The recent firing of Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News, following sexual harassment and gender discrimination charges by former anchor Gretchen Carlson, brings to light once again that harassment is still alive and well in the workplace.
The good news, however, is that we are making progress. First, parent company 21st Century Fox launched an internal investigation following Carlson's lawsuit and, within two weeks, Ailes was out. Second, organizations are finally getting the picture that harassment in the workplace is not only unacceptable — it's against the law.
What is often overlooked, however, is the significance of a company's corporate culture and how this fits into the equation of a safe, ethical workplace.
Carlson's harassment case encompasses all of the classic ingredients: A quid-pro-quo claim, retaliation for refusal, denial by Ailes — all shortly followed by corroboration by other women who felt emboldened by Carlson's claims to come forward with similar experiences.
How all of this unfolds remains to be seen. However, it appears that the corporate culture at Fox News puts them at risk.
An organization's corporate culture can best be defined as the values, ethics and behaviors established and imparted by its leaders. These are standards, both written and unwritten, that influence how any organization operates. Stated in the organization's codes of ethics and/or mission statements, they are reiterated by and reflected through the company's management team as beacons that guide policies, practices, decisions and personal behavior at work.
In fact, when a company is faced with a harassment lawsuit, one of the first things attorneys (on both sides of the aisle) assess is the company's established culture. Fox's corporate culture does not appear to be one to be proud of.
Fox's image is reflected in its broadcasts with female reporters in short skirts, crossed legs, often cleavage, perched on high-top stools with camera angles from below. What are we really selling here — sex or journalism?
Carlson has even stated that when she was a host on the set of "Fox & Friends," the network's morning program, "pants were not allowed." Fox denies this rule. Regardless, everyone soon learns — in any organization — what the job's "implied rules" are.
A part of Carlson's charges include sexist remarks and behavior toward her on and off the air by her male counterparts (she was often referred to by one colleague as "the skirt"). And other women who have since stepped forward reiterated that they have endured the same disrespect by not only Ailes but by other members of the management team. They all say they feared repercussions such as reprisal, embarrassment and retribution should they file a complaint.
The CEO sets the tone for a company's corporate culture. Fox's culture is one that objectifies women and treats them as lesser than men. It would only stand to reason that this environment, exhibited by its leadership at the top, gives license to others to follow suit.
TV journalism is a fiercely competitive business that mixes news and entertainment with one major goal: ratings. This can create an implied Hollywood-era "casting couch" environment where appearance rules. The drill: First, you have to get the job, then strive to keep the job and aspire to an opportunity to get promoted. Any employee who is paying attention learns the organization's culture and knows the expectations.
I doubt all of the female news reporters over the years on Fox News have been comfortable with what is "expected" of them (including looking the other way). I also doubt that all have been comfortable with the environment. But I can believe many of them were convinced that their careers were doomed if they objected. This "just-deal-with-it" attitude imparted to employees is hurtful, stressful and takes its toll on anyone's self esteem.
There is always some good that comes out of these dust-ups, and perhaps this one will help dial Fox News into the 21st century with its attitude toward women — both on how it views its female journalists and on how it treats them. This is not political correctness. This is the real-life serious business of providing employees today with a safe, fair and equal workplace.
Corporate America is taking the respectful corporate culture seriously. Fox News should do so as well.
Remember — the opposite of abuse is cooperation, and cooperation is the conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there.
Nan DeMars is president of Executary Services, an ethics training, search and consulting firm in Edina.