During Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony recalling her experience with Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, women across the nation watched with bated breath. For many, the moment was not just a condemnation of the judge’s attitude, but a sober reminder that sexual assault and harassment are deeply ingrained within our society.
Ford’s statements — representative of the #MeToo movement’s core mission — emphasized the actuality and lasting impact of sexual assault and harassment women often face in daily life. During the hearing, calls to the National Sexual Harassment Hotline spiked by 201 percent.
The #MeToo movement has no doubt encouraged an increase in awareness, education, and reports around sexual harassment and other inequalities in the workforce. Even so, the business world remains largely male-dominated with gender bias a continued barrier to entry for women. Among those hurdles is some male leaders’ recent discomfort in mentoring women and working alone with women in the wake of increased allegations.
Will that apprehension stagnate progress for female leaders? Or will the #MeToo movement’s principles support their empowerment in business and ultimately lead to an increase the number of female leaders in the workforce?
Much of that answer depends on the level to which #MeToo can extend its impact beyond education and reporting, and make a lasting difference in improving company culture, increasing mentorship opportunities, and eliminating the confidence gap.
#MeToo Changes Company Culture
Well before the #MeToo movement, we saw how harassment cases created major changes within the workforce that empowered women. After Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas in 1991, sexual harassment cases in the United States went up by 50 percent a year later. The increased awareness also spawned the election of a record-breaking number of women, reports The Washington Post.
Since the #MeToo movement began over a year ago, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that sexual harassment charges have increased over 12 percent in the past year. So far this year, the agency alone has filed 50 percent more harassment cases than in 2017.
Thankfully, workplaces are finally improving the way they react to these reports. In the movement’s wake, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that 1 in 3 executives claimed to have changed their behavior, some making it easier for HR to investigate harassment reports without fears of retaliation. Additionally, an American Psychological Association survey found that 32 percent of workers said employers had taken action to prevent workplace sexual harassment after #MeToo.
The movement has also helped establish sexual harassment resources and programs. For example, Hollywood’s Time’s Up legal defense fund raised over $20 million to offer legal support to women in the workplace. Under state jurisdictions, California and New York are now required to provide company sexual harassment training each year. The Weinstein Clauses demands that businesses know if any allegations of sexual assault were made against a partnering party.
What does all this signify for female leadership? As a PwC survey examines, the more laws and protocols established to protect the safety, transparency and moral support of women in the workplace, the more female leaders will feel like their thoughts, talents and goals matter. When women can think and grow freely at work (instead of missing them out of anxiety or fear), it allows them to harness and demonstrate confidence and leadership growth.
#MeToo Means more Mentoring
The #MeToo movement has exposed another inequality for women in the workplace: a lack of mentorship opportunities. Carol Stubbings, the Global Leader of PwC’s People and Organisation practices says, “It’s important having mentoring and good female leadership programmes to constantly tell these people that they are really good, they are really valued, they’ve got a great skill set that will take them far in the organization.”
A LeanIn.org and SurveyMonkey poll found that after #MeToo, half of male managers are now uncomfortable participating in common workplace activities like mentoring and working alone. Rachel Thomas, the president of LeanIn, identifies that this means women are losing valuable opportunities and interaction time with senior leaders.
In response to the #MeToo backlash, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has since confronted the issue with the creation of the #MentorHer campaign which challenges men to mentor women in the workplace. Thus far, 38 prominent leaders and CEOs like Netflix’s Reed Hastings and Disney’s Bob Iger committed to mentor women at their own companies, setting an example for leading companies across the board.
Even if the average male leader is slow to follow suit, female leadership may very well fill the gap.
According to Development Dimensions International, 73% of women already mentor other women in the workplace. Building on the awareness of the #MeToo movement’s initiatives, the Harvard Business Review points out that when women support each other, they become more aware of information and are more united, two essential steps in learning and closing the confidence gap for potential female leaders.
Is the Future of Leadership Female?
Today, only 40 percent of small business owners are women and merely 6.4 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 are female. Yet, as the #MeToo movement gains momentum, it sets the stage for an influx of more female leaders. That’s especially the case since companies with more female executives make more money, improving their competitive edge through innovation and collaboration.
Despite the hardships that women like Dr. Ford face after speaking out, Ernst & Young reports that women are projected to own nearly one-third of all business in the world by 2028, with half of them in developing markets. The 2017 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight study indicates that most female entrepreneurs hold an optimistic outlook for the next 20 years. A further 61 percent of women business owners expect their incomes to match or exceed their male counterparts by 2037.
The #MeToo movement is helping to shape the discourse of a woman’s lead in the workplace. Women leaders must continue to be vocal about inequality and male leaders must act as allies, hiring, supporting and promoting more women. Change will occur, albeit slowly.
Calling out ingrained patriarchal systems is a testimony to the bravery and leadership that women are displaying to make their voices heard. We’ve already seen a record number of women running for Congress this year — why not female business leaders, too?