Amer­i­can busi­ness and #MeToo

#MeToo one year on: what changes in cor­po­rate Amer­ica?

Vocable (All English) - - Édito | Sommaire -

One year ago, pow­er­ful Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer, Har­vey We­in­stein, was ac­cused of sex­ual abuse by dozens of women, many of whom were fa­mous ac­tresses. The hash­tag #MeToo took hold of so­cial me­dia, invit­ing vic­tims of sex­ual ha­rass­ment to bear wit­ness pub­licly. It marked the be­gin­ning of a fem­i­nist move­ment that very quickly achieved world­wide recog­ni­tion. One year on, what has been the ef­fect of #MeToo on Amer­i­can cor­po­rate cul­ture?

It is al­most a year since rev­e­la­tions emerged about the be­hav­iour of Har­vey We­in­stein, a film-stu­dio boss charged with mul­ti­ple counts of rape and sex­ual as­sault. In re­sponse Alyssa Mi­lano, an ac­tor, in­vited any­one who had been ha­rassed or as­saulted to tweet #MeToo. The hash­tag has since been shared over 15m times. Vic­tims of ha­rass­ment in work­places of all sorts, from S&P 500 com­pa­nies to small-and medium-sized firms to star­tups, have come for­ward in un­prece­dented num­bers to share their har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

2. Many pow­er­ful men have been forced out. [In Septem­ber], one of the most-praised bosses in me­dia, Les Moonves, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of CBS, was forced to leave fol­low­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment (which he de­nies). A hand­ful, in­clud­ing Mr We­in­stein, await trial.


3. Firms are un­der grow­ing pres­sure to change how women are treated at work. Not a week goes by with­out a fresh ex­am­ple of an or­gan­i­sa­tion find­ing it­self in the spot­light. [In Septem­ber], work­ers at McDon­ald’s, one of sev­eral firms be­ing sued by work­ers, protested against a cul­ture of ha­rass­ment, re­plac­ing the “M” on their MeToo ban­ners with the golden arches. In the same week the board of the New York Re­view of Books, un­der pres­sure from ad­ver­tis­ers, pushed out its edi­tor, Ian Bu­ruma, af­ter he pub­lished a con­tro­ver­sial es­say by Jian Ghome­shi, a Cana­dian broad­caster and al­leged abuser.

4. Some peo­ple worry that the move­ment has gone too far, warn­ing of a “witch hunt”, “trial by Twit­ter,” and the end of in­no­cent of­fice ro- mance. Oth­ers fret about a back­lash for women at work, where se­nior male ex­ec­u­tives may no longer want to men­tor them or travel or dine with them alone.

5. Some re­sponses have felt knee-jerk: Net­flix, a me­dia com­pany, was mocked when in train­ing it re­port­edly sug­gested a rule against peo­ple gaz­ing into each other’s eyes for more than five sec­onds on film sets. Yet the oc­ca­sional over­re­ac­tion may be part of the messy process of chang­ing norms across so­ci­ety, busi­ness and pol­i­tics. Although the ma­jor­ity of those over 65 say it has be­come harder for men to in­ter­act pro­fes­sion­ally with women in the wake of MeToo, a mi­nor­ity of those un­der 30 say the same.

6. It is true that some no­to­ri­ous sex­ual preda­tors are now fac­ing jus­tice; Mr We­in­stein’s next court ap­pear­ance is in No­vem­ber. But most of those ac­cused of ha­rass­ment or as­sault have faced the court of pub­lic opin­ion, not the law it­self. In Amer­ica the Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion, a fed­eral agency, has noted in pre­lim­i­nary find­ings just a mod­est, 3% uptick in sex­ual-ha­rass­ment com­plaints filed by em­ploy­ees this year. This is in part be­cause few vic­tims re­port abuse, let alone press charges. Those who do rarely man­age to get their com­plaints heard in court. In Amer­ica the Time’s Up move­ment set up a $21m le­gal-de­fence fund to try to change this. Since Jan­uary it has had 3,500 ap­pli­ca­tions, twothirds of them from low-in­come work­ers.

7. Many Amer­i­can states are re­view­ing their laws. Wash­ing­ton now bars em­ploy­ers from manda­tory non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments for em­ploy­ees, which stop work­ers from speak­ing out pub­licly about their ex­pe­ri­ences. Sev­eral are ex­plor­ing ex­tend­ing or end­ing statutes of lim­i­ta­tions, spurred on by rev­e­la­tions of child abuse in the Catholic church in Amer­ica.


8. What the law can do is in any case only part of the pic­ture. Many, if not most, of the ac­counts of ha­rass­ment that have emerged in the past year point less to a fail­ure of law­mak­ers than to one on the part of em­ploy­ers. Big com­pa­nies in Amer­ica are keen to be seen to “do some­thing”: the num­ber of pub­lic dec­la­ra­tions about zero tol­er­ance of ha­rass­ment has gone up. Yet whether or not their ac­tions are mean­ing­ful, or whether they are still dodg­ing deeper prob­lems around power im­bal­ances in the work­place, is very much in ques­tion.

9. Cus­tomers, in­vestors, boards, em­ploy­ees, stock an­a­lysts and even in­sur­ers in­creas­ingly ask for in­for­ma­tion on what a com­pany does for women, in­clud­ing the pro­tec­tion it af­fords against ha­rass­ment. Equileap, which ranks firms on gen­der-equal­ity cri­te­ria, now in­cludes sex­u­al­ha­rass­ment poli­cies. It is see­ing strong de­mand for such data. That is partly be­cause the head­line costs of a scan­dal are clear: shares of sev­eral big firms have fallen sharply af­ter ex­ec­u­tive de­par­tures. But less ob­vi­ous costs, such as to pro­duc­tiv­ity, turnover and rep­u­ta­tion, are also be­com­ing harder to ig­nore.

10. Even so, few firms want to talk pub­licly about what they are do­ing in­side the or­gan­i­sa­tion. Those that do of­ten have rep­u­ta­tions sorely in need of bur­nish­ing. Uber, a ride-hail­ing firm, re­placed much of its top man­age­ment and claims to have pri­ori­tised cul­ture and safety. The Old Vic, a Lon­don theatre tainted by a scan­dal in­volv-

Big com­pa­nies in Amer­ica are keen to be seen to “do some­thing.”

ing Kevin Spacey, its for­mer di­rec­tor, will next week an­nounce a “Guardians net­work” to bet­ter pro­tect work­ers in the per­form­ing arts.

11. Less vis­i­bly, sev­eral em­ploy­ers have made ef­forts to im­prove in­ter­nal pro­ce­dures for re­port­ing ha­rass­ment. In­de­pen­dent, anony­mous helplines over­come con­flicts of in­ter­est and sev­eral re­port grow­ing de­mand. But many other firms ap­pear to be shirk­ing the task. Less than a third of Amer­i­cans sur­veyed in May said that their em­ployer had done any­thing new to deal with sex­ual ha­rass­ment fol­low­ing #MeToo, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion (APA).

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