Partner Beth Langley’s Column on Sexual Harassment Published in Triad Business Journal

Beth Langley’s ’s column, “The Culture War to Defeat Predators,” is featured in the March 16 issue of the Triad Business Journal.

In so many of the recent high profile sexual harassment cases, what actually happened, or what did not, often revolved around the organization’s culture. Predators know their safe spaces and they tend to thrive in cultures that keep them safe. Since sexual harassment typically involves abuse of power, predators thrive in cultures that tolerate, ignore and in some instances, reward, abuse of power.

Some organizations provide a petri dish for abuse of power. Within these organizations, the powerbroker is often a large revenue generator or other “value” creator. Often times, out of fear of losing the powerbroker’s revenue or other perceived value, the organization allows the powerbroker to terrorize others, which includes acts of harassment. Sexual harassment is usually just one form of bad behavior that is tolerated and condoned. In this toxic culture, the powerbroker’s assets are thought to outweigh risks of the boorish behavior. The responsible people in the organization (officers, board members, senior management) often compartmentalize in order to overlook the predatory behavior.

As evidenced by the recent trend of lawsuits by shareholders against directors and officers, leaders at the highest level are now being held accountable for allowing the pervasively toxic culture of harassment and abuse to infiltrate the organizations. 21st Century Fox settled a shareholder derivative lawsuit for $90 million upon allegations the Board of Directors and senior officials allowed a culture of sexual and racial harassment to thrive, which resulted in financial and reputational harm to the corporation. As part of the settlement, 21st Century Fox agreed to create a Workplace Professionalism and Inclusion Council.

In recent weeks, the board of directors of Wynn Resorts has been sued by several shareholder groups who allege the board members breached their fiduciary duties to the corporation by ignoring, failing to investigate, and creating an environment of predatory behavior by founder Steve Wynn.

What is often not acknowledged in the damages claimed by the shareholder plaintiffs is the loss of the wonderfully talented women and men who leave these organizations because of the predators. The hidden costs are the victims of the powerbrokers and predators whose careers are cut short or transformed negatively because of the predator. Many change career paths or drop out altogether. Some downgrade to a less prestigious job at another organization just to get away from the predator. Considering that personnel costs are among the highest investment an organization makes, it is bad business to treat an investment so poorly.

The Hollywood cases seem far away, but the facts are analogous to what happens in too many companies and organizations in communities across our country, and globally. While many are in awe that “this still happens,” it does – at 21st Century Fox, and in 21st Century organizations every day in organizations of all size, public and private, for profit and not-for-profit.

The primary difference between those organizations that provide a safe haven for abuse of power and those that do not is the style of the organization’s leadership. Leaders who value and encourage collaboration, innovation, fairness, transparency, and promote diversity of staff and thought create danger zones for powerbrokers. Simply put, organizations that truly value all of their “human resources” promote a culture where powerbrokers and predators have no place to hide. Let this culture war be one that finally defeats the predators.

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