For Women on CBS's Board, a Tricky Spot That's Getting Trickier

(Bloomberg) -- They are the two independent, female directors at one of the largest media companies in the world and they are in a tough spot.

Martha Minow, former dean of the Harvard Law School, and Linda Griego, a onetime deputy mayor of Los Angeles, are the only women on the 14-member CBS Corp. board, besides Vice Chairman Shari Redstone.

In May, Minow and Griego sided with Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves in his fight to eliminate the voting control of Redstone and her family. On Wednesday, CBS hired outside counsel to investigate claims that Moonves sexually harassed several women and hurt their careers after they spurned him. The board’s decision to not fire or suspend the CEO surprised corporate governance experts and women’s rights activists, especially after the broadcaster fired on-air host Charlie Rose over similar allegations.

“For the women on the board, I can only imagine how tough this situation is,” said Anne Sheehan, former head of the corporate governance program at the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. “What is the message this sends to current employees? Is there a double standard because he is who he is?”

In addition to hiring outside counsel, CBS said Griego would be part of a three-person board committee to facilitate the investigation. She’s joined by Robert Klieger, a Redstone attorney, and Bruce Gordon, a former Verizon Communications Inc. executive who previously led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The role makes Griego a potential swing vote in any decisions made by the special committee.

Neither Griego nor Minow responded to requests for comment.

Dozen Books

Minow, who has taught at Harvard since 1981, has been an advocate for the disadvantaged. She’s written or edited more than a dozen books, including 1990’s “Making All the Difference: Inclusion, Exclusion, and American Law” and 2007’s “Women and the Law.” She was dean when Shari’s father Sumner Redstone gave $10 million to the school in 2010 to help graduates who want to pursue careers in public service. She praised Shari Redstone’s intellect and work habits in a 2015 profile for Bloomberg News.

Minow’s sister Nell is a well-known corporate governance activist. Her father, Newton Minow, famously called TV a “vast wasteland” when he was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Business Career

Griego ran a restaurant, Engine Co. No. 28, in downtown Los Angeles for more than 20 years. She held a number of government-related posts, including CEO of Rebuild LA, an agency created to boost inner-city development after the 1992 riots. She also ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Los Angeles in 1993. In a 2013 essay for the non-profit group Zocalo Public Square, she described her pride in being the first woman to do so.

“Things have changed a lot for women in business and politics, and in my career -- sometimes on purpose, sometimes by chance -- I wound up helping drive that change,” she wrote. “It isn’t always fun to break a barrier (barriers can cause injuries), but it can be satisfying. I know that, because I had to learn it repeatedly.”

Minow, 63, and Griego, 70, stand out not just for their gender, but because they’re among the youngest members of a board whose nine independent directors average 76 years of age. That’s 13 years older than typical for independent directors at Standard & Poor’s 500 companies, according to the recruiting firm Spencer Stuart.

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