High-profile sexual misconduct charges could have a negative effect on women’s hiring and advancement in the workplace, legal experts warn.
Catalina Avalos, a former sex crimes prosecutor and judge appointed by then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said there is “the potential for women to be pushed aside” in response to the wave of allegations against powerful Hollywood moguls, media figures and politicians.
“I think that the isolation is a realistic possibility, and I think we’re going to start seeing that,” said Ms. Avalos, a director at the Tripp Scott law firm. “Even if the men don’t want to, I think to some extent they’re going to feel some defense mechanism where they’re not going to want to have a one-on-one meeting with a female subordinate or even a female colleague. And you have to think about the kind of impact that that is going to have.”
Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg raised the alarm about a blowback to women’s hiring and advancement, citing a figure that as many as two-thirds of male executives are afraid to be alone with a female colleague, in part because for fear of being falsely accused of sexual harassment.
In a lengthy Facebook post on Sunday night, Ms. Sandberg said she already has heard “rumblings of a backlash.”
“The percentage of men who will be afraid to be alone with a female colleague has to be sky high right now,” Ms. Sandberg wrote. “Doing right by women in the workplace does not just mean treating them with respect. It also means not isolating or ignoring them — and making access equal.”
Melissa Raphan, partner and chair of the Labor and Employment group at Dorsey & Whitney, said there are steps corporations can take to create a workplace free from harassment and discrimination.
She said it’s likely that employers “will see an uptick in concerns being raised” and need to have policies in place to ensure employees feel comfortable raising concerns.
“Employers should come out with a statement which, at a minimum, reaffirms the company’s commitment and highlights a robust reporting process,” Ms. Raphan, who specializes in sexual harassment cases, said in a statement.
Rep. John Conyers, Michigan Democrat, announced his retirement Tuesday after at least two former staffers accused him of making unwanted sexual advances while they were working in his office.
He’s one of many powerful public figures to be brought down in the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who was fired from his company after more than a dozen women accused him of everything from rape to exposing himself in hotel rooms.
Ms. Avalos attributed the deluge of allegations to the “#MeToo” campaign, which she said has assured women that their complaints will not fall on deaf ears.
“Maybe women are feeling more emboldened or empowered or that there is an audience for their complaints,” she said, “where they’re not going to be shunned aside and actually victimized twice, and made out to look like the culprits in the interactions, as they have been made to look like in the past.”
The accusations show no signs of slowing down, Ms. Raphan said.
“No industry is immune and, as we have seen, no individual is untouchable,” she said. “Without a doubt the floodgates have been opened, and there is no end in sight.”