Here's one big thing corporate America can do to lead on #MeToo
Gretchen Carlson is a journalist, female empowerment advocate and best-selling author of the book "Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back," now available in paperback.
Tony West is Uber's Chief Legal Officer.
Much has changed since #MeToo broke through one year ago.
Reporting of sexual harassment and assault is on the rise, a support system for survivors has sprung up globally, and difficult topics that were long avoided are now dominating the national conversation.
But one thing hasn't changed enough: policy. And regardless of who is on the Supreme Court or where federal legislation stands, corporations can drive lasting policy change themselves.
We have a suggestion to do just that: end mandatory arbitration, which requires people waive their right to a jury trial, in individual claims of sexual assault and harassment. While Microsoft, Uber, and Lyft each halted this practice, it is still the corporate norm, with few signs of going away. According to the Economic Policy Institute, more than half of American workers remain bound by such policies.
Corporations have the power to lead #MeToo from a cultural shift to a future free of assault and harassment.
Here are three reasons why every business should act now:
1. Confronting these issues head on is the only way to prevent them.
Even talking about sexual assault and harassment can feel risky from a corporate standpoint. No organization wants to be associated with these deeply uncomfortable, heartbreaking issues, which can increase legal costs and harm reputations. That's why mandatory arbitration agreements for individual claims of sexual assault and harassment have not just survived but thrived across Corporate America.
Yet the biggest risk of all is just how pervasive sexual violence has become. As the last year has exposed, no industry is spared: from entertainment to tech, from politics to the news media, from hospitality to nonprofit. In fact, 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men report experiencing some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime.
A problem this big requires everyone to be part of the solution. We already know how mandatory arbitration and non-disclosure requirements have enabled many offenders to quietly continue their abuses. Putting an end to this practice in the name of doing your part to end sexual violence is a risk worth taking.
2. Changing this policy is the mark of a socially responsible company.
Every company has a responsibility to nurture a work environment that promotes the safety and well-being of their employees and customers. But compelling arbitration for individual claims of sexual assault and harassment can do the opposite, instead promoting a culture of secrecy that protects perpetrators over victims.
Through the eyes of a survivor of sexual violence, mandatory arbitration with forced confidentiality is especially unjustifiable. These crimes take control and agency away from victims in a unique, life-altering way. In the context of pursuing justice after such an event, taking yet another choice away can amount to a revictimization and additional loss of power.
Adjusting corporate policy to allow survivors to choose how they wish to pursue and resolve their case shows the world your business stands takes these issues seriously.
3. Prevention efforts must be matched by meaningful response efforts.
There is a clear business case for preventing this behavior in the first place. Not only are there direct financial costs associated with sexual harassment - including legal action - but unsafe environments impact the productivity, well-being, job satisfaction and retention of all employees.
However, ensuring your business supports victims in the aftermath of such an incident is just as critical as prevention. Following the trauma of harassment or assault, a survivor's experience with the company can last a lifetime. Providing an easy, safe way to report incidents, sharing access to resources, and ensuring survivors have choices in their pursuit of justice are measures that make all the difference.
In fact research has found that companies can significantly mitigate reputational risks when they take strong action. A recent study from the Harvard Business Review found that "when an organization is responsive (that is timely, informative, and considerate toward the victim) rather than minimizing (that is slow, dismissive, and discouraging toward the victim) when it comes to a claim, this can circumvent public backlash, almost to the same level as an organization that has had no sexual harassment claim at all."
Reforming Corporate America's approach to mandatory arbitration and confidentiality policies is key to stopping sexual harassment and assault. Every business can do its part. Together, we can make policies that support victims and prevent sexual violence the norm, instead of the exception.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.
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