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Despite #MeToo, it’s (mostly) business as usual

Woman facing many men

While #MeToo continues to raise awareness of sexual misconduct, there has been little change in the workplace and some unintended consequences, according to a study of 1,100 women and men by corporate training firm VitalSmarts.

Fewer than one-third of those surveyed say they have observed anything more than small changes in conduct, leaving the large majority of companies operating business as usual.

  • Only 19 percent of women and 23 percent of men agree, “My workplace has provided additional training.”
  • Less than one-fourth (23 percent) of women and 17 percent of men say, “I’ve seen tangible changes at work that increase my confidence the system will respond appropriately.”
  • Just 16 percent of women and 14 percent of men say, “My workplace has introduced new policies, procedures or systems that make it easier for people to speak up when they have concerns.”

Nearly three out of four people surveyed report the movement has inspired them to speak up in the future if they witness or experience harassment. But only 34 percent are willing to report the unwanted behavior when they experience it or see it.

Women, men and #MeToo

The online survey also looked at the differences #MeToo has had on men and women. Women believe sexual harassment and misconduct is prevalent and some are speaking out. Specifically, since #MeToo began, 28 percent have shared a personal experience of harassment or assault. 

However, nearly half of the women surveyed (48 percent) have experienced an incident of harassment they still haven’t shared. They attribute their silence to a few factors: It happened too long ago or at a different employer or bringing it up would be painful and take too much time and effort.

The same percentage of men report they’ve done something in the past that might be labeled as sexual harassment or misconduct today and 18 percent wish they could apologize for past behavior. Still, since #MeToo entered the national conversation, only 9 percent of men surveyed have actually spoken up and admitted to some kind of sexual misconduct.

Not everyone views the movement in a positive light. While the majority of respondents (63 percent) believe #MeToo to be a healthy movement, one in five feel #MeToo is unhealthy. Those who favor the movement believe the awareness it generates is making the workplace safer for victims and potential victims of sexual harassment.

Those who view it negatively, however, feel the workplace is less safe for the “potentially accused.” These respondents believe #MeToo has made mentoring or coaching members of the opposite sex less safe and discourages employees to admit past or present harm or express genuine romantic interest in the workplace.

“The survey found that 65 percent of men report feeling less psychologically safe to mentor or coach a member of the opposite sex,” said Candace Bertotti, senior master trainer at VitalSmarts. “This type of reaction limits equal opportunity in the workplace.”

VitalSmarts’ researchers point to four factors that have the greatest influence on employees’ behavior: A plan or precedent for speaking up; inspiration/motivation to speak up; confidence in the system; and workplace training.