At first blush, the recent comeuppance of two men at the top of global powerhouses suggests we finally are taking gender discrimination seriously.
On Wednesday, Kevin Roberts, the chairman of advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi and "head coach" of parent company Publicis Groupe (PUB) , said he was resigning effective Sept. 1. The announcement came only days after Roberts was put on a leave of absence for making comments about women in the workplace to Business Insider that could most charitably be described as a quarter century behind the times.
In a statement about his resignation, Roberts apologized for his "miscommunication on a number of points."
It took less than 24 hours from publication of the Business Insider story for Publicis to put Roberts on leave. The swift reaction to Roberts' assertion that "the f---ing debate" on gender "is all over" was a standout in a world where your typical Neanderthal is coddled if he hails from the C-suite or ranks as a rainmaker.
Only nine days before Roberts was put on leave, 21st Century Fox (FOXA) , owner of Fox News, said that Fox chairman and CEO Roger Ailes had resigned "effective immediately." Ailes had been sued by former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson on July 6 in a complaint that alleged he'd suggested, among other things, that the two have a sexual relationship. In a press release, Ailes denied Carlson's allegations.
The ensuing uproar, including media accounts that a dozen women subsequently reported stories of Ailes' inappropriate behavior, pretty much sealed the Fox CEO's fate.
It's encouraging to see consequences for the two men. But I'm not sure their stories combine to mark a defining moment in the struggle to make things right for women at work.
Ailes's resignation came with a $40 million severance deal, so you'd be hard pressed to say the poor fellow had been punished. Besides, 21st Century CEO James Murdoch and his brother Lachlan, who is co-chairman with their father, Rupert, wanted to get rid of him anyway, according to published reports.
"This doesn't leave me feeling there should be enormous applause or kudos to this company for removing him," said employment lawyer Joseph Sellers of the Washington, D.C. law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.
Lest you should conclude that either Publicis or 21st Century Fox were solely driven to do the right thing in their respective corporate crises, consider some background. In a statement announcing Ailes' resignation, Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century, praised Ailes' talents and said nothing about the harassment allegations.
As for Publicis, its CEO, Maurice Levy said in an August 3 email to staff that he had worked "very closely and amicably together for 16 years" with his dethroned colleague, so you have to wonder how much of a surprise it was for Levy to read about Roberts' attitudes about women.
Warm partings like the one Ailes enjoyed will do little to deter others from inappropriate workplace behavior.
There is some good news here. Any time there's a high-profile gender discrimination lawsuit, it puts the issue in the public's mind. It also has a tendency to inspire additional women to go public with complaints about discrimination they'd previously kept to themselves.
This time, the gender conversation is even more extensive because Republican presidential nominee and Ailes pal Donald Trump said publicly that if his daughter Ivanka were to be sexually harassed, she should simply change jobs or change careers. What a great solution. Why didn't I think of that?