What Would You Say To Your Daughter or Sister If She Said She Landed A Job With Bill O’Reilly?
job with Bill O’Reilly. What would you tell them? Surely it’s a coveted job, but is it worth it? One of the oddest aspects of my profession as a headhunter is that I spend a lot of my time thinking about scenarios that most people experience every day at work. I write about this in in my HarperCollins best seller “Bulletproof Your Job” (In full disclosure, HarperCollins is owned by News Corp, which also owns Fox News) and I have spoken about it on NBC’s “Steve Harvey Show,” where I am a frequent contributor. I have a boutique practice and my company usually recruits employees in the furniture and design industry, but I am of the belief that most law offices and construction sites and Silicon Valley tech start-ups, all have a whole lot in common in terms of the inter-personal issues that the workplace presents. I run through myriad scenarios when trying to find the right candidates to match with certain clients. Any decent headhunter with a conscience does. Our job is to recruit the right people, who will hopefully have the experience for the job we are set to fill and fit in with the culture and climate of the company, all with the intention of minimizing the challenges endemic to the workplace and benefiting both the employee and the company. In the best of cases, working with others can be difficult. Last week, we were reminded in the headlines that, depending on who our bosses are, it can be unavoidably hellish.
The allegations against Bill O’Reilly, which came to light late last week, have been sobering to me and many in my field. From our perspective, it is nearly impossible to look at this without wondering who we have placed in companies that have had to contend with similar (alleged) harassment. I have done quite a bit of soul searching as a result and here are some thoughts: I could have been a headhunter that placed a producer at Fox News? Has anyone I ever placed been subjected to sexual harassment or bullying in the workplace?
I have good news and bad news; The good news is that the more this is in the news, the more we have brave women and men reporting their co-workers who cross the line, the more support that major advertisers give to the cause by pulling advertising money, and the more that we push to remove these bosses, who use their positions in despicable ways, from power, the better this is going to get. The bad news is that we have a long way to go. And in a privately owned company, it is even easier to hide these problems and make them disappear. I wish this answer was as simple as saying some people (mostly men, but some women too) are pigs. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. We can’t talk about sexual assault at work without talking about power dynamics and nowhere in our lives are power dynamics clearer than in the workplace. Where there is an unequal balance of power, there is an opportunity for those with power to wield it dangerously.
Over the last few years, we have gotten much better at holding people accountable for the ways that they use power. It is important to understand that the fact that we’re even having this conversation is a good start. Twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, this O’Reilly story would have never seen the light of day. You just have to have seen one episode of “Mad Men” to understand that. Who knows if these allegations even got reported up the chain of command in the 90’s. It is also worth considering that the rules changed on these powerful people. Twenty or thirty years ago, sexual harassment in the workplace was so widespread that it was largely shrugged off. A lot of the people who are getting in trouble now started their careers in environments where this stuff was very common, in fact, as common as smoking was in the workplace! However, we now see a spike of it in Silicon Valley, look at the Uber situation, so that sort of contradicts my thoughts.
You may or may not know that this month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month; it was first officially established in 2009. I promise that sexual harassment--in general and in the workplace--existed long before 2009. I, in no way mean to excuse this behavior; there is no excuse for sexual harassment of any kind. My only point is that it isn’t going to be easy to change these environments, but we are working on it. Non-profit organizations like Sleeping Giants work to hold advertisers accountable for their decisions to support people and companies who have proven to not care enough about these important issues. Ultimately, that is the front where I think this war will be waged, Money talks. It feels terrible to shroud an argument for fighting sexual harassment in economic terms of viability, but this is where we can make an irrefutable case. If people won’t accept that these sorts of allegations are sufficient to warrant punishment or termination of employment, then we have to make it crystal clear that sexual harassment is bad for business.
So what if your office is one of those offices where this type of behavior is widespread? My most basic recommendation is to report harassment to your company hotline or to your HR department. You should always feel comfortable going through this process, and if you don’t, that is definitely a reason to leave your job. If you only feel comfortable going to HR with explicit proof (you shouldn’t have to feel this way, but some people do), use your phone to record your interactions with certain repeat offenders. Recording colleagues or bosses is likely prohibited in your office, but guess what else is definitely prohibited? That’s right, sexual harassment. In the end, leaving these offices is no guarantee that you’ll find an office immune to this scourge. I can’t promise that any company will be totally free of sexual harassment. That said, there are companies that do a lot of work to create safe and productive environments for their workers. Find one of those places and settle in. You shouldn’t have to leave your job because of handsy harassers, but at some point it disgusts me to say, maybe it is your best option. And no, I would not let my daughter or sister work for Bill O’Riley, anymore then I would have let her work for Bill Clinton! Write me and let me know what you think at Stephen@viscusigroup.com
Stephen Viscusi is the CEO of The Viscusi Group, a global executive search practice specializing in the interior furnishings industry located in New York City. Viscusi is the author of the HarperCollins book "Bulletproof Your Job" You can visit his website at www.viscusigroup.com or follow him on twitter at @Stephenviscusi, Instagram at Stephenviscusi and Facebook Write him at Stephen@Viscusigroup.com