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Bryan E. Kuhn
Counselor at Law, P.C.
Business & Employment Law Attorney

Is the #MeToo movement having an impact on workplace harassment?

Months after the #MeToo movement’s beginnings, the Harvey Weinstein fallout, Oprah’s impassioned speech and the countless tweets, you may wonder what, if anything, has changed. Certainly awareness around the issue of sexual harassment has increased throughout society. Prominent figures in a variety of industries have been ousted from positions of power, from Kevin Spacey to Matt Lauer to Al Franken to Garrison Keillor.

But does this mean sexual harassment is on its way out for good?

recent study from Accounting Today paints a hopeful but sobering picture. Conducted as a survey of employees across a broad spectrum of industries, the study concludes that recent efforts have helped, but they’ve only gotten the ball rolling. Here are a few key take-aways.

Most people know sexual harassment is a problem

As the Millennials might say, employees across the gender spectrum are already “woke” to the situation of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Of the survey respondents, 51 percent of women and 49 percent of men indicated they had personally witnessed or knew about sexual harassment in their industries.

They are less united in what to do about it, however. Women in particular are more likely to believe that addressing sexual harassment is a lower priority for industry leaders than men. Moreover, fewer than half believe incidents have or will be dealt with fairly, especially if the respondent was the subject of harassment herself.

Sexual harassment is more common in smaller companies

This may come as no surprise, but the study found that employees at smaller companies (less than 100 employees) were more likely to experience sexual harassment or witness it. Qualitative data shows that this is likely due to the lack of formal HR departments or legal departments, which are often responsible for developing and enforcing anti-harassment policies.

Survey respondents also commented that in smaller companies, bringing an allegation can also “rock the boat” in terms of team culture, especially in cultures where harassment is common. No one wants to become the subject of office gossip.

Nevertheless, there is hope for the future

The study concluded by asserting that most respondents are hopeful that the #MeToo movement will positively influence society, with 67 percent agreeing it will have some level of impact on companies and regulators. As some survey respondents asserted, individual actions and choices will determine how we move forward as a society, moreso than just identifying the issue. The questions remain: what kind of impact and how much effect the movement will have, which only time can tell.

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