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Knowledge Center Items Is An All Female-Led Company the Anecdote to Stemming Sexual Harassment at Firms?

Is An All Female-Led Company the Anecdote to Stemming Sexual Harassment at Firms?

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After the revelations of the predatory nature of Harvey Weinstein, head of The Weinstein Company, came to light, the entertainment firm was put on the chopping block as its reputation plummeted. A possible sale to a group of investors led by a businesswoman who planned on rebranding the company and put in an all-female board of directors seemed to be a bright spot. But the potential sale has collapsed with the recent filing of a lawsuit against the Weinstein Company by the New York Attorney General. Regardless of whether the sale had gone through or not, it does raise the question of whether an all-female board is the answer to mitigating harassment in the workplace.  

Yes, having a balanced and diverse board with the inclusion of women as directors and in leadership roles will serve to benefit any and all companies. There are indeed very few companies that have female directors. According to the Alliance of Board Diversity, women held about 20% of board seats at Fortune 500 companies in 2016, up from just under 17% in 2012. But, while adding women to boards and to the C-Suite is critical, it isn’t enough to either turn around a company mired in a sexual harassment scandal or to prevent harassment in the first place.

The key is to take preemptive actions against workplace harassment, which involves assessing and changing a company’s culture, looking deep inside a company (and across the specific industry) to have a clear understanding of what’s happening in the organization, which means getting everyone throughout the organization involved regardless of who is at the helm. It’s also critical to identify potential risks for sexual harassment, reassess workplace harassment policies, develop accountability measures for preventing and responding to sexual harassment, and update training.

As we discussed before, an organization’s policies on workplace harassment must be clearly communicated. Everyone throughout the organization needs to be aware of and understand the policies. This, unfortunately, has not been the case in a majority of cases. According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), although many organizations have sexual harassment policies, about one out of five non-manager employees are unsure if their company has a policy. Furthermore, the survey cites that while 57% of HR professionals believe that unreported sexual harassment incidents occur to a small extent in their organizations, 76% of non-manager employees who experienced an incident in the last year did not report it. The reasons for incident non-reporting runs the gamut, from fear of retaliation to the belief that little or no action will be taken, the downplaying of behavior, and dealing with the harasser personally.

Society as a whole is dealing with the issue of workplace harassment and the subsequent fallout as many CEOs and others in companies throughout all industries find themselves out of a job because of allegations of inappropriateness or worse. Taking the steps to prevent such behavior makes for a healthy and productive work environment.

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