“This isn’t the beginning or the end,” said Fatima Goss Graves, the president and chief executive officer of the National Women’s Law Centre. “That public conversation and transformation is much bigger than any one person – even someone who is as powerful as Harvey Weinstein.”
In numbers alone, the sheer volume of complaints that surfaced after the Weinstein revelations in 2017 was stunning. In a single year, the Bloomberg media service’s own accounting found 425 public allegations of sex-related misbehaviour among prominent people working across industries, including politics, media, technology and finance.
And they continue to surface. The crisis consultancy Temin & Co has identified 1400 powerful people accused of misconduct in the last two years. Almost half of those surfaced in the last year alone, as the movement went global to places like India.
Many of the accused faced professional consequences – legislators resigned, chief executives were ousted. That was an uncommon fate for those accused of similar misdeeds before the Weinstein reporting, when such matters were often swept under the rug.
The workplace also changed. More employees than ever are required to take mandatory sexual harassment training. Those programs also got a rethink, focusing more on “bystander training”, which teaches people to recognise inappropriate behaviour among colleagues and either intervene or flag it. Research has found it leads to higher rates of reporting of inappropriate conduct.
Scrutiny on Weinstein’s behaviour was already reshaping Hollywood in particular. The industry has focused more intensely on diversifying, with institutions like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences attempting to bring more women into leadership roles and initiatives such as the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative pushing studios to give women a greater voice in filmmaking.
Additionally, new guidelines have already been passed that directly target the bad behaviour that Weinstein practiced. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists released a guide on the use of “intimacy coordinators” who help prevent abuse during nude and sex scenes. It also opposed meetings and auditions in hotel rooms and private residences. If a meeting has to take place in such “high-risk” locations, the union recommends its members bring a “support peer” to act as chaperone.
At the same time, a new California “casting couch” law clarified that sexual harassment law applies to producers and directors and their informal professional relationships.
Many of the tools that Weinstein and others used to keep their behaviour out of the public eye have come under attack. Some of the biggest US corporations – including Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google, and, most recently, Wells Fargo & Co – have ended forced arbitration for sexual harassment claims. The dispute resolution process, which forces workers to resolve their complaints behind closed doors, can cover up misconduct from repeat offenders.
The once commonplace non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is now viewed as a way for individuals and corporations to buy silence for criminal or unsavoury behaviour. Around a dozen states in the US have passed legislation banning their use for sexual harassment settlements (although most laws don’t fully invalidate them). In the wake of harassment allegations, NBC Universal agreed to release some former staffers from NDAs.
Just last week, Conde Nast and Bloomberg LP both said they would stop using the agreements to settle harassment-related complaints. (Bloomberg’s change came after founder Mike Bloomberg was criticised in a Democratic presidential debate for their usage. He also said he would release three women from non-disclosure agreements with his company.)
And when firms do pay out harassment-related settlements, the so-called “Weinstein tax” prohibits individuals and companies from writing off the money, as a result of the 2017 tax bill.
There’s also some evidence that office norms have adapted to a new era. In a survey of 1000 executives, a third said they’ve adjusted their behaviours since #MeToo, such as watching their language and avoiding unwanted touching at work. At the very least, there’s an awareness that actions have consequences.
Previously, executives nabbed generous exit packages after misconduct claims. Now, employment contracts make it clearer that harassment is cause for termination without pay. CBS Corp withheld $120 million in severance following allegations of CEO Les Moonves’ sexual misconduct.
“#MeToo is so far the most successful effort to change the ground rules,” said Louise Fitzgerald, an emeritus professor of psychology and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Not all the changes have been positive. Some men on Wall Street, and elsewhere, have decided it’s better to avoid women completely. This could lead to fewer opportunities for women in fields in which they’re already under-represented and under-mentored. In surveys, female employees say they don’t think their own workplaces have changed since #MeToo, and many say they still fear retaliation for reporting harassment. Some of the most prominent accused are making professional comebacks.
Indeed, some organisations have made moves more self-protective than introspective. The Weinstein clause has become a fixture of merger agreements on Wall Street. If an accusation of harassment surfaces after purchase, the buyer can recoup some of the costs, the clause says.
Companies can also purchase disgrace insurance to limit damages from incidents like the kind that cost Imperative Entertainment $US10 million ($15.1 million) in 2017 after Kevin Spacey became embroiled in a sex scandal. The production company had to pay to reshoot All the Money in the World with a new lead actor. SpottedRisk, a Boston-based insurer, now offers policies for such events marketed at movie studios, brand advertisers, sports leagues and music labels – with limits starting at $US10 million.
A conviction, if anything, confirms the need for these changes and more.
“Here is the biggest #MeToo offender of them all, and he is going to spend possibly the rest of his life in prison,” said Stuart P. Green, a criminal law professor who studies sexual misconduct. That “couldn’t help but have the effect of confirming some of the validity of the #MeToo movement”.