#MeToo and the Business Case for Diversity

29 Nov 2018 10:56 AM | Deleted user

By Melissa Walker, Asst. Attorney General, NC Department of Justice

I carefully plan my work day in hopes of not having to be alone in the office after hours or when most people aren’t working. I call my spouse/parent/roommate before I leave my building and walk to the parking deck so someone knows where I am and what I am doing. I walk to the car with my keys out and ready so I don’t have to spend time looking for them and not paying attention to my surroundings. Usually, I have the metal piece of the key between my first two fingers so I can use it as a weapon if I were attacked. Before I get in my car, I look in the back seat to make sure no one is in my car. 

I don’t schedule repair people to come to the house when I am home alone. I don’t answer the door when I am home alone.  I don’t tell callers I am home alone. 

I don’t wear headphones when I go running. I tell my spouse/parent/roommate my intended path before I leave the house. If I deviate at all, I let someone know where I am. 

These things may sound like standard safety tips or maybe the practices of a hyper-paranoid individual. In fact, I would venture to say, they are more likely the standard practices of half our population – practices that are done routinely without much further thought. I would also bet these are practices that would never even cross the minds of the other half of our population.  Go ahead.  Ask your spouse or significant other. What precautions do they take, or are these types of safety precautions not even on their radar? 

#MeToo is a viral hashtag that began in October 2017, following the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. The #MeToo Movement was popularized by several high profile American celebrities and intended to highlight the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment, especially in the workplace. Although the hashtag went viral in 2017, the roots of the Movement go back as early as 2006, when Tarana Burke began using the phrase to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault in society.  Recently, the impact of the Movement was returned to the media spotlight with the sexual assault claims and courageous testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during the confirmation hearings of then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.    

So, beyond becoming a more educated, well-rounded individual, why is this relevant to you, your practice of law, and the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys (NCADA)?  The short answer:  diversity and the business case for diversity.  The Diversity Committee of NCADA strives to highlight topics that are relevant to your practice, but also topics that contribute to the enrichment of our profession as a whole.  Last year, the Diversity Committee presented topics focusing on race relations.  This year, we are highlighting topics addressing gender differentials.  The Committee selected both of these topics in furtherance of the business case for diversity. 

A recent online survey suggests that 81% of women and 43% of men have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime.  A 2017 Survey Report found at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) represents that one in three women and one in six men have experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.  A 2010 Summary Report found at the CDC represents that one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives, while a 2001 Violence in the Workplace study shows that eight percent of rapes occur while the victim is at work. 

Think of ten women in your workplace. Statistically speaking, eight of those ten women have experienced some form of sexual harassment and two of those women have been raped. The statistics are staggering; but again, why is this relevant here?

Research shows that the disparate impact of sexual assault and sexual harassment on women in the profession forces women out of jobs and affects their career attainment.  Not only does the employer lose out on a qualified, diverse employee and their investment in that employee’s training and skills, but employers also face an increased turnover rate and a potentially hostile work environment from harassment claims that can lead to absenteeism, decreased morale, animosity, stress, and low productivity among staff. 

Expensive lawsuits can result when companies fail to adequately prevent sexual harassment or when a company fails to properly handle a sexual harassment claim.  In the past several years, jury awards in sexual harassment claims have been significant.  In one claim, filed by the EEOC involving a rape and sexual harassment allegation against three male supervisors, the jury awarded the plaintiffs $17.4 million dollars.  In another case against a global CEO from New York, a jury awarded a former employee $18 million dollars for retaliation, after the CEO’s unwanted sexual advances were refused. 

Ultimately, the impact of sexual harassment and sexual assault affect a business’s bottom line, as illustrated by the business case for diversity.  Today’s clients demand a diverse workforce; yet, many employers struggle with the recruitment and retention of qualified, diverse applicants.  The impact of sexual assault and harassment on a diverse workforce remains one of many factors in this continual struggle. 

As the Diversity Committee continues to develop and explore this topic at upcoming CLEs, events, and publications in 2019, we hope you will engage with us as we endeavor to create a more diverse and enriched profession. 

Specific questions on these topics?  Ideas for future topics?  Please let us know!

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