On Sunday night, the New Yorker published a piece by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer regarding sexual assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, from his freshman year at Yale. The article was published on the heels of the first victim, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, agreeing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding her allegations that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high school students. A third unidentified woman is offering to meet with the FBI to disclose how she was victimized and has implicated Judge Kavanaugh and others in the targeting of women for gang rape through the use of drugs and alcohol. Even with the number of victims adding up, the U.S. Senate is showing us how little the culture has shifted over the last 3 decades when it comes to victims stepping forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against powerful men.

1991 vs. 2018: Have We Evolved?

The response to these allegations has ranged from outright denial and support for Judge Kavanaugh to demands for the FBI to re-open its background investigation into Kavanaugh, protests, and the new hashtag #WhyIdidntReportIt. It is a pivotal moment because the Senate Judiciary Committee has the opportunity to handle the allegations differently from the 1991 Anita Hill sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas. In 1991, Professor Hill was asked if she was a “scorned woman” and why she didn’t come forward with her allegations sooner. The Senators also told her that discussing “large breasts” in the workplace was common behavior and they didn’t understand why she thought such talk was embarrassing. As we all know, Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed and has been serving on the U.S. Supreme Court since 1991.

In light of the #MeToo movement taking off over the past year, women are hoping not to relive the humiliation, hostility, and condescension when Dr. Blasey Ford, and possibly others, testify before the Senate. As Tarana Burke said,

It’s been 27 years since Anita Hill. We need to see that there is a different understanding about sexual violence. We need to see that they know how to approach and handle issues of sexual violence in a very different way.”

Unfortunately, we are hearing echoes of the same attempts to discredit Anita Hill in 1991. The power structure from 1991 remains roughly intact – there are no female Republican Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senators Chuck Grassley (R – IA), Orrin Hatch (R – UT), and Patrick Leahy (D – VT) were all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. We are already hearing from many Senators, men, and women, dismissing the allegations against Kavanaugh as fabricated, as something that all male teenagers do, and even making jokes about sexual assault.

Is There a Light at the End of This Tunnel?

Four women made history by becoming U.S. senators in one year shortly after the Thomas confirmation hearings. We now have 23 women in the Senate and 2018 will be a record year for the number of women running for office. Is it all on the women running for office to change the culture in Washington and across the country regarding sexual misconduct? The burden to change cannot be placed solely on female legislators. Sure, it will help to have more women in government and in positions of power. But as we can see, the Senate Judiciary Committee is still mostly men and many male senators in power don’t want an independent investigation of the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. The change won’t happen without the men who witness other men behaving badly. The change won’t happen until men and women believe victims when they get past the fear of retaliation to speak up about sexual misconduct.

If you have been the victim of sexual misconduct, you should discuss your story with an attorney who can guide you. Our attorneys can assist you at any stage, including pre-litigation. Please contact us to set up a confidential consultation.

Beyonce, as usual, is making headlines with her September issue of Vogue and a candid interview with her thoughts on all sorts of topics, including, the legacy she wants to pass on to her kids. She wants her daughters to see themselves in books, films, as CEOs, and knowing that they don’t have to fit a certain mold. When it comes to her son, she says:

I hope to teach my son not to fall victim to what the internet says he should be or how he should love. I want to create better representations for him so he is allowed to reach his full potential as a man, and to teach him that the real magic he possesses in the world is the power to affirm his own existence.”

This quote led me to think about how toxic masculinity (and femininity) influences our lives and our roles at work, home, school, and in our communities. I certainly can’t answer what it’s like to be a man, but I don’t think men and women should feel confined to play certain roles and fulfill stereotypes to be “quiet and nice” or “strong and stoic.”

How do men and women work together to turn things around?

