Another way to frame the question in the post title is: “Will the wave of unfounded sexual harassment accusations made by social justice warriors cause a backlash?”
These are interesting times for Google. Last week, The New York Times spilled the beans about a $90 million “exit package” Android creator Andy Rubin was purportedly paid to leave quietly after a sexual harassment allegation in 2014. Then came the news that Google has fired 48 other people over the past couple of years, including 13 managers, for the same reason (but sans exit packages).
Of course, it’s not just Google. In the 12 months since the ouster of Harvey Weinstein brought awareness of the anti-sexual-harassment movement MeToo into sharp focus, hundreds of other U.S. executives—some famous, many less so—have gotten the boot. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that allegations of misconduct rose 12%, the first increase in five years. The EEOC’s lawyers filed 41 separate sexual harassment suits, a jump of more than 50% from 2017. Between litigation and other proceedings, the agency required a total of nearly $70 million to be paid to plaintiffs, up 22% from the year before. And none of that even begins to count what’s happening at the state level, or what employers are paying in private settlements behind closed doors.
It’s a long way from over, and all the possible ripple effects aren’t yet clear. For now, some observers wonder what impact #MeToo might have on the gains that women have struggled to make in business. “What worries me is that we’re starting to see a backlash,” says Michelle Lee Flores. “Unfortunately, it’s based on misinformation.”
Knowing almost nothing about the real reasons someone was fired may not, alas, stop some people from deciding that the way to stay “safe” is to avoid working alongside women. Or traveling with them. Or sending them out on plum assignments. Or promoting them. Is this starting to sound way too familiar from decades ago? What year are we in again? “It might sound extreme,” Flores notes. “But I’ve heard male executives express a real concern that having female colleagues ‘could come back to bite me’.”
New research from the Society for Human Resource Management suggests she has a point. In a survey of 18,000 U.S. employees, at all levels across 15 industries, about one-third (32%) of executives say they’ve “changed their behavior” in the past year because of a greater awareness of the hazards of sexual misconduct at work, including risks to morale (23%) and employee engagement (also 23%). Only 21% said harassment “has never been an issue” in their companies.
Some of the steps managers told SHRM they’ve taken: Male mentors can no longer be assigned to women less senior then themselves. Working in the office after hours is no longer allowed “for groups of fewer than three employees, and must include a manager.” No touching ever, and “asking permission to enter a 3-foot space, and NEVER [caps theirs] closer than 3 feet.” One manager told SHRM he’s “scared to say anything” to or about women, ever.