Harvey Weinstein and Sexual Harassment At Work
10 October 2017
As a cinema obsessive, the unfolding Harvey Weinstein scandal has made for some very uncomfortable reading. The man; the myth; the mogul has been at the heart of several Oscar contenders and much-beloved favourites over the years. He has long had the ability to make and break careers. He’s also reputed to have been a rampant sex pest.
You would be wrong to think that sexual harassment in the workplace had come a long way since the 1950s stereotype of spanking the secretary on your way past. Weinstein’s alleged appetite for female attention has been reported in the news as something of an “open secret”. It was a case of “You shouldn’t really be alone with him but, don’t worry, because that’s just Harvey.” One can easily draw comparison with the various BBC scandals wherein the inappropriate behaviour of male staff was simply dismissed owing to their celebrity stature.
Weinstein has been dramatically sacked from his meteoric position within The Weinstein Company whilst the allegations against him are investigated fully. Various big names in the acting world – including Meryl Streep, who has starred in several Weinstein backed pictures – have now come out to condemn their former ‘employer’.
The accusations against Weinstein stem from a number of sources – from actresses to script editors to office temps – but, sadly, follow a similar pattern of an abuse of power and vulnerable women who felt they had no escape. Let’s be clear, sexual harassment in any workplace doesn’t only refer to inappropriate bodily contact. It also takes into account lewd remarks, sustained requests for ‘dates’ and any form of comment (verbal or written) or action that makes a person uncomfortable.
But where could the women of Hollywood report to? It’s not like there’s a giant HR department for those involved in making movies – can you imagine the queue if there was? Besides, none of these women were taken seriously when they made their initial allegations. Things were brushed aside; careers and reputations were damaged.
A few years ago, before I joined HR Consultancy, I was in a situation wherein an older, male colleague thought it was okay to send me rude and suggestible messages through our work messenger function. In a panic, I shut the conversation down and deleted it all. I felt ashamed. Months later, I told my boss about it. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? Did you think I wouldn’t believe you?” was his response. I was utterly relieved, but his comments stirred me. I probably did think I wouldn’t be believed or that it wasn’t good for business to get one of the ‘higher ups’ into trouble.
The message that comes from the Weinstein allegations is that victims of inappropriate conduct in the workplace shouldn’t have to put up with it because “that’s the way someone is.” Wrong is wrong, no matter how you look at it. Whilst it might seem daunting – especially if the behaviour is coming from someone in a position of authority – the best way to stamp it out is to speak up; repeatedly, if you have to.
I do believe, now, that workplaces are much better equipped to deal with any such allegations and there are procedures in place, not only to protect those who have been a victim but to prevent such behaviour from being allowed to happen in the future.
Whilst I’m sure that Weinstein will engage a legal team worth millions, there is no sum of money that will repair what’s left of his reputation. Hollywood may have its demons, but it’s getting better at casting them out.
Written By Mary Palmer