Time’s Person of the Year reflects new norms in business culture
Thursday, December 07, 2017
After the dust settles, the financial damages accrued by brand names and individual reputations will be incalculable in the new high-stakes sexual harassment and assault allegations arena. To illustrate how seriously people are taking allegations, Time Magazine has named "The Silence Breakers" as its Person of the Year for 2017.
The Time cover is always a significant hallmark of the U.S. cultural zeitgeist, and this year is no different. "The Silence Breakers" are people who have recently divulged harassment and abuse at powerful men's hands. As more victims are acknowledged, perpetrators are losing money and jobs as businesses scramble to settle controversial accusations, reorganize practical matters and adjust to a new anti-abuse business climate.
Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Louis CK, Garrison Keillor, Russell Simmons, Al Franken, Roy Moore, John Conyers — the list expands with each new day. For companies receiving accusations, it can cost millions in victim settlements. Popular brand names, like Weinstein's independent film company, Miramax, or Simmons' now-legendary Def Jam Recordings and the Phat Farm clothing label move to the reputation chopping block, too.
Let's take a look at how Hollywood and Washington pay out on abuse allegation settlements. In Washington, there's a federal Office of Compliance, which is part of Congress. In the past 20 years, this Office has paid $17 million in taxpayer money for more than 250 settlements to wronged workers. These settlements include staffers sexually harassed by members of Congress.
In Hollywood, Weinstein has paid off accusers in a routine manner that can be summarized as his own "sexual abuse industry." An investigation by The New York Times "found previously undisclosed allegations against Mr. Weinstein stretching over nearly three decades."
These allegations have been documented through interviews with current and former film industry employees. Emails, legal records and internal documents from Miramax and the Weinstein Company have also provided much evidence here.
Weinstein and his representatives will not release names of who has been paid, or how much the settlements cost the companies. Usually, companies settle with victims out of court with non-disclosure agreements.
We may not know dollar numbers, but we know names as more Silence Breakers step forward. This includes Ashley Judd, who is included on Time's Person of the Year cover. Two decades ago, Weinstein invited Judd to a breakfast meeting, and then sent Judd "up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower."
In 1997, actress Rose McGowan came to a $100,000 settlement with Weinstein after an alleged rape. She is another Hollywood woman included in the accompanying Time article on "The Silence Breakers."
Fox News is said to have paid $13 million for sexual accusations against Bill O'Reilly as of last April. Eventually, O'Reilly proved to be too costly in dollars and reputation, and Fox finally let him go last May.
O’Reilly's story foreshadows an emerging new business and political climate. Profitable companies and powerhouse individuals with reputations like brand names butt heads with costly workplace equality standards. Guess who's winning.
These standards are upheld by a new generation armed with women's and employees' rights and social media weapons, too.
The #MeToo hashtag, founded by activist Tarana Burke and featured in the recent Time magazine edition, has helped upend the pervasive sexual abuse culture in business and political environments. Every day, we see new people "called out" on social media and in news media outlets. Will this deter bad behavior or will undisclosed settlements be the standard operating procedure going forward?
There is no doubt a reactive business culture that tolerates abusive behavior while quietly settling with victims behind closed doors has been replaced by a visible proactive stance against workplace harassment and abuse. "The Silence Breakers" are making Hollywood, Washington and everyday workplaces pay out in more ways than one.
And the new developments are far from over. Franken announced today that he will be resigning from the Senate in the coming weeks. A federal lawsuit representing "dozens, if not hundreds of women" was filed against Harvey Weinstein on Dec. 6 as well. The charge? Civil racketeering in the event of sexual assault cover-ups.
Time magazine was right in recognizing this cultural shift as its bold choice for Person of the Year 2017.
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