There has been a lot of disturbing revelations in the news recently about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Fox News, even disappointing comments by our POTUS and powerful businessmen right here in our own backyard in Richmond, VA.
Because I do not find these news headlines at all shocking, my first, less sensitive thought was: "How many millions of dollars do businesses lose every year due to COMPLETELY AVOIDABLE Reputation Management and Insurance for screw-ups like this?!" We know about the teams of lawyers and public relations professionals, but what about payoffs to the victims? Millions at a time. And who writes the checks? Not the criminals. Their companies do. And ultimately, the clients, or in Mr. Weinsteins's case, movie goers. If it costs $X to insure executive management against reputation damage, it costs $X more to run the company which gets added in to the overall cost of making movies which get passed down to you and me. So as we are watching Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom, we are also investing in Weinstein's peace of mind to be able to wield his power over vulnerable young women.
My second thought as a strategist was that not only will Gwyneth's and Angelina's stories go a long way in lending confidence to victims wanting to speak out but more importantly, the more stories we hear, the more strategies we can develop to avoid and/or handle these situations. I tell my female students to prepare. It's just a matter of time. Sexual harassment and plain old sexism is rampant in the media industry.
So we discuss specific scenarios in class--male and female students. We brainstorm options. For example, if Mr. Weinstein's strategy was to target young, vulnerable girls just starting their career, they realize we are talking about them. Even interns (ahem, Bill Clinton). If Weinstein's goal was to get them alone, what options do you have if you find yourself alone in a hotel suite with your boss? What can you say or do to buy time or deflect, diffuse or change the environment? What can you do if you suspect you've been drugged? What are some different ways to confront your aggressor?
By prepping them and arming them with something to say or do when it happens, they will suffer less shock and be able to react faster without fear or shame.
As we separate the emotions from the brainstorming session, I notice that the women in my class are energized by these strategies. But what really warms my heart is when the men in the class display anger and fierce protectiveness. I'd like to believe that reaction will stick too :)