Erika Hayes James
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  • Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Risk Without Equal

    Over the past year, sexual harassment became a defining issue for our times.

    On October 5, 2017, The New York Times published an investigation that revealed sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein, dating back to the 1990’s. Within months, that story had ignited an industry-wide reckoning and a global public backlash fanned by traditional mass and social media.

    Weinstein today faces a slew of criminal investigations and possibly jail time. Fired by his company, Weinstein Co., he has become an industry untouchable. And he is not alone. 2017 saw an unprecedented number of household names accused of sexual harassment. Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and Kevin Spacey are just a few the industry’s stellar players whose careers have apparently been extinguished by allegations of sexual misconduct.

    Meanwhile, the #MeToo social media movement had a galvanizing effect around the world. The slogan was coined two decades ago by U.S. civil rights activist, Tarana Burke, to de-stigmatize abuse sufferers.

    It was shared in October 2017 on Twitter by actress Alyssa Milano, a Weinstein accuser, and quickly went viral, reaching scores of countries and millions of users within days.

    Reaction from the industry has been swift. Studios and TV networks have been fast to distance themselves from high-profile figures accused of harassment. Canceled films and TV series are leaving the industry with hefty bills to pick up; the Spacey scandal alone is estimated to have cost Netflix $39 million in film and series cancellation fees.

    The scale and speed with which accusations and responses have flooded the public consciousness point to two things: the ingrained and intractable nature of the problem itself; and the emergence of a tipping point – a shift in culture and attitudes that suggest that we might be at a pivotal moment in corporate history.

    Discrimination lawsuits rank among the leading crises faced by business leaders in the United States. Of these, sexual harassment allegations pose the single greatest threat to corporate reputation. That was a primary finding of “Diversity Crisis: How Firms Manage Discrimination Lawsuits” – a paper by me and my colleague Lynn Wooten, now Dean at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management Cornell University, in the fall of 2006.

    When a firm was accused of discrimination its initial response would be denial. This would, in time, yield to some acceptance of responsibility and then to settlement. It took them much longer to accept responsibility. In fact, the companies in the study were actually more prone to move to a retaliatory stance directed not only against the legal process but also oftentimes against the plaintiffs themselves. While sexual harassment disputes were not the most frequent, they nonetheless took a disproportionately longer time to settle than any other type of claim.

    Race and sex-based allegations – the most common discrimination cases – were typically resolved between 33 and 36 months. Sexual harassment suits, however, were taking an average of 49 months – more than one year longer – to reach a settlement.

    In other words, companies accused of sexual harassment were spending just over four years, on average, to settle with plaintiffs. Four years of denials, rebuttals, trenchant negotiations – and, inevitably, spiraling costs to the firm.

    The longer a discrimination case took to resolve, the longer it remained in the public domain. And the longer it was exposed to scrutiny – and negative publicity – from the press and from interested parties. Sexual harassment allegations mobilize stronger feelings, more antagonistic engagement with activist groups and plaintiffs and played out longer in the public arena, thus, sparking increased public interest and driving greater sensationalism of the cases.

    Over the past year, Wooten and I considered how our original findings may be coalescing in the new wave of sexual harassment accusations – a sea change in attitudes driving an unprecedented reckoning for the world of business and, in particular, entertainment.

    And it has happened very fast.

    Undoubtedly the most significant of these is the scandal that has engulfed WeinsteinTheNew York Times published an exposé in October 2017 alleging that Weinstein had reached at least eight legal settlements over sexual harassment dating back over three decades. The case rocked Hollywood, not least because of the scale of the accusations against the producer and the celebrity profile of those making the allegations.

    Within days of the report going to print, Weinstein, whose credits included a slew of Oscar-winning movies, was fired by the board of his company, Weinstein Co. as it emerged that his allegedly inappropriate conduct with women was an “open secret” in the industry.

    A week later, on October 11, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts announced it had suspended Weinstein’s membership. Three days later, the organization behind the Oscars voted to expel him.

    As the allegations continued to stack up against the mogul, key figures and politicians were quick to sever their ties – among these, a number of senior members of the Democratic Party to whom Weinstein had been a noted campaign donor.

    On October 30, the Producers Guild of America banned Weinstein for life. In less than 25 days, the downfall of one of Hollywood’s most powerful figures was complete.

    Consider again Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Louie C.K., Kevin Spacey and Bill O’Reilly. In 2017 a new paradigm emerged: no career was too big to topple. Lauer, Rose, Cosby, O’Reilly and Spacy have gone from media darlings to industry pariahs.

    Employers have been fast to fire, replace and sever ties with them. What Hollywood seems to have understood is what we warned of in 2006. In their haste to manage the contagion, studios and networks have grasped that the slur of sexual harassment has the capacity to damage reputation unlike any other.

    Between October 1, 2017, and December 31, 2017, The New York Times reported that no fewer than 71 men with an estimated net worth of as much as $1 billion saw their careers flat-line.

