Career Talk

/ 3 years ago /

 Article by Louisa Wicks

#MeToo and sexual harassment in the workplace

This post was written by an external contributor. Following the #MeToo stories in response to the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal, Louisa Wicks looks at how we can begin to challenge sexual harassment in the workplace… 

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations, a huge number of women have been coming forward with their own stories to show just how endemic this problem is. What started with a number of high profile actresses coming forward and bravely sharing their own experiences of Weinstein’s predatory behaviour, soon turned into a worldwide response.

The sheer number of women sharing their stories, of all ages and from all walks of life, showed how the Harvey Weinstein story isn’t unique, and sexual harassment is something which affects us all. And the supposed safety of the workplace, is one of the environments in which women are most vulnerable.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace has always been a huge problem. A recent study found that one in three women aged between 18 and 34 have been sexually harassed at work, and nearly 90% of women have been harassed at some point in their lives. But what is particularly alarming is that over half of these women did not know who to contact after it had happened.

Weinstein has been accused of around three decades of harassment, and many have been questioning why the women are only just speaking up now. In every news article detailing the latest allegations, there is always that one social media user who suggests that, by not speaking out earlier, the actresses were clearly putting their careers and monetary gain over the well-being of other actresses.

Speaking out

The reality is that most women are terrified of speaking out and don’t know who to turn to. Especially in workplace environments, women often don’t speak up because usually their assaulter holds a huge amount of power, and could quite easily end their careers in seconds. When faced with someone with so much power and influence, many women know their story wouldn’t be believed or just dismissed.

Many also forget about just how much trauma and stress is involved in these situations. Kesha attempted to sue her former producer for sexual assault but ended up dropping the charges when the lawsuit started to take a toll on both her career and her mental health. But it’s important not to forget that this kind of sexual harassment doesn’t just happen in the film and music industry; it’s happening all the time, whether in law, business, or public service, and women are often too afraid to speak up for fear of the repercussions.

Time for change

While #MeToo might suggest that we’ve finally reached a place where women feel comfortable speaking out about sexual harassment, the fact that many of the stories were still met with scepticism shows that more work needs to be done. In the workplace especially, we need to work harder to ensure the support networks are in place so women can speak out and seek the advice they need if necessary.

The first step is making sure women are aware of who to contact if something happens. Speaking out is still incredibly difficult, but there should be someone at the company who deals with complaints such as these. While this may help resolve the situation, in many industries women face not being taken seriously.

Challenging the status quo

harvey weinstein

We can’t expect women to feel comfortable about speaking out, until we tackle the workplace culture that makes them feel uncomfortable speaking out in the first place. We need to create change in the way women are seen in a work environment. An obvious answer to this would be to push for more gender equality in senior management positions. I have lost count of the number of company photos I have seen with just one woman sitting at the senior table.

We need more women in senior positions for a multitude of reasons, but crucially this will help challenge the male dominance that allows men such as Harvey Weinstein to act as they do. If men abuse their power, we need more women with the authority to call them out. This isn’t going to happen overnight, but if we’re aware of the problem, talk about it openly, call out unacceptable behaviour when we see it and actively work towards creating a more equal and fair workplace environment, we can start to reduce the scale of workplace harassment.

Giving women a voice

When #MeToo started trending on Twitter as a result of the Weinstein accusations, the sheer number of people finding the courage to share their stories was overwhelming, but highlighted the fact that attitudes are (slowly) starting to change. Women are speaking up in huge numbers for the first time, and supporting each other. Both male and female celebrities are commending the strength of survivors, which in turn has encouraged more people to speak up.

Although more changes are needed in the workplace to tackle harassment, social media awareness is a good place to start. And while the accusations against him are truly horrific to read, the Harvey Weinstein case has given women a voice.

After seeing high-profile, successful actresses find the courage to share a historical encounter, women like me and you are realising something so important. And even after the Weinstein case has left the headlines, we’ll still remember what it taught us: it taught us that we’re not alone.

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