When the #MeToo movement spread in 2017 — following reports of widespread sexual harassment and assault by powerful men in the entertainment industry — it was celebrated. Finally, women had the platform to report the indignities they faced in the workplace! They were banding together to take down a great evil that lingered just below the surface of the business world.
But as more and more figures fell, talk of #MeToo going too far or targeting the wrong men became louder. A management professor at the University of Houston, Leanne Atwater, wondered if women would experience fallout from this major shift in power.
In early 2018, she and her research colleagues conducted a study on attitudes after #MeToo, collecting data from 152 men and 303 women. The results were just published in the Harvard Business Review. Overall, they found that respondents felt #MeToo had a positive impact: 74% of women said they would be more willing to speak out about harassment and 77% of men said they would be more careful about potentially inappropriate behavior.
But female respondents also had reservations about how women would be treated in its wake.
44% of women believed men would be less likely to invite women to social interactions and 56% of women said they thought men would continue to harass and take extra precautions not to get caught. At the same time, respondents demonstrated caution to a degree that hurts women. One in three men said they’d be reluctant to meet with a woman one-on-one and 10% of both men and women said they’d be less likely to hire attractive women.
The researchers updated the study this year to distance their research from #MeToo’s initial momentum and were surprised by the results.
While one may believe that fears and hesitation around the movement have slowed down, backlash has increased — especially from men. In the 2019 study, 19% of men said they were reluctant to hire attractive women following #MeToo, 21% said they were reluctant to hire women for jobs involving one-on-one interactions with men, and 27% said they themselves avoided one-on-one meetings with women.
This might leave you wondering: Where does this leave us? What have we really learned from #MeToo?
Well, we know now that people know what harassment is — if there was ever a doubt about that before — and we know they’re thinking hard about whether or not they’re doing it. Now, the researchers say it’s time to shift our attention to the people who do it anyway. The research team advocates for trainings about sexism and character. Their data shows that people who display high levels of sexism are more likely to act in negative ways, while people who display high levels of character are less likely to harass.