What did the Weinstein Company board know and when did they know it?
In the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s firing, there are legitimate questions being raised as to why he was shown the door: Was it because of his hideous behavior, or because he was finally outed for it?
Either way, the message the board is desperately trying to send now, to the world, and to the men and women who still work for the company, is that sexual harassment will not be tolerated, no matter how powerful the abuser might be. But given the endemic nature of the problem (see: Cosby, Ailes, O’Reilly, SoFi, Uber, Amazon, and so on) and its damaging effect on the targets of the abuse and on the workplaces where it occurs, wouldn’t it make more sense for employers to send out a stronger zero-tolerance message from the outset?
After the implosion of Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco in 2001, US regulators smelled a systemic sort of rot in the preparation of corporate financials. One response of the US Congress was to require the CEOs and CFOs of public companies to start personally certifying financial statements. What if CEOs and board members were similarly required—or even just volunteered—to certify annually that to their knowledge, no one in senior management had engaged in sexual harassment and that any harassment complaints brought to the company had been dealt with appropriately?
Certifications are no panacea given the lengths to which companies go to insulate executives who sign them. They might, however, make someone think twice before participating in the coverup of an executive’s brutish behavior.
Ultimately, the person responsible for Weinstein’s actions is Weinstein. But if the board knew what was happening—or even just suspected it—and still turned a blind eye to it, then the company is complicit in putting women in harm’s way and inviting the scrutiny it is now under.
This essay appeared in the weekend edition of the Quartz Daily Brief. Sign up here for our newsletters, tailored for morning delivery in Asia, Europe and Africa, or the Americas.