Nothing about the Bill O’Reilly story is uncommon.It is just very public. Earlier in my career, I was sexually harassed at work and I said nothing. I have coached many professional women who have been sexually harassed and who also did nothing. Or quietly settled and had to lie about why they left a job they loved. I have been privy to the agonizing decision-making process of senior executives about the accusations of sexual harassment by their own senior leaders. In my experiences, they have all been real. No one is saying it happened in hopes of gaining public attention or a big settlement. Quite the opposite. It has either been viewed as career suicide to make it known, disloyalty to the company that will then be saddled with a big problem or simply impossible to consider the ramifications of terminating a highly respected, successful executive for what some would call “boys being boys”. Fear created silence.
The value in the massive coverage of Bill O’Reilly being terminated for repeated accusations of sexual harassment is the opportunity for each us to reflect upon our own inner landscape of tolerance and the outer landscape of our work environment. Likely it has happened to you or someone around you at some point in your life. Maybe you would call it that, maybe you wouldn’t. There is still much debate about what qualifies as sexual harassment. If you haven’t, you are very fortunate. But if you have, what’s your take on it? Are you unintentionally complicit or engaged in the change to stop it?
It takes great courage and tenacity to step out of the dark and into the public light when your own livelihood and professional passion is at stake. It makes sense that you could decide now is not the time to risk your career, public humiliation, emotional stress and the big chance of not being believed. Or having your own company not take it seriously enough to take committed action that proves intolerance of sexual harassment in your workplace. Companies that do take sexual harassment seriously are paying attention to what we call Vital Fulfillment.
Vital Fulfillment means that the leaders and the culture value the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual lives of their employees. They value the same for the company’s health, but it is not at the expense of the employee. Instead of weighing the financial or public relations impact of a sexual harassment case before taking significant action, they take immediate action to protect the employee and their culture. While respecting the legal constraints they may be bound to, they do their best to own what happened and to make known how they addressed it. It doesn’t go underground. Leadership leads in a way that has their employees clearly understand what sexual harassment is, not just in law but in their workplace culture. They encourage the disruption of silence and fear because organizational health of their employees is paramount. They know that when organizational health is a priority, employee engagement and satisfaction is high. When engagement is high, the financial bottom line is positively impacted. Valuing Vital Fulfillment means we honor the vitality of our people first, knowing our success will follow.
The point is not about Bill. The details of what is true or not true about him will remain largely unknown to most of us. Use this scandal to scan. Scan yourself and your work environment. Is there subtle or explicit tolerance? Physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually, how are you and your organization doing? What is needed to bring greater Vital Fulfillment to your leadership and to your organization?