Article Thumbnail

How Offices Outside the Media Industry Are Discussing Sexual Harassment

They’re mostly not

The MEL editorial staff has been discussing the sexual assault allegations made against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and other Hollywood luminaries at considerable length, on a near-daily basis, for the past several weeks. This is to be expected as we’re an editorial organization that covers cultural happenings (especially as they pertain to men), and Hollywood reckoning with its rampant sexual misconduct problem is the most profound culture story in many years (if not ever).

But those conversations can have a distorting effect — the intensity and frequency of our talks have left us wondering if other workplaces are engaging in the same often uncomfortable conversations as we are.

I asked around, and the answer seems to be a resounding no.

First, I posed the question to my connections on LinkedIn — a vibrant professional network, where users usually can’t help but share their work experiences. Yet, as of a few hours ago, more than 1,000 have people viewed my post, and not one of them left a comment or messaged me directly.

Nor has anyone dared answer the question on Quora.

And members of r/jobs, a popular Reddit forum for sharing career advice, seemed appalled that I’d ask such a thing.

  • One respondent writes: “As far as I know most of my co-workers live in reality and not Hollywood. They know what is appropriate and not. I think most people would choose not to work for a company that tolerates harassment on any level.”
  • Another echoed that sentiment, saying conversations about sexual harassment are unnecessary in a workplace with “grownups.”
  • Some just dismissed it as a non-issue: “Most corporate environments already have established anti-harassment trainings and refresher course schedules. I don’t think it’s in the company’s interest to do some sort of emergency HR session when something hits pop culture.”

When I inquired within my immediate group of friends, nearly all of whom work in law and finance, none of them said that they’d had a substantive office conversation about the recent spate of allegations, and the wider issues those allegations have unearthed.

My Facebook following is usually quick to divulge whatever is on their mind, but only two people responded to my question about whether these revelations have inspired conversations in their workplaces, and both of them were women who work in entertainment. One said her office has had formal and informal discussions on the topic. The other is livid about the problem, but says her office still isn’t addressing the topic.

There are, of course, several characteristics to the entertainment industry that seem to make it especially susceptible to these kinds of offenses. For starters, steady employment is rare — most people work as freelancers and rely on their professional connections for gigs, giving them little incentive to rock the boat and report abuses. Plus, many entertainment companies don’t even have an HR department to report abuses to if a person even wanted to. Then there’s the culture of Hollywood, where standards of professionalism are markedly lower than in “normal” offices. Scenes of Ari Gold berating his assistant Lloyd with racist and homoerotic epithets in Entourage were played as satire, but they were mostly rooted in truth. One former talent agency worker tells me that she worked with a male executive who was reported to HR 10 times for sexual harassment, and he still wasn’t fired — his only punishment was that he was barred from having female assistants.

Still, it’s hard to believe this is just an entertainment media problem. The problem is supposedly just as rampant in the male-dominated world of Silicon Valley (reports of rampant sexual harassment at Uber caused the ouster of founding CEO Travis Kalanick, for instance), and as everyone’s favorite food personality Anthony Bourdain recently attested to, the restaurant industry is notorious for its hyper-masculine, bro culture. Industries such as advertising and finance have similar reputations, but people who work in them (at least the ones I’m personally connected to) still seem reluctant to look themselves in the mirror or discuss how Weinstein et al are causing culture change in their worlds.

Maybe then the lesson here is the simplest: Sexual harassment is an inherently difficult topic to address for many people, but it’s easier to discuss when it’s occurring in someone else’s line of work.

Though, if recent events are any barometer, those types of conversations will come for them and their industries soon enough.