Unless you’ve been manning a radar outpost in Antarctica this month, you’ve noted with great regularity the number of powerful men who have been tossed into the cultural bonfire of sexual misconduct. Yet instead of asking who’s next, perhaps this is a moment to reflect on the systems and cultures that enable these perverse (and pervasive) behaviors. Doing so might lead us to a renaissance in the human resources function.
Every journey begins with identifying the problem: In a Harris Poll survey my firm conducted this month on sexual misconduct in the workplace, nearly two-thirds (64%) of American women (and 70% of millennial women) say they feel more comfortable today speaking out and challenging their abusers because they know they are not alone. However, only 20% of women said they believe their company would listen and be supportive if they were to speak out against their abuser.
While this reveals that four out of five professional women don’t trust their companies to defend them against sexual harassment, the general public is still looking to companies to lead the change in workplace cultures. A recent report from the OZY/Marist Poll found nearly two-thirds of U.S. residents (65%) believe it is the responsibility of companies to prevent or solve the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. From implementing new HR policies to sexual harassment training, companies far and wide are thinking about how they can create safer work environments.
While companies are striving to create solutions, social media has proven to be a supportive tool during these transformational times. In fact, more than half (57%) of millennial women entering the prime of their careers say men can no longer get away with sexual assault because social media allows victims greater power to directly confront their abusers. Of that same group, 70% said men are less likely to get away with sexual misconduct because women feel more comfortable standing up and accusing their abusers, and a majority (62%) said it shows that abusers are now being held accountable for their behavior.
This seems to be a cultural tipping point. Our friends at Gallup reported that 69% of adults in the U.S. say sexual harassment is a major problem, up from 50% in 1998. Our data shows that nearly two-thirds of all Americans believe cultural attitudes are changing, and rich and famous men can no longer get away with harassment and misconduct. When asked why, 64% of men and women said companies are at risk if they don't take action. These risks might include negative publicity, lost sales and legal exposure. That same Gallup report also found that compared to nearly 20 years ago, there are now much more women today — from 18% in 1998 to 38% in 2017 — who said that "recent news events about sexual harassment have made them more likely to sue someone they believe had sexually harassed them."
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