To CBS: Women Don’t Want Settlements, They Want Work

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- To CBS Corp. and any other companies that have used money to silence women targeted by sexism and harassment: Women don’t want settlements. They want to work and be treated as equals in their respective fields. It shouldn’t be this hard. 

In the seemingly inexhaustible revelations of stomach-churning incidents at the highest levels of CBS, the latest is a $9.5 million settlement paid to the actress Eliza Dushku, 37, who is best known for her past work playing Faith on the hit show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in the late 1990s. Unlike some of the other CBS wrongdoings from years and even decades ago that were uncovered in the last few months, this one occurred fairly recently. According to a New York Times report Thursday, Dushku was set to take a more prominent role in the CBS prime-time drama “Bull” in March 2017, when the show’s star, Michael Weatherly, now 50, “remarked on her appearance, and made a rape joke and a comment about a threesome” in front of other cast and crew members. Dushku, there to work, was made uncomfortable. But after confronting Weatherly, she was written off the show. “Bull,” indeed. 

Mediation with CBS resulted in the confidential settlement, which was about what Dushku would have earned had she stayed on the show for four seasons, according to the Times. Meanwhile, in his statement to the newspaper, Weatherly said he was “mortified” when Dushku said he had offended her and that he’s sorry and regrets “the pain this caused Eliza.” The article is based on a draft of a report put together by lawyers hired to investigate the numerous accusations of sexual misconduct made against Les Moonves, CBS’s former chairman and CEO who left in September, as well as “cultural issues at all levels of CBS.” The investigators note that CBS has tended to protect itself at the expense of victims when encountering situations such as this. Think about how many of the actresses whose once-rising stardom dimmed inexplicably, only for us to later learn that their careers were sidelined because of sexual harassment or retaliation for speaking up — names that had you thinking, huh yeah, what ever happened to her?

While CBS has been at the center of the MeToo movement, data on the dismal proportion of female leadership in Hollywood would suggest that it must not be alone. Half of TV programs in the 2016-2017 season employed four or fewer women in key behind-the-scenes roles, and little progress has been made in increasing the number of female writers, directors, producers and editors for both TV and film in the last 20 years, according to studies by Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

To CBS: Women Don’t Want Settlements, They Want Work

As I wrote earlier this year, this power imbalance in the industry fosters sexism and harassment, and so a clear way to curtail it is to hire and promote more women for roles both in front of and behind the camera. It would benefit society as a whole in the sense that the content we consume influences our own beliefs, and right now much of our TV and movie entertainment perpetuates sexist stereotypes. The same can be said for the insufficient representation of people of color and other minority groups. For CBS’s part, only 39 percent of the TV characters it cast for the 2016-2017 season were women. I’d be curious to know how many of those were as superficial love interests or nameless murder victims

To CBS: Women Don’t Want Settlements, They Want Work

This flow of disturbing stories about CBS and misbehavior by other powerful men is exhausting, but it’s important and getting it all out there is the only way things will change. The solution is not to shy away from hiring women. It’s to finally give them the fair shot they’ve been asking for all these years. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Tara Lachapelle is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering deals, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., media and telecommunications. She previously wrote an M&A column for Bloomberg News.

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