This week I watched Bill O'Reilly's long-overdue comeuppance, for more than a decade of reported sexual harassment, with very mixed emotions: satisfaction, of course, but also fatigue, and only a weary shadow of rage.
Yes, one high-profile perpetrator of a very common workplace crime has finally been punished. Fox News, which already had to learn this lesson once with former head Roger Ailes, finally removed another powerful man who had dented or derailed the careers of countless women who worked with him. (O'Reilly continues to insist that his exit rested on "completely unfounded claims.") But why did it take this bloody long--and how many women's jobs were casualties along the way?
That's a question that I find myself asking a lot these days, about institutional sexism in too many areas. Politics, obviously, thanks to the new president's well-chronicled harassment of women and rather exclusionary approach towards governing them. Or there's tech, over and over and over again.
Consider Travis Kalanick, the Uber founder who has survived accusations of his employees' rampant sexism and harassment against women engineers; criticism over that company's industry-awful diversity numbers; video evidence of his own lousy attitude towards his contract-worker drivers; the departures of several high-profile employees; and oh yeah, losing lots and lots of his investors' money.
Yet none of this has yet cost Kalanick his job. Of course founder-CEOs generally exert a pretty high degree of control over their companies, but given the high amount of terrible news sustained at Uber, its investors' forbearance seems extraordinary. The question of replacing the CEO "hasn't come up and we don't expect it to come up," Uber board member Arianna Huffington told reporters on a conference call last month.
The Murdoch family, which controls Fox, had quietly put up with O'Reilly's reported behavior towards women for years. But even they cut O'Reilly loose once he started costing them money; advertisers abandoned his show en masse in the last few weeks, in the wake of yet more high-profile allegations. So shouldn't Uber's investors be a little more upset?
There was a more viscerally sickening tech headline this week: the physical abuse caught on tape--and all but dismissed in court--from one Silicon Valley founder. "I would like to see you murdered," the techie in question, Cuberon CEO Abhishek Gattani, told his wife during a six-minute recording, in which he can be heard hitting her.
Still, prosecutors reduced the charges against him, and Gattani is likely to serve only a handful of days in jail, according to The Daily Beast, which has the recording.
That was another obvious opportunity for outrage--and yet my overwhelming reaction to that story was also fatigue, rather than anger. At this rate it's hard to be surprised by even the most extreme examples of anti-woman behavior in business and tech. All that outrage, however justified, is exhausting.
I know, intellectually, that that's a dangerous and self-defeating reaction. Outrage might be criticized for its knee-jerk qualities, but sustained, fundamental anger over injustice can be productive. It's what Sandy Lerner, the formidable co-founder of Cisco and Urban Decay and now a growing food business, has credited for her multiple business successes--though "you have to separate outrage from tantrum," she warns.
Rage can fuel companies, lawsuits, protest movements and electoral campaigns. Rage can be channeled into clear, dispassionate, damning post-mortems like engineer Susan Fowler's explanation of just why she left Uber. Rage has to be part of what sustained Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly and the other women whose professional orbits collided with Bill O'Reilly's.
Yet all of this individual rage only seems to create change after it has festered for years or decades, and when it finally bubbles up to the people (the men) with the money. That took at least 15 years in O'Reilly's case. Fifteen years and at least $13 million of payouts to women who complained about his behavior and the relatively open secret, to anyone paying attention, of how awful it was to be female while working at what's now the highest-rated cable news channel.
Uber's been around for eight years. How many more will it take for rage to make a difference?