Local expert says companies need to be ready for #Metoo impact

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) - It seems every day a new high-profile person is accused of sexual assault and harassment.

The #MeToo movement has inspired a lot of it. Not just in inspiring victims to come forward but also shining a spotlight on workplace cultures.

A 2015 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission study found that anywhere from 25 percent to 85 percent of women report having experienced sexual harassment. Those numbers went up the more the surveyors provided definitions of sexual harassment and examples.

Sexual harassment has always been around, but as more people find the strength to come forward one local expert says companies need to be ready.

"Companies that haven't done the work yet who haven't put the policies in place that make fighting sexual harassment possible are going to be the ones that suffer most from this," Beth Livingston said.

Beth Livingston teaches at the University of Iowa and studies issues of gender and discrimination.

"Unwanted behavior of a sexual nature that impedes performance in the workplace or creates a hostile environment where employees cannot be themselves in the workplace," Livingston said.

That doesn't have to be as obvious as the now infamous accusations against Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer

"Direct jokes about cleavage, or legs or rear ends something to that effect it doesn't have to be directed to that person but it's said around them to make them feel uncomfortable," Livingston said.

Another example - a list rating women in the office on appearance. That's exactly what happened at a workplace you might not think of - Iowa City West High.

"People were very upset at West there were girls that were on the list that were just shocked and horrified at what these boys had said about them," Lucy Polyak said.

Iowa City West student Lucy Polyak says she wasn't on the list but her classmates were, and she decided it wasn't something she was going to let slide. So she started a hashtag movement of her own.

"I decided that I was going to share a post and tag on this hashtag at the end that said #EveryonesanA and encourage anyone else to try to spread love in the community," Polyak said.

Tons of students used the hashtag saying positive things about their classmates. Lucy says people need to have zero tolerance.

"I think people should report it, this behavior can't be condoned just by ignoring It or laughing it off it makes it seem like its okay," Polyak said.

Livingston agrees - saying changing those attitudes in high school today will force companies to change, too, or else.

"If you're an employer what you want is productivity, you want engagement, you want commitment you're not going to get that from people if you don't put policies in place that respect their voice," Livingston said, "The biggest problem that we see with companies not listening to those sorts of complaints is that the person they are complaining about is someone that they consider to be less replaceable than the person doing the complaining and my argument is that that's the perspective that needs to change."