In the weeks since Roy Price resigned as the head of Amazon Studios amid sexual-harassment allegations, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has made no public comments on the matter.* Bezos’ silence continues a pattern of inaction by the company.
Allegations were first made against Price in July of 2015. After an investigation, the only punishment meted out, according to a New York Times account attributed to an Amazon employee briefed on the matter, was that Price was told to watch his drinking at work functions. Despite an investigation and despite The Hollywood Reporter’s inquiry about the incident last spring, nothing more was done until recent news articles created a PR problem for the company. (Amazon declined to speak on the record.) Amazon then, finally, did make a change: In the end, Price was put on leave last month and resigned a few days later. The delay in meaningful discipline for Price led some current and former employees to wonder if that leniency was in some way connected to the company’s lack of women in senior leadership positions—according to the tech-news site Recode, Amazon has just one woman among its 18 top executives.
They weren’t wrong. Amazon seems to be typical of the sort of organization that researchers have found to be particularly prone to sexual harassment and abuse: male dominated, super hierarchical, and forgiving when it comes to bad behavior.
To start with, having more women employees, particularly in leadership roles, can reduce the incidence of harassment. Why? It’s not that women are somehow themselves preventing the behavior—in fact women too can be perpetrators—but that male-dominated organizations are more likely to have cultures characterized by aggressive and competitive behaviors and so-called locker-room culture. In addition, compared with women, men tend to have more trouble recognizing when women are being treated in an unfair or sexist way. This sets the stage for harassment: In such contexts, norms of professionalism can give way to boorish interactions in which women are treated as sexualized pawns rather than as valued and competent work colleagues. And if men are less likely to label what their male colleagues are doing as inappropriate, it can make matters worse.