A month after WGA East released the findings of a sexual harassment survey given to its members, its sister union, WGA West, has published the results of its own survey. Unfortunately, the West Coast’s women writers are navigating just as toxic a workplace as their East Coast counterparts. As Deadline reports, the WGA West survey concluded that 64 percent of female writers have been subjected to sexual harassment on the job, and “a significant amount of the harassment writers experience occurs in the writers’ room.”
The WGA West survey was conducted in February, but the results are only being made public now. More than 2,000 people, or about one-fifth of the union’s active membership, responded.
The survey found that 11 percent of male writers have encountered workplace sexual harassment and “many more writers have witnessed harassment” while at work.
Many of the survey’s participants cited the 2006 “Friends” sexual harassment verdict in their responses. The case saw a female writer on the series claim crude writers’ room jokes counted as sexual harassment. The California Supreme Court disagreed in a unanimous decision: State law “does not outlaw sexually coarse and vulgar language or conduct that merely offends.”
According to WGA West, the “Friends” case “is mistakenly used to justify inappropriate behavior in the workplace” in today’s writers’ rooms. The decision “acknowledges that the creative environment of a writers’ room may come with crude talk,” the guild clarified. “However, the decision does not permit such talk to be aimed at an individual in the room. Indeed, it acknowledges that objectionable talk may, in some circumstances, be enough to create a hostile work environment.”
Addressing the survey results, the WGA West said it received “sobering, first-person insight” into workplace sexual harassment. The findings “are serving the vital purpose of informing and motivating our search for ways to eliminate sexual harassment and assault, and, indeed, harassment of all types, from the professional lives of writers and those who work with them,” the guild added. “For those of you who have experienced harassment, but did not share an account, be assured that the many stories we have received represent a broad array of experiences.”
In order to create solutions to the pervasive sexual harassment problem, WGA West is “exploring the possibility of a series of member conversations about standards for a successful writing room.” The guild explained, “By proscribing sexual and other harassment among writers, these standards would enable all the writers in the room to fully participate, rather than being alienated by treatment no one should have to experience. These conversations would also address situations that arise for screenwriters, MOW [movie-of-the-week] writers, and series writers in professional meeting settings.”
According to WGA West, its “guiding principle” on this matter is to “ensure a respectful culture with zero tolerance for bullying, harassment, and assault; we want a culture which enables victims to speak up in a safe way that takes their experiences seriously.” The guild continued, “Your employer should investigate such claims thoroughly and with transparency. There should be due process for alleged offenders, and proportionate consequences for guilty offenders. The reality is that this problem is too difficult, too long-standing, and too deeply rooted to yield a quick fix. Be assured that we are working every day to determine and implement a full array of responses that will be necessary to eradicate bullying, harassment, and assault in the writing workplace in Hollywood.”
WGA West’s response to the survey is certainly more encouraging than its original statement on sexual harassment. Earlier this year the guild announced a zero tolerance policy in regards to sexual harassment, with the major caveat that it would not kick out members accused of or legally reprimanded for sexual misconduct. It remains to be seen whether the “sobering” survey findings will affect that policy going forward.