After Weinstein Scandals, How Will Men Change Their Behavior?

Be allies; don’t shun women to avoid possible impropriety, advocates say

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek October 18, 2017

The lurid accusations and investigations swirling around Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein have led to the company he co-founded firing him, 4 of 9 members of the all-male board of that company resigning, and the company renaming itself and scrubbing his name from future projects.

But sexual harassment and sexual assault are not limited to the entertainment industry, and there is some concern over whether reaction to the scandals will impact women's advancement in the workplace. There may be "unintended consequences," according to The New York Times, with men avoiding closed-door meetings or solo after-hours business gatherings with female colleagues. Men may hesitate to mentor or sponsor women to avoid any hint of impropriety.

Some high-powered men do avoid such interactions as a cautionary measure, and "in the end, what suffers is women's progress" as women are shut out of important meetings or don't have the opportunity to be sponsored or mentored by men who can help promote their careers, according to The Atlantic.

Having male allies in leadership positions at work can give a big boost to women's career advancement, especially multicultural women, according to a recent research report by Working Mother Research Institute in New York City. The institute is a branch of Working Mother Media.

Subha Barry, senior vice president and managing director for Working Mother Media, does not anticipate that the Weinstein scandals will set women back.

"The Harvey Weinsteins of the world have always existed, and they will continue to exist. That will not go away," she said. However, she added, "for every Harvey Weinstein, there are hundreds of really decent, good men. Let's not forget [that] while the news headlines may dwell on the bad behavior, there are plenty of good men who do not do this, who are respectful of women."

And Joe Casey, executive coach at Princeton Executive Coaching in Princeton, N.J., doesn't anticipate men withdrawing their support to advance female colleagues.

"I'm sure it will affect some men, but not the type of men … any woman would want as a mentor. It's a cowardly mindset," said Casey, who has more than 23 years in HR executive roles. "Most confident, experienced leaders … [are] comfortable taking risks, and that's what they do each and every day in business."

The New Yorker's 10-month investigation into Weinstein's behavior found what it called "a culture of complicity … with numerous people throughout his companies fully aware of his behavior but either abetting it or looking the other way."

[SHRM members-only sample policy: Sexual Harassment Policy and Complaint/Investigation Procedure]

That's why it's important to call out such behavior when it occurs—and where men can play a crucial role, Barry said.

Calling out such behavior "only needs to happen once" to send the message that the behavior is unacceptable.

Training also can help. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is offering two new harassment prevention programs—"Leading for Respect" for supervisors and "Respect in the Workplace" for employees.

What Organizations Can Do 

Barry and Casey offered the following tips to HR for creating a respectful culture: 

  • Decide how your organization will handle reports of sexual harassment, no matter the harasser's title, power or influence within the company, and have guidelines that spell out unacceptable behavior. The organization could adopt a zero-tolerance policy or a range of disciplinary actions from warnings to suspension without pay to termination. 
  • Establish a reporting structure that includes key partners, such as legal professionals.
    "People are not thinking about the potential consequences of nonaction," Casey said. "There are some business risks for us to consider here, in addition to the cultural aspects" to sexual harassment and misconduct. 
  • Be vigilant.
    "People like [Weinstein] are not good at completely hiding [their behavior]. He may have hidden the gross way in which he conducted himself, but I believe this was a person whose behavior spilled over [and others] gave him a pass," Barry said. "There is water cooler talk" that can signal problems. HR has a responsibility to investigate, including determining if the problem is systemic, she said.  
There often are early signs of inappropriate behavior, and it is important to act on them, Casey said. 

"There are those moments of truth where HR and the senior leaders—and the boards, often—have to make key decisions," he said. "It's really about doing the right thing from a culture standpoint."

This is an opportunity, Barry said, for HR to act as the organization's conscience.  

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