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'Alarm Bell' as Top Global Firms Score Poorly on Sexism and Harassment

Participants take a stand against sexual assault and harassment for the #MeToo March in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles on Nov. 12, 2017.

Almost six out of 10 global companies do not have an anti-sexual harassment policy two years after #MeToo went viral, a survey found on Tuesday, noting controversies in U.S. tech firms.

With employees at Google, Facebook and Uber demanding action on sexual harassment, including a mass staff walk out at Google, the tech sector had been through a "turbulent" period, said Equileap, which researches corporate gender equality.

"The high costs of sexual harassment are evident not only to individuals in terms of physical and mental stress, but also to businesses in terms of employee turnover, consumer outrage, litigation (and) corporate reputation," it said.

The #MeToo movement began in 2017 in the United States as a response to accusations of sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood and emboldened women around the world to recount their experiences of being verbally abused, groped, molested or raped.

Although more of the 3,500 publicly-listed companies surveyed published sexual harassment guidelines - at 42% up from 37% in 2018 - it showed "a clear margin for improvement in a post-MeToo era," said Netherlands-based Equileap.

Eight firms - all U.S.-based - triggered an "alarm bell" for having legal judgments or cases against them linked to gender discrimination or sexual harassment, it said, including CBS television network, Facebook and J.P. Morgan Chase.

Companies in 23 developed economies representing 98 million employees were ranked on 19 criteria, including gender balance, pay gap, parental leave and sexual harassment.

The average gender equality score for U.S. companies was one of the lowest, although female participation in the workforce, at 39%, was above the global average of 36%.

Only 33 chief executives in the Fortune 500 - the largest U.S. companies by revenue - were women, it said.

Bank of America was the leading U.S. company for gender equality, ranking third globally, offering employees flexible work arrangements and 16 weeks parental leave, plus policies to support women-owned suppliers.

Five of the top 10 firms were Australian, and Australian insurer Suncorp Group was the only company to achieve gender balance at board, executive, senior management and workforce levels.

Equileap said Australia's ranking was likely driven by legislation in place since 2012 requiring companies to publish comprehensive public reports on their gender equality performance each year.

"Australia is an example of how enforced transparency can motivate improved performance over time," it said.