There is a treasure trove of answers and thought-provoking questions in the Man Enough online series that is the start of a very important dialogue. In the series, a group of men openly discuss what it means to be a man, be vulnerable, and #metoo. The men in the series recognize that the concepts of masculinity in American media ingrain misogyny in boys and girls from an early age. So much so that almost all the men in the series have witnessed harassment or assault and failed to intervene even though they consider themselves good guys. In the #metoo episode, Tony Porter, the CEO of A Call to Men says that he thinks “It’s really rooted in how the law is defined. You could do some crazy s—- and be on the side of the law, right?” Yes, he’s right in the sense that employers and harassers got away with sexual harassment and retaliation against women for coming forward for a long time (and still do sometimes), mostly because there weren’t any real legal consequences until Title VII came along, but sexual harassment continues despite the legal remedies that exist at the state and federal level. Legal remedies by themselves are insufficient to effect change in the absence of a shift in culture. If women aren’t comfortable coming forward, there won’t be any cases against harassers and/or their employers.

Social consequences

#Metoo is the dawn of social consequences for bad behavior. Will #metoo lead to legal consequences? We will have to wait and see. If we give boys the space to ignore what the internet says boys and men should be and allow them to affirm their own existence, will misogyny begin to disappear? This won’t be my last post on this complicated topic, so stay tuned!

 

It occurs to me that a more positive, not-everything-is-bad post is in order. My past posts have addressed the employee-employer imbalance of power, advocated an end to mandatory arbitration, and criticized the Senate version of the proposed, revised Congressional Accountability Act. However, progress has nonetheless been made these past months (at least I think so) and so it makes sense we take stock.

Jodi Kantor, of the (failing) New York Times [yes, that is a joke: relax!] attempted to do just that, take stock, back in March. Her article highlights a variety of actions taken by companies, cities, states and the federal government in response to the #metoo movement and society’s possible awakening. While Ms. Kantor’s assessment was certainly not all positive – much (most) work remains, much of it at a societal level – she nonetheless pointed to some bright spots. One success was Microsoft’s announcement, late last year, to get rid of forced arbitration in its employment agreements. Another was the Screen Actor’s Guild (“SAG”) publishing an updated Code of Conduct. Even if you are not a waiter/actor in LA, this is an interesting read, especially for newbies. SAG’s Code defines some basic terms (e.g., quid pro quo, hostile work environment, retaliation) and educates actors and employers on what to expect when a complaint is filed, as well as provides resources to employees.

But I am singling out Facebook for further analysis and some praise (God knows, it needs it). In December 2017, Facebook took the somewhat unusual step and put its internal policy online for all to see. In the announcement post COO Sheryl Sandberg declared Facebook’s “philosophy” was to go beyond what was legally required – not too hard, unfortunately- and to enforce a zero-tolerance approach. Undergirding the policy are the following six principles: 1) mandatory sexual harassment and unconscious bias training; 2) treating all claims with “seriousness, urgency, and respect”; 3) investigating claims in a way that protects employees from stigma or retaliations; 4) applying the process consistently; 5) taking “swift and decisive action” when wrongdoing is identified; and 6) involving all employees in making the workplace safe by encouraging people to report unacceptable behaviors, even if it does not involve them.

The Facebook policy is a real treasure-trove for commentary and analysis and over the next few posts, I aim to highlight some of the encouraging parts, compare it against the company’s stated philosophy and principles, and give you my two-cents on what (if anything) might be problematic or objectionable.

If you have time, read over the Facebook policy and stay tuned.

Entrevista con la Doctora Cristal Glangchai

Las mujeres ocupan casi el 52% de todos los trabajos a nivel profesional, pero en el campo de los negocios, sólo un 25% es ocupado por mujeres en cargos ejecutivos o de nivel senior, y sólo el 6% de ellas ocupan cargos de Director General. En otras profesiones, las estadísticas no son mejores – en las leyes, sólo un 22% de mujeres son socias de firmas, y en el ámbito académico, sólo un 31% de ellas son catedráticas a tiempo completo. En el 2013, sólo un 6% de mujeres eran socias de compañías de capital de riesgo. Es acaso éste imbalance de poder la respuesta al por qué el acoso sexual es tan desenfrenado en los lugares de trabajo?   Si más mujeres ocuparan cargos de poder, acaso el acoso sexual o la discriminación de género se reducirían significativamente? Cómo aumentamos el número de mujeres que ocupen cargos de Director General, socias en firmas de abogados, o catedráticas universitarias?  Exploré varios de éstos temas y soluciones con la Doctora Cristal Glangchai, autora del libro publicado recientemente VentureGirls: Raising Girls to be Tomorrow’s Leaders, Directora General de VentureLab, profesora, y experta en empresariado.

