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The Implications of the #MeToo Movement

By Michael Klazema on 6/19/2019
Since it first ignited in the fall of 2017, the #MeToo movement has had a profound effect on many facets of our society—and its impact is only just beginning. Gender inequality and, especially, sexual harassment in the workplace are under a microscope. Careers have ended and powerful celebrities have fallen off their pedestals. Companies have changed policies and taken steps toward greater inclusion and equality among their workforces. Most significantly of all, the movement initiated a dialogue about powerful men and oppressed women and how to change our culture so that the stories that have dominated the #MeToo movement don’t happen again. 

What does #MeToo mean for businesses today? The fact is that no business is small enough to ignore the implications of #MeToo. While the loudest headlines from this movement came from Hollywood, the ripple effect of those revelations has touched every industry. Here are a few things that your company should be considering in the aftermath.

Sexual harassment policies and training: Sexual harassment has never been acceptable in the workplace, but the #MeToo movement has made harassment a brand-ruining allegation. Employers must take the steps necessary to stamp out these errors in their workplaces.

There are complex layers to the equation, but the first and simplest step that your business should take is policymaking. Your employee handbook should define sexual harassment, outline punishments for this behavior, and lay out specific processes that victims can use to report harassment and other misconduct. You should also have policies in place for investigating these claims and working to resolve them. Finally, sexual harassment training is no longer an optional bit of programming for businesses. Every office should hold a seminar on this topic, at least annually, to illustrate what sexual harassment looks like and why it is unacceptable.

Curbing soft punishments: A big issue is that many companies—even the ones that have firm sexual harassment policies in place—treat the issue with kid gloves when an allegation does come through. Investigations might be perfunctory rather than thorough. Punishments are often little more than a slap on the wrist. Nondisclosure agreements allow companies to deal with unacceptable behavior quietly, and in the process, perpetrators waltz off to their next jobs without consequence. Zero-tolerance sexual harassment policies need steeper consequences.

Making sexual harassment and assault prevention a cornerstone of the vetting process: Sexual harassment in the workplace breeds a toxic, unwelcoming company culture. Building a better culture starts at the hiring stage, and businesses need to be more cautious about hiring individuals who contribute to sexist, hostile, or otherwise negative working environments. Thorough background checks—ones that check references and ask past employers for insight along with criminal background checks—can help.

Progressive policies: One of the most positive outcomes of #MeToo is that companies have started adopting progressive policies to attract female candidates and move toward gender equality in the workplace. Professional services firm KPMG rolled out new strategies to reduce bias in talent searches. Tech startup Outreach created a generous family leave policy to eliminate some of the strain that pregnancy and birth put on the careers of women who choose to become mothers. Other companies have reduced gender pay gaps, established policies to reduce pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, and found ways to bring more women into executive or leadership roles. These strategies and others can help by reversing the male-female power imbalance that exists in many workplaces. 

To learn more about how #MeToo is changing background checks, read our report.

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