The #MeToo movement massively shifted the national conversation around sexism and gender-related harassment in workplace contexts, and we continue to see the fall-out directly affecting the careers of once-powerful male industry leaders like Harvey Weinstein, Mario Batali, and Les Moonves. These public reckonings should absolutely be celebrated and held up as evidence of #MeToo’s potential to change interactions for the better. But unfortunately, sexual harassment at work is not yet a thing of the past. According to a 2018 Fairygodboss survey, 70 percent of women believe #MeToo hasn't had an impact on their workplace. And according to the Women in the Workplace study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co., sexual harassment may be more nuanced and deeply-ingrained than we think.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the Women in the Workplace study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co., and they discovered that the gender gap present in the leadership of many industries may play a major role in the persistent presence of sexual harassment cases in the workplace. After speaking with management experts and company executives, WSJ writer Vanessa Fuhrmans concluded that “harassment can be a direct side effect of a workplace that slights women on everything from pay to promotions, especially when the perception is that men run the show and women can’t speak up.”
The Lean In and McKinsey study indicated that the percentage of employed women at major companies dwindles at higher-ranked levels. 48 percent of entry-level workers are female, but the number of women plummets to 22 percent at the c-suite level. For women of color, these numbers are even more out of balance, with only 4 percent of C-level executives identifying as both female and POC.
The Wall Street Journal also claims that women cite sexual harassment as a major work problem at a far higher rate than men, and are also less likely to believe that their companies are doing everything in their power to discourage sexually-inappropriate behavior from senior staffers.
Because the modern work world is built on harmful and outdated power structures around gender, they can’t be dismantled as quickly as we’d like. However, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful that a sea of change is coming, allowing more women to rise in the ranks and hold management and executive-level positions, therefore creating more egalitarian corporate cultures and instituting heavier penalties for gendered harassment.
Large companies are already taking steps to provide management training with a focus on women and minorities and to set down succession plans for retiring executives that must include female candidates and candidates of color. Diversifying management and executive populations will allow the #MeToo movement to truly transform the workforce, bringing us even closer to shedding the problematic power dynamics of generations past and ushering in leaders with a vested interest in equality and universally-welcoming corporate cultures.