#MeToo Era Revelations Are Making An Impact
Les Moonves, the former CEO of CBS, will not be receiving the $120 million dollar severance payout that had been set aside for him. The independent investigation commissioned by the company, which was undertaken by two major law firms, and included interviews with over 300 people, concluded “that there are grounds to terminate for cause, including his willful and material misfeasance, violation of Company policies and breach of his employment contract, as well as his willful failure to cooperate fully with the Company’s investigation.” Les Moonves had been accused by multiple women of serious non-consensual sexual misconduct over many years.
The investigation further revealed that CBS had a culture of not taking harassment allegations seriously, and of allowing senior management to avoid training designed to educate them about harassment.
The lawyers who investigated Mr. Moonves wrote in their report that CBS’s anti-harassment and other personnel policies were not as robust as others they had seen at other companies.
“In our view, they have a ‘check-the-box’ quality in wording, managing and enforcement,” the lawyers wrote.
They also called one particular provision — which explained that employees who complain about discrimination or harassment might experience “negative employment action” that would not be considered retaliation — “tone-deaf” and “highly unusual.”
“It detracts from any message that the company affirmatively encourages employees to raise questions and concerns,” the report said. “It is also likely to exacerbate fears about retaliation, which, based on our interviews, seems to be a particularly acute problem at CBS.”
The report also found that Mr. Moonves and about 30 other senior leaders were typically allowed to sidestep anti-harassment training. Some senior people in the news division historically had their assistants complete the training for them, the lawyers wrote.
But as bad as things have been, these revelations are forcing changes. “The Board, which includes six new members, and the Company’s new management have already begun to take robust steps to improve the working environment for all employees. Among other things, the Company appointed a new Chief People Officer, is actively engaged in ways to enhance and reimagine the Human Resources function, and has retained outside expert advisors to develop other initiatives for promoting a workplace culture of dignity, transparency, respect and inclusion.”
CBS is not the only company who has made the decision (or been forced) to restructure or institute meaningful changes in the past year. In February, the Dallas Mavericks hired CEO Cynthia Marshall in the wake of their own harassment scandal. Marshall “immediately devised a 100-day plan to transform the organization’s culture and has vowed to make the Mavericks a model for pro sports franchises.”
“It’s just a completely different vibe over there,” (Maverick’s coach, Rick) Carlisle said. “Things have changed so much — the mood, the atmosphere, the environment, the optics and the people. It’s been a great thing to see.”
A few weeks ago Google employees around the world staged a walk-out to protest the fact that high profile sexual harassers had sometimes been let go with huge severance packages. The walk-out was organized by women but had so many men join in solidarity that it essentially shut Google down for several hours. “He (Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive) said Google had not lived up to the high bar it set for itself. It has since “evolved as a company,” Mr. Pichai added, and he expressed support for the employees who participated in the walkout. He promised that Google would take steps to address the issues they raised.”
Of course, promises are empty unless they are followed up by meaningful actions, but in many cases it does appear that real structural shifts are taking place to address decades of indifferent or complicit company cultures. The time has passed when these kinds of allegations can be quietly swept under the rug. Calling out perpetrators is having an impact; demanding better from companies is forcing change. Les Moonves is perhaps the highest profile corporate executive to have been called to account for his heinous behavior towards women, but you can bet that he will not be the last.