Weinstein Backlash: “Bro” Culture & The Workplace

My column this week in The Knoxville News Sentinel on the Harvey Weinstein sexual-harassment allegations backlash was actually written last week, prior to Kevin Spacey’s response to a younger fellow actor alleging that Spacey had assaulted him some 30 years ago. It was also written prior to NBC News’ dismissal announcement of political journalist Mark Halperin, on allegations dating back 10 to 20 years ago.

The Weinstein Effect is casting quite a wake, indeed.  And it appears far from over.

My KNS column focused on the impact of “bro” culture in the workplace – the phenomenon that’s been widely written about and seems pervasive in certain industries, such as entertainment, media, technology, sports and, as I pointed out in more detail, in the advertising agency world.

Certainly it’s unfair to paint every company within an entire industry with the same brush, and it isn’t my intention to do so.

However, some stereotypes exist for a reason, and the interesting thing is that it appears we are about to crest a new wave of societal non-acceptance for a very long-standing status quo wherein pushing sexual advances on other people – whether physically or verbally, either overtly or through a series of under-the-radar maneuvers – could be tolerated.

  • Looking the other way
  • Victim / accuser as “the problem”
  • No accountability
  • Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil.
  • Institutional complicities


These aspects of the long-standing status quo are also being turned on their head.  And in many cases, this accountability sea-change is a momentous and positive improvement that may likely prevent many future harassment incidents and all-out assaults.

My concern, however, is for the counter-backlash that might result with an opposite swing of the pendulum, of “guilty until proven innocent.”  As much as I am an advocate for victims, there is such a thing as due process, and in my view, it should be engaged.

To that point, all employers should make sure that they have a policy and a due-process complaint / investigation procedure in place and well-communicated to staff.  The Society for Human Resource Management offers a template on its website.

Brand reputation for any entity is predicated heavily on a company’s treatment of human beings, both within and external to the organization. As this issue continues to unfold in the public spotlight, it’s important to have management conversations that establish clarity of the details (policies / procedures) and of the bigger picture (organizational culture).



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Mary Beth West
Mary Beth West, APR, has more than 20 years’ experience in strategic communications. Mary Beth’s award-winning work has included creation and implementation of national media relations campaigns, employee communications programs, consumer and business-to-business marketing initiatives and crisis preparedness systems.

2 thoughts on “Weinstein Backlash: “Bro” Culture & The Workplace

  1. Susan Hart / Reply November 9, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    Too often, positive change doesn’t happen until a lot of negative experiences have occurred, leaving countless victims to deal with the painful aftermath for which the offender – mostly men in regard to sexual harassment – has no clue, much less empathy. As we all know, the culture of any workplace or organization begins at the top. When senior execs aren’t concerned about accountability – or even held accountable for their own behavior – the hostility, discomfort, sexism and unprofessionalism continue. Maybe we should focus more on the quantitative damage in dollars when people leave because of an offensive and unaccountable work setting. Maybe job applicants should be assessed on their views/solutions regarding examples of harassment. Maybe employers should have a “mystery” staffer in the workplace. Whatever the solutions, the culture has and always will start at the top, preferably with a zero-tolerant approach to accountability and responsibility.

    • Mary Beth West / Reply November 10, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      Excellent comments, Susan. Most people make bad behavioral decisions because they don’t think anyone is watching and therefore no one will know, and therefore no accountability will be required. That part involves human nature, to a great extent (which all of us can consciously choose to stand up against in our own behaviors and decision-making). In the Weinstein allegation and in so many workplace harassment situations, it’s taken many steps further when an instigator who is in a position of authority premeditates use of career-ending or career-damaging power over others in order to prevent their own bad behaviors from being seen. The whole systematic environment that enables these situations is something we have to be vigilant about combating.

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