Elizabeth Vargas on #MeToo Workplace Revolution: "We're in a Rapidly Changing Time"

Elizabeth Vargas - The Empire State Building - September 29, 2017 - Getty-H 2017
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The 'A&E Investigates' host told the Banff World Media Festival that rules to protect women from sexual harassment in the media and entertainment industries are being radically redrawn.

A&E Investigates host Elizabeth Vargas on Tuesday said the entertainment industry is undergoing a workplace revolution after revelations about widespread sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein sparked the #MeToo movement.

"We're in a very rapidly changing time right now, when the rules are being renegotiated and there's a lot of debate within organizations about what is a fireable offense, and what is a disciplinary offense, and what is a 'please don't do that' and what is a 'hey, you have to have a thicker skin and not be easily offended situation,'" Vargas said during the Women in Power lunch at the Banff World Media Festival.

Vargas, whose long tenure at ABC News ended when she recently inked an overall development and production deal with A+E Networks, said the media industry is struggling to distinguish between sexual assault, sexual harassment and what is not. "Harvey Weinstein is very different from a Mark Halperin, who's very different from someone who said inappropriate things to a woman," she argued.

The lunch and networking event at the Banff Springs Hotel addressed the changing landscape of TV in the #MeToo and Time's Up eras. Vargas questioned where the line must be drawn when it comes to defining a hostile workplace.

"Not all women feel uncomfortable with certain behavior. If you tell me I'm wearing a nice dress, I might say, 'Thank you very much, I'm so glad I bought it.' Another woman might ask, 'What are you trying to say?'" she said.

Pearlena Igbokwe, president of Universal Television Studio at NBCUniversal, also had advice for men who may choose against closing a door when a female colleague enters their office, or not wishing to cultivate workplace relationships with women altogether.

"If no one has anything to worry about, then no one needs to act differently. If you have something to worry about, you'll have that reaction," Igbokwe said. The Banff festival panel, moderated by Alison Brower, deputy editorial director at The Hollywood Reporter, also touched on mentoring for women in the entertainment industry.

Meredith Ahr, president of Universal Television Alternative at NBCUniversal, said young employees seeking advice from their bosses should not be put off by a closed office door or an unanswered email. "The hurdle is people think we're busy. But if someone took the time to ask, it's because they had a good question to ask," she said.

Ahr also urged young people to be specific when asking for career advice, and to offer an update on how they are progressing. "If I can give advice on what I would do in that position, and see a follow-up, then I've made a difference and helped in some way," she said.

The Banff World Media Festival continues through Wednesday.