La Discriminación de Género y el Acoso Sexual Ocurren Sin Importar tus Credenciales

Dr. Cristal Glangchai

La Dr. Glangchai posee una formación académica impresionante en tecnología, ciencias, e ingeniería que emergió de una educación igualitaria que su padre ideó para ella y sus hermanas.  A pesar de ésto, ella se ha tropezado con su buena parte de discriminación de género y acoso sexual. Dr. Glangchai creció frustada y molesta con lo que veía: peticiones estereotípicas para que trajera café o tomara notas por ser la única mujer ingeniero en la firma; las inseguridades y la intimidación que ella veía en sus estudiantes universitarias femeninas comparadas con sus estudiantes masculinos; la ausencia de Directores Generales femeninas en el campo de la teconología, y que le dijeran “tú no tienes suficientes canas y en realidad no creemos que una muchacha jóven como tú pueda con esto,” cuando Dr. Glangchai comenzó a mercadear su idea de investigación para su tésis de grado, la cual consistía en emprender una compañía de nanotecnología.

Habilidades Empresariales Como Una Solución

A pesar de que estamos en el siglo 21, nada parecía cambiar en este ámbito. Es por esto que Dr. Glangchai inició su propia solución en su hogar con sus hijas de 4 años.  Dr. Glangchai comenzó a enseñarle a sus hijas conceptos empresariales, los cuales resultaron en un aumento en la participación en clase de las niñas y en una mayor dispocisión de parte de ellas para explicar lecciones a otros niños, lo cual las maestras de las niñas notaron inmediatamente.  Cuando Dr. Glangchai vió lo efectivo que eran sus conceptos empresariales en sus hijas, ella decidió fundar VentureLab y comenzó a escribir el libro VentureGirls con el fin de enseñar éstas habilidades a otras niñas y darles la confianza de perseguir sus sueños y pasiones. “Se trata de darle a las niñas la confianza de creer en ellas mismas y en su habilidad de ignorar las presiones sociales.” Dr. Glangchai cree que “necesitamos enseñarle a nuestras niñas a ser más aventureras cómo se le enseña a los niños. Necesitamos enseñarle a las niñas a presumir de ellas mismas. A pesar de que éstos son pequeños conceptos,” recalca Dr. Glangchai, “los mismos forjan fortaleza y confianza en nuestras niñas para perseguir cualquier cosa que ellas desean hacer, pero al mismo tiempo enseñan a nuestros niños que todos pueden hacer ésto, y que no se trata de niños o niñas.”

Concientización, Cambios Culturales, y Empoderamiento de Mujeres y Niñas

Si el resultado de enseñar éstos conceptos empresariales a las nuevas generaciones de niñas resulta en un mayor liderazgo femenino en el ámbito de los negocios, que significa ésto para nuestros ambientes de trabajo del futuro? Las investigaciones demuestran que las organizaciones que son dominadas por hombres, super jerárquicas, e indulgentes ante malos comportamientos en general, están más propensas a tener acoso sexual y abusos. Es impotante tener líderes femeninas, pues las mismas balancean el poder dentro de la organización y previenen que la masculinidad se adueñe de la cultura de la organización.

Dr. Glangchai dice que el incremento en la concientización del acoso sexual y el no dudar de las mujeres que deciden hablar del problema está comenzando a cambiar la filosofía de lo que las organizaciones están dispuestas a tolerar, con muchas de ellas sobrecorrigiendo. Sin embargo, Dr. Glangchai piensa que “vamos a llegar a un punto de nivelación” y cree que ésto deberá ser un cambio cultural. “No vamos a solucionar éste problema sólo con la concientización, pues las personas que ya tienen su forma de ser no van a cambiar la misma.  Para mí, es una revolución cultural y la misma comienza con nuestros hijos.  Y parte de la meta de VentureGirls es darle a las niñas la confianza de transformarse en líderes, pero a la misma vez enseñar a los niños que la niñas con igualmente capaces.”

