The past few months have seen a deluge of stories revealing that sexual harassment takes place everywhere, from Hollywood hotel rooms to factory floors. The stories shared by silence breakers have made it impossible to deny how prevalent sexual misconduct is, and how much damage it can do.
While the reckoning must continue, it’s time to move the conversation forward. We need to start talking about the changes that will make sure fewer people are victimized in the future; that fewer employers will feel comfortable covering up for high-profile offenders; and that perpetrators will face swifter and more serious consequences.
We asked 16 leaders what one change they would implement to stop sexual harassment in their fields, and their answers have lessons for all of us. But these suggestions are just a starting point: We want to know what you think would be most effective at stopping sexual harassment. Share your ideas through the form at the bottom of this page. —Alyssa Rosenberg and Christine Emba
Airlines: Sara Nelson | Television: Gretchen Carlson | Parenting: Joanna Goddard | Corporations: Debra Katz | Firefighting: Kishia Clemencia | Finance: Sallie Krawcheck | Domestic work: Ai-jen Poo | Congress: Jackie Speier | Clergy: Bethany Mandel | Military: Monica Medina | Hospitals: Jean Ross | Universities: Nancy Chi Cantalupo | Newsrooms: Jill Abramson | Jewish communities: Danya Ruttenberg | Churches: Boz Tchividjian | National security: Rosa Brooks
Flight Attendants, about 80 percent women, are ongoing victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Not that long ago, the industry marketed the objectification of “stewardesses,” a job only available to young, single, perfectly polished women who until 1993 were required to step on a weight scale. Our union was formed to give women a voice and to beat back discrimination and misogyny faced on the job.
We defined our careers at the bargaining table, in the courts and on Capitol Hill. We taught the country to leave the word “stewardess” in the history books. But the industry never disavowed the marketing schemes featuring short skirts, hot pants and ads that had young women saying things like “I’m Cheryl, fly me.”
Even today, we are called pet names, patted on the rear when a passenger wants our attention, cornered in the back galley and asked about our “hottest” layover, and subjected to incidents not fit for print. Like the rest of our society, flight attendants have never had reason to believe that reports of the sexual harassment we experience on the job would be taken seriously, rather than dismissed or retaliated against.
The most effective thing that could be done now is a series of public service announcements from airline chief executives. It would be powerful to hear these men clearly and forcefully denounce the past objectification of flight attendants, reinforce our safety role as aviation’s first responders and pledge zero tolerance of sexual harassment and sexual assault at the airlines. They need to back up their words with action: A survey of our members last year showed the majority of flight attendants have no knowledge of written guidance or training on this issue available through their airline. Increased staffing and clear policies are needed.
Credibility from the industry on this issue isn’t only about keeping only flight attendants safe. It is absurd to think that a group of people frequently harassed for decades can effectively become enforcers during emergencies without this level of clarity about the respect we deserve. Knowing that CEOs will back us up will also make it easier for flight attendants to intervene when passengers are sexually harassed or assaulted on planes. Flight attendants need to know the airlines will take this as seriously as any other safety duty we perform.
Sara Nelson is the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
Change the law. For a year I’ve worked with Congress to craft the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act, which gives victims the right to confront their harassers in court. A bipartisan group of senators and representatives is co-sponsoring this important legislation. It will make a huge difference in the lives of working women.
When my complaint against my former boss came out 17 months ago, I felt incredibly alone. I was wrong. Since I spoke up, thousands of women have courageously done the same. Every woman has a story, and we’re at a tipping point where real change is possible. It’s an empowerment revolution! But forced arbitration means no matter how many women speak up, the system is rigged against victims from the get-go.
Today, more than 60 million Americans have arbitration clauses in their employment contracts, eliminating their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. Arbitration clauses can be required as a condition of employment — and they’re a harasser’s best friend. Forced arbitration keeps proceedings secret and allows predators to stay in their jobs, even as victims are pushed out or fired. Forced arbitration also silences other victims, who might have stepped forward if they’d known.
These clauses are unjust and un-American, and the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act restores victims’ right to a jury trial. Under the act, victims can choose arbitration or court. This is the only way to ensure claims can be made public.
If we want to end workplace harassment, Congress must pass this law and get it to the president for signature. Sexual harassment is a bipartisan issue, because it impacts women from every walk of life. Trust me, harassers don’t ask your party affiliation before they pounce. And that’s why we should all care.
Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News host, is author of “Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back.”
