Roger Ailes Built an Empire by Bullying Monica Lewinsky

Long before women on Fox News came forward to reveal the systemic sexism and sexual harassment encouraged, and inflicted, by Chairman Roger Ailes, there was Monica Lewinsky. If you remember her as the coed temptress who inspired the hanky-panky of a horndog president, there’s a reason for that. It was a narrative Ailes created to drive ratings.

Ailes recognized Bill Clinton’s lies about his involvement with Lewinsky as a ripe opportunity to exploit the situation to bring new viewers to Fox News. He cared little about the truth and even less about the individuals involved. What he did care about was a ratings bonanza and he relentlessly pushed the story creating the beginning of the disinformation age—what Stephen Colbert would later call, “truthiness.” Ailes bullied Lewinsky in prime time and got rich off her misery.

It’s no surprise then that Lewinsky just wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled, “Roger Ailes Dream was My Nightmare.” She reiterated what I’ve been discussing for weeks—that Ailes created a culture at Fox News that was so toxic that women had nowhere to go to report abuse. No surprise when you realize that his network’s success was created by disparaging a woman. I say “Brava!” to Lewinsky for having the courage to give the most appropriate eulogy to a bully.

Hopefully, there are some lessons on bullying for the rest of us from this debacle. We must learn not to vilify women for their proximity to powerful men assuming that they, and not the man, must be to blame. That goes equally for interns and former first ladies. Imagine if we had held Ailes accountable for what he did to Lewinsky? We might have prevented the very atmosphere that castigated Hillary Clinton and promoted the rise of Donald Trump. We can only hope history will forgive us.  

Photo credit: Huffington Post

Why Do the Big Tech Companies Drive Away Women and Minorities?

There are toxic workplaces and then there are toxic workplaces in the tech industry. Up until now the evidence was heavily anecdotal. There was the female employee who revealed sexual harassment at Uber, followed by the heart-wrenching tragedy of the African-American engineer at Uber who took his own life as the stress became unmanageable. There is the gay employee taking on the Omnicom Group for horrific abuse and the well-known story of Ellen Pao, whose gender discrimination suit made national news.

At last we have some data to support the chorus of diverse voices begging us to pay attention to the working conditions they’ve been forced to endure. The Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll just conducted a study to explore the reasons why people leave tech companies. What they discovered was that the outpouring of first-person stories of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, bullying and racial bias is borne out by the numbers: eight in 10 employees who left tech said they did so due to unfair behavior or treatment.  Eighty-five percent observed such behavior and 37 percent left their jobs because of it.

Women experience and observed far more toxic behavior than men, with women of color being most likely to be passed over for promotion. In addition, LGBT employees endured the most bullying and public humiliation leading to the decision by 64 percent to leave their company.

Given that employee retention problems due to toxic workplaces are costing $16 billion a year, one would think that the tech companies would use their brain power to work harder at a solution. However, Facebook, whom we recently praised for its new policy about gender-diverse legal teams, has been cited in the Wall Street Journal for its hidden biases against female engineers. Perhaps Cheryl Sandberg might want to figure out how to help her company lean in. Right now it’s not getting the job done.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

Illustration credit: Womena/greenlining.org

Those Who Rely on Whistleblower Hotlines are Fools

Reports about the effectiveness of harassment hotlines are leaving me cold. In a recent Letter to the Editor of the New York Times, an attorney who formerly worked with the Labor Department’s Whistleblower Advisory Committee stated that hotline reporting went up 8 percent in 2016 and the average length of resolution dropped from 46 to 42 days. While I have the deepest respect for this individual and the work he does, he’s sadly misinformed.

I have also worked with a number of organizations on ethical issues and have done a fair amount of research in the field, which have led to two books on workplace dynamics—the most recent one being From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. My research has shown that most employees do not trust hotlines and other mechanisms to report workplace wrongdoing. There’s a good reason for this. Take the example of Michael J. Lutz who reported an impropriety he spotted in his work as an accounting specialist at the Radian Group. The company scheduled an investigation and concluded that he was wrong and everything was proper. Frustrated, Lutz reached out to the internal compliance hotline—and one of his superiors found out and retaliated and started to force him out of the company. That’s when he contacted the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is supposed to be the whistleblower’s advocate. In spite of having solid evidence of the retaliation, nothing happened.

Ironically, one of his tasks was to make sure that internal accounting controls were in proper compliance to avoid the strict penalties that resulted from the Enron-era legislation. When he was ousted, Radian hired an outside accounting firm to prove that they were in compliance. The firm? KPMG—the Big Four accounting firm whose improprieties I recently wrote about.

Clearly, business leaders aren’t hearing what employees have to tell them on every level. In a study conducted by Mental Health America sponsored by the Faas Foundation, an astounding 69 percent of more than 17,000 people surveyed admitted to speaking poorly about their organization to others. And yet, as in the case of Bill O’Reilly, leaders continue to insist that no one had a problem because there were no complaints to the whistleblower hotline.

Boards of Directors and senior executive often tout their policies, programs and HR departments as proof that they have a value-based, inclusive, safe and fair workplace culture that includes freedom of expression. My research says otherwise. Top management still isn’t listening, making all of their mechanisms for reporting misbehavior nothing more than legal shields. Even more disturbing, my research shows they don’t want to hear what they need to hear.

