legislative standpoint. Entrepreneurs are developing new businesses to facilitate better harassment reporting.

Unfortunately, some people believe that the movement’s impact has been minimal. This feeling is escalated by large companies protecting themselves financially and legally by settling or covering up harassment claims, thus leaving the perpetrators largely unscathed. A recent study found that only 18% of Americans have admitted to personally changing their behavior because of the movement.

Many female employees still feel powerless because things aren’t changing quickly—particularly in low-wage environments. Self-employed workers and employees in industries such as childcare, house cleaning, and food service feel that there is nothing they can do about harassment. Federal law only covers workplaces with 15 or more employees. Short statutes of limitations and caps on damages make women wonder whether the harassment-reporting process is worth it.

Others are struggling to clarify what constitutes assault and harassment. Some men feel uncertain when socializing with female coworkers, not knowing what is considered inappropriate.

Companies are also unclear as to what punishments should be for different types of misconduct. They recognize the need for well-defined antidiscrimination policies and procedures as well as for fostering a culture of civility and respect that helps to reduce harassment. Overall, the movement is still in its early stages with its full impact yet to be seen.

What employers can do going forward

  • Work with HR professionals to create or tighten up anti-harassment policies which include an established reporting protocol for potential violations
  • Provide regular, small group training for all employees about the policies which includes information for bystanders
  • Set a company culture and tone of mutual respect and civility with zero-tolerance of harassment/discrimination
  • Encourage employees to report violations and launch formal investigations when appropriate, according to policy
  • Find advocates for employees who can separate themselves from the interests of the company

Classroom Implications

A study by the American Association of University Women found that 85% of girls and 76% of boys at the middle and high school levels have experienced some sort of sexual harassment. Talking with students about the negative effects of harassment, and promoting values centered around civility in school can help students begin to mirror the behavior that will be expected in the workplace. Teachers can use real-life scenarios and examples to help students determine what is appropriate behavior. To further the conversation, students could create a campaign to stop harassment at their school.

Discuss with students the impact of social/political movements: do they make a difference? What are worthy causes for students to take up? What are responsible ways for them to use their collective power? What are potential negative consequences of social/political movements?

Discussion Questions:

  • Why do you think it is important to talk about sexual harassment?
  • What are the consequences of sexual harassment?
  • How do you think workplaces can try to stop harassment?
  • What have you heard about the #MeToo movement? How are people around you talking about it?
  • Do you think that movements such as the #MeToo movement can impact real change? Why or why not?
  • What do you think constitutes the need to have a social/political movement?

Links for more:

One of our ExecNet members, Rusty Poeppelmeier, from Cincinnati, had this to say in response to this Action Brief:

Harassment and bullying have always been around. The only way to reduce and eliminate them is to talk about them and expose them so the social norms change to the point that people have to change. The same can be said for everything from civil rights to smoking. But talking about it is key because some people don’t recognize where the line is in their personal lives or the workplace. You have to talk about it to make the people responsible for their behavior feel uncomfortable for others to be educated. Shame is a powerful tool, but people need the opportunity and strength to talk, and others have to be willing to listen and act for real change to happen, otherwise, it becomes a partial measure that postpones the real discussion. Recent examples that come to mind are the #MeToo movement and the protests over confederate monuments and flags. Issues that could have been addressed decades ago.

Millennials have changed the optics as they are better positioned to challenge more of these behaviors. They have the support of a previous generation that has a history of challenging norms themselves. That bodes well for the future when it comes to advancing these issues and others. Maybe some believe the #MeToo movement has had minimal effect. I am certain it will have a profound impact on the future movements to come, as they will be able to more aggressively attack issues with the benefits of lessons learned from the movements that came before them. Once again, society marches forward regardless of rain, sleet, or Twitter.