Weinstein's Working World

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Harvey Weinstein was raised in a world which taught him that he could exert his awful power on women and society would protect him. And it did. For decades.

Does this make him unique, or someone who simply learned the lessons he was taught?

Even low estimates put a number of women who experience sexual harassment at work at 25%. But that is hardly indicative of the scope of the problem. According to a 2016 report by the EEOC, sometimes up to 90% of sexual harassment cases, whose victims are both male and female, go unreported.

That is the power of the system that supported Weinstein. It made speaking out against him an imminent career risk. It killed news stories. It paid people off. It told women that they wouldn't be believed. It kept an open secret from penetrating the national conscience for nearly his entire career. It is still at work.

Women have been fighting to dismantle that system for generations, but only now in 2017 does that fight seem to have such broad public support. What changed?

In the last 3 years, we’ve seen four of the most powerful men in media - Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and now Harvey Weinstein - brought down by their stories of sexual predation.

Another way to say that is that in the last 3 years, women who were preyed upon by four of the most prolific sexual predators in America are finally being believed. And it’s that belief that is making those with the most power in the country, both famous and anonymous, feel paranoid that their jobs and their reputations are in danger.

In the old world, if you were an Executive, a Director, or a President, you could feel confident that if you so happened to violate an intern, an aspiring actress, or a clerk, they would have absolutely no recourse. You could do whatever you liked and they wouldn’t be believed if they spoke out, their careers could be ruined, and their reputations tainted.

But in the wake of Harvey Weinstein and the huge spotlight shone on sexual harassment through the #MeToo campaign, victims’ stories are taking on a new authority. Suddenly even an intern has a power of her own.

Accordingly, that newfound power is giving rise to a newfound paranoia. Men are terrified of false allegations. They’re terrified of being called out for behavior that, in the past, was deemed completely acceptable. They're scared, and that fear does have its ups and downs. Allegations are flying, and though most of them are honest and will target people who deserve to be outed, there will be people brought down who many feel do not deserve the same treatment as Weinstein and Cosby.

But the fact is that as long as fear of reprisal is the only defense a woman might have over a man who thought he was invulnerable, it is crucial that we arm her with it. It is crucial that we continue to believe women who choose to speak out against titans of industry who thought themselves too big to topple.

But the effort to make our workplaces safe for women is not only vaguely about trusting victims more. It also comes down to clear and defined policies that help ensure harassment is more and more unacceptable, and that men and women who are victims of it are more and more empowered.

Businesses could be required to reveal the amount of sexual-harassment claims they settled in a given year, allowing prospective employees to judge how large the problem is at a certain company. This also makes internal settlements, which don’t address systemic problems of abuse, less of a get out jail free card for would-be Harveys.

Companies can conduct anonymous surveys to measure whether or not harassment is taking place. Companies should not simply file a complaint, deal with it, and let the matter rest. Return to the employee who made the complaint and let them know of the changes that are being made due to their speaking up. Human Resources departments should prioritize protecting employees over company liability. Strive to create a culture at work that deems sexism unacceptable, make it safe and easy to call out bad behavior, and encourage co-workers to say something when they see abuse taking place.

In the business world, we should be doing everything we can to encourage more women into the workforce and into our companies. How many women have been kept away from contributing their talent to the world because the workplace was a toxic environment? And how long will we continue to make having a job such physical risk for half of our population?

The cultural paradigm shift we’re seeing around this issue right now is amazing. Women and men alike are demanding a better world. It’s a radical demand, and the responsibility falls on all of us equally. We should be doing everything we can in our capacities as leaders, regardless of our gender, to make sure that world becomes a reality.