Fall from grace of prominent persons in media

#MeToo in the Workplace

With the downfall of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and the fall from grace of several other prominent persons in media and entertainment, business and government— from Charlie Rose to to Matt Lauer to Rep. Patrick Meehan to Les Moonves to Kevin Spacey—a veritable slew of names and stories has appeared, propelling the #MeToo Movement into existence (Glamour). However, some have questioned whether the #MeToo Movement has run into a wall and lost steam just when it looked like it might usher in real change on the heels of so much awareness being raised (Tchen). The question this paper asks is: Has the #MeToo movement changed the way corporations address sexual harassment in the workplace? The answer is that, yes, in some ways it has changed the way corporations address sexual harassment in the workplace—at least in high-profile cases wherein companies want to distance themselves from any possible blowback from negative press. On the other hand, the changes are miniscule and have not really led to the creation of a culture of equality and respect but rather a culture of paranoia and suspicion. Moreover, the higher profile the accused has, the more likely he is still to receive substantial monetary compensation for agreeing to leave the company or step down.

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As Sarah Ralph notes, the #MeToo movement has certainly resulted in a renewed discussion about sexual harassment in the workplace—but beyond the bounds of discussion, there has been little in the way of action with regards to policy or a new direction in how corporations address sexual harassment. It is only when the public catches wind of an accusation that corporations are quick to take action against the accused, as in the case of Talking Dead host Chris Hardwick, who was removed from his hosting duties pending an investigation into claims made that he had sexually assaulted a woman (Littleton and Otterson). At Google, the case of Andy Rubin has been a particular thorn in the side of the #MeToo movement, indicated that the more things change, the more they stay the same: “A $90 million payout was given to Andy Rubin, the star creator of the Android mobile software, after he was asked to resign when credible harassment allegations surfaced” (Elsesser). Employees at Google were outraged at the pay package given to Rubin as compensation for his severance. Rubin was accused of sexual misconduct and of using his office and position of power at Google to coerce a female employee into having sex with him.

Other high ranking leaders at Google were reported for abusing their positions in pursuit of sexual favors, too. Richard DeVaul asked an applicant to remove her shirt while at Burning Man. David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, did not face any repercussions for having a sexual relationship with a Google employee in his department. When the company learned of the relationship, she was transferred to sales and he was promoted. The inequality in the way the company handled the issue was disconcerting for many Google employees, which is why many of them decided to take part in a walkout to show their frustration with the way the corporation was addressing sexual harassment in the era of #MeToo (Elsesser).

These are, however, isolated instances having to do with high-profile cases, which seem to be exceptions to the rule in the majority of cases. Google CEO for instance noted that “over the past two years, we have terminated 48 people, including 13 senior managers and above for sexual harassment. None of these people received an exit package. And to clarify: in that time, we have also not provided any exit packages to executives who departed voluntarily in the course of a sexual harassment investigation” (Elsesser). In other words, if the accused is not someone who has risen to a high level of status, then that person is probably not going to receive a nice payout for agreeing to leave the company so as to prevent scandal from leaving a stain on the corporate image and brand.

But is that really an effective way to address sexual harassment? The answer to that is no. Offenders should not be slapped on the wrist on one hand and given a nice compensation package on the other, but rather terminated just like anyone else for their behavior. It appears that there is one set of rules for lower-level individuals who break the law and another set of rules for individuals who break it while sitting in a high level office or position within the company.

The counter-argument here is that it is often difficult to severe relationships with high-level executives and officers because of the nature of their contracts. Lawyers get involved, which can create expenses on top of expenses, which risks losing the company even more money. The easiest thing to do in these cases is to get rid of the offender by asking them to resign and agreeing to compensate them for what they would have earned were their contract still to be honored. This may not seem fair to lower-level workers, but the fact of the matter is that business is business—and justice in the business world is intertwined with so much red tape and legalistic nuance that it would take an army of lawyers just to disentangle it all—and by that time the legal fees alone would like add up to more than it would cost to simply make the payout and get the offender out the door as quickly as possible.

That argument does make sense from an economic and business point of view. But from a social justice point of view it indicates that money matters more than principles and that people who are lower-level employees should just accept the fact that they cannot afford lawyers’ fees anyway so they should not be complaining about how higher-level officers handle their situations. Still, when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace and how corporations address it, there should be more consistency and equality for all, no matter what level of status they have in the company.

Indeed, some companies have made strides in ousting top level executives accused of abusing their positions. Roger Ailes for instance at Fox was ousted as CEO of Fox News after it came to light that he was sexually harassing women in the workplace. But even he walked out with a $40 million payout (Haberman). The reality is that those who have attained top level positions are not likely to walk away quietly. Even if they are fired, they are still going to seek and likely obtain severance packages. #MeToo may have given women a voice, but it has not really changed much about the culture of the workplace with respect to sexual harassment. As the workers at Google show, there is not enough being done to address the corporate culture’s stance on appropriate ways of handling sexual misconduct and harassment. Employees want to see more accountability and consistency.

