CEOs Are Ultimately To Blame For Harassment At The Office

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(This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post)

Gretchen Carlson is no stranger to sexual harassment. A former Miss USA and accomplished violinist, Carlson documented in her 2015 book, “Getting Real,” of her struggles to rise from a local reporter to a national correspondent on Fox News in a male-dominated media world. Last year, she made headlines when she accused Fox’s former CEO, the recently deceased Roger Ailes, of sexual harassment. She ultimately settled with the company and is now devoting herself to writing and speaking about women’s causes.

Her latest message: If you think you may be a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, your human resources department may not be the best place for you to go.

“In the end,” Carlson said to a gathering at Fortune Magazine’s annual NYC Most Powerful Women dinner, “if the culture’s being set from the top and it’s trickling down to the lower levels, human resources may not be looking out for you.”

This stuff is still going on? Didn’t sexual harassment end when Don Draper retired? I’m still amazed how, in 2017, the business world is still very much a man’s world. Yet, it is. I’ve seen incidents over the years where men, especially when they get the chance to gather together, act like boys — and the women nearby are forced to ignore their behavior. Don’t believe me?

Recently, a lawsuit was filed by the former director of social media for a Silicon Valley tech firm that accused the founders of allowing “rampant sexual behavior” that created an “unbearable environment” for female employees. Among the charges: men speaking freely (in graphic detail) of their sexual exploits while in the office, bosses evaluating the physical appearance of female employees and claims that the “the company set up a space, referred to as the ‘kink room,’ that contained a bed meant ‘to encourage sexual intercourse in the workplace.’” What?

Oh, there’s lots more. A scandal erupted earlier this year when a female engineer at Uber accused management of sexual harassment and HR complicity. There’s also been many recent allegations of harassment, bias and discrimination against executives and managers at such high-profile firms as Google, Apple, Twitter and Oracle. By the way — this is what we know about because these firms make the news. Imagine how many unreported incidents are happening at companies all around the country that don’t warrant media attention.

Oh yeah, it’s all happening. It’s all real. And, if you’re a business owner or a CEO like me, it’s our fault. Carlson is right: the tone really does come from the top. I get it; I’m a guy. We do guy stuff. We say stupid guy things. We know that when women are together, they say stupid women things too. We’re humans and, underneath it all, we’re essentially animals. But not in the workplace. Not in 2017. Things have evolved.

Camille Paglia, the noted feminist, has often said that women should take more responsibility for their actions, specifically pointing out here that “misled by the naive optimism and ‘You go, girl!’ boosterism of their upbringing, young women do not see the animal eyes glowing at them in the dark. They assume that bared flesh and sexy clothes are just a fashion statement containing no messages that might be misread and twisted by a psychotic. They do not understand the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature.”

I get that. Savagery is amongst us. But men have a responsibility for their own behavior too. Especially in the workplace. No female should feel uncomfortable or unsafe during her job unless she’s a fighter pilot or a wrestler. It’s our responsibility, as business owners, to set this tone.

Carlson’s message resonates. If you’re a business owner or a CEO, don’t think for a minute that you can delegate the problem to your HR department. If it’s happening at your company, it’s your fault.

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