Throughout my career, I’ve heard of – and personally experienced – many examples of behaviour you would hope were consigned to 70s sitcoms.
The reality, though, is that women all over the world, in most industries, experience behaviour that is demeaning and unacceptable. As a coach, I’ve heard and worked through many examples with women, from the juniors who, when working away on business, are summoned to a senior’s hotel room and greeted with a small towel, or less, to even more serious examples of actual assault – never mind the mental bullying which remains prevalent in the workplace.
For many years, I thought it would be great to produce a manual on how to navigate the corporate jungle – it’d be standard-issue for women entering the workforce – but the bravery of the women who’ve finally spoken out in Hollywood this week is even more powerful. They didn’t just deal with it – they exposed it.
As President Obama said: ‘Any man who demeans and degrades women in such fashion needs to be condemned and held accountable, regardless of wealth or status.’ I would go even further and suggest that it’s not just any man – but any person, male or female, who abuses their power. They must be held to account, otherwise culture – societal or corporate – will fail to evolve.
Although it has been a joy to see the reaction of the men of Hollywood, and further afield, among whom the open disgust, derision and revulsion has been nothing if not very evident – as it has in the media coverage. One interesting comment highlighted was a quip made by Seth McFarlane at the 2013 Oscars: ‘At least you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.’
Like the existence of the casting couch, was it an open secret? And, if so, why hadn't anything been done already? In these situations there is strength in numbers and having the support of others, including male colleagues, empowers the individuals to fundamentally change the balance of power and change behaviour. After all, the fear of losing a role or job, or of not being believed, often stops an individual from speaking out. Whistle-blowers are still treated as pariahs and troublemakers, and subsequently may have real trouble finding a new position.
However, as one of my male colleagues – who, I might add, was utterly disgusted by recent events – posed the question, playing devil’s advocate: In the one-to-one interaction between a man and a woman, or two people who are attracted to each other, would the reaction have been different if the man had been attractive? Would it have altered the woman’s behaviour, forming a different contract altogether?
The relationship between men and women remains highly complex, particularly when there is an imbalance of power, but surely bringing sex into the equation as a bartering tool in a business environment is unacceptable for anyone – male or female.