Illustration credit: Dilbert by Scott Adams

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

I wanted to take a moment to respond further to the stories of workplace sexual harassment that have been coming forward more and more in the past weeks. Many, from various talking heads to Eric Trump, seem to be suggesting that all a woman (or man) needs to do to dispel sexual harassment is go to human resources. Firstly, this point of view totally ignores the reality that many workplace cultures subtly encourage employees not to file harassment claims. Additionally, as I’ve discussed in my book, in many instances of workplace bullying (including sexual harassment), HR can oftentimes be part of the problem – either because they don’t have the power to effectively resolve issues, or because they are actively taking part in creating issues. Blindly directing targets of sexual harassment to HR is not only foolish, but potentially harmful in the modern workplace. Unless HR is completely trustworthy in the given organization, targets need to gather substantive evidence of their harassment to back themselves up when they finally make their situation known – otherwise, HR can end up empowering the bully or harasser further, sometimes unintentionally. As opposed to encouraging more women to speak up about harassment, which is valuable, I suggest another option: we need to encourage HR officers to grow backbones. In many workplaces like Fox News, where ongoing harassment seemed to be an open secret, where was HR? Where is HR when an employee is showing clear signs of domestic abuse, sexual harassment or mental issues? Many of the workplace bullying cases I see day to day could be avoided – if HR was empowered to help employees effectively, and had the real intention to do so. 

Message to Top-Level Predators: No, You Can't Get Away With It

I have to say, I am surprised by the quick response by the Murdochs to the now confirmed sexual harassment allegations against Roger Ailes. It’s been about two weeks since the lawsuit filed by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, and in that time, the management of 20th Century Fox, Fox News’s parent company, have taken swift action to conduct an objective internal investigation that found several others to corroborate Carlson’s claims. It seems that even Megyn Kelly, one of Fox News’s newer matriarchs, was affected by Ailes’s sexual harassment. As much as we can commend the Murdochs for dealing with this situation quickly once it came to public light, we have to ask – how come this was not dealt with long ago, since Ailes’s behavior was an open secret at Fox News? I hope Fox goes on to shift culturally, in addition to getting rid of Ailes. Ultimately, though, this really has to serve as an example to other high-level employers who think they can harass with impunity. A message to all the predators out there: regardless of your level, change or be changed by being brought down in disgrace. You can read more about Ailes's resignation at the New York Times.

Taking a Closer Look at Gretchen Carlson and Fox News

I have been giving a lot of thought to the situation arising between Fox News, Gretchen Carlson and Roger Ailes. There seem to be many sides to this in media at the moment – from female colleagues of Ailes defending his impeccable behavior, to anonymous female Fox News employees coming out in support of Carlson’s allegations of a sexist workplace culture. However, I can’t help but draw parallels between Fox’s current situation and that of the CBC when the Jian Ghomeshi sexual harassment scandal came to light. The way the CBC handled the situation, with little transparency, not only damaged their journalistic integrity, but allowed Ghomeshi to claim that he was the victim in a situation where, eventually, it was clear that he was in the wrong despite his acquittal. Additionally, the CBC focused on the particular case of sexual harassment, rather than on addressing their endemic culture of celebrity that allows certain individuals to harass with impunity.

While the CBC’s scandal arose in the arts and entertainment section of their business, Fox News is faced with a scandal that can seriously damage their journalistic integrity if it’s handled incorrectly. In order to maintain any sort of credibility, they will have to seriously examine not only Roger Ailes, but the culture of sexism that may or may not be present in their business. While some employees, like Greta Van Susteren, have stated that they have never experienced sexism in the Fox News environment, others seem to be coming forward to corroborate what Carlson is alleging (albeit anonymously). Either way, the internal investigation will need to be objective, comprehensive, and most importantly transparent with the public that watches Fox News daily for information. If it turns out that these allegations are false, it will only embolden predators at the workplace to continue to sexually harass their colleagues. Conversely, if Fox News shoves this lawsuit under the rug, it’ll be damming to their reputation as a reputable news organization. Either way, it should not be left to the court of public opinion to decide.

Image Credit: Fox News

Standing Up to Sexual Harassment

The news of Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Roger Ailes sounds all too familiar when bearing in mind the plights many women have to face in the workplace. Considering that Carlson’s show was at the top of its 2 PM time slot with an average of 1.1 million viewers, I would not be surprised to find that her accusations hold water. Being asked to perform sexually to assure the continuation of your contract, in addition to having to deal with what sounds like a sexist work environment, should be unacceptable for any employee. It’s heartening that Carlson is calling out Ailes despite his immense power in the communications industry – even those at the top of their fields should not be allowed to harass employees with impunity. You can read more on the lawsuit in The New York Times.

Image: Rich Polk/Getty Images for Variety

Whistleblower Retaliation at Korn Ferry

Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn/Ferry -  Photo by Jennifer Weiss for WSJ

Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn/Ferry - Photo by Jennifer Weiss for WSJ

I can relate to what Robert Damon, formerly of Korn/Ferry, is going through. He was a high-level executive who was fired for whistleblowing against Korn/Ferry’s Chief Executive, Gary Burnison, who was allegedly mistreating several female colleagues. This parallels what I went through when I blew the whistle on a senior executive in a former position I held, because I went through some of the same experiences. Additionally, Mr. Damon was smeared by Korn/Ferry in an attempt to discredit him, which is typical tactic used against whistleblowers who sue for wrongful termination – something I had to fight through for 18 months in my past. While the allegations against Mr. Burnison have not been proven in court, but my sources in the organization have expressed total dismay with what has gone on and is still going on within the company. Read more on the case and the settlement at The Wall Street Journal.

360 Reviews and Workplace Bullying

In my opinion, 360 reviews can very easily turn into workplace bullying. These kinds of reviews consist of anonymous feedback from supervisors, peers and subordinate employees, and this combination sometimes leads to perceived “payback” in the form of severe or unfair commentary. It’s a feedback mechanism used by thousands of organizations, and in toxic workplace cultures, it leads to vitriolic bullying most of the time. Read more about these reviews at The New York Times.

Art Credit: Jacob Reeves for NYT