Louise Godbold hugs Sarah Ann Masse and Louisette Geiss after a group of women known as ‘The Silence Breakers’ spoke out about the Weinstein’s verdict at Los Angeles. Reuters
Rebecca Greenfield, Tribune News Service
There was once a time, just two short years ago, before “Weinstein clauses” and “Weinstein taxes,” before “intimacy coordinators” and “disgrace insurance.”
Before, in other words, the #MeToo movement and its chief villain, Harvey Weinstein, tore through corridors of power and prompted a global reckoning for rich, powerful men. The guilty verdict handed down for Weinstein on Monday is yet another sign that the #MeToo movement is bringing unprecedented changes to virtually every corner of business and political life.
#MeToo forced corporations to reconsider long-standing practices and transformed, in at least some ways, how men and women operate in the workplace, a process still evolving in fits and starts. As sex-harassment complaints spiked in the last two years and numerous prominent people were fired, companies also found new ways to protect themselves. Some merger agreements now include a “Weinstein Clause” in case misconduct emerges. Companies can even purchase a type of “disgrace insurance” against wayward executives.
“This isn’t the beginning or the end,” said Fatima Goss Graves, the president and chief executive officer of the National Women’s Law Center. “That public conversation and transformation is much bigger than any one person — even someone who is as powerful as Harvey Weinstein.”
In numbers alone, the sheer volume of complaints that surfaced after the Weinstein revelations in 2017 was stunning. In a single year, Bloomberg’s own accounting found 425 public allegations of sex-related misbehaviour among prominent people working across industries, including politics, media, technology and finance.
And they continue to surface. The crisis consultancy Temin & Co. has identified 1,400 powerful people accused of misconduct in the last two years. Almost half of those surfaced in the last year alone, as the movement went global to places like India. Sex crimes and harassment claims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission climbed as well. Some 4,195 individuals have received legal assistance from the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in the last two years. The organisation, created in the wake of the Weinstein allegations, has filed high-profile sexual-harassment lawsuits on behalf of low-wage workers against McDonald’s and Walmart. (Both companies have said they don’t tolerate harassment.)
Many of the accused faced professional consequences — legislators resigned, chief executives were ousted. That was an uncommon fate for those accused of similar misdeeds before the Weinstein reporting, when such matters were often swept under the rug.
The workplace also changed. More employees than ever are required to take mandatory sexual harassment training. Those programmes also got a rethink, focusing more on “bystander training,” which teaches people to recognise inappropriate behaviour among colleagues and either intervene or flag it. Research has found it leads to higher rates of reporting of inappropriate conduct.
Scrutiny on Weinstein’s behaviour was already reshaping Hollywood in particular. The industry has focused more intensely on diversifying, with institutions like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences attempting to bring more women into leadership roles and initiatives such as the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative pushing studios to give women a greater voice in filmmaking.
Additionally, new guidelines have already been passed that directly target the bad behaviour that Weinstein practiced. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists released a guide on the use of “intimacy coordinators” who help prevent abuse during nude and sex scenes. It also opposed meetings and auditions in hotel rooms and private residences. If a meeting has to take place in such “high-risk” locations, the union recommends its members bring a “support peer” to act as chaperone.
At the same time, a new California “casting couch” law clarified that sexual-harassment law applies to producers and directors and their informal professional relationships.
Many of the tools that Weinstein and others used to keep their behaviour out of the public eye have come under attack. Some of the biggest US corporations — including Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, and, most recently, Wells Fargo & Co. — have ended forced arbitration for sexual harassment claims. The dispute-resolution process, which forces workers to resolve their complaints behind closed doors, can cover up misconduct from repeat offenders.
The once commonplace nondisclosure agreement is now viewed as a way for individuals and corporations to buy silence for criminal or unsavory behaviour. Around a dozen states have passed legislation banning their use for sexual harassment settlements (although most laws don’t fully invalidate them). In the wake of harassment allegations, NBC Universal agreed to release some former staffers from NDAs.
And when firms do pay out harassment-related settlements, the so-called “Weinstein Tax” prohibits individuals and companies from writing off the money, as a result of the 2017 tax bill.
There’s also some evidence that office norms have adapted to a new era. In a survey of 1,000 executives, a third said they’ve adjusted their behaviours since #MeToo, such as watching their language and avoiding unwanted touching at work. At the very least, there’s an awareness that actions have consequences.
Previously, executives nabbed generous exit packages after misconduct claims. Now, employment contracts make it clearer that harassment is cause for termination — without pay. CBS Corp. withheld $120 million in severance following allegations of CEO Les Moonves’s sexual misconduct.
“#MeToo is so far the most successful effort to change the ground rules,” said Louise Fitzgerald, an emeritus professor of psychology and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Not all the changes have been positive. Some men on Wall Street, and elsewhere, have decided it’s better to avoid women completely. This could lead to fewer opportunities for women in fields in which they’re already underrepresented and undermentored. In surveys, female employees say they don’t think their own workplaces have changed since #MeToo, and many say they still fear retaliation for reporting harassment. Some of the most prominent accused are making professional comebacks.
Indeed, some organisations have made moves more self-protective than introspective. The Weinstein Clause has become a fixture of merger agreements on Wall Street. If an accusation of harassment surfaces after purchase, the buyer can recoup some of the costs, the clause says.
Companies can also purchase disgrace insurance to limit damages from incidents like the kind that cost Imperative Entertainment LLC $10 million in 2017 after Kevin Spacey became embroiled in a sex scandal. The production company had to pay to reshoot “All the Money in the World” with a new lead actor. SpottedRisk, a Boston-based insurer, now offers policies for such events marketed at movie studios, brand advertisers, sports leagues and music labels — with limits starting at $10 million.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance told reporters afterward that the judge "sent a message today that this type behavior is something that any potential offender is going to have to consider. The judge took it seriously, which is exactly how we think he should have. And we're grateful."
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