The sudden focus on sexual harassment at the workplace in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal made me ponder, “Why do men in positions of power misuse their authority?” The incident reminded me of the famous quote by John-Dalberg Acton which goes something like this: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are, almost always, bad men.“
The countless other examples that have since tumbled out of the closet from the entertainment and media industries illustrate that this is a widespread trend that has been going on for many years. While the culprits always claim that it was consensual and the survivor was aware of the implications, it is often the survivor’s gullibility and desire to be successful that these powerful men so casually prey upon. This happens primarily due to the perpetrator’s “too big to fail” mindset. A person in a position of power believes that he is licensed to impose his will on others and this often inflates his ego.
Once a powerful person becomes egoistic, he creates a “reality distortion” field around himself. This makes him feel he is invincible and invulnerable and can make anyone do whatever he wants. Since the careers of the victims are almost always on the line, they are either forced to accept the actions of the perpetrators or are offered huge settlement amounts (sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars) to maintain their silence. Also, employees who are often aware of these activities are threatened to simply look the other way if they wish to retain their own jobs.
While it is quite appalling to read about the horrific acts that these men have committed, what disappoints me is the fact that people often start generalizing and stereotyping men by claiming that all men are like Harvey Weinstein. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is important to know that it is only the individual’s perception of being in a position of absolute power that makes a person resort to such activities. Although there is no foolproof way to counter the intentions of a bad person, I believe that having a decentralized organizational structure that limits the concentration of power and authority in one position is one of the best solutions to address this problem.