    In 2018 there is a sense that we may have arrived at a tipping point in terms of sexual abuse and harassment. To understand why this is happening now is first to understand the scale and the endemic nature of the problem itself. And this is becoming increasingly clear as the volume of people speaking up continues to grow.

    Public awareness of the issue is, of course, nothing new.

    Our research established sexual misconduct cases had enormous potential to mobilize wide-spread stakeholder activism in support of victims, and that these groups were prepared to engage aggressively with organizations. What that research could not have anticipated was that in 2018 the power of social media could viralize this kind of activity into a global phenomenon.

    Milano, a Weinstein accuser, used the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter to encourage other women (and men) to share their experience of sexual violence. Within 24 hours the message had reached 500,000 people.

    By November, Twitter confirmed that 1.7 million tweets had been created worldwide using the hashtag. Facebook, meanwhile, confirmed to CBS News that in the 24 hours following Milano’s tweet, the hashtag had appeared in a stunning 17 million posts and comments.

    Thus, a beat change in attitudes and tolerance that began in Hollywood is spreading to other sectors as we go further into 2018. It seems 2017 will go down as a landmark year in the fight against sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace. It has ushered in a new era of awareness and activism that represents a pivotal moment.

    And there is an opportunity here for business leaders to be part of this change; to intensify focus instead of turning a blind eye. To lead the solution instead of dealing with damage control.

    The entertainment sector has been a lightning rod for sexual harassment, but all sectors are vulnerable to this issue in today’s global economy where diversity is a key business asset.

    Armed with these insights, business leaders today can make a choice: to wait to be called out and suffer the consequences. Or to be proactive in tackling sexual misconduct within their organizations.

    Leaders need to ensure that they are doing what it takes to:

    • Prevent harassment from taking place
    • Create a culture where harassment cannot thrive
    •  Resolve issues effectively when they do occur

    There are a number of significant, effective and concrete measures that firms that can take to be proactive, including:

    • Enacting and comprehensive anti-harassment policies
    • Ensuring policies are communicated and are accessible to all employees
    • Clearly defining what harassment means
    • Clearly define complaints, processes and procedures
    • Define investigation procedures that defend the rights of the accuser and the accused
    • Define anti-bias measures
    • Articulate and enforce measures to ensure the well-being of complainants – including workplace safety measures: schedules, workspaces, escorts, etc.
    • A statement of zero tolerance in cases of retaliation against accusers
    • Commitment to investigating all complaints fairly and transparently

    For business leaders and decision-makers there is a clear imperative.

    It is incumbent on leaders to set the tone at the top: to model transparency and integrity, while making the commitment to abide by policies and strategies to be implemented at every level of their organization.

    Click here for the complete report on our research.

  • We must continue to work hard in higher education, business on issues of gender equality

    It’s been just more than a year since I issued a call to the Atlanta business community to step up efforts in gender equality. I’m very grateful to the Atlanta Business Chronicle for publishing an op-ed and continuing to take time to recognize “women who mean business.”

    Our own efforts at the business school include hosting the annual, #GoizuetaENGAGE Conference – a chance for corporate partners, alumni and current and prospective students to gather for conversation and inspiration.

    We formed the conference to support the WE:ENGAGE Initiative – a focus on improving diversity programs and educating women on opportunities stemming from business education. Our school has taken a stand on this issue, committing to dialogue in support of women in industry and higher education as a whole, including graduate schools across Emory University.

    I’m glad to report progress.

    In the past year, the business school raised the percentage of women in the Full-Time MBA program by 6 percent. We also welcomed students from 22 different countries. Since 2014, 15 female tenure or tenure-track faculty members have been hired, including six of 12 hired in Fall 2017. Four of our six PhD graduates hired by universities in 2016 are women.

    But, speaking candidly, this is not good enough. Higher education and businesses of many industries have work to do.

    Every day we step into situations that require particular attention to the task at hand. We must maintain the commitment to collaboratively create “a new normal” for women in business.

    The numbers are already here.

    According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, in 2015, more than 9.4 million firms in the U.S. are owned by women. Those firms employ nearly 7.9 million people and account for 31 percent of all privately held organizations.

    Yet we still encounter stories in the paper, online, on the radio and at the water cooler that paint disjointed pictures of treatment, opportunity and pay. There are also divisions and allegations in politics that, while presenting an unfortunate opportunity to increase conversation and productive dialogue, too often present setbacks to our cause.

    I’ve spoken with many deans and business leaders, male and female, about the issues. We share ideas on building and strengthening the pipeline of female students and understand business schools are an important source of tomorrow’s great leaders. But, to create lasting change, business and business schools should strive for better alignment. Higher education brings a unique perspective on the future workforce and thought leaders eager to discover solutions.

    I believe there is power in bringing like-minded people together for a common cause. This is where #GoizuetaENGAGE and YOU can make a difference.

    If you are an alumnus, partner to one of Goizueta’s programs or just a member of the business community looking to spark change, I hope you can join us for #GoizuetaENGAGE 2017 Dec. 8. At the Loew’s Hotel in Midtown Atlanta.

    We all want to see more women in the classroom, create welcoming environments at work and empower women with knowledge and confidence for advancing careers.

