Like a festering ulcer the scourge of sexual harassment against women perpetrated since time immemorial finally burst open to reveal all its ugliness on the world stage in 2017.
The tipping point came with the Harvey Weinstein allegations and subsequent revelations continued with the #MeToo movement instigated by actress Alyssa Milano.
At the same time, the prevalence of sexual harassment in the modern-day workplace has also been brought to light.
And now the whole issue is reverberating at the World Economic Forum in DAVOS, Switzerland, a gathering of world and business leaders where one of the delegates has come up with a radical solution to the problem.
A panel of leaders in government, business and civil society in a session at the WEF agreed that stemming sexual harassment is a global issue that requires collaboration between the public and private sectors.
“This is not an issue that one sector can challenge and tackle and resolve. It is not up to the NGOs to do this work alone, it is not up to governments to do this work alone, nor is it for the private sector to do this work alone,” Maryam Monsef, Minister of Status of Women of Canada, told participants, states the WEF press release.
Panelists agreed that sexual harassment, power imbalance and abuses of power are not new, and affect women worldwide.
The unique role of power
Dacher Keltner, Professor of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, argued that power corrupts men more than women, which can lead to abuses of power in the workplace.
This is because power has a specific effect on men, according to Keltner.
“For men, power tends to amplify their tendencies to sexualize interactions, which can lead to abuses of power.”
It’s not so for women.
Power makes women more collaborative.
So the solution becomes obvious: put more women in positions of power.
This is the point:
“Powerless people cannot challenge sexual exploitation and abuse,” said Byanyima. “That’s important first, to shift power, to give women power in institutions.”
The panel agreed that for women to be empowered in the workplace, leadership qualities must be redefined.
Peggy Johnson, Executive Vice-President, Business Development, Microsoft Corporation, suggested that leadership characteristics like collaboration and empathy should define a leader.
We need a new notion of what it takes to be a leader and it’s not aggressive assertiveness.
“I think for too long we were weighted towards the more aggressive [qualities] and so, if you had those, then you were put into positions of power; and, if you didn’t have those, you weren’t, and that affected females far more than men,” Johnson told the panel.
It also meant that more men than women ended up in leadership roles.
If we want to change in the way sexual harassment is addressed in the workforce, we need women in positions of power in organizations where their voices will be heard and where real change is possible.