Article originally posted in and nationally syndicated by the American City Business Journals on October 24, 2017.
My article published Oct.17 about the Harvey Weinstein scandal headlined, “Sexual harassment cases put the role of a company’s board in the spotlight” garnered a significant number of comments from women who have been subjected to sexual harassment. I also received comments from both men and women who have been bullied in the workplace.
An email from a former executive of a company within the entertainment industry that produces and distributes films wrote, “[the company was] deplorable in [its] business practices and treatment of both employees and members of the creative community. I quit the job within a year of starting.”
There is often a power differential between the victim and those they accuse of bullying or harassment. Frequently, victims don’t file a complaint on the company hotline or with HR because they don’t want to harm their careers, face retaliation or are unsure if others will believe their story.
In a June 20, 2014 Fast Company article headlined, “What if you worked for a boss like former American Apparel CEO Dov Charney?,” columnist Art Markman writes “… one complicating factor in a situation like this is that our culture excuses bad behavior by creative individuals. Artists, musicians, and even business leaders with big personalities garner respect for their ability to push boundaries within their genre….”
Why do “big personality” individuals who bully or harass employees or tolerate a culture of bullying or sexual harassment survive at their companies for so long? They are tolerated due to the financial rewards they bring to the company with little concern for harm to employees. The more these individuals benefit the company, the more leeway they are granted.
This was certainly the case with Harvey Weinstein, at The Weinstein Company, Travis Kalanick at Uber and both Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes at Fox News. It was only after these four individuals became a financial or reputational liability to their respective companies that they were removed from their positions.
In an Oct. 21 article in The New York Times headlined, “O’Reilly settled new harassment claim, then Fox renewed his contract,” columnists Emily Steel and Michael Schmidt wrote that Fox News parent company 21st Century reportedly made a “business decision” to renew O’Reilly’s contract with the knowledge of him privately settling numerous previous sexual harassment suits.
Didn’t 21st Century Fox assume that given O’Reilly’s history of sexual harassment, he would continue to sexually harass employees? Were financial considerations more important than protecting Fox News employees? O’Reilly finally departed Fox News after the loss of numerous sponsors.
On Oct. 21, Gretchen Carlson, former Fox New host, released a statement saying, “It’s horrifying to think that any company would dismiss an employee following multiple allegations of sexual harassment and then allow him back on the air a few months later.”
In an Oct. 22 article in The Wall Street Journal, columnists Sarah Krause and Kristen Grind report that Fidelity Investments is investigating allegations of sexual harassment within the firm. According to the article, it was reported that in a staff meeting, Brian Hogan, president of the Equity Group at Fidelity Investments, reiterated the company’s “zero tolerance policy for inappropriate workplace conduct, including sexual harassment.” Expect other companies to do the same.
Many times, men and women who are the victims of bullying in the workplace are reluctant to report this bad behavior for the same reasons women are reluctant to report sexual harassment – they feel they may face retaliation and don’t want to jeopardize their careers.
In a November 2014 article headlined, “Do you work for a tyrant? Do you have one working for you?” I wrote, “Tyrants who disrespect their direct reports cause untold damage to the performance of their organization as well as make life miserable for those who work for them. These managers tend to micro-manage, blame others for their mistakes and sap the creativity, initiative and vitality from the workplace. They also adversely impact the ability of people to make decisions without ‘checking with the boss.’
“No one can effectively do their job in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. No employee should have to work in such a toxic environment. The best people don’t put up with it, and they eventually leave the company, resulting in a significant loss of talent that will adversely impact the firm’s performance and potential for growth.”
In that article, I relate my personal experience of having worked for a bully and tyrant who led one of the company’s divisions. He caused huge damage to the organization. At the time, my company did not have a hotline to the board or to the audit committee of the board.
The HR department knew he was a bully and tyrant as did the CEO. In the company’s climate survey, we didn’t report his bullying behavior, for fear that he would be able to identify those who wrote negative comments. We felt sure that we would face retaliation.
I was eventually promoted to a peer position of the tyrant. Three years later I was promoted to be his boss and shortly thereafter, I fired him, to the relief of the employees of that division.
So, what should be the best practices of organizations to protect against the type of leaders who harass and bully employees? All boards need to hold the CEO accountable for the right tone at the top and organizational culture so that employees aren’t sexually harassed or bullied. The head of HR needs to be strong so employees have confidence that HR will do something about the harasser or bully. Employees need to have trust in the board, the CEO and HR.
The leaders below the CEO also need to hold the leaders reporting to them accountable for tone and culture. Employees should not fear retaliation by using the employee hotline or confiding in the HR department.
The board and CEO should not tolerate anything less than ethical behavior from all the company’s employees.Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.