In recent weeks, workplace harassment has been brought out of the shadows and into the spotlight. The ongoing #MeToo campaign has confirmed that this problem has existed for a long time and is more pervasive than many realized.
It is worth asking “why” -- why did it go on the way it did for so long, and what can be done to ensure things are better in the future than they were in the past?
For me the discussion of male domination of company culture and gender norms miss the point. Regardless of why some people might behave this way, why were they able to do this for so long without being reported or stopped? Why were the rules and regulations already in place to prevent this behavior not enforced?
It is because in almost every case the burden of reporting falls on the victim. While in civic life this is arguably still a necessity, in the modern workplace it is not.
I have a friend who called me years ago asking what to do about a male superior who regularly acted inappropriately toward her and her female colleagues at work. She asked me what she should do. I said, simply:
- Report him to the head of HR, the CEO, the board, anyone and everyone.
- If that doesn’t work, leave. Find a new job, go somewhere else.
At first she did neither, caught between an expectation of apathy and a fear of retaliation from management, and the infraction wasn’t grave enough to make going through the hassle of finding another job worth it. I didn’t agree with the decision, but I could understand it. She was aggressed unfairly by this individual, and to have to go and put it through the ranks and subsequently don a scarlet letter would compound the aggression rather than alleviate it.
In other words, victims today are being forced to inflict further hardship on themselves in order to right these wrongs.
The relevant question here isn’t whether my friend made the right calculation, but why she had to make this calculation at all. Why is there not a third party who could accomplish this for her internally, alleviating her risk while advancing the company’s cause? (For, in the case of unreported infractions, especially egregious ones, the company - whether it’s NBC, CBS, Vice, etc - ultimately loses too.) In this example, my friend ultimately left that company for a competitor, where she is now a valued contributor.
With the rise of artificial intelligence, there is not only a third party who can accomplish this, but there is a *digital* third party that can sniff these issues out in the background, and report them when found. It sounded futuristic to me when Evan first described it to me several years ago, and it still sounds futuristic when I describe it to our current and prospective clients.
But, to be clear, the future is here, and we can use it to fix this problem.