The Washington Post has published “The Fall of Roger Ailes,” an article that references 25 women who claim the former Fox News CEO harassed them. Their details support Gretchen Carlson’s sexual discrimination lawsuit against him. This situation won’t hurt Fox’s ratings. If anything, it will increase them.
It could hurt the Murdoch family, though. As more proof emerges that Roger Ailes led a culture rich in sexual harassment, the Murdochs will face a growing quagmire. Job discrimination is often linked to harassment. Federal laws govern such discrimination. The Ailes’ lawsuit has opened a Pandora’s box to a company culture that will be revealed in coming weeks. Details will spill online and off regarding not just Fox’s former CEO, but the many executives and news hosts who supported his behavior.
Rupert Murdoch is impervious to such associations. But his sons James and Lachlan, who now run his media empire with him, may not want to be affiliated with such a culture. With Fox their most profitable asset, how they navigate this crisis will be telling.
We often write about reputational threats to CEOs. As a contributor to The Wall Street Journal‘s “Crisis of the Week” column, I follow situations like this as they unfold, wondering how they were allowed to reach such a crisis point. In months to come, Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit could look small compared to the potential damage Fox News itself may face.
If you are a CEO, there are several ways you can ensure you do not find yourself in this type of position. Don’t stumble in the diversity arena. Stay aware of the key issues concerning women, especially those regarding employment opportunities, the lack of women on boards and the glass ceiling that continues to face many. Tuning in to these and related concerns will help you avoid becoming the focus of the next wave of hashtag protests (and nightly newscasts). It will also help ensure you avoid the type of reputation crisis that can impact your brand as well as your company’s stock valuation.
Here are additional tips to avoid other common workplace missteps:
1. Don’t be an out of touch CEO. CEOs attract blowback online when their actions or public comments make them appear out of touch with the majority of their customers and their community.
2. Beware of backtracking boards. Before making a big decision that will be evaluated by the greater public, boards of directors should seek outside opinion regarding how their decision will be viewed by the world at large. That includes the part that forms their consumer base. Too many boards continue to green-light decisions from which they have to publicly backtrack after consumers launch protests. Doubtful? Check out change.org and scan the numerous public petitions targeting public companies and various other organizations. These often go viral and end up on national news.
3. Monitor mean managers. And don’t be a jerk at work. Otherwise, you can become the subject of a discrimination suit like this one. So can your managers.
4. Encrypt your emails. Or just don’t say it in an email.