Sexual Harassment

As allegations of sexism mount at major sports and news orgs, what’s HR to do?

HR leaders have little recourse when the problem is coming from the top, one expert says.
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· 3 min read

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

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Miss the good old days when important decisions were made in smoke-filled mahogany rooms? No? Me neither. Maybe because I probably wouldn’t have been welcome in those rooms

In 2023, women are often still subjected to sexism in the workplace, most recently when it comes to sports and media. The NFL, Detroit Pistons, NBCUniversal, and Fox News have all recently received sexual harassment or discrimination allegations from current or former workers. One HR consultant spoke to HR Brew about how leaders within these industries can navigate and help fix a problematic male-dominated workplace.

NFL under scrutiny. New York and California attorneys general are investigating the NFL for violating gender discrimination laws. The move comes approximately one month after a former female employee filed suit against the NFL claiming it was a sexist work environment, reported CBS News.

The New York Times reported that the allegations are not necessarily new, and attorneys general in New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington State all called on the league in 2022 to examine its workplace practices.

For its part, the NFL disputes any claims of a toxic work environment for women. “Our policies are intended not only to comply with all applicable laws but to foster a workplace free from harassment, intimidation, and discrimination,” the league said in a statement.

HR as a referee. When a workplace is toxic for women and it’s coming from the very top of an organization, HR leaders are in a difficult position, explained Jen L’Estrange, managing director of Red Clover, an HR consulting firm. She told HR Brew that in theory, HR leaders at large organizations can raise concerns to either a compliance hotline or even the board of directors.

But in smaller organizations, HR professionals are in a tougher position and they likely don’t have the option of bringing concerns to a governing body. In those instances, HR may feel their only recourse is to remain quiet and work within the unhealthy environment as-is because they need the job, or else leave the organization, L’Estrange said. Beyond these efforts, the next course of action is a legal one. “Let’s be clear. Sexual harassment is illegal,” she said. “There are laws in place to protect us.”

Ultimately, company culture starts at the top and HR needs to work with leadership to make any and all incremental changes, L’Estrange said. “[HR] can only do what they can within the context of the leadership under which they work. So, if your leadership is part of the problem then it’s a much harder problem to solve.”

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

News built to help HR pros grow their impact & improve the future of work.