By Liana B. Baker and Anna Irrera
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The global social media movement known through the Twitter hashtag #MeToo has highlighted sexual misconduct in business, entertainment and politics, and will be on the agenda at this year’s Milken Institute Global Conference, which starts on Sunday.
Beginning with accusations of misconduct starting in October against Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein, which he has denied, #MeToo has already derailed the careers of dozens of entertainers, journalists, politicians and corporate executives.
It will now also be a focus of the Milken conference, which considers how market principles can be applied to social problems. The conference is being staged at the Beverly Hilton by the Milken Institute, a think tank endowed by former Drexel Burnham Lambert banker Michael Milken.
Milken, once considered Wall Street’s “Junk Bond King,” experienced his own fall from power after his 1989 indictment in an insider trading probe. After pleading guilty to securities violations, he served about two years in prison and has since devoted his life to philanthropic efforts.
The Milken conference, which tries to set standards for corporate behavior, will this year feature a panel with actress Ashley Judd, who is one of Weinstein’s accusers, on how the momentum around the #MeToo movement can last.
One panel on Tuesday is called “How to be a Man in 2018,” while another that day focuses on women seeking to overcome the “boys club” mentality often associated with the Silicon Valley technology industry.
“Women are at the forefront of some of the world’s most disruptive and innovative companies but continue to battle systemic, outdated barriers and bias across industries,” said Canadian entrepreneur Janice McDonald, one of the speakers this year.
Since the accusations against Weinstein, men like Amazon Studios’ Roy Price, Minnesota Senator Al Franken, Hollywood stars Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K., TV anchors Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, celebrity chefs Mario Batali and John Besh, and casino magnate Steve Wynn have fallen from their positions amid allegations of sexual harassment or assault.
Meanwhile, Bill Cosby, the comedian long thought of as “America’s Dad,” was convicted of sexual assault on April 27, more than three years after such allegations began to destroy his own reputation..
Milken organizers say the organization has highlighted gender diversity issues for several years, but #MeToo has put a spotlight on the topic.
Other related issues in business include persistent pay gaps between men and women, and a lack of diversity in corporate boardrooms, where women occupy just one in five board seats.
In a recent report, Linda-Eling Lee, global head of research for MSCI’s ESG Research group, said that after studying U.S. companies between 2011-2016, companies with at least three women on the board experienced median gains in return on equity (ROE)of 10 percentage points and earnings per share (EPS) of 37 percent.
In contrast, companies that began the five-year period with no female directors experienced median changes of minus one percentage point in ROE and minus 8 percent in EPS over the study period.
Milken conference organizers said women will likely comprise at least 30 percent of the conference’s more than 4,000 attendees and more than 700 speakers.
Other conferences are making similar efforts, including the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. About 21.1 percent of Davos attendees were women in 2018, up from 20.3 percent last year, while women held 26.1 percent of speaker roles, up from 25.3 percent.
“There has been an intention to have a more diverse set of attendees and speakers,” Milken Institute president Richard Ditizio said in an interview.
Ditizio added that the non-profit group, has been doing gender related programming for years, but #Metoo offers an opportunity to “draw more attention to that specific angle of the issue.”
Investment manager State Street Global Advisors will be bringing to the event a replica statue of the young defiant girl that it placed in the heart of New York’s financial district in 2017, to ignite a discussion around the power of women in leadership and the benefits of more diversity in the corporate world.
(Reporting by Liana B. Baker and Anna Irrera in Los Angeles; Editing by Jennifer Ablan)