Sex and the C-Suite: The Trump Video Would Get Most CEOs OustedBy
Sexist behavior theatens companies’ reputations, bottom lines
‘I can’t believe we are even having this conversation.’
Donald Trump says he wants to run America like a business. But if America were a public company, Trump probably would be ousted as its chief executive officer after his recent vulgar remarks about women caught on tape.
While Trump’s supporters may be willing to write off his talk about making unwanted sexual advances as locker-room banter, corporate boards have been much less forgiving to top officials who engaged in arguably less crude behavior that could paint the company in a bad light or put it at legal risk.
“Any CEO who got caught making the kind of comments Trump did would be out the door in 24 hours,” said Pat Cook, CEO of Cook & Co., a boutique executive-search firm in Bronxville, New York.
It isn’t that the mostly male, mostly white realm of C-suite America is puritanical: A litany of corporate scandals proves otherwise. It’s that modern corporations operate in a world with hard rules about behavior, particularly in the office. As Human Resources tells everyone: Sexist and sexually aggressive speech, let alone sexist and sexually aggressive behavior, can be grounds for dismissal. The threats -- to reputation, worker retention, recruitment and even the bottom line -- are too high to tolerate.
“No one wants the public relations, and no one wants the liability,” said Wendi Lazar, a partner with law firm Outten & Golden.
Forced to Resign
For the most recent example, look no further than Trump friend and adviser Roger Ailes. After 20 years at the head of the Fox News Channel, Ailes was forced to resign two weeks after being accused in a lawsuit of sexual harassment by a former anchor, an accusation he denied.
In another high-profile ouster, the executive chairman of Publicis Groupe SA’s Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency, Kevin Roberts, stepped down in August after coming under fire for saying in an interview with Business Insider that the debate on gender diversity “is all over” and suggesting some women aren’t interested in advancing their careers. He apologized for his comments.
Restoration Hardware Holdings Inc. chairman and CEO Gary Friedman resigned in 2012 following a board inquiry into his personal relationship with an employee, which violated company rules. He was rehired less than a year later; a Restoration Hardware statement at the time referred to him as “a visionary with amazing talents who has led the extraordinary transformation of RH into one of the leading luxury brands in the market today.”
Despite being impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice related to his affair with Monica Lewinsky, former President Bill Clinton was able to keep his job. Former New York Representative Anthony Weiner stepped down from his congressional seat in 2011 amid a sexting scandal. In 2013, it looked as if he had a shot at a second chance, in the New York City mayoral race, until he was brought down by another scandal. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned as New York governor in 2008 after he was caught paying for prostitutes, lost in a 2013 run for New York City comptroller but went on to have a career as a television political commentator.
“We are in bizarro world” with Trump’s taped comments, said Cindy Gallop, a former advertising executive who led the attack against Saatchi’s Roberts over his remarks about women. “This is completely and totally unacceptable in the business world. I can’t believe we are even having this conversation.”
Trump’s remarks, caught on a hot microphone before taping a segment for “Access Hollywood,” weren’t the first time he engaged in behavior that could have gotten another executive fired or at least launched an internal investigation. Throughout the election, he has fought off accusations of sexism while videos, recordings and testimonies from former associates and co-workers outline a history of vulgar comments. Trump’s business, the Trump Organization, isn’t publicly traded and doesn’t have shareholders it must answer to and an independent board of directors with the power to fire the CEO.
Comments about Trump’s remarks flooded Facebook, Twitter and other online outlets over the weekend. The speed with which news travels these days has pushed some companies to react more quickly than in the past to allegations of misbehavior, or worse.
Instant News Cycle
“Social media puts it out there, and given the 24/7 instant news cycle, you are basically guilty until proven innocent, so companies are just choosing to err on the side of making a quick decision,” said Jeffery Tobias Halter, a former director of diversity at Coca-Cola Co. who now consults on gender issues.
The swift response doesn’t necessarily mean inappropriate behavior is any less pervasive, said Gallop, now the founder of Make Love Not Porn, which uses technology to promote discussion about sexual values. It is still occurring, but when it goes public, there are consequences and hopefully they help deter similar behavior in the future. If there aren’t any consequences for Trump or other politicians, that sets a dangerous precedent, she added.
“What he said and what he has done is being said and done all over the corporate world, but when it becomes public, there are repercussions,” Gallop said. “For a U.S. presidential candidate to be getting no repercussions for being public about this is absolutely horrifying.”
— With assistance by Carol Hymowitz
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