America’s Boards Are Still Afraid of #MeToo

(Bloomberg) -- The #MeToo movement is more like the #NotYet movement in many of America’s board rooms.

Most companies still aren’t discussing sexual harassment at the board level because many directors don’t consider it a problem at their company. Women directors continue to cite this reluctance among male directors as an impediment to a full airing of the issue, according to a survey of directors at public and private companies.

The results, which update a survey from October, found that 57 percent of directors polled in February and March still hadn’t had a boardroom discussion about the movement, according to TheBoardlist and Qualtrics, which talked with 180 directors. In October, 77 percent of respondents said it had yet to be discussed.

“It’s interesting that, even with all the fallout, it’s still not been discussed in a majority of boards,” said Jeska Kittenbrink, community director at theBoardlist. “The board members seem still not to have tackled it.”

America’s Boards Are Still Afraid of #MeToo

The October poll predated allegations by prominent actresses of harassment and assault by producer Harvey Weinstein that touched off the #MeToo movement and prompted the investigation and firing of multiple executives in media, finance, advertising and other fields.

The directors polled said only 22 percent of boards had agreed to a plan of action as a result of the growing number of harassment revelations, and about 75 percent said they had taken no other actions related to the broader national dialogue about sexual harassment, according to the survey.

Respondents, 64 percent of whom said they had personally experienced harassment in their careers, said the topic was “not seen as relevant” by their boards or there was a “lack of prioritization” for preventing harassment. For some chief executive officers, the topic was seen as “threatening,” according to follow-up comments.

Boards may be struggling with whether the entire debate can be avoided, Kittenbrink said. “Is this just the thing that’s being talked about right now, and it’s kind of going to flash and then it’s over?” she said reluctant boards may be asking themselves. “Or is this part of a strong movement toward more prioritization, more equality and having these hard conversations?”

“It’s hard to tell when you’re in the middle of it,” she said.

To contact the author of this story: Jeff Green in Southfield at jgreen16@bloomberg.net.

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