    Let’s continue the effort. Together.

  • Work to be done increasing MBA popularity among women

    The value of an MBA offers a range of opportunities for women.

    At the Goizueta Business School, one recent alumna is working in Shanghai while being groomed for an executive role with a Fortune 50 company and her husband serves as a stay-at-home father.

    Another showed her value to a prospective employer as a consultant to the point she could stay in Atlanta instead of moving to New York. That company’s offer kept her from moving away from her spouse’s job location.

    “The MBA empowers women in ways that hardly any other degree can and does,” said Julie Barefoot, director of MBA admissions at the Goizueta. “It empowers you in a way that you can ask for and receive accommodation. That will help you achieve balance.”

    Attracting women to business schools has been an issue for decades, Barefoot said. When the Forte Foundation — a nonprofit group — was founded nearly 14 years ago, women made up about 25 percent of full-time students at business schools. Those numbers were approximately half of those in schools of law and medicine.

    Female Enrollment In Business, Law, Medicine And Education At Universities With Top 25 B-Schools

    Poets & Quants, May 7, 2011

    Poets & Quants, May 7, 2011

    The publication Poets & Quants, which covers elite business schools, quoted Forte Foundation executive director Elissa Sangster saying her goal is that business school female enrollment reach 40 percent. Sangster lamented that a study conducted some 14 years ago remains largely true: women had fewer role models in business and were less aware of career opportunities.

    More women may become doctors and lawyers because they can enroll in graduate programs straight from their undergraduate institution. These paths are also historically perceived as “helping professions.” Barefoot said a graduate business degree offers women career flexibility and the opportunity to take on a leadership roles.Skills that make someone a more valuable employee are developed in business school, such as expertise in analysis, strategic thinking and planning, Barefoot said.

    Historically, Goizueta enrolls about 30 percent of female candidates. Because statistics suggest women make up 47 percent of the workforce and 53 percent of them are primary breadwinners, the school works very proactively to recruit women.

    In recent years it’s taken that focus to the next level.

    “We must show the business world what the lack of women in graduate education means for the future,” said Goizueta Dean Erika James, the first black woman to lead a top 25-business school.

    According to James, the lack of female students will, undoubtedly, have a negative impact on businesses needing qualified workers.

    Being a member of the Forte Foundation, and putting on an annual event to attract more women are two reasons why Goizueta’s female enrollment has jumped about 10 percent in recent years.

    There is also an alumni group, the “Executive Women of Goizueta,” which offers a forum for women to discuss ways to succeed in their careers, communities, and lives. Patricia Arundel, the current president of the organization, is an executive at Google and an EMBA alumna.

    The “Advancing Women in Business Conference” weekend is a recruiting event each fall that provides robust programming for women. It also shows off Goizueta’s small, intimate and collaborative learning environment. Alumni and faculty provide their perspective on the experience.

    Last year the event was moved to the Woodruff Arts Center to accommodate a growing attendance. It has also played a role in creating a pipeline of candidates that appeal to top companies.

    After all, the reasons business schools recruit top candidates are the same as in corporate America.

    “From a class profile perspective, we want women to be equally represented in the classroom,” said Wendy Tsung, director of career management at Goizueta. “From a recruiting perspective, companies put in place many initiatives to attract talented women. They want their workforce to mirror the diversity of their customer base.”

    While life choices often cause women to take more time to reach leadership roles, there is less of a barrier than five or 10 years ago, Tsung said.

    “Women are advancing,” Tsung said. “The workforce wants more women in leadership roles. Women certainly can land these roles, and companies want to support women in that growth.”

  • Recognize the rising tide of female entrepreneurs

    I’ve had the great fortune of spending more than 20 years in business education. As a faculty member at Emory, Virginia, Harvard and Tulane I’ve been able to keep up with various trends.

    I’ve seen two important patterns of late and both hold particular value for women in the workplace.

    For starters, let’s look at where future business leaders are driving their careers. More and more MBAs take jobs with small businesses. Just 10 years ago this would have been extremely uncommon. They may still cut their teeth with major companies, but they are increasingly clear with intentions to start a business or work for small, values-based startups.

    This phenomenon goes hand-in-hand with new roles of women in leadership.

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  • Build your organization’s vision with stakeholders, not by yourself

    “If I continue to believe as I have always believed, I will continue to think as I have always thought.  If I continue to think as I have always thought, I will continue to act as I have always acted.  If I continue to act as I have always acted, I will continue to get what I have always gotten.” – Unknown

    Powerful words that equate to a simple formula:

    Beliefs drive thoughts. Thoughts drive actions. Actions drive results.

    A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to lay out a future vision for the Goizueta Business School.

    The vision was not concocted in my own head, but was born from scores of conversations, small group meetings, focus groups, and faculty/staff retreats where I simply asked the question:

    “What results do you want to create for our school?”

    It’s not an easy question for any organization to wrestle with, but it is perhaps the most important one a leader can ask. If we do not have a vision for the future then, frankly, we have no future.

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