I always want to smother my children with kisses and hugs. But it’s so important to teach consent from a young age. I tell my kids that they’re the boss of their bodies — it’s a clear, age-appropriate phrase (every kid understands the concept of boss!) and it makes them feel empowered. If my son doesn’t want to kiss Grandma, I’ll say, “You’re the boss of your body, it’s up to you.” If they’re playing with a friend who doesn’t want a hug, I’ll tell them, “She’s the boss of her body, and you need to stop.” I hope that by understanding consent at a young age, children will find it second nature to respect others’ bodies and minds throughout their lives.
Joanna Goddard blogs at A Cup of Jo.
Since October, when three decades of egregious sexual harassment by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein came to light, women have come forward in unprecedented numbers to expose sexual harassment and assault in their workplaces. Their graphic accounts have served as a powerful reminder that sexual harassment is not about sex. It is about abuse of power that doesn’t end when the harassment does.
Instead, it continues when companies give male executives and star performers a pass for harassing women, and protect them by paying out confidential settlements, gagging the accusers and “managing” them out of their jobs. In publicly traded companies, at least, there’s a good model for checking this behavior: Congress should apply the same standards for sexual misconduct that it does to violations of securities law.
After the Enron and WorldCom frauds devastated the retirement funds of numerous investors, Congress responded with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which has helped restore investor confidence through better corporate governance, stricter reporting and enhanced whistleblower protections for employees who report fraud. The law also requires corporate officers to sign certifications, under penalty of perjury, attesting to their companies’ compliance with securities laws and maintenance of internal controls that work to identify violations.
Existing federal laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Congressional Accountability Act, must be amended to require companies to file similar disclosures of the number of sexual harassment claims settled, the amounts paid and the corrective actions taken in response. Legislators, too, should have to attest annually to their offices’ compliance with sexual harassment laws and to disclose sexual harassment settlements (while shielding the identities of the victims). Changes like these could have uncovered the sexual harassment scandals at 21st Century Fox, which employed Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, or the congressional practice of paying out confidential settlements with public money, much more quickly.
The current system permits settlements to go unreported and sexual harassment to be concealed. There is no accountability or transparency and therefore no deterrence — which is poor public policy. The challenges for women in the workplace will not end here, but these simple requirements could go a long way toward making clear whether a workplace is safe for women.
Debra S. Katz is a civil rights lawyer who specializes in the representation of employees in sexual harassment matters.
In our agency, you have to lead by example. Discipline is important. When those in positions of authority are crude in conversation, it fosters an environment that makes it easy for misconduct to happen. Vulgarity in language, even if inappropriate touching never happens, trickles down throughout the organization. If people in a position to lead and make decisions constantly curse and joke about sex while playing down complaints about harassment, it sends the message that harassment is not a problem — and that everyone else should feel the same way. Loose conversation promotes a negative culture throughout the chain of command. It’s hard to change people’s morals or values individually, but the agency can set the precedent that that kind of language is not acceptable — from the top down.
The issue isn’t isolated to the men on our job. Women can be just as vulgar — in part, because they think that joining in coarse conversation is what it takes to be equal to men or to gain their respect. But there will always be a group of men who doubt women’s ability, and that isn’t the way to convince them. The way to gain respect is to know your job and perform it well consistently. Even if men don’t want you around, nine times out of 10 they’ll develop respect for you. Why? Because you’re being true to yourself and because you’re doing the work — maybe even better than they are. That’s the way to get buy-in, not by trying to be cruder versions of men.
Kishia Clemencia is a captain with D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services.
Sexual harassment thrives in male-dominated environments such as Wall Street. Diversity groups can help; inclusivity training can help; mentoring programs can help. But the ultimate solution to harassment is shifting the power dynamic between men and women in a company, and this is most effectively accomplished by increasing gender diversity at the top.
The real question is how to get there. The financial services industry has been settling sexual harassment cases for decades. Individual firms have spent years and tens of millions of court-mandated dollars to improve gender diversity — and both have failed completely. There are no female chief executives on Wall Street; traders are 90 percent men and financial advisers are 86 percent men.
Thus, the solution is for the companies’ boards of directors to mandate diversity targets: not as afterthoughts but as key business goals, just like they do with revenue targets, new-client goals and expense initiatives. In addition, these boards should commit to reviewing, and sharing publicly, gender pay comparisons for each level of the organizations. Managers should be compensated or penalized on each of these objectives, because if it’s not measured and it’s not part of compensation on Wall Street, it simply doesn’t happen.