 

Si usted ha sido acosada sexualmente o discriminada por su género, el primer paso y el más importante es sentirse cómoda hablando al respecto, decirle al ofensor que detenga su comportamiento, y reportar lo que le ha sucedido. Si la compañía para la cual usted trabaja tiene un manual de empleados, el mismo debe de informarle a quién debe de dirigirse para reportar el acoso sexual o la discriminación.  Si used ha experimentado acoso sexual en su lugar de trabajo, usted puede informarse sobre sus derechos legales consultando a un abogado.

If you have been experiencing persistent workplace sexual harassment for a long time, perhaps for months or even years, you may think it is too late to report the wrongdoing, but a recent federal case from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, citing news regarding “a veritable firestorm of allegations of rampant sexual misconduct that has been closeted for years, not reported by the victims,” held that whether waiting too long to report the workplace sexual misconduct was reasonable depends on your circumstances.

In the case of Minarsky v. Susquehanna County, released by the Third Circuit on July 3, 2018, the Court held that Sheri Minarsky’s four-year delay in notifying her employer, Susquehanna County, of sexual advances made by her immediate supervisor, Thomas Yadlosky, was not unreasonable as a matter of law. The district court below had granted summary judgment to Susquehanna County under the Faragher-Ellerth defense. This defense is available to an employer who can show it “exercised reasonable care to avoid harassment and to eliminate it when it might occur,” and that the employee “failed to act with like reasonable care to take advantage of the employer’s safeguards and otherwise prevent harm that could have been avoided.” The Third Circuit appellate court reversed the summary judgment, holding that a jury should decide whether Minarsky’s delay in reporting the harassment was unreasonable.

Why a Victim Might Wait a Long Time to Report a Supervisor’s Sexual Harassment

Sheri Minarsky worked as a part-time secretary three days a week at the Susquehanna County Department of Veteran Affairs, and worked for Thomas Yadlosky only on Fridays in an area far from other employees. Soon after she started working for him in 2009, Yadlosky would sexually harass Minarsky nearly every week by approaching her from behind and embracing or pulling her up against him, massaging her shoulders or touching her face, and attempting to kiss her on the lips before he left each Friday. Because they worked alone, others were seldom present to observe Yadlosky’s conduct, other than during the holiday season each year, when Yadlosky asked Minarsky and other female employees to kiss him under the mistletoe. Yadlosky would also question Minarsky about her whereabouts during her lunch hour, called her at home on her days off under the pretense of work, but proceeded to ask her personal questions, and sent her sexually explicit messages from his work email to her work email. Notably, Yadlosky would become hostile if she avoided answering his calls, and otherwise behaved unpredictably.

The harassment intensified as time passed. Minarsky stated in the lawsuit that she did not report the harassment sooner because she needed the job to pay for her young daughter’s cancer treatments. Minarsky claimed that Yadlosky knew her daughter was ill and that Minarsky depended on her job to pay medical bills. Also, Minarsky did not report the harassment sooner because she learned that prior complaints by others about Yadlosky’s behavior had not led to any substantive reprimand. Minarsky thought her complaint would do nothing to change her situation, and that she could lose her job by reporting the harassment.

The Third Circuit Court specifically acknowledged that

[T]here may be a certain fallacy that underlies the notion that reporting sexual misconduct will end it. Victims do not always view it in this way. Instead they anticipate negative consequences or fear that the harassers will face no reprimand; thus more often than not, victims choose not to report the harassment.”

Although in the past the law has viewed an employee’s outright failure to report persistent sexual harassment as being unreasonable and insufficient to support a legal claim, particularly where the opportunity to make such complaints exist, the Third Circuit clarified in Minarsky v. Susquehanna County that a mere failure to report one’s harassment is not per se unreasonable. The passage of time can be one factor while analyzing several other factors. Because workplace sexual harassment is highly circumstance-specific, it is a question for the jury, not the judge, to determine whether the employee’s subjective belief of potential retaliation from reporting harassment is well-founded.

