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Harvard MBA Editors On Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein, a once-powerful Hollywood producer, has been accused of attacking several dozen women over three decades

The student-run newspaper at Harvard Business School has something to say about the flood of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood celebrities: It can — and probably does — happen here, too.

The Harbus, an independent, nonprofit news organization at HBS, published an editorial November 19 titled The Lessons of Harvey Weinstein, decrying the behavior of the powerful men who have been accused — and in many cases have admitted — engaging in abhorrent behavior that runs the gamut from unwanted advances to rape. Among the targets: Weinstein, a powerful producer who is accused of assaulting nearly 80 women over three decades, as well as Kevin Spacey, James Toback, and Jeremy Piven — all of whom have been in the headlines in recent months amid revelations about their actions.

But the purpose of the Harbus editorial isn’t merely to join the chorus of media and societal disapproval of a bevy of well-known but bad-behaving men. It also sounds an alarm about the danger of complacency — that “sexual assault, even in elite institutions, is more rampant than previously understood. This should be a wake-up call to us all. Hollywood is not that different than HBS.”

‘FUTURE LEADERS’ MUST TAKE STEPS TO STOP WORKPLACE HARASSMENT

Noting that they are “future leaders,” the editorial calls for acknowledgement by students that “sexual harassment and sexual assaults are societal problems, and that rooting out their causes and punishing offenders will become major responsibilities we must accept when running institutions.” It points to a pair of required curriculum courses at the school that provide learning and teaching opportunities: Leadership in Organizational Behavior (LEAD) and Leadership and Corporate Accountability (LCA), each of which “provides students with case studies of harassment in the workplace and challenges them to see how they would respond to such difficult conversations.”

But while the courses help expose students to realistic scenarios and give them tools to identify and solve difficult problems, they are not enough, the Harbus says. “In our experience, students might arrive at the correct answer in the LEAD and LCA classrooms, but might not take that lesson into other classes or live them in their personal lives,” the editorial states. “How often have we heard a section mate justify a questionable business practice in class because that is just how things were done at their previous employer? When at a pre-game if one section mate were to make an unwanted pass on another, how quickly would the actions be excused by the alcohol? When at work after graduation, if we see supervisors dating subordinates, how likely are we to recognize the ethical dilemma? How likely are we to say something?”

The solution: more conversation, more awareness, and the courage to act.

“We believe that to meaningfully stand against sexual violence and harassment, students (must) live these values through their actions,” the Harbus says. “As future leaders in business, nonprofits, and government, we are responsible for ensuring that every employee, colleague, and customer has the ability to lead fulfilling careers safe from the fear of sexual harassment.”

‘OBLIVIOUSNESS TO THREAT’ IS ‘PRIVILEGE FEW WOMEN HAVE’

The Harbus editorial in full:

Hollywood often uses movies to hold a mirror to society and set the topic of popular conversation. These past few weeks the tables have turned, with society scrutinizing the actions of Hollywood.

At present nearly eighty women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct against film producer Harvey Weinstein. Testimony from those accusers have inspired other victims of sex crimes to come forward with a torrent of allegations against celebrated and powerful celebrities such as Kevin Spacey, Ben Affleck, Ed Westwick, James Toback, Mark Halperin, and Jeremy Piven. The list grows by the day. Before them, Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly were ousted from their seemingly invincible perches at Fox News for harassing colleagues. Beloved comedian Bill Cosby has had his reputation ruined by a litany of corroborated sexual assault allegations. Even President of the United States Donald Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct by 15 women, including several from the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA franchise of beauty pageants, which he owned.

How does this repeatedly happen? In the face of initial allegations this year, many of the accused sought to silence their accusers, discredit the stories, and minimize the offense. Once the corroboration of other victims this time around made such deniability impossible, the accused often claim that what they did was normal for the time in which it was done. “Didn’t these actresses want the part?”, they asked, answering the door in their bathrobe. “Times were different.” “What about Bill Cosby? Or Bill Clinton?” That this whataboutery may have entered the discourse through its greatest practitioner Donald Trump, is never an excuse, even when it’s employed by its most prominent practitioner, Donald Trump. These men knew what they were doing was wrong, but they felt empowered to objectify, dehumanize, and violate others because they knew they were in a position of power and would likely get away with it.

What have we learned from this flood of allegations? The first is that sexual assault, even in elite institutions, is more rampant than previously understood. This should be a wake-up call to us all. Hollywood is not that different than HBS. Second, those who believe that such behavior is rare need to recognize the privilege they must have to be oblivious. Obliviousness to the threat of workplace sexual harassment is likely a privilege few women have. Men at HBS need not feel defensive; sea changes happen in cultural movements when bystanders become allies, giving men an active and important role to play. If there is any direction we can err in taking the organizations we will one day lead, it is in over-correction. Third, the women who have come forward are among the most powerful in the world, and yet many of them only felt comfortable saying something many years later and after someone else pointed the first finger. Imagine all the stories we will never read in headlines of all the powerless people who suffer away in silence, afraid that in seeking a reprieve from their torment that they will not be believed, that no one will care, or that they will be punished in reprisals. Lastly, we learned yet again, that power does not correct character flaws — it exacerbates them. In each of the cases mentioned above, an alarming nKeumber of people were aware of what was going on but made excuses for the perpetrators due to their successes or talents. Think how many brilliant careers we were deprived of seeing in the entertainment industry because those women were unwilling to do what those like Harvey Weinstein said was necessary to get ahead.

Every single one of these allegations is revolting; these abhorrent crimes are totally unacceptable of anyone who seeks a spot in the hearts of the public, or any position of leadership. As future leaders, HBS students need to acknowledge that sexual harassment and sexual assaults are societal problems, and that rooting out their causes and punishing offenders will become major responsibilities we must accept when running institutions.

Harvard Business School in its Required Curriculum Courses Leadership in Organizational Behavior (LEAD) and Leadership and Corporate Accountability (LCA) provides students with case studies of harassment in the workplace and challenges them to see how they would respond to such difficult conversations. These are important skills to both teach and learn. In our experience, students might arrive at the correct answer in the LEAD and LCA classrooms, but might not take that lesson into other classes or live them in their personal lives. How often have we heard a section mate justify a questionable business practice in class because that is just how things were done at their previous employer? When at a pre-game if one section mate were to make an unwanted pass on another, how quickly would the actions be excused by the alcohol? When at work after graduation, if we see supervisors dating subordinates, how likely are we to recognize the ethical dilemma? How likely are we to say something?

We believe that to meaningfully stand against sexual violence and harassment, students live these values through their actions. As future leaders in business, non-profits, and government, we are responsible for ensuring that every employee, colleague, and customer has the ability to lead fulfilling careers safe from the fear of sexual harassment.

DONT MISS MEET HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL’S MBA CLASS OF 2019 and WHARTON DISLODGES HARVARD TO TOP 2017 P&Q MBA RANKING