Combating sexism in the workplace has become all the rage, and rightly so.
There is no excuse — not now, not ever — for treating women differently from men when it comes to pay and compensation, in representation on corporate boards or in the executive suites, in quotidian meetings where women often are made to feel belittled or inadequate or, heaven forbid, in social interactions where men have been known to take advantage of women against their will.
The issue has become especially acute in places like Wall Street and Silicon Valley, which have long been insular, male-dominated ecosystems. It is also a big problem in this White House.
But as recent events at Uber show, baby steps in the right direction are possible. Not only can sexist behavior get top executives fired, but it can also lead to serious efforts to change a corporation’s culture. That’s meaningful progress, and we should applaud it.
Among those leading the charge against sexism at Uber is Arianna Huffington, a co-founder of The Huffington Post and the founder of Thrive, a venture-backed merchandising and consulting firm devoted to disconnecting and to sleep. Ms. Huffington has been on the Uber board since April 2016 (and was its only woman until recently).
Her emergence began in February after Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer, shared her story of sexual harassment at the hands of a male supervisor. “It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him,” Ms. Fowler wrote in a much-discussed blog post, “and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to H.R.”
After Ms. Fowler’s post appeared, Travis Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and then its chief executive, announced that Ms. Huffington would join with Eric H. Holder Jr., the former United States attorney general who had returned to his previous law firm Covington & Burling, as well as two other female executives at Uber, to investigate Ms. Fowler’s charges and the Uber culture generally.
Another law firm, Perkins Coie, was also hired to investigate charges of sexism at Uber. On June 6, Perkins Coie released its report, which found that there were 47 claims of sexual harassment at Uber out of a total of 215 cases of sexual harassment, bullying, retaliation and bias. Twenty employees were fired as a result. Another 31 employees were “in training” and seven employees were issued “final warnings.” According to Uber, 57 of the claims remained “under review” and 100 of them were essentially dismissed.
A week later, Mr. Holder released his report with 13 pages of recommendations of things that Uber should have done long before. Ms. Fowler ended up leaving Uber after 13 months. Her revelations initiated a series of events that resulted in the departure of several senior Uber executives and the eventual resignation of Mr. Kalanick. (One of the company’s largest shareholders, Mr. Kalanick is worth an estimated $6 billion and may yet return to the company, in the same way that Steve Jobs returned triumphantly to Apple.)
At the meeting in which Mr. Holder’s report was shared with Uber employees, Ms. Huffington spoke about the need to have more female board members, and how one woman on a board can often lead to having more women on boards. That’s when David Bonderman, the billionaire co-founder of TPG, a private-equity behemoth, and a fellow Uber board member, blurted out: “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.” Mr. Bonderman quickly apologized, and later resigned from the board. But to utter such an inane comment in the middle of an “all-hands” meeting at Uber to discuss changing the company’s sexist culture takes an extra special lack of emotional intelligence.
Uber’s sexist corporate culture is not unique. Various Fox television entities have seen one top executive and on-air personality after another succumb to charges of sexism. The Fox Business host Charles Payne was suspended amid allegations of sexual harassment. Another top Fox executive, Jamie Horowitz, at Fox Sports, was abruptly fired amid suggestions of inappropriate behavior.
As recent events at Fox and Uber show, it’s unequivocally clear that sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace are behaviors that can get you fired.
But what about at the White House? Why isn’t the message getting through there? President Trump’s tweets about the MSNBC “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski were vile. Then there were his unprofessional and sexist remarks, in the Oval Office, directed toward Caitriona Perry, the Washington correspondent for Ireland’s RTE News, when he was on the phone with Ireland’s prime minister. Mr. Trump said to the prime minister after Ms. Perry introduced herself to him, “She has a nice smile on her face so I bet she treats you well.”
As inappropriate as that moment was, making it worse was the fact that Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser and one of the highest ranking women in the White House, was sitting right there, on the other side of Mr. Trump’s desk. In the video released of the incident, Ms. Powell was smiling broadly. She has said nothing publicly about it.
Nor for that matter have the other top women in the Trump administration spoken out publicly about Mr. Trump’s sexist remarks. Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, has been silent. Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, has been silent. Kellyanne Conway, counsel to the president, has been silent. Both Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump have been silent.
Even the men in the White House who seem more sentient — among them Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council; H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser; and Jared Kushner, the White House senior adviser (and Ivanka Trump’s husband) — have remained silent, too.
Silence equals complicity. Stephanie Ruhle, an MSNBC anchor, wrote on Twitter on July 1 that Ms. Powell, for one, must “speak out against this misogynist, sexist behavior once and for all.” Her MSNBC colleague Nicolle Wallace, a former communications director for President George W. Bush, exhorted the top women in the Trump administration to “go on the record and condemn your boss’s comments,” adding that they “should work behind the scenes to educate him about just how offensive they are.”
The two MSNBC hosts have it exactly right.