#TimesUp: Harvey Weinstein Verdict Sends a Powerful Message About the Ongoing Need for Harassment Prevention

After months of media coverage, speculation, and well-deserved attention to how the courts—and not just the court of public opinion—would judge the actions of high-profile leaders accused of harassment and assault, a message has been delivered. On February 24, 2020, a New York jury verdict issued a powerful rebuke for at least one of the hundreds of prominent leaders who have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct and other forms of harassment over the past eighteen months.

Harvey Weinstein, 67, was found guilty of rape and criminal sexual acts. A jury of five women and seven men came down with the verdict after four days of deliberation. While he was acquitted of the two most serious counts of predatory sex assault and the count of first-degree rape, he now faces up to 29 years in prison for the two other charges. In addition, Weinstein now faces more criminal charges in Los Angeles, California related to alleged assaults of two other women. In total, more than 90 women have come forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct. 

A New Era in Harassment Prevention?

One important outcome of the #MeToo movement, and the Harvey Weinstein trial, regardless of the verdict, is that it has brought the voices of survivors out of the whisper-network shadows, in a very public way. As Weinstein and several other top media and business moguls have come under fire for charges of sexual assault and other forms of harassment, company leaders (as well as many state and local governments) have started to question whether they have done enough to provide a safe and supportive workplace culture for all, and particularly for employees at greatest risk of harassment and assault in the workplace.

The short answer? No.

As organizations bear up under the ongoing wave of allegations, it is clear that the check-the-box approach to delivering harassment prevention training relied upon for decades is ineffective, and emerging research even suggests that some efforts could make the problem worse. Whether implemented as a means to minimize liability or motivated by a genuine desire to create safer, more productive work environments, the traditional harassment prevention training employers have delivered simply have not worked. 

Finding Solutions Starts With Asking More Questions

Criminal trials are built on a scaffold of questions, each designed to elicit the answers from witnesses that form the clearest picture of what happened, who did it, and why. Organizations have the opportunity (and perhaps even the responsibility) to now ask new questions about their sexual harassment prevention efforts. Finding answers to questions like: “What skills does this training build?”, “What research is this training based on?”, “How does this training create behavior change?”, or even simply: “How will I know if it works?” will begin to move organizations beyond a compliance-first approach to one that prioritizes the effectiveness of harassment prevention training

Continuing those questions to consider critical components like accountability measures, progress indicators, leadership commitment, and organizational transparency can help bring into vision the clearest picture of how to build a safe, respectful, and productive workplace for everyone. 

Moving on with a Movement

The #MeToo movement has raised incredible awareness about the pervasiveness and devastating impact of sexual harassment at work. The bell cannot be unrung. The current focus of holding those who have committed harm accountable—even CEOs and rainmakers—is a critical next step, and may even, someday, be the expected norm. However, there is much more work still to be done to ensure that workplaces, and the employees in them, are free from harassment. This effort must be robust and multi-faceted—and will certainly require most organizations to dramatically change how they approach harassment prevention.

It won’t be easy—we’d even say it takes some organizational courage. But we owe it to our employees, our organizations, and our communities—and especially to those who have experienced harassment and assault—to do better.

Harassment Prevention Training

EVERFI designs global ethics and compliance courses that educate employees on important skills relating to harassment, diversity, security and culture—protecting your people and your bottom line.