Are these “quotas”? It seems we’re allergic to the term. But is it really too much to ask that an industry that brought the economy to its knees, was bailed out by our government and yet continues to exclude most of the population from its plum jobs get with the program? If these companies become more inclusive of gender and other types of diversity, the research indicates that risk will be reduced and performance improved. And that is good for all of us.
Sallie Krawcheck is chief executive and co-founder of Ellevest, an investing and planning firm for women. She is former CEO of Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.
With sexual harassment and assault revealed to be prevalent in public workplaces, imagine what is happening to workers who labor behind closed doors in homes around the country.
Domestic workers — those who care for our children as nannies, clean our homes and support the elderly to live at home as they age — are some of the most at-risk and invisible workers in the nation. Not only is their workplace the private home, but also they have faced a long history of exclusion from basic protections afforded workers in other industries. We need to rewrite our harassment and discrimination policies to include all working people, regardless of field or employment classification.
Some of our most progressive labor protections exclude domestic workers, by design or default. During the negotiations surrounding the New Deal, Southern members of Congress, in exchange for their support, insisted on the exclusion of farm workers and domestic workers from labor protections afforded others. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires a threshold number of employees for workers to be protected from discrimination and sexual harassment. Because they typically work in settings with only one employee, the vast majority of domestic workers are excluded.
We live in an age in which work itself is changing. As more people work as freelancers, independent contractors or in temporary, part-time settings, they are failed by our inadequate legal protections against discrimination and harassment. How many female Uber drivers have faced harassment from male passengers at night? How many housecleaners, the original gig workers, have been manhandled by the “man of the house”? “Non-traditional” work is becoming the norm, and more women are falling through the cracks of our written rules of conduct.
The rules of the new economy are being written at this very moment. We have a unique opportunity to write them in a way that ensures the future of work is safe for women — and while we’re at it, to address pay equity and value women’s work equally. Thanks to the courage of women from Anita Hill to Rose McGowan and all who have shared their #MeToo stories, we’re having a real conversation about working while female. It’s time to ensure that the future of work for all women is safe and dignified.
Ai-jen Poo is the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of Caring Across Generations.
For too long, too many members of Congress have had an inflated sense of power, whereby they think they can do whatever they want to anyone and no one will hold them accountable. How else can you explain a congressman grinding against a staff member on the House floor, while sticking his tongue in her ear, without any consequence? If some members are conducting themselves this way in the House chamber, I cannot imagine how they must act in private. And since I shared my own #MeTooCongress story, it’s become clear that I am not alone.
That’s why I introduced the bipartisan Member and Employee Training and Oversight on Congress Act, otherwise known as the Me Too Congress Act, which has more than 100 co-sponsors. I have heard from survivors that they have been personally, professionally and financially destroyed by the current opaque and abusive process. Meanwhile, taxpayers foot the bill for settlements and the harasser goes on his way, free to destroy more lives. This bill does three main things to rectify these wrongs.
To protect the vulnerable, this bill creates an in-house Victims’ Counsel to represent and advise complainants, just as the House is represented by in-house counsel. The bill also ensures that employees who are not paid by Congress — that is, interns and fellows — receive the same protections as paid employees.
To level the playing field, the counseling and mediation stages will be voluntary, not required, and no confidentiality agreements will be required to start the complaint process. Legislative employees will also have the same whistleblower protections as those given to the rest of the federal government.
This bill will also increase transparency for cases that end in taxpayer-funded settlements. For those cases, the name of the employing office and the amount of the award or settlement will be published on Office of Compliance’s public website. And members who have a substantiated finding against them will be personally responsible for reimbursing the treasury for settlement costs.
The #MeToo movement is about bringing to light a dark corner of our society, and I’m heartened by the outpouring of support from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I know Congress can be better than this, and the American people know Congress can be better than this. Now we must rise to their challenge.
Jackie Speier, a Democrat, represents California in the House.
In late 2014, the rabbi who oversaw my conversion to Orthodox Judaism, Barry Freundel of Georgetown, was infamously arrested on charges of voyeurism and eventually convicted of setting up secret cameras in the bathroom of the ritual bath. He was charged with 52 counts, but about 100 other victims’ videos fell outside of the statute of limitations. Mine was one of these.