Sheri Minarsky’s case is an example of how the law is being shaped by so many victims coming forward in the #metoo Movement, allowing victims more opportunities to seek redress for inexcusable conduct. As Judge Rendell put it, this appeal came in the midst of “a veritable firestorm of allegations of rampant sexual misconduct that has been closeted for years, not reported by the victims.” If you feel trapped in an uncomfortable employment situation, but think you are too late in remedying workplace sexual harassment, you should speak to an attorney who can guide you in making a change. We are here to listen and help.

A new lawsuit involving non-lawyer employees at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, reiterates that there is no area of society immune from sexual harassment issues, and that a company’s response to allegations against an employee deserves as much scrutiny as the underlying behavior. Above The Law and the ABA Journal Blog outline the allegations leveled by Kruanli Parekh, a Business Development Specialist, against Alton Delane, the Managing Director of Dentons’ Venture Technology Group.  Law.com and Bloomberg’s Big Law Business Blog also have reports.

Allegations of Inappropriate Touching and Vulgar Language

Parekh’s Complaint alleges that Delane treated her as a sex object, using vulgar language, trying to draw her in to sexual conversations during late night calls, and touching her legs and buttocks without her consent. The Complaint even offers a bullet-point list of explicit allegations against Delane, while noting that he generates significant business for Dentons and is treated as a partner. Not surprisingly, alcohol is alleged to have played a part in Delane’s alleged-behavior.

Dentons, which just a few months ago dealt with allegations made against a partner while at a firm that merged with Dentons, issued a statement explaining that it placed Delane on administrative leave upon first learning of the allegations, and that it will take appropriate action upon conclusion of an internal investigation.  Parekh’s Complaint, however, alleges that Dentons initial response was far from robust. She claims that when she complained to her supervisor, she was told not to discuss the matter with anyone, which she characterizes as the firm’s effort to silence her and discourage her from seeking outside counsel. Parekh attributes the response—and the environment which enabled Delane’s alleged behavior—to a lack of female representation among the firm’s leadership. There are just three women on Dentons’ 34-member global board, and two on its 20-member global management team. For its part, the firm noted in its statement that five women serve on its 16-member U.S. board.

Whether Dentons responded appropriately or not will be borne out as the case progresses. Above The Law notes that Parekh’s allegation that she was told,

do not discuss this with anyone else inside or outside the firm,”

could be part of a prudent direction if given in the context of a request to wait until the firm concluded its investigation. Parekh’s lawyer told Bloomberg that the firm knew about the allegations for months, and only took action once Parekh sought outside counsel.  What is clear, however, is that even though companies can’t control for every employee’s behavior, they can control their response.  And society is paying attention.

As the #metoo movement continues gaining momentum, the dialogue around sexual harassment and assault is shifting to reveal the epidemic of sexual misconduct in our culture. Up to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, 75% of victims of hostile work environments do not report the harassment, and 75% of those who report harassment experience retaliation. What actions come next? On April 25, 2018, activists, advocates and lawmakers gathered at the U.S. Capitol to say Enough is Enough to the culture of sexual harassment and discuss how to strengthen federal law and policy, organize survivors, address workplace policies, and develop survivor-centric solutions. The Summit exemplifies the types of discussions we need to achieve justice for sexual harassment victims and prevent harassment. Video of the Summit is available on CSPAN.

The Takeaway from the Summit

Toni Van Pelt, NOW President

For Toni Van Pelt, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the takeaway from the Summit was “the deeply embedded need to overhaul the ways we deal with sexual assault from a political, legal, and cultural lens.” For her, identifying the scope of the problem, and where activists should target their energies were at the top of her list. Deborah Vagins, Senior Vice President of Public Policy & Research with the American Association of University Women (AAUW), found the Summit to show “we are at a moment in time where hopefully something can be done to address this problem” because the #metoo movement has “pierced the public consciousness” in a way we have not seen in decades.

How do We Strengthen Federal Law and Policy to Address Sexual Harassment?

