Six months after the allegations against Harvey Weinstein resulted in an immense barrage of past discretions by powerful men in various industries, the #MeToo movement has inspired widespread calls for change and shifted social attitudes, resulting in the empowerment of women all over the world.
Many workplaces have increased their efforts to address sexual misconduct. Not only do they now consider sexual harassment to be a legal liability, but also a serious business and reputational risk.
For instance, Microsoft eliminated forced arbitration agreements with employees who make sexual harassment claims in December, claiming it didn’t want to pressure those women to remain silent. Facebook recently shared its sexual harassment policy to the public. After the Weinstein allegations, New York University (NYU) banned intimate relationships between faculty members and students or anyone over whom they supervise in an authoritative role. Even the state of Washington enacted laws to make it easier for women to come forward about harassment, such as prohibiting nondisclosure agreements which prevent them from sharing their experiences.
When it comes to uncovering misconduct before the #MeToo movement occurred, the burden was almost always on the victims. Now, companies are becoming for front-footed in finding out the facts of potential harassment. More are relying on anonymous but detailed employee surveys, which include questions such as “Have you experienced harassment?” and “When you are at work, do you feel safe?” If workers confirm inappropriate behavior, the company can initiate investigations or increase training without knowing the particulars of any given case.
Sexual harassment training and other traditional deterrents of inappropriate behavior have increased exponentially. Trainers who clients include some of the most powerful companies in the world could potentially be booked a decade from now and still fail to meet the current demand.
Entrepreneurs are now building new systems for women to report sexual misconduct and for businesses to be aware of such activities occurring on the job. For example, TEQuitable is a platform which connects workers with real-world support and sends companies alerts about anonymous complaints. Callisto, which is used on college campuses throughout the United States to report sexual assaults, is now being used in the workforce.
What Still Needs to Be Done
Despite the national attention the #MeToo movement has been getting and change it is sparking, many women claim they haven’t experienced that type of change in their own workplaces—especially those who work in not-so-glamourous industries, like food service and cleaning. In these jobs, workers are typically offered fewer protections. While more women in these industries are speaking up, it is still not clear whom they should report to.
When The New York Times asked a number of low-wage employers if they had taken new measures in recent months to prevent workplace harassment, nearly none of them said yes. Either they failed to comment, or claimed they had the right policies in place.
When it comes to federal laws, there are still significant failures to protect women from harassment. For example, federal sexual harassment laws only cover workplaces with 15 or more employees. The federal statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit can be as short as 180 days. Even if a woman is victorious in her case, damages can still be capped.
Tina Tchen, a lawyer who is helping guide the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, is not sure whether the over $20 million donated so far can fund both immediate legal assistance for low-income workers and a longer-term strategy for even bigger cases.
In some cases, the public pressure on companies only resulted in more silent financial force. Several employment attorneys claim that settlement amounts in sexual misconduct cases have been increasing.
Although there has been significant progress in deterring or outing sexual harassment, there is still a lot of work to do.