I decided not to join a class-action lawsuit against the synagogue, mikvah and rabbinic governing bodies such as the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). Given how swiftly law enforcement was called, the synagogue and mikvah are, in my opinion, not liable for Freundel’s actions.
That doesn’t mean, however, that lawsuits aren’t a valuable tool for putting fire under the pants of those in power to take abuse seriously.
Did the Orthodox world learn its lesson from Freundel? Soon after that arrest, the Orthodox community offered Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt of the Riverdale Jewish Center in New York a juicy buyout even after the New York Times reported that he took naked trips to the sauna with boys. (He was not accused of touching their genitals or any other criminal conduct.) After the story ran, the RCA’s own Rabbi Yona Reiss appeared on a panel with Rosenblatt. The subject of their discussion? Responsibilities and boundaries. Talk about a mixed message.
There are several glaring similarities between the pre-scandal Catholic Church of the 1980s and the current Orthodox community. In his book on the clerical abuse crisis, “Mortal Sins,” Michael D’Antonio wrote that before the scandals, “the Vatican was focused not on controlling abusive priests, but on disciplining theological liberals.” Those who follow rabbinic politics know that one of the greatest concerns for those of the more right-wing RCA is reining in those among the more liberal Open Orthodox establishment.
Guila Benchimol, an academic expert on sexual abuse and victimization in the Jewish community, advises organizations on how to create protection policies to prevent abuse. She told me, “Jewish institutions who have been or are being sued, or anticipate a lawsuit from people who’ve been victimized by the institution’s employee or volunteer, are often the first to ask for assistance with assessments, policy creation and training.” That is, it’s often a lawsuit that prompts institutions to take seriously their policies around sexual abuse. Which is why, as uncomfortable and socially damaging as it may be to file a suit, that may be the best way to prevent future abuses.
Bethany Mandel is a columnist at the Forward and a senior contributor at the Federalist.
Despite the many actions taken to aid the victims of sexual assault in the military, there are still too few prosecutions and little real accountability. Though there’s not an easy fix, there is an easy step forward: The secretary of defense could direct the inspector general to investigate and recommend the proper disposition of particularly difficult sexual assault cases or command failures to address pervasive and persistent sexual misconduct issues.
The Defense Department inspector general has the experience to take on this responsibility. To deal more effectively with the problem of retaliation against sexual assault victims, the inspector general’s office is already charged with investigating all claims of professional retaliation related to sexual assault.
Getting the IG involved in retaliation complaints was the recommendation of a panel of judicial experts directed by Congress to come up with ways of dealing with this special category of whistleblower. As a result, the inspector general’s office has a cadre of investigators and managers schooled in sexual assault response training and investigations.
Giving the inspector general broader authority would take the most challenging cases away from the military chain of command, give victims a way to have their cases investigated more thoroughly and give the department a way to deal with high-ranking offenders who may have undue influence over the chain of command.
Monica Medina is an adjunct professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She served as senior adviser to then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from 2012 to 2013.
While the public exposure of sexual misconduct has been most pronounced in media, politics and entertainment, what’s less reported is its pervasive occurrence in predominantly female professions, especially those where women have less economic clout and face retaliation if they speak out.
Just ask nurses. About 90 percent of nurses are women. Moreover, many nurses work at odd hours, including nights and weekends, often in understaffed units, in isolation from colleagues who could be witnesses or backups.
To be able to safely advocate for themselves and their patients, and to be able to protest harassment and identify abusers, nurses need a protected and enforceable collective voice on the job.
That comes only through unionization with the legal force of contract law.
There are state and federal laws covering various forms of harassment and workplace safety. But without an enforceable mechanism that protects workers from retaliation for reporting dangerous workplace conditions, as in a union contract, those laws are repeatedly violated.
Nurses can be targeted not just by direct supervisors but also by doctors who are viewed as rainmakers by their hospital employers, who increasingly put their bottom lines ahead of the well-being of nurses and other staff. Management will commonly close ranks with the harasser — not with the target of the abuse.
Nurses who object to sexual misconduct can endure retribution, such as being reassigned to less desirable schedules or to clinical areas in which they have less expertise. Loss of livelihood is a particular threat to nurses who are their families’ sole sources of income.
In union contracts, including many won by National Nurses United, nurses have won the power to report and hold management responsible for a safe workplace environment and to improve staffing to ensure patients have safe care.
For nurses, as for all women, the real potency of #MeToo is directly tied to the collective action for our empowerment. By uniting under that umbrella of workplace democracy, nurses and female workers can build the security, protection and freedom they need and deserve.
