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One more nail in the sexual harassment coffin

Ailes is out, and I couldn't be happier
Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News and Fox Television Stations, answers questions during a panel discussion at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Pasadena, California July 24, 2006.

By Todd Humber

Goodbye, Roger Ailes. I will not miss you.

Ailes, the curmudgeon who built Fox News into an empire is out — and I’m not happy he’s gone because of the detrimental impact he’s had on journalism. Nor am I gleeful that he’s out because of the constant stream of misinformation that rolls out of Fox News.

No, I’m glad he’s gone because it’s yet another nail in the coffin of a culture where sexual harassment of women gets a blind eye.

Ailes, 76, was facing accusations of sexual harassment from former anchor Gretchen Carlson. Other reports surfaced in New York magazine from other women who claimed Ailes behaved inappropriately — a number reported to be as high as 20. Current Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly apparently told investigators hired by Fox that he “made unwanted sexual advances toward her” about 10 years ago.

There are no allegations that Ailes physically did anything — it was what he said that made the difference, and that’s a message that needs to get out. Sexual harassment isn’t necessarily about touching a colleague. It doesn’t need to involve actual physical contact.

In her lawsuit, Carlson claims he asked her for sex and fired her when she refused. She claims he said: “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.”

She also claims he ogled her in his office and asked her to turn around so he could view her from behind.

Words so matter.

Watching Ailes — who seemed untouchable given his massive success — fall from grace is a great lesson. We’re way past the tipping point, folks. If you treat people like this, you deserve to lose your job — no matter how much power and influence you have.

And yet the pages of publications like Canadian Employment Law Today are filled with story after story of inappropriate behaviour. And far too often it’s in the form of men objectifying women.

And please don’t trot out the comments about me being too politically correct. Last night, in his speech at the Republican National Convention, presidential candidate Donald Trump said “we cannot afford to be so politically correct anymore.”

On some fronts, he’s right. But I hope we can all agree that the sexual harassment of women and gender equality has nothing to do with political correctness.

Sexual harassment remains far too commonplace at work. Whether it be whistles and catcalls, online stalking, unwanted advances or an uncomfortable looking up and down — we need to behave better.

Ailes resigned, but likely had no other choice. His bosses at Fox were not happy with the accusations. He reportedly got a massive golden parachute in the form of a $40 million US severance. But let’s not focus on that.

We can all help stamp out this behaviour by stealing a line from anti-terrorism campaigns — “If you see something, say something.”

I’ve had instances in the past where I’ve seen harassment of colleagues and not said anything. I was younger, more unsure and the work culture seemed to allow it and laugh it off. I’m not proud of my silence.

Those days need to come to an end. If someone like Ailes can lose his job because of how he behaved towards women, anyone can. If you’re experiencing harassment, talk to your manager or the HR department.

If you’re in HR, you know you can’t afford to take complaints lightly. Employer liability is growing and public tolerance is waning.

Let’s focus on the simple message: If you sexually harass someone at work, you’re going to lose your job.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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