Deborah Vagins, AAUW Senior Vice President, Public Policy & Research

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is the federal law that makes it unlawful to discriminate because of an individual’s sex and makes sexual harassment a form of sex discrimination. In addition to built-in limitations in Title VII, court decisions have interpreted the statute in ways that further limit the protections and relief a victim can seek in court. Ms. Vagins, one of the participants on the federal law and policy panel at the Summit, said her panel identified the following barriers in Title VII cases:

  • Standards of liability against the employer have become more difficult over the years. Holding an employer vicariously liable for the misconduct of a daily manager, for example, is more difficult if the manager doesn’t have the power to hire or fire you;
  • Forced mandatory arbitration clauses that force victims to forego their day in court;
  • Non-disclosure agreements that are a condition of employment;
  • Short statute of limitations;
  • Title VII’s fifteen-employee threshold for the law to apply to the employer; and
  • Title VII’s limited reach that does not cover independent contractors.

Ms. Van Pelt adds that we need to look “towards strengthening Title VII protections for all workers,” including those in small companies, contractors, domestic workers and laborers like caregivers and maids, and farm and migrant labor workers because they “are some of the most abused and exploited workers in the world.” Ms. Van Pelt also emphasized the importance of renewing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which will automatically expire if not renewed this year. She believes VAWA should also specifically address sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and in schools.

Potential Legislative Proposals

Besides strengthening Title VII and VAWA, Ms. Vagins and Ms. Van Pelt shared the following existing or potential bills with me:

  • Arbitration Fairness Act – to prohibit pre-dispute mandatory arbitration in employment discrimination, consumer, antitrust, and civil rights cases;
  • Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act – limits pre-dispute mandatory arbitration in sexual harassment cases only;
  • Equal Remedies Act – an older bill that would lift the caps on Title VII damages, helping to deter companies from knowingly violating Title VII;
  • Fair Employment Protection Act – makes employers liable for harassment by workers who have the authority to control the daily lives of employees regardless of the authority to hire or fire;
  • Bills relating to the legislative workforce and their unpaid interns;
  • Bills addressing non-disclosure clauses as a condition of employment, requiring that public companies disclose the number of settlements in connection with harassment; and
  • Bills with requirements for developing and disseminating workplace training programs.

Ms. Vagins points out that none of these bills holds the answer, “but in combination would go a long way.” Ms. Van Pelt believes it is also important to strengthen Title IX to ensure it is “not only protecting students on campus, but that there are clear and transparent reporting processes.” As for timing, movement on these proposals and bills won’t have to wait until after the 2018 mid-term elections. “Right now a bipartisan committee is already working on VAWA; however I believe that the influx of progressive women running for office in November will inevitably bring about a much-needed cultural change” says Ms. Van Pelt. Ms. Vagins is equally optimistic and says to

never underestimate the power of public pressure to make change.”

If either chamber flips to a different party, Ms. Vagins thinks we will “probably see a flurry of these bills pass,” so legislators need to be careful to protect existing civil rights bills from unfriendly amendments.

Year-Round Resources

The Enough is Enough Summit may become a much-needed annual event to continue this important dialogue and find solutions. Throughout the year, AAUW, NOW, and some of the other organizations that participated in the Summit provide resources and legislative campaigns for sexual harassment victims their attorneys including: AAUW’s Legal Advocacy Fund to offset litigation costs and Know Your Rights materials; NOW’s national action campaigns; and the National Women’s Law Center’s Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. If you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, we can help you understand your rights.

We have had several points over the last forty years in which Americans have learned about sexual harassment – the 1991 Anita Hill senate testimony, the 2010 Casey Affleck allegations, and now the 2017 Harvey Weinstein revelations. Generations of women and girls learned that coming forward about sexual harassment often meant that you would be blamed and shamed for the harassment and your career would suffer while your harasser would go unpunished and, sometimes, get promoted. In 2017, however, Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexually harassing, assaulting, and/or raping almost 100 women, including dozens of famous Hollywood actresses. Hundreds of women have come forward to hold men accountable for sexual misconduct since then. While most of us don’t immediately associate Hollywood with a work environment, it is for writers, directors, actors, production assistants, and the hundreds of people it takes to make a film or TV show. I caught up with Barbara Marshall, a film and TV screenwriter in Los Angeles, about how the unique Hollywood work environment led many to accept sexual harassment as part of the work and how the entertainment industry is moving forward. Ms. Marshall’s writing credits include the recent horror film, “Wish Upon,” the film “Viral,” and NBC’s “Terra Nova.” Ms. Marshall is also writing the script for the upcoming Lifetime R. Kelly film as part of Lifetime’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign.

