“I don’t care if 30 more women come forward and allege this kind of stuff. Les is our leader and it wouldn’t change my opinion of him.”
Those words were attributed to long-time CBS director Arnold Kopelson in a New York Times article published on Sept. 12. He was speaking about the company’s CEO, Leslie Moonves, who was eventually ousted from the company last month under the shadow of mounting sexual harassment allegations, including assault.
No one at CBS returned a request by Directors & Boards to find out if Kopelson actually made the statement, but given the revelations about the hostile environment at the company that spanned years, it’s not impossible to think someone in power at the media company uttered such words.
Not surprisingly, Kopelson was among the five directors who CBS announced were stepping down from the board following Mooves’ departure.
I read Kopelson’s alleged statements several times when I first read the article. My reaction was shock at first, then anger.
The company also announced, “Moonves and CBS will donate $20 million to one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace.”
It’s a nice sentiment, but the problems with women’s equality in corporate America run deeper than $20 million can root out. If 30 women can’t convince one entrenched male director that he should do his job and make sure the CEO he oversees has the utmost integrity, can you imagine what it’s like to be the lone female director in a boardroom?
This kind of bias is exactly why a bigger movement may be needed to get two or more women directors on company boards. If you think this is going to happen because it’s the right and smart thing to do, read Kopelson’s alleged comments a few more times like I did. I suspect he’s not alone.
Some California legislators get this deep-rooted bias. In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 826 into law Sunday, ushering in the first U.S. state to mandate publicly traded companies add women to their boards. The law requires companies to add at least one woman to their boardrooms by the end of 2019 and a minimum of two by 2021.
“Given all the special privileges that corporations have enjoyed for so long, it’s high time corporate boards include the people who constitute more than half the ‘persons’ in America,” he wrote in a letter about his decision.
There’s been pushback, as expected, and the main argument is that mandates aren’t needed because businesses will ultimately realize it’s good for business and add more women on their own.
Lots of women have been waiting a long time for this epiphany. And given what’s happened at CBS — and other corporations in light of the #metoo movement — when it comes to treating women as equals, it’s unclear if directors and management are even listening to the mounting evidence that female board members boost the bottom line.
It’s human nature to hear what we want to hear; it takes a great director to listen.
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