Internet-enabled sales, digital infrastructure and social media networking have expanded the reach of businesses to unprecedented heights in the last 20-odd years.

That exponential increase, however, is only one side of the coin. The darker side of business — the scandal-prone side is subsequently running out of shadows in which to hide.

This is very much a positive thing, but it also means the "old guard" style of leadership is struggling to resolve any and all skeleton-stuffed closets before closed doors are flung wide open. While Hollywood is being flipped upside down with accusations, admissions, apologies and distancing in Harvey Weinstein's wake, business has long been rooting out trouble of its own.

The fast lane to scandal

Uber could easily serve as the poster child of just how much damage negative, sexist brand association can do. The ridesharing juggernaut found itself stumbling repeatedly in quick succession, piling issue on top of issue.

First came former Uber engineer Susan Fowler's account of the shockingly sexist treatment she received from day one, prompting the #DeleteUber social media advocacy campaign that took an unapologetic bite out of company shares. Then, now-disgraced former CEO Travis Kalanick was caught on dash camera hurling expletives at one of his own drivers when faced with difficult questions.

Rather than divert attention away from the burgeoning sexism scandal, this move and the subsequent dramatic theater that ensued with power plays in the board room only served to elevate its profile. Before the dust had a chance to settle, the beleaguered company is now facing a lawsuit from the other side of its business model: a female passenger is suing for rape and assault on the grounds the company hired a driver with a documented history of domestic violence.

Even tech darling Tesla can't escape getting called out in the court of public opinion. AJ Vandermeyden, a former Tesla engineer, followed in Fowler's footsteps and went public with her own harrowing tale of being hobbled in her climb up the corporate ladder due to her gender.

Google came under fire around the same time as well, thanks to the "memo heard round the world" from former software engineer James Damoore, which explained in excruciating detail why he felt women weren't as capable or talented as their male counterparts in Mountain View.

Keeping manufacturing safe for all

Much the way that enhanced safety procedures are hurried into place after a worker injury, sexual harassment seminars and training are often only robustly implemented after a problem in house. Last year alone, a staggering 12,860 sexual harassment claims were filed with the EEOC, with an outsized 83.4 percent of those harassment claims filed by women.

Those numbers point to a systematic issue affecting workplaces of all varieties, but manufacturing in particular is vulnerable. In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that of the 15.4 million individuals reporting to the census as manufacturing workers, only 28.9 percent of those respondents were female.

From these numbers, it's easy to see how women working in a male-dominated field outnumbered nearly 3 to 1 by their male counterparts make up more than three-quarters of reported sexual harassment claims.

Your business can work to support and protect female workers by being proactive about your sexual harassment definitions and training. Covering up wrongdoing to preserve careers or mollify a male-dominated workplace could easily become the downfall of an entire company in today's cultural climate, so just don't do it.

Instead, follow these five simple guidelines:

  • Have candid discussions about the importance of comprehensive sexual harassment training and ongoing in-house observations with management teams.
  • Perform regular interviews with female employees at all levels of a company. Ensure they feel safe and respected as they perform their job duties.
  • Outline a zero-tolerance social media harassment policy to prevent "extracurricular" harassment, or a rogue employee giving your brand a bad name.
  • Deal with any and all problems immediately, even if it means interrupting workflows or suspending high-level employees during investigation.
  • Ensure that victims always have a safe and anonymous way to report sexism. Ensure that they never have to fear retaliation for reporting.