Hollywood: Sexual Harassment in a Social Work Environment

Screenwriter Barbara Marshall

I started out by asking Ms. Marshall if the prominent Hollywood men being called out for sexual harassment was a shock or a long time coming. Ms. Marshall believes it “was a long time coming because there does seem to be a bit of a culture that enables behavior that even if it’s not harassing, it can be incredibly inappropriate. And that can escalate. And it’s also such a boy’s club that I think men feel like they have a lot of money and just feel empowered to do whatever they want because no one really calls them on it. To call someone on it means that you might be risking your career.” She also points out that the fact that the entertainment industry involves a work environment that is more social, has more money involved, and attracts eccentric and creative personalities who tend to burn brighter than normal leads many to “write it off as part of the business and write it off as part of an eccentricity when it’s just bad behavior.”

We Need to Change the Stories We See on Screen and Increase Female Leadership

Ms. Marshall says that post-Weinstein, many women are realizing “we don’t have to put up with this garbage” because there are “enough of us in positions of power and with talent that we can bond together and tell women’s stories that are lucrative, that are popular, and just not have to worry about all this excess baggage.” In fact, companies like Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine, exemplifies what Ms. Marshall identifies as a “shift in Hollywood away from middle aged white male with the same homogenous storytelling to try to embrace diversity, embrace women.” Ms. Marshall says

It feels like the business model is changing and therefore it’s changing the culture.”

While including more women’s stories on screen is part of the solution, Ms. Marshall believes that “the more women you see in positions of power, the less likely you’re going to see this behavior is going to be tolerated.” She is already beginning to see changes. At a recent project meeting, she was surprised to see that “everyone in the room – the producer, writer, writer of the novel – it was all women.”

While Hollywood is unique in many ways, the same factors that led to the widespread sexual harassment in entertainment – intimidation by wealthy and influential men being written off as part of business and lots of socializing – can exist in other industries too. The Weinstein effect has taught us that sexual harassment happens regardless of the nature of your work and the location where your work is done. Cultural change can take a long time and it may be a while before other industries have strong female leadership at the same pace that it seems to be occurring in Hollywood. If it weren’t for the women who were brave enough to come forward about Harvey Weinstein, we may not be having this cultural shift. If you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace in any industry, an attorney can help you understand your rights.

The #MeToo moment is making it harder for businesses to allow bad actors to quietly move on to other opportunities, as demonstrated by the resignation of Mayer Brown capital market’s partner James R. Tanenbaum. Above the Law and The American Lawyer report that Tanenbaum resigned in March when it surfaced that he was fired from Morrison & Foerster’s New York office after an internal investigation substantiated allegations of sexual harassment.

Real Consequences After #MeToo

Tanenbaum was reportedly first accused of harassment over two years ago, and was reprimanded by the firm. When the allegations resurfaced last year, Morrison & Foerster brought in an outside firm to conduct an investigation into Tanenbaum’s behavior. Above the Law reports Tanenbaum was asked to leave the same day the outside report was finished, and left the firm in December 2017. In less than two months he had found work with Mayer Brown, reportedly as part of the firm’s luring of a large team from M&F.

It is not clear what led Tanenbaum to resign less than a month later. Mayer Brown issued a statement that it had accepted his resignation after “assertions that [he] may have engaged in inappropriate conduct at his former firm.” The firm did not respond to Above the Law’s request about whether they had any knowledge of the allegations surrounding Tanenbaum during the hiring process. M&F also declined comment.

