"The whole world is only about money, nothing else."
That quote comes from Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, one of the many women who accused former CBS CEO Leslie Moonves not only of sexual harassment but of sexual assault. Moonves stepped down earlier this week after The New Yorker ran a Ronan Farrow story detailing the accusations against Moonves.
Farrow, you may recall, won a Pulitzer Prize for his exposé of Harvey Weinstein's horrible sexual behavior.
How do horrible men like this get and stay in power? Their acts weren't mysterious and unknown. Weinstein had a clause in his contract that said if he "treated someone improperly in violation of the company's Code of Conduct," he would only have to pay the legal fees and would otherwise be in the clear. In other words, the board knew exactly what he was doing, and they were like, "Eh, he makes a lot of money."
Hopefully, #MeToo has brought that to an end. We never should have ignored bad behavior from star earners. And now it's time for companies to make it clear: No matter how much money you bring in, you must behave properly at work.
We need revised contracts
Most Americans are "at-will" employees. This means they can quit or be fired for any reason or no reason, as long as that reason isn't prohibited by law. So, for instance, you can fire someone for spilling spaghetti sauce on her blouse, but you can't fire someone for their race, gender, pregnancy, etc.
CEOs, on the other hand, tend to have contracts. These spell out the conditions under which they can be terminated and often include separation packages as part of them. Called "golden parachutes," these can be millions of dollars, even for a failed CEO.
These contracts need to be clear that sexual harassment reduces the golden parachute to zero.
HR needs revamping
I've often said that it's critical that HR report to the CEO, but I'm wondering if that is the best situation. When the HR manager knows her own job is at risk if she acts on a sexual harassment complaint, it limits the trust employees have that their complaint will be taken seriously. Of course, boards are often willing to overlook sexual harassment in favor of profits. (See Weinstein.)
But human resources needs more guts. HR's job is to do what is best for the business, and there needs to be universal agreement that protecting sexual harassers is always bad for the business. This, of course, is easy to say and hard to actually do. There's a huge history of treating people differently based on their perceived value to the company.
More external investigations
According to Farrow's New Yorker piece, CBS hired an external investigator to look into the complaints. When you're dealing with an executive, an outside investigator should always be involved. Regardless of the guts and reporting relationship of the CHRO to the other executive, the relationship and peer or subordinate status make it difficult to get an unbiased report.
Better hiring practices
Now, I'm all in favor of forgiveness. People shouldn't be punished eternally for bad behavior, as long as they have demonstrated they have changed. But we need to be open and honest in reference checking. Despite laws protecting companies for sharing honest information, many companies officially only share titles and dates of service and whether a termination was voluntary or involuntary. This is on the advice of their attorneys.
Somehow, we need to share more information so that we can be aware of what kind of person we're hiring.
However, we need to make sure that we aren't going down the path that many universities took, where an accusation is enough to destroy someone's reputation. We need a more balanced approach to investigation and information sharing.
Overall, it's time to make a change. We are no longer going to tolerate bad behavior in the workplace.