Sexual Harassment In The News: This Crisis = Opportunity

Several weeks ago, people in my network began asking me if I was going to write a blog about the Harvey Weinstein scandal. As a female leader who has a voice and a following, I think some expected it. Fair enough. But I decided to wait, to see how things unfolded. And oh have they. Since then allegations have come out against many other male public figures, including Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore and actor Kevin Spacey. Then Charlie Rose, co-anchor of CBS This Morning was fired. And two days ago, long-time co-anchor of NBC’s Today Show, Matt Laurer was also fired for breaking the company’s policy against sexual misconduct. (Incidentally, I switched from watching the Today Show to CBS This Morning several years ago because in part, I began to dislike Laurer’s overly dramatic style of reporting. I can watch Entertainment Tonight for that. But I digress… )

So what do I have to say about all of this? “It ain’t over yet folks.”  This snowball is rolling down the hill at top speed and is quickly becoming a boulder.

I’m not going to spend time writing about how wrong these behaviors (or alleged behaviors) are. That point is clear. They have hurt women, damaged careers and ruined their own careers in the process. Undoubtedly they have hurt many people around them. We all know the behaviors are wrong, period. It is also wrong that many people around them looked the other way while it was happening. They also should be held accountable.

But out of crisis comes opportunity. We are seeing more examples of women supporting other women, something we have all been talking about the need for more of. There is courage and power in numbers. I often talk about the power of critical mass. Once you have enough people talking about an issue and pushing for change, change happens. Women are going to continue to leverage this moment to come forward and support one another.

This is also an opportunity to again, discuss the impact of changing the balance of power in senior roles.  It is my opinion and the opinion of other executive women and men, that if more women are present on boards and in senior leadership, it is less likely that the bad behaviors will persist. The culture and environments will be different; more respectful and less “red” energy.  Female executives are also much less likely to condone, excuse, or brush off behaviors that create an environment that is not safe and productive for other women.

I do want to address the opportunity to not only eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, but to create a workplace that is more respectful, collaborative and productive. When men exclude women (think about work lunches or dinners for example), or constantly engage in competitive banter, they are perhaps unknowingly and unintentionally creating the impression that women are not welcome into their conversations. At times, women feel invisible when so much time is spent on unproductive jeering or one-upping between male colleagues. While this may not strictly fall under the definition of harassment, it does not create an inclusive environment, which pushes women out of their workplace because they do not feel respected or valued.  I think we need to start talking not only about how we prevent harassment, but how we also create a more respectful work environment and one in which both men and women feel welcomed and valued.

If you would like to learn more about how to create a more gender-balanced organization, please see my new book, Money On The Table, available here.