Bullying runs rampant in Hollywood and is largely unchecked, serving as a gateway to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. And women are twice as likely to experience abusive workplace conduct than men.
These troubling, yet perhaps unsurprising, pieces of information come from Anita Hill’s Hollywood Commission, which has released its third round of research from a groundbreaking industry-wide survey that aims to improve workplace safety and equality across all of entertainment. The survey, which was conducted over the course of three months, included nearly 10,000 participants who are working in Hollywood.
“I was told that, ‘It’s not illegal to be an a–hole,’” one survey participant wrote anonymously.
“I see that bullying is becoming more and more of an issue — it’s just an abuse of power in a different form,” another anonymous participant said. “And if you don’t put up with it, they will hire someone else who will. Simple fact. It’s the way the industry has always operated.”
In the survey, “bullying” was defined to include intimidating or humiliating behaviors such as insults, sarcasm, gestures, yelling, physically aggressive behavior, swearing in a hostile manner and excessively harsh in criticism of one’s work. “Bullies” were identified as supervisors who are in charge of hours, workload, job assignments and, in some cases, whether an employee is fired or promoted. The majority of these bullies were male (68%) versus female (31%).
Aside from women being the most vulnerable to abusive workplace behaviors, “younger workers,” specifically assistants in Hollywood, were found to be bullied frequently with 73% of assistants in the survey being women and 99% of those female assistants being under the age of 40 — among those participants, the reported rates of abuse were two-to-three times higher than the overall sample of the survey.
The research found that workers with disabilities are twice as likely to report workplace bullying. Non-union workers were also twice as likely to report all bullying behaviors.
A bright spot of the survey showed that since the #MeToo movement, the majority of participants said they’ve seen moderate progress of bullying behavior in the workplace with 65% responding favorably — however, that means 35% do not believe they’ve witness progress of abusive workplace behavior since the movement hit Hollywood.
Regarding positive change of bullying since the #MeToo movement, women noted they’ve seen far less progress than men, and the view of positive progress increased with age. (Only 55% of women under the age of 39 had a positive view on progress, but nearly 80% of men older than 65 noted moderate to high progress has been made in promoting respect.)
Employees in the area of talent representation saw the least progress when it comes to bullying, while those working in theater saw the most progress.
Hill, who became a national figure when she accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991, was named chair of the Hollywood Commission in 2017, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and waves of allegations against the fallen movie mogul and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein. The commission was founded by Kathleen Kennedy and Nina Shaw.
In a statement, Hill addressed the findings of the study, saying: “In Hollywood, bullying is condoned as part of ‘paying your dues’ on the way up and has been openly displayed in films like 1994’s ‘Swimming with Sharks’ and 2019’s ‘The Assistant.’ Bullying may once have been an accepted norm, but in 2020, workers understand the harm that an environment rife with humiliating insults, sarcasm, swearing and throwing objects in anger causes. And belittling, vulgar and demeaning language and behavior is a gateway to sexual harassment and other abusive conduct. It’s time for Hollywood to commit to treating all workers with basic humanity and dignity.”
The Hollywood Commission notes that since bullying is not illegal, it’s difficult to report, so companies across the entertainment industry are encouraged to promote accountability and awareness of such behavior.
To help promote non-abusive behavior, the Hollywood Commission is providing resources by conducting bystander training to address harassment and bullying, including virtual reality and web-based training, as well as interactive workshops to address how to manage bullying.
The commission is also providing resources to stop workplace sexual harassment, and promote diversity and inclusion across the industry. Currently, Hill is working to develop a platform that would identity serial sexual harassers in Hollywood.