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Sexual Harrassment & Investigations. Why are the foxes still guarding the hen house?

March 21, 2016

Why are the foxes still guarding the henhouse?
A case for fundamental change and more women in the boardroom.

How else to reconcile the seemingly ubiquitous allegations of inertia, apathy or tepid response when complaints of sexual harassment are brought to the attention of those (typically male) in positions of authority? Sexual harassment complaints is an area where progress will be elusive until certain fundamental changes occur in the corporate world. Some may seem overly utopian and unattainable, but history has shown that the unexpected can happen if there is an awareness of the problem, a desire to alter a painful status quo and a reason to effect change.

AWARENESS: Here, education is the key. It is not just a question of realizing that there is a segment of the population who feel violated on some level. What is required is to create an awareness of the negative consequences of this form of behaviour. Of course, there is the personal pain, feeling of alienation and the suffering experienced by the victimized but there is also the demotivation and anger generated in those who are the victims. The resulting cost of failing to respond to complaints of sexual harassment is not only personal but financial as well. Those who feel alienated and victimized are less productive, absent themselves from work and are a drain on the company’s support programs. Simply put, they are a significant cost to the bottom line. This may seem to be a cynical basis for action. Many would prefer that changes should merely be the product of pure interest in doing the right thing. Unfortunately, the existence of a monetary motivation is paramount for change to occur. Sadly it is the fear of losing customers or market share that ultimately causes a response to these behaviours.

DESIRE FOR CHANGE: Whether the driving force is profit or altruism there must be a desire to effect change. More often than not it is the fear of financial loss which provides the impetus. Regardless of the rationale so long as the questionable behaviours or the perpetrators themselves are eliminated the desired result achieved. Though some may challenge this hypothesis, I believe that significant progress was made in the U.S. in the civil rights struggle, not due to purity of intention but due to the fear of the financial costs of civil unrest, boycotts and the benefit of a burgeoning African-American middle class. It is easier to profess to altruistic motives when you can avoid financial loss or experience financial gain. When women became an economic force, their power to effect change and influence policy increased exponentially. Sexual harassment is no less a motivating force for change. The threat that women might boycott companies or industries is a deterrent as well as a motivator.

REASON TO EFFECT CHANGE: The ultimate driving force for change is to maximize the opportunity for economic gain or the avoidance of loss. In a free market society, these are the forces which alter the status quo. Every social movement is at least partly, if not totally, driven by these factors. Therefore, nothing is likely to be achieved by moral suasion alone. A case in point is the Occupy Wall Street movement. The initial interest (or perhaps more appropriately concern) occurred as a result of the fear of financial loss. However, once it became clear that there was no leadership, direction or focus there was no more threat, and the movement fizzled out. However, the Montgomery civil rights boycott and the Cesar Chavez grape picker’s boycotts were successful. It is for this reason that I believe that institutions such as the military and the police will face a harder road to change because they are not driven by monetary considerations. Plus they are organizations which are male dominated with a male oriented ethos. I am not saying that change is impossible, but the task will be more difficult. As a result, we see a greater resistance there than in other segments of society.

The trend towards eradication of sexual harassment and the effectiveness of internal investigations will be in inverse proportion to the presence of testosterone in the decision-making corridors. Similarly, there will be greater progress in industries where the estrogen levels of the consumer or its presence in the boardroom are high.

The materials provided on this site are for information purposes only. These materials constitute general information relating to areas of employment law familiar to employment lawyer, Shelley Brian Brown. They do NOT constitute legal advice or other professional advice, and you may not rely on the contents of this website or blog as such.

For more information contact:
Marjorie Wallens
MJW Communications
Phone: 416-961-5924
Cell: 416-708-3783

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Shelley Brian Brown, LL.B., LL.M, Employment & Human Rights Lawyer


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