UPDATE: These workers are ready to end America's sexual harassment epidemic

11/13/17 05:31 PM EST

By Maria LaMagna

The expectations about what kind of workplace people endure are changing

As stories about sexual harassment in Hollywood, media, government, politics and business have continued to surface -- including those against film executive Harvey Weinstein, who reportedly hired private security agencies to collect information (https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/harvey-weinsteins-army-of-spies) on his accusers -- they have shone light on behavior that has hurt workers, particularly women, for decades.

But might the future be brighter? Perhaps, according to a new study from the Boston Consulting Group that suggests young male workers have views on a range of workplace issues -- including family leave and training to reduce biases -- that have evolved from previous generations', suggesting that future workers may be able to dismantle the power disparities that have led to workplace harassment.

The study "makes me optimistic about the future workplace," said Katie Abouzahr, a principal at BCG and an author of the report. "We may be at an inflection point in terms of what people expect work to look like and what people expect to be offered."

BCG interviewed more than 17,500 people in 21 countries for the study (https://www.bcg.com/publications/2017/people-organization-behavior-culture-how-millennial-men-can-help-break-glass-ceiling.aspx), asking men and women to rank the importance of various obstacles for women at work. It found that the views of younger men -- defined as those under age 40-- closely aligned with those of women of all ages.

Younger men and women both placed a high importance on retaining employees, calling it the second-most important factor for a diverse workplace. Older men ranked it fifth. Employers sometimes struggle to retain employees who feel they are unwilling or unable to maintain the schedule required to work there, especially after having children.

And when asked to analyze 10 of the highest-priority gender diversity initiatives at companies, men under 40 -- and all women -- said work-life balance and flexible work were most important. In contrast, older men named leadership transparency and commitment.

The authors of the report did not explicitly ask those surveyed about sexual assault or other serious incidents Weinstein and others have been accused of. And progressive views and policies meant to support workers are unlikely to stop predators. Some companies known to have many young employees, meanwhile, have experienced their own problems with sexual harassment (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/uber-fires-20-employees-after-sexual-harassment-investigation-report-2017-06-06) and gender discrimination in the workplace.

At Uber, for example, a former employee said her male supervisor sent her sexually suggestive messages (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/uber-ceo-calls-for-investigation-into-claims-of-sexual-harassment-rampant-bias-2017-02-19) on her first day on his team. She also said when she tried to report incidents to the company's human resources team, she still did not receive support.

And three former Google (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/google-accused-of-bias-against-women-in-lawsuit-by-former-employees-2017-09-14)(GOOGL)employees filed a class-action suit (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/google-accused-of-bias-against-women-in-lawsuit-by-former-employees-2017-09-14) against the company in September, alleging it discriminated against women when it came to their pay and work promotions. A spokeswoman for the company told The Wall Street Journal the company disagreed "with the central allegations."

Those examples illustrate that not all workplace issues can be fixed simply by hiring younger workers. "Just having younger people in the workplace doesn't move the culture," said Frances Brooks Taplett, the global people director at BCG and an author of the report, said. "You need many of the key pieces around engagement, true leadership vision, purpose and a culture focused on inclusion."

But younger workers seem willing to make changes that could lead to healthier cultures. BCG asked all the survey respondents about some 39 "interventions" that could improve gender diversity at work. Again, the views of younger men were close to those of women of all ages, while older men had different ideas.

One area in particular where younger and older men diverged in their views was the issue of parental leave: Men younger than 40 said parental leave was the sixth-highest priority in the list of 39 interventions, whereas those 40 and older ranked it 19. Women younger than 40 ranked parental leave third, and women older than 40 ranked it eighth.

Parental leave has become a major focus when it comes to gender initiatives at work, said Brooks Taplett.

As more young men and women have pushed for more generous parental leave, that has created "a shift companies will have to take part in, or else they'll lose their workforce," she said.

Young men and women have also been open to employee training that could create more equality in the workplace, the authors found.

For example, some 70% of men younger than 40 said they would be willing to go through "bias reduction training" to improve gender diversity at their companies, compared with 63% of male employees 40 and older.

Some 73% of men younger than 40 said they would be willing to adjust the schedule of routine meetings to accommodate co-workers, compared with 68% of men 40 and older.

Younger men are more likely to be part of a dual-income household, contribute to child care and support their female co-workers, the study found, because they were themselves more likely to have been raised in households where both parents worked, Brooks Taplett said.

When that's the case, couples often want flexible policies that make their careers possible, she said.

Social media and open conversation about policies like family leave have also played a role, she said: Now that more workers publicly discuss "parental" or "family" leave instead of maternity leave, and have shared their own stories of staying home as a new father, it has become more accepted, she said.

"It's not taboo to talk about personal life and family life in a way it was before," she said.

As some of these shifts take place, Abouzahr said, it's possible workplaces will see reductions of sexual harassment -- or at least take a more active role in preventing it -- because employees and employers are discussing the gravity of the topic in a way they hadn't previously. "I'm sure we'll see a domino effect."

-Maria LaMagna; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com

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11-13-17 1731ET

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