Sexual harassment in the workplace, re: commentary on Fox News's recent turnover

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Sexual harassment in the workplace, re: commentary on Fox News's recent turnover

Post by Sonic# » Wed Apr 19, 16:56 2017

I'm going to set out a perspective I'm thinking about regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, in immediate response to Fox News's recent high-profile staff turnover but with an eye to the problem generally:

Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, and similar figures get away with sexual harassment for so long because they're rich, powerful, and at the top of their fields. However, they're highly visible symptoms to a problem that goes underreported and frequently unaddressed in organizations. Sexual harassment is endemic in many companies, and requires changing leadership to address. If the leaders of a company or the administration of a school isn't taking claims of harassment seriously, or if they're the harassers themselves, it's a shitty place for anyone vulnerable to harassment.

So, I agree with that generally. The last part cribs considerably from an NPR article I read today on the issue, "Fox News Turmoil Highlights Workplace Culture's Role in Sexual Harassment." I expected some addressing the role HR plays in putting protecting the company over protecting its "human resources". I expected some more general statistics showing how widespread sexual harassment is. It focused instead on leadership as a kind of proxy for culture:
Owens says culture flows from the top brass, and without the support of the CEO, there is no hope for change.
Hewick had her first job in human resources 15 years ago, working for a construction firm near Washington, D.C. It was a male-dominated business, where she says she regularly received comments like, "Oh, baby, you're looking good," or dismissive comments such as, "Sweetheart, just go sit over there and you don't need to speak up."

Hewick decided to write a corporate policy, introducing annual harassment training that defined sexual harassment and detailed the consequences of noncompliance. Because victims often are afraid to report a problem out of fear of retaliation, Hewick says it was also critical to include a reporting mechanism to allow confidential reporting.

Most executives got on board, she says. Still, she says, "it took some letting go some key people that were the worst offenders that didn't want to abide by our new policy and thought we were just joking."
Pragmatically, this seems useful. The leadership needs to give teeth to any anti-harassment policy. Otherwise, the best intentions of any HR middleperson are going to be drowned out. I'm trying to think through two things:

a. What if the CEO and top brass theoretically oppose sexual harassment, but they aren't aware of how much it's a problem in middle management or among their own ranks in their company? It feels like that's the case in a lot of organizations, where the leaders and even many workers don't identify sexual harassment as a problem until there's a high-profile case with someone speaking up and having lots of evidence. Otherwise, the culture doesn't budge. I'd also suggest that may be a bigger problem because of the continued gender imbalance in leadership roles in major organizations.

b. The solutions suggested in the article take a specific capitalist hierarchical organizational structure as a given. That's fair for the article, which speaks mainly to what its examples suggest. Still, what if there's something about opaque organizational structures that encourages harassment to go under the radar? Unchecked monarchy was good until there were bad rulers; similarly, it seems like companies are good until there are bad leaders. If we wanted to harassment-proof the organizations we're a part of, and any aspect of the organization were open to changing, what would that look like? If one of us were to start our own company/non-profit/school tomorrow, how could we limit the opportunities for sexual harassment in the long term?

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Re: Sexual harassment in the workplace, re: commentary on Fox News's recent turnover

Post by Unvoiced_Apollo » Thu Apr 20, 7:08 2017

Tbh, unless victims come forward all at once, I don't see how such leadership (who doesn't see harassment as a problem) will change. And unfortunately, it requires people to experience that first before change in such a culture can be made to prevent other victims. I really don't see an established culture changing until something big like that happens. And with Tucker Carlson being O'Reilly's replacement, such a shakeup is clearly no guarantee of a change. I also think you're right about the gender imbalance. My organization's leadership is about 50-50 but I'm also in a more unique situation in which most of my co-workers are women. There likely is a different dynamic as a result when compared to a male-dominated workplace.

If I were to start an organization, the best thing I could think of (in addition to many other policies other places have used) is to work with non-profit organizations that specializes in all sorts of unethical practices and create an investigative committee independent from the company or school. A lot of harassment goes unreported because the perpetrator is in a position of power or well liked/favored (or both: ... hamed-her/) and as such the victim risks alienating other co-workers at best or losing their job. Having a committe independent of the organization allows for a lower conflict of interest, lets the victim speak anonymously, and the committee is then aware so that when others come forward they can show a history of the perpetrator. Again, doesn't do much to prevent, but I would hope this allows the victim to more freely report.