Law Office of Jeffrey D. Fulton

Will gender requirement for boards end sexual harassment?

In the wake of the past year, where #MeToo has been a part of our national conversation, lawmakers are starting to take the actions they think are appropriate to address workplace harassment. In California, one strategy has been to diversify corporate leadership.

California recently passed SB 826, which requires publicly traded companies to include at least one woman on their boards of directors by the end of next year. By the end of 2021, companies would need up to three female directors, depending on the number of board seats.

Reducing harassment through representation

The bill's author said having more women in leadership positions could help reduce sexual harassment in the workplace. But does this work for employees in their day-to-day lives?

It appears it does. Research indicates that organizations with male-dominated leadership tend to have a culture of aggression and competition, or “locker-room culture” that breeds the behaviors that allow for harassment. Men also tend to have a harder time recognizing unfair or sexist treatment, which sets the stage for harassment to take place.

Even though women themselves can be perpetrators and don’t automatically prevent behaviors, having a leadership team that is not hyper masculine has benefits. The tone of the company comes from the top.

Hopefully this law will help companies improve their culture through new voices in leadership, but the law only affects publicly traded corporations. Private businesses are not required to make this change, however, so the law does not address sexual harassment in these workplaces. Employees of private and public businesses have the right to pursue a lawsuit if an employer is guilty of sexual harassment.

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