At a seminar in California in March, self-help tycoon Tony Robbins argued that efforts to challenge sexual harassment would only end up punishing women. He offered an anecdote about a “very famous man, a very powerful man” who passed over a female job candidate despite her superior qualifications because her attractiveness made her “too big a risk.” Robbins cautioned, “a dozen men” had told him the same story. After a video compilation of his remarks posted by NowThisNews went viral, he apologized, admitting, “It is clear that I still have much to learn.”
The fear that #MeToo will provoke a female hiring freeze has been echoed by a flurry of news headlines and commentary by celebrities from filmmaker Steven Soderbergh to Sheryl Sandberg.
But Robbins is not alone. The fear that #MeToo will provoke a female hiring freeze has been echoed by a flurry of news headlines and commentary by celebrities from filmmaker Steven Soderbergh to prominent women like Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski.
Some women, especially younger ones, are getting nervous. A recent poll by Vox and Morning Consult shows that roughly a third of women under 35 are “very concerned” that #MeToo will cause women to be denied professional opportunities by men who don’t want to work with them.
Are these fears justified? It’s not hard to imagine that there are men who will still make hiring decisions based on their gender biases and sexual appetites. That’s an ugly reality. But will such individuals drive women out of the workplace and keep them from moving up?
Fortunately, there is already plenty of proof that the #MeToo movement will end up being good for female jobseekers.
Indeed, new evidence indicates that women — particularly female leaders — may be in more demand than ever before. In February, the Boston recruiting marketplace Scout Exchange released a survey of more than 1,300 head hunters across America that demonstrated improvements in gender parity in the workplace. It turns out 80 percent of recruiters witnessed an uptick in requests for female executives over the previous 12 months.
Scout Exchange also found that since October, right around the time that the #MeToo movement caught fire, there has been a 41 percent increase in cases where women beat out men for executive-level jobs.
So much for the female hiring freeze.
In a 2017 report, Calvert Research and Management, which tracks diversity among Standard Poors 100 companies, notes an “upward trend” since 2010 in programs to foster diversity in hire and attract women and minorities. Popular magazines like Forbes are paying attention, highlighting companies that perform well in this area, like Merck and Citigroup, as well as those that fail, such as eBay and Berkshire Hathaway.
Failure is costly: After a spate of articles revealing the company’s sexist culture and a revolt by female employees, Nike is scrambling to save its damaged image by promising to hire and promote more women.
Men who try to avoid problems at work by shunning women are clearly in need of an update on the law. Obviously it’s not lawful to grab a woman’s breast at the office. But refusing to take a meeting with a female colleague because she is a woman also violates federal gender discrimination statutes.
No company is immune. Even the venerable investment bank Goldman Sachs is now on the defensive with news that more than 2,000 female employees are moving ahead with a gender bias class action lawsuit against the company for its alleged sexist culture and failure to advance women.
Experienced and smart executives know that failing to hire women hurts the bottom line. The International Monetary Fund (which happens to be led by a woman, Christine Lagarde) looked at gender diversity at 2 million companies in Europe in 2016 and found that those with women in senior positions made more money. Other studies have found that employees where women lead tend to be more innovative. Joe Carella, assistant dean at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, reports to CNBC that firms with women in top management produce more “innovation intensity,” judged by measures like an increase in patents by over 20 percent.
A company’s customers can vote with their wallets if a company discriminates against women — and investors can, too. The 30% Club, a group of business leaders that started in Great Britain and has expanded globally, is pushing for women to make up at least 30 percent of senior management and boards at top public companies. The group has gained public backing from 27 global investors including Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, the world’s largest pension fund, JPMorgan Asset Management, Standard Life and BlackRock.
Even the most male-dominated industries, like technology, are actively working to overcome biases and put more women in the workforce. And it’s not just about white-collar executives. In the auto industry, car dealers are making an effort to bring on more women. In Winston-Salem, N.C., the police department is looking to attract female candidates.
Warnings that females will be shut out of employment if they seek justice carry an undercurrent of misogyny, as if to remind working women that they are primarily sexual objects and that making noise about unfairness is not their place. The truth is that in every struggle for civil rights and fairness in the workplace, whether racial equality or higher pay, workers have gotten change by demanding it, not by being quiet.
Lynn Stuart Parramore is a cultural theorist who studies the intersection between culture and economics. Her work has appeared at Reuters, Quartz, Lapham’s Quarterly, Salon, VICE, Huffington Post and others.