CEO’s Must Heed the Lessons of the MeToo Movement, and Leave No Room for Harassment in the Workplace



When Harvey Weinstein’s conviction on charges of rape was overturned by the State of New York Court of Appeals in April, it was not only the more than 100 women that accused him of sexual assault and harassment that were left dumbfounded, but also the multitude of victims of assault and harassment  in the movie industry and beyond. This included the supporters of the MeToo Movement, the internationally based social justice movement which has sought to effect fundamental changes in power relations and gender norms at the workplace.

Weinstein, who was CEO of the Weinstein Company was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 2020 followed over three years of explosive protests led by women in Hollywood, attesting to the fact that predatory behaviour and the conscious exploitation of positions of power to gain or force sexual favours was a universal problem that companies and their executives finally needed to face. In the wake of Weinstein’s trial, countless women came forward to publicly accuse other executives in the movie, TV and music industries, as well as in showbusiness, the media, and the corporate world. 

The highest ranks of government were no exception, as former President Donald Trump’s recently concluded sexual assault hush money case demonstrated. Questions about consent and workplace behaviour entered mainstream discussions, and a wide range of public bodies and private corporations rolled out new policies to provide a safe space in the office. Although Weinstein remains in jail, the fact that the legal foundations of his landmark trial were shaken, call the faith of many in the system into serious doubt.

Despite highly publicized cases in which the other executives who were accused of similar inappropriate behaviour were held accountable, including founder of Fox News Roger Ailes, hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein, comedian Bill Cosby and Dr Larry Nassar, convictions of sexual assault are still incredibly difficult to achieve. Often, wealthy and influential individuals get away with paying a large sum in reparations to victims, keeping the case under wraps. This is one of the primary reasons why so many perpetrators of harassment and assault walk free. In fact, statistics show a mere 25 out 1,000 sexual assault perpetrators get incarcerated in the United States.

And despite great strides made in the corporate world, allegations of sexual misconduct in the workspace still abound. Hollywood is a prime example. Rap artist and record producer Sean “Diddy” Combs has multiple ongoing cases against him on allegations or rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse. Comedian Louis C.K. admitted to sexual misconduct allegations brought forth by five different women. In March 2024, producer Laurence Andries faced charges after being accused of drugging someone before sexually assaulting them. He walked free shortly after a bond in the value of 150,000 dollars was paid for him.

Adding to the list of executives in the entertainment industry accused of misconduct, but unlike the others discussed, altogether walking free without legal consequence, is Stephen McPherson. Stephen McPherson was President of ABC’s entertainment department for six years and was involved in the production of some of Hollywood’s most famous content including Lost and Modern Family, before handing in his resignation following allegations of harassment from several women, according to an investigation conducted by the LA Times. His lawyers dismissed the allegations, as many other lawyers of accused sexual predators have, as “the subject of gossip and innuendo”.  This occurred in 2010, years before the MeToo movement highlighted the most frequently deployed tactics aimed at discrediting victims of harassment and assault. These include dismissing serious claims as ‘gossiping’ amongst women and their ‘emotional outbursts’, all of which are now regarded as some of the long-established stereotypes in a typical character assassination. 

Admittedly, the lack of willingness of victims to come forward due to shame, threats and wide range of other reasons, makes it often close to impossible to convict perpetrators. This is a place where CEO’s need to step in, to ensure that those who are victims of such crimes in the workplace, and outside it, do indeed feel comfortable to come forward. Employees of all orientations need to believe that they will be believed and that those who hold the highest levels of authority in their company, will take their place when it matters most. 

Unfortunately, the few stories circulating in the media since 2017, however widely televised and publicized, represent the minority of sexual harassment and assault cases. Many actors, producers, comedians, TV show hosts, musicians and executives managed and continue to weather the storm when it comes to accusations against them. This is often the result of other executives not being willing to put their foot down and take the victim’s side, preferring to keep the story quiet for personal reasons or for brand reputation. People like Louis C.K. enjoys a still-booming comedic career with a full line-up of stand-up shows and TV specials in recent years, Ben Affleck is still a Hollywood darling, and executives like Stephen McPherson continues to reap the fruits of their labours, including his boutique vineyard in Napa Valley, Promise Wines, without a speck of damage to their reputation. 

Social justice movements often suffer from people’s cyclical nature when it comes to the attention span of public opinion. The MeToo movement appeared to be an exception to the rule with its widespread appeal to not only women (and men) in high-paying industries, but also victims in virtually all sectors of modern life from education, the police force and government, from sports to hospitality. As allegations and convictions in harassment and assault cases—however, few and far between—continue to emerge, CEO’s must champion vigilance and responsibility as ever-present attitudes, realizing that taking a firm stand will only make their companies more resilient in the long term.

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