This might be a question that Fox News must ask itself considering the endless string of sexual harassment allegations and misdeeds at the network. Most recently, Fox News co-president Bill Shine became the latest executive to be fired following allegations that he covered up accusations of sexual harassment against Bill O’Reilly, one of Fox News’ most prominent figures.
After former CEO Roger Ailes and O’Reilly, Shine is the third high-profile person at Fox News who was asked to leave the organization after news about sexual harassment claims broke. However, with some of the controversial people fired for their alleged offenses, can we assume that Fox News is now free of the machismo culture that might tolerate and foster misogynist behavior?
Based on my research as an assistant professor of organizational behavior, as well as other scientific evidence within the realm of workplace abuse, my guess is no!
That is, solely removing the perpetrators of bad actions might not be enough to truly attack the problem of misogyny and abuse at Fox News. This is because abusive behavior, especially that of top executives and prominent figures like O’Reilly, likely trickles down throughout the entire network and manifests itself in an abusive work climate in which bad behavior is common, tolerated, and even expected. It’s just “how things work around here.”
Once work climates of abuse are established and people believe that this is the way things are done in this organization, the consequences are detrimental and reach far beyond the direct victims.
My own work has shown that abusive climates damage the work life in entire departments and impact all employees such that individuals experience adverse reactions ranging from low job satisfaction to emotional exhaustion. But far more importantly, those who work in toxic work environments and are exposed to harassment (directly or indirectly) also have a tendency to engage in similar toxic activities, creating spirals of destructive behaviors.
So, where does this leave the network?
First, research supports the fact that a few bad apples do set the tone for accepted and tolerated behavior in the company.
Second, by the time these individuals are fired, the unethical behaviors might have spread and become so prevalent and ingrained in company structures that simply removing two people won’t fix the problem in the near future. Certainly, while it’s the right first step to discipline or eliminate people who conduct unethical actions, it might take years to overhaul a corporate culture.
What can be done in the meantime to improve toxic workplaces?
According to reports, the young leadership team at 21st Century Fox is willing to improve the work environment at Fox News, hiring law firms to investigate any sexual harassment claims.
In my most recent research, I found that one way to bring about positive change in abusive environments is indeed by fostering and encouraging norms and values that are consistent with principles of fairness, dignity and respect for all employees. More specifically, it is these core values that empower people to stand up against harassment at work and help the victims in need.
My recommendation for Fox News executives is to not just fire the high-profile perpetrators but actively engage in a continued, day-to-day campaign to instill ethical norms and values of fairness to all employees in the company. Only then does the “ordinary employee” gain confidence to counter toxic behavior of bad apples, and do what is right for victims and the network overall.
Manuela Priesemuth, PhD, is an assistant professor of management and operations at the Villanova School of Business.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.