The issue of sexual harassment has been kept quiet in the boardroom.
The thorny topic is often treated under the larger umbrella of healthy company culture, says Eric McCarthey, a director for Spar Group, Salsbury Industries and Interra International LLC.
At its core, he says, sexual harassment is a question of culture and tone at the top that can no longer be a "silent" issue or kept in a committee. If you're a director, he adds, sexual harassment policies are "very material to one of your responsibilities. It is a duty of care and a duty of loyalty" to employees and shareholders.
And with the rise of the #MeToo movement, it's a responsibility that's becoming harder and harder to ignore. There are not just potential bottom-line implications (20th Century Fox settled $90 million over sexual harassment claims), but a growing effort to end forced arbitration may mean more accusations will be pushed into court and the public spotlight, increasing risks of damage to the high-powered accused and the brand for which they work.
In recent months, harassment claims have grown to epidemic numbers, an avalanche partly triggered by revelations of movie executive Harvey Weinstein's pattern of sexual predation. When facts came to light, he was ousted from his own company and stripped of industry accolades and memberships. Since then, more high-profile men in many fields have fallen, including actor Kevin Spacey, U.S. Senator Al Franken, Fox News Channel's news chief Roger Ailes and anchor Bill O'Reilly. It seems there are more claims every day and the issue is forcing its way to the fore for not only executives, but directors as well.
While company executives have addressed firings, there has been little talk from board directors.
Most boards of directors haven't even talked about sexual harassment as a business issue, according to a recent survey.
Some 77% of directors surveyed said their boards had not discussed, and 83% had not reassessed, company risk as a result of media reports of sexual harassment.
The survey, from theBoardlist and Qualtrics, was taken in July, in the wake of summertime scandals that led to the ousting of Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.
"To be fair, the Harvey Weinstein story hadn't happened yet," points out Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, CEO and founder of theBoardlist. "It wasn't a conversation then, but I'd be shocked in six months if we see it isn't becoming one. My hope is when sexual harassment is not just in tech, but...