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An Ethics Expert on How Hollywood Can Fight Toxic Work Culture (Guest Column)

I have always been a movie buff. Action/adventure, romcom, thriller, drama…I cannot think of a single instance where I did not enjoy the moviegoing experience. Even when the film was terrible. I just love the way that movies cause me to set aside reality and step into an entirely different world. Depending on the storyline, I walk away thrilled, inspired, enlightened, saddened, or even sickened. And I, like so many people, hold in high regard the people who make all that magic happen.

That’s just one of the reasons why, for me, the real-life drama that is unfolding in Hollywood stirs a lot of emotion. I am disappointed to realize that behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, it is not all magic. I am heartbroken to think that many of the women I have long admired on the big screen (and on the little screen) have had to navigate their way through wildly inappropriate situations. It sickens me that for aspiring entertainers, the price for success is often their dignity. And it angers me that in the aftermath of abuse, these individuals are forced to carry on in silence.

So far, the public dialogue has focused on sexual harassment and sexual assault. But if we were to broaden the definition of the problem to also include hostility, gender discrimination, and the glass ceiling for women in the workplace, then I would also have to say #MeToo. And to be honest, I know very few women who couldn’t say that. At some point along the way in our careers, most women have heard lewd comments; been excluded from the inner circle; or had someone stand in the way of our taking the lead. I would argue that many of us are also painfully aware that we work harder to advance and then earn less as we achieve. It is also the case that these problems are not limited to women. People of different races, sexual orientations, abilities, cultures and religions can also say #MeToo.

I do not wish in any way to detract from the women who have publicly confessed that they have been victims of outright sexual harassment or sexual assault. Their pain is real, their voices are vital, and their courage is inspiring. However, those violations are only two of the painful ways that women are victimized in the workplace.  And none of these problems will be solved in Hollywood or any other industry until organizational leaders grapple with the influence of:

Power: Research has shown that as people rise to the top, they lose sight of the good qualities that got them there. The more power leaders have, the less likely they are to show empathy, compassion, and true helpfulness towards others.

Culture: Problems in an organization persist because there is a culture that permits wrong behavior. In those environments, victims are suppressed and afraid to speak up. Every industry and each workplace has a culture, and it tells people how they should behave in order to succeed.

Priorities: When problems surface publicly, it is a natural reaction for leaders to decry the bad actors and the misconduct that took place. They declare that they will not tolerate such behavior. But the problems will resume unless leaders are willing to face the truth and then prioritize the formal steps that are needed to bring about change.

Having worked with organizations and industries facing scandal, to me the next steps towards a solution in Hollywood are clear. Conduct an assessment of the culture in the industry to fully understand the extent of the dysfunction. Formally define standards of integrity for the industry and what it looks like to uphold the dignity of every colleague. Launch a training effort that not only teaches; it forces people to have honest conversations with each other about workplace conduct. And provide avenues for people to voice concerns and find support. When organizations commit to these efforts, they reduce the prevalence of sexual harassment by 75% and abusive behavior by 74%. Instances of discrimination drop by 85%.

The time has come for the entertainment industry to take action. Do so and we will all begin to feel the magic.

Patricia Harned is chief executive officer of the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI). The mission of the ECI is to empower organizations to build and sustain high quality ethics & compliance programs.

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