Equal treatment for women in the workplace has been a point of contention since the advent of the women’s rights movement a half-century ago. In more recent years, in-person and online activism have made it possible for women and allies to stand against abuse, harm, harassment and inequality with the #MeToo movement.
Studies reveal that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men experience assault and sexual harassment in the United States. Google searches for topics relating to #MeToo and sexual harassment rose 86 percent in the eight months following Alyssa Milano’s #MeToo tweet, in which she called on others to reveal their stories about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and other predators.
Not only has Hollywood started to respond, but it’s become mandatory for businesses to scrutinize and refine their codes of conduct and anti-harassment policies. This benefits both employees and companies, as the latter can increase revenue by marketing their products more inclusively.
REPRESENTATION MATTERS: STOPPING HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE
Representation matters in all levels of business. The best way to avoid producing a problematic product, service or piece of media is to employ a workforce composed of people with a wide variety of experience. Recruiting diversely is a challenge for both employers and jobseekers, but it’s fundamentally important: 70 percent of those looking for work make job-related decisions based on the diversity of the workforce at a prospective employer.
For employers to successfully recruit a diverse workforce, management, participating employees and prospective employees all need to be part of the conversation. The initiative should be clear, and brands should not tokenize existing minority employees.
Intersectionality is key in this representation. Kimberle Crenshaw created the phrase intersectional feminism in 1989. Crenshaw, then a law student and civil rights activist, noted that looking at race, gender and other modes of marginalization or privilege alone made little sense legally or sociologically.
Instead, we should be examining representation and inclusion from multiple angles. For example, a black, queer woman with a disability has a different perspective on life and business than a person without any one of those traits or characteristics. Having intersectional voices represented in business can help a brand avoid pitfalls and increase empathy among the business’s employees, reducing the likelihood of generalizing the behaviors and attitudes of all women.
HOW BUSINESSES PROTECT THEMSELVES AND EMPLOYEES IN THE ERA OF #METOO
The awareness of sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement have led many women to speak out. As a result, the public has had more conversations and protests about what constitutes harassment and the importance of setting boundaries.
However, speaking out against sexual harassment in the workplace brings with it its own set of risks and challenges, including fear of intimidation, lawsuits, countersuits and more. When it comes to legal retaliation, sexual harassment victims can make a legal claim even if they have previously tolerated the behavior out of fear of being fired or being subject to further harassment.
For employers, employees and prospective employees, a robust workers’ compensation plan can reveal a great deal about how far an employer is willing and able to go to protect sexual harassment victims as well as the company. Workers’ comp should cover:
- Medical expenses (including the expense of treating PTSD resulting from harassment)
- Wages lost due to the incidents
- Costs of ongoing medical care
- Death and funerary expenses
The degree of emotional distress incurred by sexual harassment should not be understated. Because workers’ compensation often doesn’t cover sexual harassment, employees must investigate additional options to ensure coverage.
THE #METOO MOVEMENT AND ADVERTISING
MeToo hasn’t just changed the way businesses conduct themselves internally; the movement is a challenge to businesses to step up their game, include women in conversations, and to stand directly against harassment.
Gillette rose to the challenge in early 2019, presenting an ad campaign that encouraged men to confront toxic masculinity. The ad appealed to (and angered) men who use Gillette products, but it was also a genius move: [Women drive over 70 percent of consumer decisions](https://www.forbes.com/sites/bridgetbrennan/2015/01/21/top-10-things-eve…, including those surrounding household product purchases like razors. This also includes the Gillette products women purchase, as Gillette has a history of convincing women that they need their products.
Inclusion matters when it comes to sales, too. Organizations with high diversity levels performed a reported 1,367 percent better, in raw sales numbers, versus those that shunned diversity initiatives. This strategy works behind the scenes at businesses as well as in advertising itself. When your business has an inclusive team making the ads and featuring a variety of people in them, you’re likely to see your sales grow.
Whether looking at ethics, purchasing decisions, genuine efforts of inclusion or large scale in-the-street action, #MeToo is already making an impact on business decisions, from human resources to marketing campaigns. Moving forward, let’s hope more businesses embrace inclusive habits and refuse to tolerate or perpetuate harassment.