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raceAhead: Matt Lauer is Fired, Doing The Math on Sexual Harassment, Undocumented in Hollywood

November 29, 2017, 6:02 PM UTC

The world wakes to another shocking revelation: Matt Lauer has been fired from his job as anchor of NBC’s The Today Show.

According to reports, NBC News received a detailed complaint alleging inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace on Monday night. Lauer has been associated with the show since 1997. And then, he was gone.

According to CNN, the move was not a complete surprise. Many people knew that several outlets, including The New York Times, were working on in-depth investigations of Lauer’s behavior. “For the last two months, @EWagmeister and I have been reporting on a story about serious sexual harassment allegations against Lauer,” tweeted Ramin Setoodeh, the New York Bureau Chief from Variety. “There were multiple victims.”

It is a public blow to one of NBC’s most valuable franchises. But along with the shock comes a public unwinding of Lauer’s work which, to many, now seems suspect after the fact.

Actor Corey Feldman has gone public with allegations of rape and abuse when he was a child in Hollywood; in this interview, Lauer appears to be blaming him for not doing more to help other alleged victims. Lauer has also been accused of treating then-candidates Clinton and Trump very differently during the Commander-In-Chief Forum interviews. And he endured charges of misogyny after he asked the CEO of GM, Mary Barra if she thought she could be both a good mom and a good chief executive.

He now joins a long list of very famous men in media, entertainment, and government, who have been shaping products we readily consume and policies we desperately need, while allegedly operating behind the scenes as betrayers and predators. Yes, we should be very worried about their output.

To parody a famously reductive television sex columnist, the world seems to be asking: Can you be a sexual harasser and still be good at your job?

While it may be instructive to armchair-assess the performance of men who work in public, it’s much harder to quantify the opportunity costs paid by the millions of women who privately abandon promising career paths, or who would face poverty and ruin if they were forced to leave their low-wage jobs. Suffering in silence is expensive. The productivity costs are real. We need to do the math on all of this.

It’s particularly challenging when the industries aren’t glamorous, or if the abusers in question aren’t bold-faced names or SEO hitmakers. But that’s where the worst abuses often occur.

Jocelyn Frye, who studies women’s economic security at the Center for American Progress, recently told The Washington Post, “Low-wage workers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment.”

Frye’s report, out last week, analyzed a decade’s worth of unpublished sexual harassment complaint data filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). While all genders experience harassment and no industry is spared, her report finds that more than one-quarter of sexual harassment charges were filed in industries with large numbers of service-sector workers, including many low-wage jobs that are often occupied by women. Nearly three-quarters of those charges included an allegation of retaliation.

“Women of color, in particular, often must confront the combined impact of racial, ethnic, and gender prejudice that can result in degrading stereotypes about their sexual mores or availability and increase their risk of being harassed,” she wrote.

Other research from The Restaurant Opportunities Center, a trade group, paints a similar picture. While only seven percent of American women work in the restaurant industry, some 37% of all sexual harassment claims to the EEOC come from the restaurant industry.

From the report: Restaurant workers of all genders experience high levels of harassment from supervisors (66%) and co-workers (80%). Customers account for a whopping 78% of harassers. Two-thirds of all restaurant workers who work for tips are women, making them uniquely vulnerable to this sort of abuse.

The situation for hotel workers is so bad, that Karen Kent, president of the Chicago chapter of the hospitality union UNITE HERE, had to issue panic buttons to housekeepers. She recently told NPR that sixty-three percent of union members surveyed said they had experienced an incident of sexual harassment on the job.

“Hotel housekeepers work alone, cleaning rooms. And oftentimes, there’s a power imbalance between the women who clean them, who are often women of color, immigrants, and guests who have those rooms who pay hundreds of dollars a night. If something happens with the guests, they often can’t be heard or possibly can’t even get away.”

I would argue that there is always a power imbalance, which is why the situation will not be solved without the full support of the powerful. Where to start? In addition to rooting out the behavior and diversifying leadership, it might be nice to actually do the math. There is woefully little data quantifying the cost of harassment to individual women and organizations as a whole. It’s time to make the business case.


