Leaders cast either light or shadow dependent upon their moral or immoral actions (Johnson, 2018). The Martin Agency represents an example of leadership that casts light in this #MeToo era. Kristen Cavallo, CEO of the Martin Agency spoke to VCU students about how the Agency went from #MeToo crisis to becoming a “light in the dark” (McNeill, 2019) after unaddressed complaints of sexual harassment were publicized. Cavallo sought to change the corporate culture, starting with leadership. She appointed Karen Costello the first woman chief executive officer at the Agency. Working as team, Cavallo and Costello doubled the number of women in leadership, addressed disparities in pay and hiring practices, and implemented additional reform measures designed to give women and people of color place and power within previously off-limits arenas (Harnish, 2018). Ms. Cavallo didn’t simply replace men with women in leadership. She promoted from within using criteria that allowed for a wider variety of creative thought. Environments that tolerate sexual harassment tend to resist change in multiple ways (Harnish, 2018).
In order to lead in the #MeToo era, leaders have to be willing to upset the status quo in innovative ways that challenge oppression and exclusion. The court cases presented in Gillian Thomas’ (2016) because of sex shows the level of resistance to change in male-dominated industry in America over the past 50 years. However, Thomas’ book also gives clues as to what is needed to be light in the dark. While Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act set the stage for the legal victories examined by Thomas (2016), the federal statute is reactionary. Laws address the issue after harm has occurred. Leadership in the #MeToo era means that leaders work to prevent harm rather than just respond to and condemn it after the fact.
Ms. Cavallo’s work at the Martin Agency ostensibly represents an example of moral leadership, or casting light for those who follow her. She is redressing previous harm while simultaneously restructuring to prevent future harm. She has taken further action than what is required by federal mandate. Ms. Cavallo seems to recognize her role as a leader to leave an organization, its people, and its reputation better than it was when she arrived. It will be interesting to see the fruit from the seeds she is planting today.
My own workplace has had to address inappropriate interactions that had the potential to blossom into a #MeToo crisis within the past year. We will have to be very intentional in re-setting organizational culture, expectations, and boundaries. It is easy to assume people have the same understanding of what is acceptable speech and interaction. It is easy to whisper in hushed voices about inappropriate behaviors observed in the workplace. Leadership in the #MeToo era cannot afford to make such assumptions or turn a deaf ear.
I recognize the need to be intentional raising my own children. Three years ago, I signed up my youngest son, who is now 17, to be a participant in Empower RVA Teens, a YWCA peer facilitation program that seeks to prevent dating violence and sexual assault by educating and empowering teens (ywcarichmond.org/teen/). He was reluctant at first, but he realized how important the awareness was for him personally after experiencing a potentially abusive relationship. As a result of his involvement in that program, he attended a Respect My Red training with his school this past Monday. According to the Respect My Red website, the goal of the training is to teach about healthy relationships in order to reduce incidences of sexual harassment and assault (https://respectmyred.org/). These trainings are geared toward student leaders as well as school administrators to be effective peer educators and allies.
The educational approach that reaches various social demographics to prevent sexual harassment is the kind of approach that creates every day leaders with the power to illuminate places that were darkened by immoral leaders. Every day leaders need to be empowered because every day actions lead to #MeToo movements.
Harnish, A. (2018). The Morning After [online article]. Retrieved from https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2018/12/217506/the-martin-agency-women-executives-times-up
Johnson, C.E. (2015). Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow (5th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.
McNeill, B. (2019). How The Martin Agency went from #MeToo crisis to becoming a ‘light in the dark’. [article]. https://news.vcu.edu/article/How_the_Martin_Agency_went_from_a_MeToo_crisis_to_becoming_a
Thombs, G. (2016). Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work. New York, NY: St Martin’s Press.