The #MeToo movement has taken down a litany of big names like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, and many others. But beyond the individual names involved, a big question in the business world today is how to deal with the larger structural issues that caused such a toxic culture in the first place.
This debate has come to head in Silicon Valley, where two big tech companies are struggling to deal with bad headlines surrounding men who have treated women poorly in the workplace: Uber, with disgraced former corporate development executive Cameron Poetzscher, and Google, with one-time app developer Andy Rubin. Both men are now gone, but the companies still have to worry about how they’ll fix their corporate cultures and rebuild their reputations moving forward.
“Organizations are struggling so much with this,” Georgetown business professor Christine Porath told The Washington Post. “It usually runs deep. Norms have manifested and taken hold. Viruses have spread, so to speak.”
Leaders in Silicon Valley face a difficult challenge bringing about cultural reform. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has rolled out a new company mantra of “Do the right thing. Period.” and has urged employees to follow it. Google, meanwhile, has been sending out company memos saying they are “dead serious about making sure we provide a safe and inclusive workplace.”
Will these gestures actually have an impact? That remains to be seen. The key question is whether companies like Uber and Google will be able to send a consistent message to everyone, making it clear that even their most high-profile superstar employees are not above the law and must treat women with respect. If they can convey this message, they might be on the right track; if not, the above mantras might just be empty platitudes, and more cultural reform might be necessary.
“Whether unintentional or intentional, it actually sends a signal,” said Justin Wasserman, managing director at Kotter International. “It’s symbolic if an organization’s words and deeds are not aligned.”