Jean Ross is a registered nurse and co-president of National Nurses United.
We will never solve the problem of sexual harassment and violence until we understand and address such conduct as the civil and human rights violation that it is. We must recognize that only in a society where women and gender minorities are truly equal will it be unacceptable to sexually abuse them. On college campuses, the best way to achieve that is to resist the backlash against Title IX and to continue its vigorous enforcement.
Since women first entered campuses for work, class and social activities — really, from the inception of higher education itself — sexual harassment and sexual violence have been a major issue for colleges and universities. Recent conversations about this reality have been painful, but they are also a reminder that the movement to end these problems has made extraordinary progress.
That’s because women on campus have a unique tool available to them that is not necessarily accessible to other women coming forward to share their #MeToo stories: Title IX. This groundbreaking 1972 civil rights statute has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court as incorporating sexual harassment and violence as unequal treatment. The statute provides education officials with many, many strategies for achieving the truly equal cultures and attitudes that will eliminate sexual abuse.
Under Title IX’s banner, and with Vice President Biden’s particular support, from 2011 to 2016, survivors and their allies pressured schools to facilitate victim reporting of abuse, to use equal procedures for investigating harassment complaints, to offer educational programs targeting cultures supportive of sexual harassment and violence, and to debunk canards such as the claim that most campus sexual harassment is protected free speech.
We now know that vigorously following Title IX presents not only the most effective way to address sexual abuse in education but also an example for preventing all such harassment. We shouldn’t let the backlash to Title IX slow progress toward gender equality on campus, or short circuit this essential conversation in the wider world.
Nancy Chi Cantalupo is an assistant professor of law and author of “For the Title IX Civil Rights Movement: Congratulations & Cautions.”
Correction: This item originally stated that the 1972 Title IX anti-discrimination statute “identifies sexual harassment and violence as unequal treatment.” The statute does not cite sexual harassment and violence, but it has been interpreted to incorporate them.
Put more women in charge.
This may sound self-serving coming from the first female executive editor of the New York Times. But having more newsrooms run by women would be a major stride in curbing sexual misconduct in news. I know from my experience leading several newsrooms that women are more likely to confide mistreatment to a female boss, and female bosses are unlikely to look the other way.
During my 40 years in journalism, I had a female boss only once, at the very beginning of my career. At Time magazine in the 1970s, my bureau chief, Sandra Burton, looked out for me in many ways. When I went out on assignments involving powerful or famous men, she warned me to be on guard against what was then called “lechery,” before “sexual harassment” became a familiar term. She mostly laughed off the experiences she had had rising up the ladder in a male-dominated profession, but, looking back, there is nothing funny about them.
There are, of course, men who are terrific bosses and look out for the young women who work for them. When I was a young researcher at NBC News, my boss, Roy Wetzel, warned me away from a correspondent with a history of hitting on young women in the research pool. But in my experience, female bosses are more prone to take decisive action against harassers. At the Times and other places I worked in senior positions, there were situations where the men at higher levels wanted to look the other way in cases of sexual misconduct. I took it upon myself to confront the miscreants and to follow up with human resources.
By the end of my first year as executive editor of the Times, the newsroom masthead of the most senior editors was half women for the first time. But one of the most disheartening trends since I was fired in 2014 is seeing the number of top female editors stagnate. We’re back where we were 10 years ago.
Empowering more women will help change the culture and the prevalence of sexual misconduct.
Jill Abramson teaches at Harvard University and is co-author of “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas.”
The Torah teaches us not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbors. If our concern is to care for victims of sexual misconduct and to prevent new victims, we must create and expand the systems and structures that allow us to do so.
I would like to see the development of a new, independent organization entrusted by every Jewish denomination and major organization with the authority to help the Jewish community do better around issues of sexual misconduct. If enough major players in the Jewish system agreed to entrust this body with authority, others would look to it as well.
I imagine that this body would serve several functions: It would run trainings on sexual ethics, power dynamics and bystander intervention that would be mandatory at every rabbinic seminary, for new employees at every Jewish organization and as a periodic professional development refresher. This training would be a semester- or year-long course and would force participants to confront their deep-seated issues in the same way that clinical pastoral education does.
