If women ran more companies, would sexual harassment end?

A page from the Forum for Executive Women’s website.

Would there be less sexual harassment if women ran more companies?

More women are moving into leadership positions in Philadelphia’s largest 100 publicly traded companies, according to the annual “Women in Leadership” report being released Thursday morning by the Forum of Executive Women at an annual breakfast that draws hundreds of the region’s female executives. Progress has been slow, yet steady, the report says.

The report comes at a time when women’s experience in the workplace is in the spotlight. Ever since the Harvey Weinstein story broke, women writing under the hashtag #MeToo have said they’ve been harassed on the job and have nowhere to turn for help.

Several female executives offered their views:

Margaret A. McCausland, principal, McCausland & McCausland LLC law firm, Conshohocken; president, Forum of Executive Women

“As a labor and employment attorney representing management for the last 30 years, I have handled many sexual harassment cases, and can’t say with confidence that I think there would be fewer incidents if more women were in positions of power, although I wish I could say that. The biggest problem is companies, regardless of who is in charge, failing to provide meaningful training. I think they fail to provide it more out of fear than anything else — that is, they fear training will trigger unfounded complaints.  But effective training (emphasis on effective) tells employees that the company’s anti-discrimination/anti-harassment policy actually means what it says. And when employees believe that, they feel safe seeking help.

“The reason I said I don’t think more women at the top is necessarily the solution is that I, too, often find that women who have made it to the top don’t want to appear too focused on ‘women’s’ issues. (As I say that, I suddenly realize they might feel more comfortable about doing so if there were more of them.)”

Judith von Seldeneck, founder, Diversified Search executive-recruiting firm, Philadelphia; co-founder, Forum of Executive Women

“There’s little doubt that if more women were in positions of power, then you wouldn’t have this. But the fact is that men still hold a disproportionate number of executive positions, and it will be a while, possibly decades, before that playing field levels out. What do we do in the meantime? Speaking out is good and necessary, but it’s hardly enough. We also need to address the elephant in the room, which is that too many women who are the victims of sexual harassment are being bought off.

A woman who complains and is not heard, or continually harassed, or even forced out is one thing. That’s egregious and always needs to be addressed. But we also need to face the fact that women who complain and then accept a check to stay quiet are also part of the problem. Just look at this situation at Fox News. How many women did the network buy off before the predatory behavior of [Roger] Ailes and [Bill] O’Reilly was brought to light? What might have happened — and how many women would have been protected — if more had stepped forward, gone public, and said, ‘You can keep your money — I am not being silenced’?”

Camera icon DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Patricia Wellenbach, CEO of the Please Touch Museum.

Patricia Wellenbach, chief executive, Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia

“Research shows that diverse leadership creates an environment of openness and acceptance. While I can’t say for certain that a greater number of females in leadership roles would put an end to workplace harassment or make it safer for people to report concerns or issues, I do believe that it can only help. I believe the tone at the top is what creates a safe environment and workplace that empowers people to come forward on an issue that is clearly of great concern to men and women alike.¨

Camera icon CAMERON B. POLLACK / Staff Photographer
Donna L. Torrisi at the Family Practice and Counseling Network.

Donna L. Torrisi, director, Resources for Human Development’s Family Practice and Counseling Network, Philadelphia

“Our company has a significant number of female leaders as well as very well-crafted and clear policies about harassment of any kind. Allegations are thoroughly investigated and harassment — sexual, or any kind — is not tolerated. I would surmise having more female leaders would culminate in a different culture around this most troubling issue.” 

The numbers in the “Women in Leadership” report offer these insights:

More women are getting board seats: From 2011 to 2016, the number of board seats increased 5 percent from 828 to 870, and the number of women on boards grew from 94 to 136, a rise to 16 percent from 11 percent. The report’s statistics are drawn from analysis of government data from the region’s top 100 public companies as compiled by the Philadelphia Business Journal. The Philadelphia office of accounting firm PwC, led by Deanna M. Byrne, conducted the research.

Companies are getting the message: In the five years from 2011 to 2016, the number of public companies with no female board directors has dropped from 36 to 19, the number with no female executives as fallen from 58 to 43, and the number with no women among their top earners has fallen from 65 to 57.

Why it matters: “Companies are losing out on an enriched dialogue that will create value in the long term, ” said Tanuja M. Dehne, corporate board member at Advanced Disposal Services and Granite Point Mortgage Trust.

No, no and no...: Among Philadelphia's top 100 public companies in 2016, these businesses had no women on their boards, no women executives and no women among their top earners. Actua Corp. Dorman Products Inc. Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment Inc. Enersys FS Investment Corp J&J Snack Foods Corp. Lannett Co. Inc. Marlin Business Services Corp. Mistras Group Inc. Omega Flex Inc. Orasure Technologies Inc. RCM Technologies Inc. No to yes: In 2016, these companies added women to their boards. EPAM Systems Inc. Republic First Bancorp Inc. Teligent Inc. Trinseo SA Yes indeed...: At these companies, women held 33 percent or more of board seats in 2016. American Water Works Inc. Navient Corp. Artesian Resources Corp. Campbell Soup Co. Ametek Inc. SEI Investments Co. Source: The Philadelphia office of PwC's analysis of government data about the region's top 100 public companies as compiled by the Philadelphia Business Journal.