Initially our attention was focused on domestic matters such as the introduction of gender pay gap reporting and, in the early part of the year, dress codes and the requirement on certain female employees to wear high heeled shoes. That changed though with the #metoo movement and, in particular, the Harvey Weinstein scandal which put the issue of sexual harassment firmly on to the world stage.
While the life and work of A list stars is far removed from the reality of every day life for most of us, in the past 12 months it has provided a high profile mirror on what is, unfortunately, still going on in many workplaces. The fact that a significant number of women who have now spoken out about the harassment they have suffered during their careers would be seen, by many, to be at the top of their chosen profession shows that even the most successful are at risk.
Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelia Jolie were amongst those who managed to successfully continue with their careers, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and Mira Sorvino were amongst those who claim to have been black listed after rebuffing unwanted advances.
Similarly, in the wake of Kevin Spacey being removed from the film "All the Money in the World", following claims of sexual harassment and assault being made against him, came the news that his co-stars were paid very different amounts for re-shooting their scenes with his replacement, Christopher Plummer. Michelle Williams (4 Oscar nominations, 5 golden globe nominations, 1 golden globe win) was reportedly paid less than $1,000 while Mark Wahlberg (1 Oscar nomination, 2 golden globe nominations, no wins) was paid $1.5million for the re-shoot. Following media attention on this point, Mark Wahlberg did though donate his entire fee to the initiative "Time's Up" which aims to support accusers of sexual harassment and abuse.
What is arguably most significant though, is that the media and the vast majority of the general public appear no longer willing to accept the situation.
For example, the gender pay gap reporting obligations have resulted in the spotlight on pay inequality which has then, in turn, put the spotlight on lack of female representation in senior roles, which is how many organisations have explained their gender pay gap. This media spotlight and public scrutiny has resulted in many of the organisations who have reported a significant gap, particularly the higher profile organisations, to make a commitment to improve female representation for senior roles.
As for sexual harassment, it appears that there has been a tipping point with an increasing number of female employees no longer willing to tolerate the situation.
The challenge though remains that wherever there is inequality of power in a working relationship there is going to be a reluctance to raise harassment and, potentially, pay inequality, as an issue for fear of the impact on future career progress. For example, it is often difficult for the two parties involved in a harassment allegation to be able to successfully work together again after such an allegation is made. For a potential accuser, this means that raising the allegation carries with it the very real risk of needing to find a new job - quite clearly not the desired outcome when protection from harassment was introduced.
Moving forward, workplace training on harassment and changes in attitude has to take on a more significant role in resolving this issue. While the furore in Hollywood certainly doesn’t mean every employee who has ever been harassed can now speak up without concern about the consequences, it leaves very little excuse for employers not to ensure policies and procedures are in place, staff are aware of them and appropriate training is provided.