While Tanenbaum’s story is nowhere near as public as those we have seen in the entertainment industry, it shows that even businesses as private as law firms are changing the way they handle allegations of workplace sexual harassment. Just two years ago he was slapped on the wrist, but this time around the firm investigated and acted. Above the Law spoke with a partner at M&F, who said the #MeToo movement inspired her to come forward, and that she was proud of the way the firm conducted a fair investigation into the claims. It is concerning that Tanenbaum was able to shuffle to another firm without—at least initially—any serious question, however in today’s environment he ultimately was not allowed to go away quietly.

An Interview With Dr. Cristal Glangchai

Women hold almost 52% of all professional jobs, but in business women are only 25% of executive- and senior-level officials and managers and are only 6% of CEOs. Other professions are no better – in law, women are only 22% of partners and in academia, only 31% of full professors are women. In 2013, women only accounted for 6% of partners in venture capital firms. Does this imbalance of power hold the answer to why sexual harassment has been so rampant in the workplace? If more women held positions of power, would sexual harassment and gender discrimination be significantly reduced? How do we increase the number of female CEOs, law partners, and professors? I explored some of these issues and solutions with Dr. Cristal Glangchai, author of the recently published VentureGirls: Raising Girls to be Tomorrow’s Leaders, CEO of VentureLab, teacher, and entrepreneurship expert.

Discrimination and Harassment Happen No Matter What Your Credentials Are

Dr. Cristal Glangchai

Dr. Glangchai has an impressive tech, science, and engineering background that stems from an egalitarian upbringing that her dad created for her and her sisters. Despite this, she has run into her fair share of gender discrimination and harassment. Dr. Glangchai grew frustrated and angry with what she saw: stereotypical requests for the only female engineer to get coffee and take notes, the self-doubt and intimidation she saw in her female university students compared to the male students, the absence of female tech CEOs, and being told “you don’t have enough gray hairs and we really don’t think a young girl like you can do this” when she sought to commercialize her graduate research to start a nanotechnology company.

Entrepreneurial Skills as a Solution

Despite being in the 21st century, nothing seemed to change, so Dr. Glangchai initiated her own solution at home with her 4-year old daughters. She started teaching her daughters entrepreneurial concepts that resulted in her daughters’ teachers noticing an increase in the girls’ class participation and willingness to explain lessons to other students. When she saw how effective the entrepreneurial concepts were for her daughters, she decided to found VentureLab and started writing VentureGirls so she could teach these skills to all girls and give them the confidence to pursue their passions.

It’s really about giving girls the confidence to believe in themselves and the ability to ignore the social pressures.”

She believes “we need to teach girls to be more adventurous like we do boys. We need to teach girls to brag about themselves.” While these may be small concepts, she adds that “it’s really building up this strength and confidence in our girls to pursue whatever they want to, but at the same time it’s showing our boys that everyone can do this and it’s not just about boys or girls.”

Awareness, Cultural Change, and Empowering Women and Girls

If the result of teaching a generation of girls these entrepreneurial concepts is more female leadership in business, what does that mean for our future work environments? Research shows that organizations that are male dominated, super hierarchical, and forgiving when it comes to bad behavior are more prone to sexual harassment and abuse. It is important to have female leaders because female leadership can help balance power within the organization and prevent hypermasculinity from taking over the organization’s culture.

Dr. Glangchai says that the increased awareness of sexual harassment and second-guessing women who come forward is beginning to change what companies will tolerate, with many already overcorrecting. However, she thinks “we’re going to get to an evening out point” and she believes that it has to be a cultural change. “We’re not going to solve it just with the awareness and the people who are already set in their ways are not going to change. For me, it’s a cultural revolution and it starts with our kids. And part of the goal of VentureGirls is to give girls the confidence to become leaders, but also teach boys that girls are equally capable.”

If you have been sexually harassed and discriminated against due to your gender, an important first step is to be confident about speaking up, tell the offender to stop the behavior, and report what happened to you. If your company has an employee handbook, it should say who you need to inform about the harassment or discrimination. If you have experienced sexual harassment at work, you can learn more about your legal rights by consulting with an attorney.

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VentureGirls: Raising Entrepenurial Girls To Be Tomorrow’s Leaders explains how to unlock the creative genius of childhood for a lifetime. Now available at amazon.com