No more apologies, please.
I speak for a lot of women — inside the entertainment industry and outside it — when I say that the parade of weak-sauce apologies from high-profile men accused of sexual harassment, bias, bullying and assault has come close to destroying our depleted reserves of patience.
These men spin good stories about remorse — pushing believable narratives is their business, after all — but every statement reeks of insincerity and faux humility.
Are we to believe, per the parade of aw-shucks apologies, that so many high-powered, ambitious, fiercely intelligent men simply didn’t know their actions were wrong? Or is it more likely that they enjoyed making those around them live in fear — and relished the power trip that came from watching their enablers cover up for them?
In the end, whatever we choose to believe about their apologies doesn’t matter. Actions matter. There are ways to make amends, but they require doing things, not saying things. That’s how we can begin to move forward.
One thing is clear: Human Resources is not the answer. For a series of stories (some yet to come), I’ve spent two months spent talking to more than 100 exhausted women (and concerned men) in the entertainment industry. Those conversations have led me to the conclusion that Hollywood’s HR departments are broken.
Many people, in every part of the business but especially on the lower rungs, have well-founded fears that HR will actually assist in career retaliation, rather than protect employees from it. And if rank-and-file employees are brave enough to come forward, their complaints fall on deaf ears. They believe no one else has their back, so they go to the press.
It’s well beyond time to move past the “report transgressors to HR” boilerplate. More needs to be done on many fronts. And this is by no means a comprehensive list of solutions, but let’s try some new strategies on for size:
Establish more independent tip lines. What if SAG, the DGA, the WGA and other guilds united to create an anonymous tip line that any production’s employees — from assistants to writers to actors to grips — could use to report harassment, assault and other ongoing workplace violations? There are scattered resources like this now, but they could be strengthened significantly. One of the biggest issues in Hollywood is that actors, artisans, writers and other crew members often bounce from job to job, studio to studio. If they all had a central place they could go to for real help, that might begin to create actual change. (One step in the right direction is Women in Film’s new help line for entertainment industry workers dealing with issues of harassment, but most would agree that Hollywood employees can use all the well-funded avenues of assistance they can get.)
No more secret NDAs. Legally binding agreements that prevent the identification of predators and essentially allow them to keep harassing and hurting others need to be a thing of the past. If your company keeps engaging in these kinds of secretive practices, at least own up to the fact that you and your team are actively abetting the worst of the worst.
Honest evaluations could catch problems much earlier. As writer-producer Nell Scovell suggested recently, everyone in a position of power should get a 360-degree evaluation, which would allow for realistic feedback and intense career development. If everyone who worked for —or employed — a key employee were allowed to offer real feedback (some of it anonymously), those men and women might actually become better bosses. And if thorough workplace assessments, honest exit interviews from departing employees and ongoing career coaching revealed toxic people who were unwilling to change their ways, employers would have even more ammunition when it came to dismissing those problem individuals.
Hold up responsible employees as examples. The most pernicious fiction in all of Hollywood is that monstrous individuals could never be replaced with someone just as creative who would foster a healthy working environment. As I wrote recently, believing that horrid people must be indulged and must work without limits placed on their behavior is ridiculous, destructive nonsense. For every abuser and creep, there are dozens who could capably take his (or her) place, and I’d love for Hollywood to finally reject the idea that a true artist must be tortured and can’t help being a terrible boss. Yes, there will always be a certain amount of friction and disagreement in any creative endeavor. No, this does not mean that the enormous amounts of unnecessary stress and inhumane suffering need to exist in so many places.
Be proactive when it comes to known bullies/abusers/harassers. Some of this advice, if followed, might take months or years to weed out toxic employees. But if you’re in management, chances are you already know about employees who have continually caused serious problems (and have caused the exodus of talented workers who chose their sanity over agony). Hollywood excels at telling fictional stories, but here in the real world, let’s not persist in the fantasy that toxic bullies and harassers will magically change after one or two stern talking-tos. They won’t. The fact is, narcissistic monsters and harassing bullies don’t want to learn. And until now, they haven’t had to.
Fire them. And don’t apologize.