DANIELS: CEOs must take lead in sex harassment policies

January 19, 2018

I have never warmed to protest movements or causes with cute names or, for that matter, anything with a hash tag preceding it.

However, it has been both fascinating and gratifying to see the #Me Too movement, and, more recently, the Time’s Up initiative, developing and gaining steam.

For far too long, workplaces dominated by powerful men—from Hollywood to health care, from C-suites to Congress, from the Justice Department to the judiciary—have failed to protect women from sexual harassment. The #Me Too movement, which now reaches many countries throughout the world, is giving women the strength and courage to say, “Enough.”

Oprah Winfrey’s clarion call at the Golden Globes ceremony this month had the entire audience on its feet. But the real profile in courage is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell vocally opposed the election of Judge Roy Moore to the U.S. Senate despite knowing the election of Moore’s Democratic opponent would endanger the Republican legislative agenda in a critical year for Republicans. I was disappointed that the senator did not receive more public credit for that act of nobility.

Every day, more women are gaining the courage to stand up, and more men are willing to stand up and say, “I believe the women.” This portends the development of a new respect for the right of women (and men) not to be abused by powerful men (and women). But we have a long way to go.

I believe most workplaces do not want to see their workers victimized, but they do not have the tools in place that will make powerful offenders accountable. Think about the young single mother who is totally dependent on her job to feed and shelter her children. Does she dare speak out about a superior who makes sexual advances?

There are a number of steps employers can take to protect their employees. The most important is to walk the talk.

Having policies against harassment is useless without a commitment to enforcing those policies, and protecting employees who speak up from retaliation. A corporate CEO has to be willing to sacrifice a major producer, if it turns out the producer is also a seducer.

But in the elation we feel that those who have been abused are finally getting the attention and help they deserve, we have given short shrift to some accompanying aspects. We must be careful not to let the pendulum swing so far in the other direction that we become guilty of an inquisitorial mentality that denies any measure of due process to the accused.

This is the other side of the coin that causes blind partisanship or admiration for a person’s professional accomplishments to lead to a refusal to believe—or a willingness to ignore—credible and corroborated accounts of sexual misconduct.

We also need to help victims learn how to protect themselves and how to respond when sexually harassed. Some reject as victim shaming any attempt to teach young women that men can think they’ve received signals women do not intend to send. As a former sex crimes prosecutor, I abhor “blaming the victim,” which is a real problem. But I also believe women should be armed with knowledge that will help them protect themselves. Most of us learned these lessons the hard way over the years; we should help others with the benefit of our experience.

It’s an encouraging and uplifting time in our country’s history. Let’s make the most of this golden opportunity for positive change.•

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Daniels, managing partner of Krieg DeVault LLP, is a former U.S. attorney, assistant U.S. attorney general, and president of the Sagamore Institute. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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