From the Editor’s Desk: Responding to #MeToo

By: | June 4, 2018 • 4 min read
David Shadovitz is editor of HRE. He is also co-chair of the HR Tech Conference and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. He can be reached at [email protected]

Roughly six months after Matt Lauer’s swift firing from his job as Today show anchor over allegations of sexual harassment, NBC Universal concluded its probe into the matter early last month.

In a memo to employees on May 9, NBC News Chief Andy Lack explained that the “goal of the NBCU investigation was to understand what happened, and as importantly, determine what steps we can take to build a culture of genuinely greater transparency, openness and respect for each other—where everyone feels safe and comfortable at all times.”

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“We cannot change the past,” he continued. “What we can do is learn from it and try to make it right.” (The investigation was led by NBCU General Counsel Kim Harris.)

So what did NBCU learn?

“We found no evidence indicating that any NBC News or Today show leadership, News HR or others in positions of authority in the News Division received any complaints about Lauer’s workplace behavior prior to Nov. 27, 2017 [the day the issue reportedly first surfaced],” the report said. “All four women who came forward confirmed that they did not tell their direct manager or anyone else in a position of authority about their sexual encounters with Lauer.”

I suspect NBC News’ leadership is no doubt breathing a sigh of relief, based on this finding. But the fact NBCU decided to conduct an internally led inquiry (with the assistance of two outside law firms) has caused at least a couple of observers to question its credibility. (It should be mentioned that NBCU Executive Vice President of Human Resources Pat Langer announced she would be retiring at the end of June, though NBCU has said her retirement had nothing to do with the investigation.)

In his memo, Lack outlined seven specific steps the organization is now (or will be) taking to transform its culture and ensure something similar doesn’t occur again, including the addition of new external and internal options for employees to raise concerns, more robust manager training, greater inclusion of manager behavior as part of the performance-management process, and mechanisms for tracking and measuring cultural change in the organization.

Even though none of these steps are anything close to groundbreaking—they seem to reflect what any knowledgeable employment attorney would advise his or her client to do—NBC News employees should take some comfort in knowing the company is making an effort to address the problem. Yet believe it or not, if we’re to accept the findings of a recent study conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychology Association, doing something more in the age of #MeToo appears to be somewhat novel.

In the APA study, Workplace Sexual Harassment: Are Employers Actually Responding?, just under one-third (32 percent) of the 1,512 American workers surveyed reported that their employer has done anything new to address sexual harassment in the workplace since the #MeToo movement gained recent momentum. Just 18 percent said their employer reminded them of existing sexual-harassment training or resources; only 10 percent said it added additional training or resources related to sexual harassment; and just 8 percent said it implemented a more stringent sexual-harassment policy.

Perhaps 12 months from now, these percentages will be higher. But at least for now, it’s hard to imagine why more employers aren’t viewing the resurgence of #MeToo as a much-needed opportunity to revisit what they’re doing and ensure they have the right policies and mechanisms in place to address this troubling issue in a meaningful way.

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Surely, they don’t need to be hit by a headline-grabbing complaint to feel compelled to take specific actions today?

As the APA findings suggest, the reasons to be more proactive are many and varied. Employees who worked for organizations that have increased their efforts in some way, for example, were in better psychological health and enjoyed higher job satisfaction than those whose organizations didn’t take any new steps (90 percent and 86 percent versus 79 percent and 60 percent, respectively). They were also, as you might expect, more likely to recommend their employer as a great place to work.

But I think no reason is more compelling—as others before me have suggested—than the fact that it’s simply the right thing to do.