The sexual harassment suit that has played out in the public eye at Fox News is fascinating yet perhaps not surprising. What is mind-boggling is that once Gretchen Carlson had the guts to file a law suit for Ailes behavior how many other women felt empowered to do the same. For years each of these women, and I am sure there are more, decided to just either live with it, ignore it or leave the company.
My guess is if any of this actually gets to court that we will all be witness to a culture that everyone knew existed but somehow just accepted it as ok. Do we believe that Fox is the only company that allows their executives to behave that way? I doubt it.
In my senior year of college I was making the interview rounds at every top retail program. One of those programs was Bloomingdales. My last interview of the day there was with a male VP of all of ready-to-wear. He was one of the handful of top executives in the company. As the interviewed ended he cornered me in the door and made more than a few inappropriate comments. It is a bit of a blur now but it was about how I looked and having a drink.
It occurred to me the next day when I was back in Boston that this guy sexually harassed me. When Bloomingdales called to offer me a job in their program I declined. I also told the person who called me that the VP had made inappropriate comments to me in the interview and it was not ok. My guess is nothing ever came of that but I wasn’t going to let it pass.
Then many years later when I was running a company in the garment center, the guy who ran it made sexual comments to every woman in that company except me. He probably knew I’d kill him but I told him countless times that it was not ok what he was doing and he was going to end up in a law suit.
Even at Macy’s, where I did take my first job out of college, I saw sexual harassment right before I left. I was in a meeting where all the buyers were presenting the season to the head of the division and the VP who oversaw the division. All the buyers were women and the heads were men. The comments about women’s looks, bodies, boobs and more was beyond inappropriate. One of the men actually felt up one of the women’s legs up while she put her presentation up on the board. Everyone giggled like it was funny but I was disgusted.
I told the head of HR what had happened and I also told the head of HR that I was told that women do not move as fast as men. I am sure that I was blackballed after that because of the anger and tension that was being driven towards me from my immediate boss. Besides the fact that the company just went private and it was a complete mess and I was thoroughly bored in my job, it was the environment that really pushed me out.
I hear from too many women founders who go pitch men that say shit that you can’t make up. I am not sure if they are just ignorant or that this kind of behavior has just been ignored by their peers. As more men and women stand up and say we are not going to take it anymore such as the women at Fox did, we will see healthier company cultures and I bet more mutual respect across the board. Sexual harassment is real and it is NOT ok.