Incidents of sexual misconduct would also be reported to this body. Today, it’s not always clear to whom issues should be reported, and reporting can be particularly complex given the intricate tangle of relationships inside an organization. This third-party body would have clear procedures for reporting (including anonymous reporting), and every affiliated organization would agree to make information on reporting clearly available to constituents. This body would evaluate and investigate allegations fairly and, if warranted, bring recommendations for consequences, ranging from restorative justice to professional dismissal to involving legal authorities.
Lastly, this body would work with Jewish organizations to standardize and implement safe-conduct policies for working with congregants, campers, students and other constituents.
There are some organizations out there doing pieces of this work — Sacred Spaces most notably — that could be expanded to more comprehensively cover education and reporting as well as policy work. But as long as we leave it to each individual organization, denomination and community to fight sexual misconduct, we risk the work happening inconsistently and inexpertly, or allowing personal relationships, the impulse to protect “one of our own,” or concerns about public relations to impact the process.
Danya Ruttenberg is rabbi-in-residence at Avodah and author of “Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting.”
One of many critical steps that Christians must take to end the systemic abuses within our churches is to develop a safeguarding policy in every church and Christian organization.
Such a policy must identify the various types of abuse — such as sexual abuse and misconduct, child abuse, emotional abuse and spiritual abuse — and provide specific guidelines that minimize their occurrence.
In addition, every safeguarding policy must help create an environment that encourages abuse disclosures and provides a protocol for responding to them. That means defining response protocols to ensure that disclosures are addressed in a consistent manner regardless of the identity or influence of the alleged abuser.
Safeguarding policies would need not only to satisfy best-practices standards but also be developed by each individual church in collaboration with victim advocates and abuse prevention experts. Effective safeguards don’t come from cutting and pasting policies from other churches or organizations.
Keep in mind, though, that the most thorough and well-written policy is powerless unless it becomes part of the very DNA of the church community. This begins by making sure that every member has a copy of the policy and fully understands it through ongoing education and training by church leadership, in partnership with abuse prevention experts. It is also critical for the safeguarding policy to be reviewed on a yearly basis, for the purpose of making continuous improvements that will best protect all members. The effective safeguarding of members won’t become a central part of the church culture overnight. It will take time, a lot of hard work, and commitment from the entire church family. But it can be done: I’ve seen it!
One of the great challenges in confronting and addressing abuses within our churches is that abuse is not something that can be resolved exclusively through “policy” change. It requires a cultural transformation that can occur only when we see and understand these grave issues through the lens of Jesus.
Boz Tchividjian is executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) and co-author of “The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide for Churches and Ministries.”
It’s simple. Hire and promote more women into leadership positions. Specifically, aim to fill at least 30 percent of policy and security leadership positions with women. Research suggests that 30 percent is the magic number, the tipping point at which women stop being a beleaguered minority — tokens, unable to change organizational culture — and serve as effective change agents.
It’s time to stop making the old excuses, that “there just aren’t enough qualified women” and so on. There are now hundreds — thousands — of highly qualified women in the foreign policy and national security worlds. There are female admirals and generals. There are women who have earned military awards for valor and whose sacrifices have been recognized with Purple Hearts. There are women who have served as ambassadors and assistant secretaries and senior White House officials; women with high-level intelligence experience, women who have run major think tanks and women who are top-notch scholars. If we had to stock the entire federal government with spectacularly accomplished women, we’d have plenty to choose from. Want a female secretary of defense? I can suggest half a dozen supremely qualified candidates. A female CIA director? Ditto. Female military service chiefs? There’s an increasingly deep bench of women with stars on their shoulders.
When women reach critical mass in organizational leadership positions, things change. Women are less likely to create or tolerate a “locker room” atmosphere at work and more likely to notice and challenge sexism than male leaders. As a recent Harvard Business Review article noted, “Male-dominated management teams have been found to tolerate, sanction, or even expect sexualized treatment of workers.” Conversely, organizations with plenty of women in leadership positions tend to be organizations in which sexual harassment is less likely to occur.
Increasing gender diversity has other important benefits, too. Companies with more women on their boards outperform those with few or no women, reaping substantially higher returns on sales, equity and invested capital. A McKinsey study found that gender-diverse organizations outperformed those with less gender diversity. (Ethnic diversity increased performance still more.)
It’s not complicated. Want to reduce the incidence of sexual misconduct in foreign policy and national security workplaces, while simultaneously improving performance and the quality of decisions?
Just add women.
Rosa Brooks is author of “How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything” and former counselor to the undersecretary of defense for policy.