On Point

When your PhD adviser is your abuserIf you’re wondering why the research pipeline isn’t as diverse as it should be, then consider this: One in ten female graduate students at major universities say they’ve been sexually harassed by a faculty member. Women are reluctant to report, fearing backlash that may mean re-starting their PhD programs elsewhere or preventing them from ever working in their chosen fields. “These are the people you rely on for getting a job, giving you career advice, mentoring you,” one former Notre Dame student told The Huffington Post.Huffington Post

Actor and filmmaker Bambadjan Bamba is undocumented
He was only ten when he was forced to flee Cote D'Ivoire with his family in 1993. But Bamba, known for his work on “Grey’s Anatomy” and his recurring role on NBC’s “The Good Place,” recently decided to make his undocumented status public. “Immigrants are not criminals,” said Bamba, 35. “We're not here to take away your jobs. We're here to give back.” Bamba, who also has a role in Marvel’s The Black Panther, told the Los Angeles Times that he couldn’t let fear keep him silent anymore. “All these kids that have so much less than I do, they're standing up. They're sleeping in front of the White House or in front of their congressman's office. I'm sitting here being scared,” he said. “Hollywood movies have gone into the world and made everybody believe that America is the greatest place in the world,” he says in a short video accompanying the interview. “My parents sacrificed everything to bring us here.”
Los Angeles Times

Tech company boards, rankedl
A new analysis from The Information suggests that a lack of diversity and independence and an inability to manage insider influence continues to plague the boards of private tech firms operating in Silicon Valley. The analysis is a ranking of thirty prominent companies, using 1,000 data points on elements like board makeup, shareholder rights, and disclosure practices. Stripe, Instacart and Airbnb rank low on the list, but Uber got a late-in-the game boost with recent moves to diversify their board. (E-mail registration required.)
The Information

Unilever acquires Sundial brands, promises to invest in women of color entrepreneurs
Sundial creates beauty products that cater to women of color, beloved brands include SheaMoisture, Nubian Heritage, Madam C.J. Walker, and nyakio. It will continue to operate as a standalone business. Click through for the details, but one thing stands out: The two companies are creating a “New Voices Fund,” with an initial investment of $50 million, specifically to support women of color entrepreneurs. Plans are to double the size of the fund with outside investment.

The Woke Leader

Indian women are choosing to go to worse schools than men for a horrible reason
Quartz reports on new research from economist Girija Borker, which helps reveal some of the hidden costs of sexual violence and harassment. Borker found that girls and women in New Delhi are choosing to attend worse colleges than they qualify for, in order to have a safer route to school. “She estimates that for a 3% annual decrease in the probability of being raped, women attending Delhi University are willing to go to a college in the bottom 50%, rather than one in the top 20%,” even though they had the exam scores to get into the better schools. Personal safety is not a consideration men typically make, she finds.

Can this HBCU be saved?
Morris Brown College was the first black-founded institution of higher learning in Georgia, once a bustling school of 2,500 students. Now, after two decades of decline and claims of egregious mismanagement starting in the 1990s, the school has only 40 students and a dream of revival. But it also has a wonderful history. It was founded in 1881 by a group of ambitious African Methodist Episcopal clergymen, many of whom had been born into slavery. “Morris Brown College was there to provide them an opportunity,” says one longtime math professor who has opted to keep teaching without a paycheck since 2003. “If you really wanted to go to school, you could get that opportunity at Morris Brown College. It allowed folks just out of slavery to get an education.”
Atlanta Magazine

How to avoid social media pile-ons
Meredith Clark offers an interesting filter for anyone who wants to avoid being “myopic” when they publish anything online: The Talese Test. Named for Gay Talese, who not-so-long-ago horrified audiences with an unfortunate exchange with a black female New York Times writer, it encourages anyone who writes about diverse topics to seek feedback from people with lived experiences and to employ empathy in writing.


Sexual harassment is a serious matter and, in my view, any person guilty of this offense is unsuited to serve not only on the nation's highest court but any position of responsibility, of higher responsibility in or out of government.
—(then Senator) Joseph Biden