Recent developments in the David Letterman extortion controversy have raised serious issues about the abuse of power leading to an inappropriate, if not hostile, workplace environment for women and employees. In the case of Letterman, he is a multi-million dollar host of one of the most popular late-night shows; in that role, he wields the ultimate authority as to who gets hired, who gets fired, who gets raises, who advances, and who does entry-level tasks among the Late Show employees. As “the boss,” he is responsible for setting the tone for his entire workplace — and he did that with sex. In any work environment, this places all employees — including employees who happen to be women — in an awkward, confusing and demoralizing situation.
Most women can attest to the fact that many workplaces are plagued with inappropriate behavior by men in power. The latest Letterman controversy sheds new light on the widespread objectification of women in the workplace.
We recently received a call from a man in Rockford, Ill., who wanted to get advice from NOW about what to tell his 16-year-old daughter who was confused by reports on the latest Letterman controversy. The father raised his daughter to be a feminist. He raised her to stand up for herself. He raised her not be objectified as a sexual object. She admits she is confused because the messages she sees on television and news reports appear to make it okay to objectify women as long as the man in power is famous. He can crack a few jokes and publicly apologize for his mistakes. It is this kind of hypocrisy that perpetuates the image of men in power preying on women, while many look the other way.
Every woman — and every man — deserves to work in a place where all employees are respected for their talents and skills. The National Organization for Women calls on CBS to recognize that Letterman’s behavior creates a toxic environment and to take action immediately to rectify this situation. With just two women on CBS’ Board of Directors, we’re not holding our breath.