The vast majority of people in their 20s believe #MeToo has had no positive impact on their workplace nearly 18 months after the movement dominated global headlines.
Exclusive polling carried out by HuffPost UK and BBC Radio 5 Live found just 2% of 20-29 year olds believe the movement – which encouraged women to speak out about sexual harassment – had positively changed their working environment.
Despite extensive media coverage after numerous actors made sexual assault accusations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the poll of more than 1,000 twenty-somethings suggests the campaign has done little to materially change young peoples’ working lives.
The #MeToo phrase was originally used by activist Tarana Burke in 2006 and popularised on Twitter in 2017 after the New York Times published the allegations against Weinstein. More than 80 women came forward including Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Rose McGowan, and millions shared they everyday stories of harassment under the hashtag.
But HuffPost UK spoke to several women in their 20s who said the movement had not trickled down to their daily lives, and had in some cases had increased tensions.
Lucy*, 23, who works in politics at Westminster, said she has experienced no positive impact since #MeToo. “A senior backbencher said he now won’t hire women because he doesn’t want to be accused of anything. Older women who work here have told me #MeToo ‘is a snowflake thing’.
“An MP on my floor regularly says stuff to girls he walks past – one example was him saying a girl’s legs were nice and then saying ‘I wonder how good they would look if they were spread.’ I complained to my boss who just told me to ignore it and laugh it off. It’s such a toxic environment.”
Carolina, 26, who asked for her surname not to be used, works in academia and highlighted the growing gulf between younger and older employees in what is now deemed acceptable.
Last month she met a male professor at a conference. “He went on and on about my trousers in a bit of a creepy way but I left it. Later he refused my pitch for a talk but answered in an email that he’d be happy to have me there as his guest, provided I brought ‘those trousers’.”
Alex Kelly, 23, who works in the engineering sector, said he had also seen no changes for the women around him. “It’s had absolutely no effect. I’ve definitely not seen any big changes in attitudes generally. I think the issue is that it’s so institutionalised, a lot of people in these industries don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, and the message of #MeToo is never going to reach them.”
He said his female partner, who works at a utilities company, regularly encounters sexism. “I think companies need to be held accountable. I’d say government mandated penalties or incentives towards whether or not companies engage in sensitivity training, and how seriously they take allegations of sexism and harassment would be a good start.”
“Employers admire the sentiment of #MeToo but are reluctant to let it actively influence their HR policies..."”
Statistics from the Young Women’s Trust also found that even after #MeToo, a third (32%) of women aged 18 to 24 still didn’t know how to report sexual harassment at work and 30% say there has not been enough action.
YWT chief executive Dr Carole Easton said: “Well over a year on from the #MeToo movement young women are still telling us they don’t know how to report sexual harassment and are scared to do so. The clear message we are getting is that employers have failed to bring about the changes needed.”
But Merrill April, a partner at employment solicitors CM Murray, said she is surprised at the statistics. Most of April’s work is focused on disciplinary matters in employment law, including allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment.
She said she has recently worked on many cases involving #MeToo in the workplace. In her experience it has become too expensive – both in terms of reputation and and the cost of claims – for companies not to act, so she would not have expected so many employees continue to feel let down.
Another woman, Maddy, 23, who works in PR, said her company has been active in making changes. “Men are far more aware of when they might be making you uncomfortable or threatened: in my previous roles at other companies, men would often try to touch or even kiss you without asking and send rather lurid messages outside of offices hours, but I’ve really seen a rapid decline since #MeToo began.”
But she does maintain that her friends are still having bad experiences. “I’ve heard some absolute horror stories from my close female friends. One of my friends had to quit her job last month because she felt so unsafe around her boss and HR told her to ‘consider how it would affect her work environment’ if she reported him.”
*Some names have been changed to protect identities.
For one day HuffPost UK is joining forces with BBC Radio 5 Live to put people aged 20-29 at the forefront of the news agenda in a Twenties Takeover on Thursday 16 May.
Every 5 Live News programme will be co-presented by some of the most exciting new voices in the UK today, and HuffPost UK journalists will be reporting on issues that cut across the lives of young people – from the precarity of housing and work, to sexual health, the realities of modern dating and the pressure to keep up appearances on social media.