Remember that movie The Purge? I think it may have even had a sequel or two. The general premise is that for a certain period of hours every year, it’s legal to kill people.
I never actually watched the movie, so I don’t know what the rationale was behind this extraordinary law, but I think there’s a purge coming. However, I don’t think it’s the purge we’re seeing right now.
Bright, shining careers and reputations are dying, violently clattering into various media rubbish bins left and right thanks to bad behavior. Today’s Matt Lauer is the latest to fall from a very high perch this week. But here’s the thing. If he successfully lands with the $30 million golden parachute his lawyers are reportedly pursuing, does that – just a bit, you understand – dilute the lesson?
And if he’s successful – y’all know I love to play devil’s advocate – what does that say about an organization’s intentions and policy around gender, inclusion, sexual harassment and the like? Yes, there are a ton of allegations against you for abusing your power and position with the female staff under and around you, but we still want you to have this cushion/contract buy-out to ease the blow of your departure?
Now, I understand there are contracts and such that preclude any emotionally motivated judgement – and this particular golden parachute has not opened yet – or any subjectivity concerned with right or wrong. But if a contract for a popular, well-paid executive includes a golden parachute, shouldn’t an organization also include some sort of morality clause that pops said parachute if they’re ousted under red hot circumstances?
NBC acted swiftly when accusations against Lauer came to light – this time. But what about the women and complainants who made their situations with him known before but were ignored or silenced? Does that mean that NBC only acted swiftly this time because of timing? Because now, with this deluge of wrongdoings flooding the media, for them not to fall in line with Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose-esque punishments would have looked bad?
I read an article on Vox this week that talked about the high profile females that Lauer may have directly or indirectly pushed off of Today. It drew an interesting picture of a wheel of circulating talent that revolved around him, including well known on-air professionals like Ann Curry and Tamron Hall. The piece talked about Today’s “boys club” culture and how cruel it could be, how unnecessarily stressful it was to female anchors who crossed Lauer or who he did not like, as was the case with Curry.
That’s where my idea for the purge comes in. You might think that all of these newly opened media slots might present a well of opportunity for the plethora of female media talent available. Heck, they could bring in Tamron Hall to fill Lauer’s spot with no problem. But I don’t think that’s what will happen.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope this current purge opens wide a door of opportunity for some worthy new talent, hopefully some of it will be diverse and female. But this whole thing, the accusations, the resulting firings, it’s all very – and bear with me if I’ve used this metaphor before; it’s so very perfect for this – Salem Witch trials in nature. The key difference is, the witches weren’t all real, but most of these accusations of sexual assault and harassment are.
Still, after the Salem Witch trials died down, women weren’t really in any better shape, were they? They were still by and large powerless, systemically mistreated and at the whim of the men who controlled the dominant power structures. That is also the case today.
Consider, there is a huge, well-known gap for women between the top of most organizational structures – regardless of industry – and the middle management levels. I posit that will get worse now that we’re experiencing this purge.
I don’t think there will be a rush for organization’s to change, to take advantage of this airing out to install some fresh new female talent into the power seats. The kind of talent that would help guard against creating and enabling cultures that breed and protect rampant, megalomanical sexual harassers.
No. This purge is more about reputation management and brand protection. It’s about ruthlessly weeding out those bad apples who would tarnish an organization’s global image per the current zeitgeist.
Why am I so cynical? Well, it’s got a little something to do with these apologies, and how they’re being accepted. It’s all well and good to say you’re sorry. It’s expected. However, most of these apologies leave quite a bit to be desired, in my opinion. For the most part, they seem forced and convenient, rather than authentic or well-meant. But have you heard any company, like NBC for instance, talking about how it will ensure the Matt Lauer’s of the world never again gain a foothold on its air waves?
What about PBS? Have you heard any high level talent management strategy or plans to root out gender bias, or to identify and correct the systemic issues that made it possible for Charlie Rose to harass and abuse women at will for years? I haven’t.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect NBC or PBS to actually apologize, though that would be a helluva story. An apology would leave them vulnerable to lawsuits, as some might perceive it as an admission of guilt or complicit-ness. I get that.
That’s also why I think everything that’s happening is more reaction than anything else. It’s media crisis response 101 with a side of litigation protection. The corrective action needed in the wake of these horror stories is conspicuously absent.
Worse? I think there’s a backlash coming. It won’t be terribly overt. Oh, no. Not with so much money and legal activity on the table.
This backlash will be quite insidious. That gap I referenced between the women in middle management and women in top executive roles? It may get even bigger now because the men who are currently in power are going to be even more cautious about promoting women.
See, now they know that females are more comfortable pulling the fire alarm on the handsy and the perverted. So, why take the risk? It’s far better to guard the current male-dominated regime. It’s always better to guard the current male-dominated regime.
I sincerely hope I’m wrong. I hope this purge does lead to an influx of female talent. I hope companies like NBC and PBS and all the rest that have weathered unsavory headlines recently seize this opportunity to make cultural changes that will create different organizations. Modern companies that are more inclusive, more enlightened, that see and are eager to exploit and bask in the light that shines on business when organizations install worthy female candidates in prominent and powerful decision-making positions.
We’ll see. You know I shall be watching with interest to see what happens next.