#MeToo Movement Leaves its Mark on Staffing

The ramifications of sexual harassment and growing attention to the issue are having a significant impact on workplaces across America. Progress has been made, but much work remains. Let’s dive into the topic with new reports from SHRM and FTI Consulting, as executive recruiters weigh in.

October 25, 2018 – It has been one year since the #MeToo movement sparked a nationwide conversation.

Since then, one-third of executives have altered their actions to avoid behaviors that could be perceived as sexual harassment, according to new data from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

In addition, data analysis by FTI Consulting is showing the effects of inappropriate behavior and how businesses have dealt with the staffing and financial effects of the #MeToo movement.

FTI Consulting and Washington, D.C.-based women’s leadership firm Mine the Gap found that about 55 percent of the professional women surveyed said they are less likely to apply for a job and 49 percent are less likely to buy products or stock from a company with a public #MeToo allegation.

Twenty-two percent of senior-level women and 20 percent of senior-level men, meanwhile, are concerned there could be an impending #MeToo incident at their organization. Senior-level women in technology and energy are concerned the most, at 33 percent and 31 percent, respectively. Among the senior-level men surveyed, those in technology and healthcare are the most concerned at 29 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

The report also found that 28 percent of professional women said they have experienced or witnessed unwanted physical contact in the workplace in the last year, and nearly one-fifth said they have personally experienced it. In the past year, 34 percent of women in technology, 29 percent of women in energy, 27 percent of women in legal, 26 percent of women in healthcare and 25 percent of women in finance said they have experienced or witnessed unwanted physical contact at work.

Of the professional women surveyed who said they experienced or witnessed sexual harassment, 43 percent did not report the behavior, while 57 percent did report. Of the professional men surveyed who said they experienced or witnessed it, 31 percent did not report, while 69 percent did — a 12 percent difference from women. The top reasons for both professional women and men for not reporting was a concern for negative career impact, of being viewed as “difficult” and fear of retribution, though a significant gender gap exists for these answers.

Movement’s Effects

“From all different viewpoints and industries, the research findings are stark: #MeToo at work is still happening, and employers that fail to take meaningful action to bring about change face a high risk of irrecoverable reputational and financial consequences,” said Elizabeth Alexander, a senior managing director in the strategic communications segment at FTI Consulting and a crisis communications and gender inclusion specialist. “The research shows that professional women will wield their purchasing power and their talent as leverage for change: nearly half of the women surveyed said they would be less likely to apply for a job, buy products or stock from a company with a public #MeToo issue.”

“For businesses to remain viable as the #MeToo movement continues to grow, entire industries need to look inward and overhaul policies, protocols, reporting mechanisms and trainings; evaluate cultures; take steps to fix gender imbalances; develop effective and transparent communications plans; and most importantly, hold aggressors, and those in a place to stop inappropriate behavior, accountable,” said Ms. Alexander.

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Jessica Grounds, co-founder of Mine the Gap, said that to stay competitive, companies must understand the different experiences women and men face daily at work. “#MeToo dynamics, difficult office cultures and leadership imbalance all impact the success of the key industries we surveyed,” she said “Awareness is the first step to addressing these challenges.”

Altering Behaviors

Meanwhile, new data from SHRM found that one-third of executives have altered their actions to avoid behaviors that could be perceived as sexual harassment.

These changes in behavior have resulted as executives witness how sexual harassment affects staff and the company bottom line. They rate the biggest impacts as:

  • Decreased morale (cited by 23 percent)
  • Decreased engagement (23 percent)
  • Decreased productivity (18 percent)
  • Increased hostile work environment (15 percent)
  • Increased turnover (13 percent)

And while 72 percent of employees said they were satisfied with their company’s efforts to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, more than one-third still believe their workplace fosters sexual harassment.

“The fact that some workplace cultures still foster sexual harassment says there is more work to be done,” said Johnny C. Taylor, president and CEO of SHRM. “We need a rules-plus approach – organizations need policies and training, but it is the education piece that creates culture change. When you have employees who know how to define, identify and report sexual harassment, everyone can work together to root out sexual harassment in the workplace.”

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“As a cultural change metric in such a short time, having a third of executives report changed behavior is significant,” Mr. Taylor said. “Yet, we can’t let the pendulum swing too far. Organizations must be careful not to create a culture of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and we cannot tolerate other unintended consequences.”

“One troubling trend is executives going as far as to not invite female colleagues on business trips, to evening networking events or into their inner circles to avoid any situation that could be perceived incorrectly, thus reducing the opportunity for women,” he said.

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Additionally, executives surveyed by SHRM said they believe that the most effective ways to influence workplace culture to stop sexual harassment and foster a safe environment are:

  • Enhancing HR’s ability to investigative allegations without retaliation (cited 45 percent)
  • Conducting independent reviews of all workplace misconduct investigations (44 percent)
  • Increasing diversity in leadership roles (39 percent).

“At its core, an organization must have the right culture to self-police,” Mr. Taylor said. “We have a long road to go, but positive strides have been made.”

Search Consultants Weigh In

Edie Fraser, CEO of STEMconnector and its Million Women Mentors (MWM) Initiative as well as vice chairman of Diversified Search, said that the #MeToo movement impacts are significant and should serve as a wake-up call. “Ramifications are everywhere — from schools and organizations, employees and recruits, to the HR world and CHROs, boards of directors, CEOs, men and women, and every organization and institution and the media. Sexual harassment affects employees and the organization’s bottom line,” she said.

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“The movement focus on the reality of abuse hits a nerve,” she said. “Results include a vital focus on behavior, training, engagement and communications. So many hundreds of thousands of women and men, too, have come forward and exposed sexual abuse. What matters is seizing the opportunity to educate, set policy and show no tolerance for abuse (and overall sexism) as well. Support the leaders driving action. Place more women and diversity in the executive suite as business role models and all enlightened managers and leaders, stay vigilant.”

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Ms. Fraser said that organizational leaders are impacted. The SHRM study showed “one-third of executives have altered their actions to avoid behaviors that could be perceived as sexual harassment.” That means that businesses still have “a long way to go before we sleep,” said Ms. Fraser. “Build a culture that will not tolerate sexual harassment. Discuss how to be inclusive and not go so far that female colleagues are excluded from social and business gatherings.”

“Wake up and drive changes,” said Ms. Fraser. “Most women have experienced sexual encounters in the work place. Drive the ‘zero tolerance’ and be part of the best places to work. Sad we needed #MeToo but we did and we still do and with that, action.”

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“Right now, I am seeing an abundance of caution in the marketplace regarding this timely and important topic,” said Shelli Herman, president and founder of Shelli Herman and Associates. “Candidates are operating with more discernment than ever relative to how they evaluate potential employers. In addition to making sure that companies have a strong track record in hiring and promoting women, candidates (male and female) want to make sure that the companies they are considering have fair and transparent polices in place to handle these allegations.”

“Companies who are already doing the right things will have nothing to worry about. Organizations who are in the midst of change can continue to fine tune their practices to ensure that everyone (men and women included) feels safe, supported, and heard in the workplace,” she says. “My general sense here is that when executives think about what they are doing both in public and private, one salient question must be: Is this practice, action or policy something we would stand by both in the Boardroom and in the news media? The right things are still the right things!”

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Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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