#MeToo Movement: Has It Helped or Harmed Women in the Workplace?

diverse group of women in smart casual attire standing in front of a gray wall in support of the #meetoo movement in the workplace
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Overview

Women have always suffered from bullying in the workplace. At times, they find themselves dealing with the same sort of standard, run-of-the-mill bad behavior that anyone may deal with. If that wasn’t bad enough, women must often deal with workplace complications that the majority of men never will: sexual harassment.   

Though this dynamic has existed ever since women first entered the American workforce, the time has come that they’re willing to endure such indignities no longer.

Enter the #MeToo movement in the workplace.

A Brief History of the #MeToo Movement

Though it’s a relatively young movement, #MeToo has already built a momentum that has led to major changes. The movement is named for the moment when women hear one another’s stories and recognize their own experiences reflected in them, prompting them to say, “Me too!” 

How the #MeToo Movement Started

Though it only recently became a household name, the #MeToo movement has actually been around for over a decade.

When activist Tarana Burke started the Me Too campaign more than 10 years ago, her goal was “to spread a message for survivors: You’re heard, you’re understood.” When actress Alyssa Milano helped kick off the current phase of the movement two years ago, she wanted to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” (Vox)

Through it all, the movement’s basic goal has been to raise awareness about the prevalence and deeply negative effects of sexual violence, particularly toward women.

Naturally, the #MeToo movement has impacted the American workplace. Anyone can suffer from sexual intimidation, but the sort of abuse, coercion, bullying, and workplace harassment these issues lead to are unique to women.  

Why #MeToo Matters in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace is alarmingly prevalent: 19% of all American adults said they have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.

However, when we break down the statistics by gender, we find a trend. 

  • Among men, the figure is 10%
  • Among women, it is 27%

Women suffer more than men from a hostile work environment related to sexual harassment; but along with women, transgender people and Indigenous people are at an increased risk for sexual violence. 

The #MeToo movement in the workplace matters because victims of bullying, harassment, sexual assault, and rape have historically been reluctant to speak up about their experiences. Shame, fear of retaliation, worry about being branded as a “troublemaker,” and the ongoing negative effects of PTSD are factors that have led many who have been hurt in this way to keep silent, meaning the crimes against them may go unreported

Recent polls demonstrate, however, that as a direct result of the movement’s activism on behalf of victims, workplace conversations around these issues are beginning to change — and so are actual policies. 

Has the Movement Worked?

All in all, the majority of the American workforce views the #MeToo movement favorably, seeing the direct need for this sort of activism. Employees are reporting that their places of employment have formed new training on harassment in the workplace, instituted new policies about harassment, or introduced new training on workplace diversity in the last two years.

 
group of friends standing in a circle and holding each other's hands in solidarity of the #meetoo movement in the workplace

Such changes will take time to show their cumulative effects, but statistics recently compiled by the Harvard Business Review are already hinting that things have already begun to move in a more positive direction

  • Between 2016 and 2018, the percentage of women reporting being sexually coerced at work dropped from 25% to 16%
  • Unwanted sexual attention declined from 66% to 25%
  • Women at work are experiencing increased self-esteem
  • Women at work are experiencing decreased self-doubt

These are extremely positive developments. Everyone benefits from a safer work environment. Women are much safer and more secure at work, meaning they’re able to focus even more of their attention on doing the jobs they love. 

Additionally, a growing awareness of the far-reaching nature of the problem has led women who suffered from sexual harassment in the past to feel more confident and experience increased levels of self-esteem despite their ongoing trauma. In other words, knowing how many other women experience sexual harassment lowered the negative effects on their self-doubt and self-esteem. 

As the statistics indicate, however, things are still far from perfect. Despite the strides made as a direct result of the #MeToo movement, workplace harassment, coercion, and bullying still take place. Not only have the problems not been completely eradicated, but the movement has also witnessed some negative effects in the forms of unintended consequences and backlash.

For all the strides the #MeToo movement has made on behalf of women in the workplace, there have turned out to be some unintended negative outcomes:  

  • 19% of men said they were reluctant to hire attractive women
  • 22% of men and 44% of women now predict that men will exclude women from social interactions 
  • 27% of men said they avoided one-on-one meetings with female colleagues
  • 56% of women said they expected that men would continue to harass but would take more precautions against getting caught
  • 58% of men predicted that men would have greater fears of being unfairly accused

While it’s still a bit too soon to know what the long-term impact of the overall movement will be, it’s clear that #MeToo has resulted in some definite positive changes for women in the workplace. The fact that fewer women are being sexually harassed in the workplace is a huge win, and women reporting less unwanted sexual attention and increased levels of self-esteem are facts to be celebrated. However, the long list of unintended negative outcomes is worrying.   

It’s our opinion that, overall, the #MeToo movement has helped women in the workplace. The backlash, though concerning, could very well be temporary. As corporations, employers, and employees work through the long but necessary process of deconstructing timeless traditions surrounding workplace interactions among genders and remolding them in more healthy and constructive ways, we’re confident things will find their center over time. 

If we all work together and keep pressing toward improvement, positive change can happen.  

Looking for a workplace in which you can thrive as a woman? Visit Lensa’s job search platform and upload your resume.

Lensa Insights

Lensa Insights

Work is changing faster than an angry retrovirus. For jobseekers, that means one thing: adapt or die! Lensa Insights is your survival guide, offering actionable career tips to keep your future in focus.

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