The sexual-harassment accusations against CBS Corp.’s Les Moonves cast a harsh spotlight on an underlying problem across Hollywood and the media industry: There aren’t enough women in top posts.
This argument has already been advanced after Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, John Lasseter, Louis C.K. and other powerful men in media and beyond were accused of sexual misconduct, often by women over whose careers they wielded influence. But it must be repeated again and again until the culture that seems to persist in casting rooms and on film sets — and extends to the headquarters of multibillion-dollar corporations like CBS — truly changes.
The gender and power imbalance in the media and entertainment world is central to the issue. Consider that half of TV programs in the 2016-2017 season employed four or fewer women in key behind-the-scenes roles, and little progress has been made in increasing the number of female writers, directors, producers and editors for both TV and film in the last 20 years. This depressing data come from annual studies by Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. The following charts by Bloomberg Opinion’s Elaine He show just how lopsided the numbers are:
Having more women in leadership positions — across all industries, not just in Hollywood — would curtail sexism and #MeToo moments like the one CBS is experiencing. Elevating women fosters respect and empowers them to report misconduct. For the media world, though, there’s even more at stake.
This is an industry that needs to seek out diversity of thought, and not just because there’s evidence that it’s good for business (one that is quite challenging lately, with viewers cutting the cable cord). It should be an obligation for the media companies because they shape so much of society and people’s opinions. Yet the upper ranks of the U.S. giants — a list that includes CBS, 21st Century Fox Inc., Walt Disney Co. and AT&T Inc.’s recently acquired WarnerMedia — are still predominantly male, not to mention overwhelmingly white, with many of their CEOs and chairmen approaching 70 or older. That’s a narrow and singularly focused lens through which to view the world.
The revelations about CBS are an opportunity to talk about just how frustratingly out of balance the media and entertainment landscape continues to be and how to finally change that. Since the CBS board seems to have wrestled with its next steps, here are two simple but effective suggestions. Step 1: Commit to a zero-tolerance policy regarding workplace sexual harassment, even if a CEO is considered the best in the business and is popular among shareholders. Step 2: Hire more women.
--With assistance from Elaine He .
Moonves acknowledged in a statement to The New Yorker that there were times he "may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances" but denied using his position to derail their careers.
Tara Lachapelle is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering deals, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., media and telecommunications. She previously wrote an M&A column for Bloomberg News.
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