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Editor's NotebookHR’s Stand in the Face of Fox News

HR isn't needed until it's needed. And by that time, as the Bill O'Reilly scandal proved, it's too late.

I don’t say this often. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever said it, at least not in such clear-cut terms: Bravo, Society for Human Resource Management, for doing the right thing. Pulling your ads off of Fox News in the wake of the Bill O’Reilly sex harassment payoff scandal was the right choice. 

It’s clear that you enjoy playing in the always-treacherous snake pit that is today’s partisan politics-infused TV news game. With the knee-jerk nature of our political spinmeisters it’s a gambit that can backfire on a moment’s notice. Yet you planted your feet and took a firm stance for ethical workplace practices and against a morally bankrupt TV talker who cost his news operation employer some $13 million because he lacked the basic capacity to act like a decent, normal person around women.

While your ad pull seems like a no-brainer, and considering O’Reilly’s one-time value as a big-time TV personality and author who’s a huge nightly draw, the reality is the high road also entailed the loss of some 4 million sets of eyeballs on your ads. There must have been some level of hand-wringing at SHRM HQ.

Yet your brief, direct statement released in the wake of the New York Times story on Fox’s massive payoffs to five women spoke volumes: “SHRM has determined to cease its current advertising on the Fox News Network,” you declared.

So let me reiterate: Bravo, SHRM, bravo. 

That all said, there’s something that still sticks with me. I mean, sure, you get a standing O for this one. You took a controversial and potentially costly position, an uncommon characteristic in the hyper-cautious, don’t-make-waves world of HR. 

With my respects in mind I still have to ask: What took so long?

Please also read: Bill O’Reilly and Fox News Teach Us How Not to Ignore Workplace Harassment

I mean, Fox News has not exactly been the gleaming beacon of outstanding management practices, particularly in the wake of last summer’s ouster of network boss Roger Ailes for his serial sex harassment shenanigans. Coincidence that Fox News in late December named Kevin Lord as its first EVP of HR? I think not.

Lord is earning his keep amid the financial fallout of the O’Reilly scandal that saw you and dozens of other companies pull lucrative advertising dollars. Few things draw executives’ attention faster than someone or some thing affecting the bottom line.

And with O’Reilly’s firing April 19, Fox executives indeed were paying attention.

But I’m not going to ding you too hard, SHRM. Better late than never. Your stand for inclusive workplace cultures comes at a critical time. 

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that moreso than ever, organizations need HR. Your position on Fox symbolizes that HR should not compromise standards for workplace fairness, decency and transparency no matter who is committing the transgression. 

We are in an era of unprecedented entrepreneurialism not only in the United States but globally. Practically overnight, companies are springing from a handful of overworked dreamers to hugely successful business people flush with cash who nevertheless lack people management basics. The surge criss-crosses all industries — benefits, wellness, HR technology, L&D, recruiting, staffing, retail … we haven’t seen anything like this since the dawn of the internet in the late 1990s. 

We’ve also witnessed an unprecedented spike in employee-employer relationship gaffes. These unicorns just can’t seem to avoid goring themselves with their own horn.

Zenefits and Uber to name just a couple have spiraled into self-induced PR nightmares that could have likely been avoided with two simple words: human resources. 

I get it … sort of. What are the immediate C-suite needs when a company suddenly blows up? Finance, check. IT, yep. Sales, right away. And let’s outsource our recruiting and staffing and don’t forget to order the keggerator.

Ummm, hello, HR here; don’t look now but the staff is fornicating in the stairwells and the boss is telling racist jokes — again. 

HR isn’t needed until it’s needed. And by that time it’s too late. Organizations quickly find themselves wading through a morass of costly HR-related people issues that were easily avoidable had executives — admittedly good at building a business but lousy managers — thought about quality internal governance.

Think Uber; think Zenefits; think Thinx.

And finally, think Fox News.

That’s where SHRM’s actions speak louder than words. It took longer than I would have liked, but your blow to Fox’s financial solar plexus was a shot heard ’round the HR world. 

Along with other well-earned plaudits you’ve received, I’d like to add a final hearty bravo, SHRM, for practicing what you preach.

Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.