People shouldn’t have to be told to treat others with dignity and respect. They shouldn’t have to be told that inappropriate conduct will not be tolerated. A generic anti-harassment policy on its own is little more than an acting script, rehearsed words put to paper.
Those who habitually commit sexual harassment, bullying, and/or assault aren’t going to suddenly stop that behavior just because a new anti-harassment policy and training has suddenly been rolled out. In the same vein, employees aren’t going to suddenly feel emboldened to report concerns internally if a company’s senior leadership has questionable morals and the culture is toxic to its core.
Amid widespread (and still developing) allegations of sexual harassment that have rocked Hollywood, with lessons applicable to every company, it’s easy in hindsight to know what to do: apologize and then promote a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment.
We already saw a headline-grabbing example of this in 2014, when American Apparel ousted its founder and CEO Dov Charney after years of alleged misconduct came to a head. Around that time, the company released a new code of conduct, expanding upon its prohibitions on sexual harassment.
Fast forward four years later, and we’re now seeing the first meaningful sign of systemic changes being made in the fashion, entertainment, and media industries. In January, for example, global media company Condé Nast International—whose high-profile magazines include Vogue, GQ, Glamour, and Vanity Fair—debuted its new code of conduct addressing sexual harassment and the treatment of models.
Change certainly won't happen overnight, and not all cases will be black and white, but you can be sure that this is just the start of many aftershocks in what promises to be a seismic shift in a public discussion about sexual misconduct in the workplace.
The code provides examples of unacceptable conduct, including “sexual advances or propositions; any type of sexual activity or contact; or any suggestion, direct or implied, that submission to or rejection of sexual advances will affect an individual’s ability to perform services for the shoot or any other Condé Nast project.” It is not made clear in the code whether employees have an anonymous outlet to report concerns, which could serve as a deterrent.
But, commendably, several other organizations in the entertainment industry have rolled out new policies in recent weeks that give individuals the option of independent reporting channels. These organizations include the Producers Guild of America; Sundance Film Festival; the Directors Guild of America; the Writers Guild of America West; and SAG-AFTRA (the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists).
In any industry, having policies and procedures that address sexual harassment is a good start—but that’s all it is. A start. More telling will be the actions behind each code of conduct that is sure to be revisited and revised in the weeks and months to come:
What personal involvement do senior executives have in fostering a culture of respect?
Do employees have the option to report concerns anonymously and/or outside the company?
Are investigations conducted following an incident or complaint of sexual harassment, or are they swept under the rug?
How are anti-harassment policies and procedures monitored and enforced?
What are the consequences for those found to be irrefutably guilty of sexual misconduct—and how and under what circumstances does a company draw that line?
Companies have a lot to learn from the mistakes of Hollywood, and vice versa, on how to better support victims and work to eradicate harassment in the workplace—while also taking care that the accused equally receive fair treatment and due process.
Change certainly won’t happen overnight, and not all cases will be black and white, but you can be sure that this is just the start of many aftershocks in what promises to be a seismic shift in a public discussion about sexual misconduct in the workplace.