As Elizabeth Shultz points out, there are limitations to what the #MeToo movement has been able to accomplish in the corporate workplace. These limitations are still based primarily on a power structure that persists in most corporate offices around the world. As the hierarchy of power moves upward, the strength of that position to withstand virtually any type of assault becomes more formidable. Unless it is an issue in which federal law enforcement officers are engaged in and federal prosecutors are working to address, there is not likely going to be any sort of workplace redress like that which would be seen at the bottom of the hierarchy were workers are not so firmly embedded into the power structure. Awareness of this is what infuriates some workers and raises calls for change.

The workplace culture of any corporation is difficult to change in any case. But with the proliferation of sexual harassment charges over the past year, the need to make changes has never been felt more strongly by workers. Younger workers especially want to feel that they are employed by a corporation that is willing to treat all staff fairly and equitably. They do not want to see exceptions for people in positions of power. They do not want to see people getting rewarded for bad behavior. People want to work for companies that stand up for principles. That is the big take away from the #MeToo movement, as Shultz notes. Others note the same: O’Neil et al. state that “poor organizational responses to sexual harassment in the workplace can revictimise and exacerbate the negative effects” sexual harassment (2587). There are numerous effects that impact workers when sexual harassment is not effectively addressed in the corporate workplace as well: “Sexual harassment compromises productivity, presenteeism, turnover, absenteeism, morale, and organizational culture. Additionally, sexual harassment prevents employees reaching their full professional and personal potential, accentuating gender-based inequalities that already exist in almost all employment sectors” (O’Neil et al. 2587). If a corporation does not address sexual harassment, all of these negative effects worsen because the culture only turns more infected with cynicism and disgust. That is the problem that is haunting Google right now—but it is not the only company. Everyone sees what is happening with the #MeToo movement and they support the movement—but aside from obtaining a voice, change has not really been effected in the corporate cultures. The only time corporations indicate that they are taking a stand is when the press gets involved, and even then the top level executives make out like bandits.

Understanding how corporations can more adequately and appropriately address sexual harassment is something that now needs to take place. The voices have been heard, and now is the time for action. This is not going to be an easy process: corporate cultures take years to develop and sudden changes can and often do meet with resistance. It requires leadership from within in order to develop a culture that lasts. To do this, the needs of stakeholders have to be identified and the goals of the organization made clear to all. Aligning the organizational values with the objectives of the change must then take place so that all workers at all levels of the company understand what is at stake. Should anyone violate the policy on sexual harassment, they will have to face the repercussions without the ability to hide behind their position or status. That is the main problem that still needs to be addressed—and it will take time.

In conclusion, the #MeToo movement has changed the way corporations address sexual harassment in the workplace—but only primarily for lower-level employees for whom there is typically now a zero tolerance policy in place. However, for higher level officers and executives—many of whom have been called out during #MeToo—the rules are a little different, and this fact aggravates the situation and frustrates those supporters of #MeToo who want to make a difference. Change has occurred but only in small ways. The big changes still remain to be seen: they are the changes that need to be made all the way at the top.


Works Cited

Elsesser, Kim. “Googlers To Walk Out Over Sexual Harassment: Here Are The Lessons

For Google.” Forbes, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimelsesser/2018/10/31/googlers-walk-out-over-sexual-harassment-here-are-the-lessons-for-google/#2c0deb477cdb

Glamour. “Post-Weinstein, These Are the Powerful Men Facing Sexual Harassment

Allegations,” 2018. https://www.glamour.com/gallery/post-weinstein-these-are-the-powerful-men-facing-sexual-harassment-allegations

Haberman, Clyde. “Roger Ailes, Who Built Fox News Into an Empire, Dies at 77.” New

York Times, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/18/business/media/roger-ailes-dead.html

Littleton, Cynthia and Joe Otterson. “Chris Hardwick to Return as ‘Talking Dead’ Host

Following Investigation.” Variety, 2018. https://variety.com/2018/tv/news/chris-hardwick-talking-dead-amc-investigation-1202884339/

O’Neil, Adrienne, et al. “The# MeToo movement: an opportunity in public health?.” The

Lancet 391.10140 (2018): 2587-2589.

Ralph, Sarah. “# MeToo and# TimesUp-what now for employers?.” Governance

Directions 70.3 (2018): 140.

Shultz, Elizabeth. “The myth of the# MeToo panic.” Green Left Weekly 1179 (2018): 18.

Tchen, Tina. “#MeToo identified a disease that infects business. We still have a long

way to go.” CNN, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/14/perspectives/metoo-anniversary/index.html


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