Months have now passed since Fox News star Bill O’Reilly and CEO Roger Ailes were ousted from the network. Both men left under a dark cloud of sexual harassment charges and payouts. Subsequently, a lawsuit filed against Fox News by commentator Julie Roginsky alleges that co-president Bill Shine “aided and abetted Ailes' acts of retaliation and harassment.” Shine then resigned under the suspicion of enabling and hiding the wrongdoing.
With our typical short attention span, most of us have already moved on to the next newsworthy story. Now that the O’Reilly and Ailes stories are shifting into the public’s rearview mirror, what insights can we take away from the Fox News scandals?
1. Sexual harassment is still a problem.
The obvious first lesson is that sexual harassment in the workplace still exists — even in 2017.
2. Corporate culture matters.
The simplest definition for culture is “the way things are done”. A company’s culture usually cascades down from the top. Great things happen when corporate leadership promotes a culture of hard work, transparency, and fairness. Contrarily, bad things happen when leadership allows and perpetuates an unhealthy culture of harassment and abuse. A string of revealing lawsuits, books, and interviews about Fox News exposed that the corporate culture for women was, at best, highly disrespectful, or at worst, criminally predatory.
At a deeper level, the covert culture at Fox was of forced silence and cover up. It is conceivable, if the New York Times did not report on Fox’s $13 million in settlements, O’Reilly would be still in his job and would be continuing the same behavior. Creating and maintaining a company culture so people can speak up, without repercussion, should be among the top goals for any company.
3. There is strength in numbers.
In June 2016, former Fox & Friends anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Ailes for sexual harassment. After July, the number of women who came forward to file complaints or made their stories public exploded. In July 2016, six more women claimed Ailes harassed them. Later, Fox star Megyn Kelly told investigators that Ailes sexually harassed her, as well. More women who alleged sexual harassment and a hostile environment include Laurie Luhn, Andrea Tantaros, Tamara N. Holder, Julie Roginsky, Alisyn Camerota, Wendy Walsh, Debbie Schlussel, and numerous others who wish to remain anonymous.
A lesson learned is that sexual harassment misconduct is seldom an isolated incident. The possibility of wrongdoing increases when the corporate culture and leadership are one of power, hostility, sexism, and secrecy.
4. It is always about the money.
Fox, like other “for-profit” businesses, are just that — in business for profit. Fox’s initial resistance to fire Ailes and O’Reilly was rooted in their talents to make the company lots and lots of money.
This month, 20th Century Fox, parent company of Fox News, reported that they paid out over $45 million related to sexual harassment claims. Sadly, Fox did not take consequential actions until their revenue stream and reputation were damaged. The public scandals, millions of dollars of settlements, and lost advertiser revenue seemed to make Fox finally decide that it was time to let both men go. When it comes to business, especially large entities like 20th Century Fox, remember — it’s about the money.
The struggle continues. Our attempts at consciousness-raising, enacting laws, litigation, and other initiatives have not eliminated sexual harassment and inequality in the workplace. The Fox News scandal showed us again that sexual harassment can be pervasive. Not every situation is the same but women (and men) should understand that there are opportunities and strategies to fight back.
Connie Wedel is a global citizen and HR executive who has worked with incredible employees, teams and leaders across 6 continents. Connie is a leadership and career coach, equal rights and diversity advocate, writer, speaker and mom.
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