‘HR may not be looking out for you’

by HCA18 May 2017
The former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson has warned workers against reporting sexual harassment in the workplace to HR.

Carlson argued that because it’s the companies who pay HR professionals it's therefore important to have new reporting mechanisms in place.

"Is human resources really the right place to go? Because what I always equate it to is: Who's giving them the paycheck?” she said.

“In the end, if the culture's being set from the top and it's trickling down to the lower levels, human resources may not be looking out for you.”

Carlson was prominent in the media last year after she sued the TV network’s CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment which led to his resignation last July.

Speaking at a Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership dinner, Carlson said that after she filed her suit against Ailes, she inadvertently became the “face” of sexual harassment.

“But when I found myself in that role and started hearing from women who needed me, it became my life mission,” she said.

Carlson is currently working on a book that will be released later this year offering “new ways in which we might look” at sexual harassment, including different ways to actually report it (besides going to HR).

She noted that there’s a lot more work to be done, and that if people end up not reporting sexual harassment out of fear of repercussions, “the predator [can] still keep working and you’re gone.”

Some companies, such as Fox News, have already put sexual-harassment hotlines in place as an alternate way to report abuse.

According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, there are three potential reasons why instances of sexual harassment are not reported. These include fear of retaliation, the bystander effect, and a masculine culture that permits sexual harassment.

Carlson’s advice comes a few months after allegations of HR failures in dealing with sexual harassment at tech giant Uber.

In the blog, Fowler made allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination at Uber, claiming that management repeatedly ignored her complaints, protected a repeat offender and threatened to dismiss her for raising concerns.

“When I joined Uber, the org I was part of was over 25 per cent women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another engineering organisation, this number had dropped down to less than 6%,” Fowler wrote.

“Women were transferring out of the organisation, and those who couldn’t transfer were quitting or preparing to quit. There were two major reasons for this: there was the organisational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organisation."

Related stories:

‘Friends’ star launches workplace sexual harassment video

FWC upholds unfair dismissal decision over alleged sexual harassment

Uber software engineer resigns following alleged conduct at Google


  • by Catherine Cahill 18/05/2017 3:32:33 PM

    It is relatively common for someone who has had a bad experience to make a blanket statement about the inadequacy of HR professionals. No matter what the issue or how serious it is, for HR to be able to act effectively, we must have the support of the CEO and the Board to take effective actions. May HR professionals make recommendations which are they are then prevented from implementing by those who have the final say. Staff see that as a failing of HR; but it is actually a failing of the CEO and/or the Board.

  • by Emily Wells 18/05/2017 5:03:53 PM

    My colleague Catherine Cahill is on the right track. However to expand, from my experience employees expect their organisation’s human resource professional/s to advocate for their concerns. And on the other side of the coin, top management expect the organisation’s human resource professional/s to enforce policies and procedures, promote change agendas and protect the organisation. The fact is that HR is there for both. This dual focus means that there are times when HR must make a decision that protects an individual employee and other times when HR must make a decision that protects the organisation, its culture, and values.

    As my colleague raises, the catch 22, is that if HR is to be effective in protecting an individual employee unconditional support from the CEO and the Executive is required. Where the CEO and/or Executive is weak the alternative is for HR to decide to make a stand, and push back. In most cases (90% ) this will untimely cost the HR person their position, their job, their earnings. If the person has family, living expenses and long-term career aspirations these are all at risk. This is where Gretchen Carlson insinuations can be considered correct as an ethical dilemma arises and human nature is to protect one-self or ones family - not a 'stranger'.

    For employees with serious complaints my advise is, before you decide on reporting any serious matter, weigh up how much freedom and independence your HR department is granted. The more in partnership with management HR is, the less independence HR will show in making decisions that protects individuals.

  • by David 19/05/2017 12:33:37 PM

    Emily makes some good points and then muddies the water at the end of her argument.

    I would suggest that the issue is not whether to report issues to HR or not, they should be reported. The issue is that even if HR want to take action on the various parties they are restricted from doing so and have no right of reply. The HR practitioner is then put in the invidious potential position of either facing the Commission to defend the actions of the company or their own.

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