The hashtag heard round the world: How #MeToo did what laws did not
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to propose that #MeToo is a social movement which has been more effective in changing norms around and increasing understanding about the prevalence and destructiveness of sexual harassment than decades of laws and organizational policies have been.
Design/methodology/approach: The paper uses communication, management and psychology literature on social media, public shaming and social movements to propose that #MeToo is a social movement that has changed perceptions of and knowledge about sexual harassment and assault. #MeToo provides voice to previously silenced targets and incentives for individuals to avoid perpetrating harassment and for organizations to deter sexual harassment at work and sanction it if it occurs.
Findings: The paper discusses individuals who have been publicly shamed and terminated for bigoted behavior outside of work, and organizational leaders who have been ousted after social media postings, as organizations attempt to distance themselves from the perpetrators of bigotry and sexual misconduct. Since #MeToo, some cities have passed laws prohibiting organizations from requiring sexual harassment targets to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Practical implications: Sexual harassment is associated with high individual costs and organizational costs, including costs of turnover, lost business and reputational damage. The #MeToo movement provides incentives for organizations to be more proactive and vigilant in their attempts to deter sexual harassment, and to appropriately address it when it occurs.
Social implications: Sexual harassment has widespread effects on women’s daily lives and careers. #MeToo gives voice to harassment targets, changes norms of silencing them, and increases awareness of harassment as unacceptable, harmful behavior.
Originality/value: The paper positions #MeToo as a social movement, with the ability to change the seemingly intractable problem of sexual harassment in ways laws have not.