Shining a light on Victoria’s Secret

There is a lengthy article in New York Times about Victoria’s Secret, and the behavior of some of its senior people.

Note, content warning: sexual assault, harassment, misogyny.

‘Angels’ in Hell: The Culture of Misogyny Inside Victoria’s Secret

A Times investigation found widespread bullying and harassment of employees and models. The company expresses “regret.”

The article calls it bullying and harassment, but what they describe also includes sexual assault:

[I]nside the company, two powerful men presided over an entrenched culture of misogyny, bullying and harassment, according to interviews with more than 30 current and former executives, employees, contractors and models, as well as court filings and other documents.

Ed Razek, for decades one of the top executives at L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, was the subject of repeated complaints about inappropriate conduct. He tried to kiss models. He asked them to sit on his lap. He touched one’s crotch ahead of the 2018 Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

Touching someone’s crotch, aside from being something the current president advocate, is clearly sexual assault.

I am not surprised that a company like Victoria’s Secret has a big streak of misogyny, but the behavior described actually shocks me – the company is nothing without the models, and these models are among the most powerful in the modeling world, yet even so, they had to experience this behavior.

Hopefully the article will put an end to this, and will ensure a culture change in the company.

Sexual harassment is everywhere

Content note: Sexual harassment and sexual assault (especially at the linked stories)

More and more stories about sexual harassment and sexual assault is coming out.

It has been happening for at least the last 36 years at the US olympic sports organizations

More than 290 coaches and officials associated with the United States’ Olympic sports organizations have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct since 1982, according to a Washington Post review of sport governing body banned lists, news clips and court records in several states. The figure spans parts of 15 sports and amounts to an average of eight adults connected to an Olympic organization accused of sexual misconduct every year — or about one every six weeks — for more than 36 years.

The figure includes more than 175 officials convicted of sex crimes as well as those who never faced criminal charges and have denied claims, such as Andy Gabel, an Olympian and former U.S. Speedskating president banned from the sport in 2013 after two women alleged he forced himself on them; and Don Peters, the 1984 Olympic gymnastics coach banned after two women alleged he had sex with them when they were teenagers.

It happened at TED

I was a member of TED’s Office Culture Task Force, a committee of people appointed to help make the office a desirable place to work. While I think we did a great job planning fun activities, the committee functioned beyond it’s intended scope. It was the default HR team – TED didn’t have HR for most of my time there.

While in that role, many people told me in confidence how they were harassed. We all felt conflicted – do we tell our stories and risk losing our job at TED and the community surrounding TED that we love so much, or do we carry on and deal with it as best we can?

It also happened at DC comics

Eddie Berganza, a top editor at the company who oversaw Superman and Wonder Woman properties, faces allegations from several colleagues

And of course it happened at Hollywood, at Fox, at Congress, and everywhere else. Now, it seems like it might have consequences ( but then, Trump is still the elected president of the US)

When do you stop being a good man?

TW: Mentions of rape.

Apparently rape is not enough for a man to not be a good man – at least not according to Fourth District Court Judge Thomas Low

“The court had no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinarily good man,” Low said just moments before sentencing Keith Vallejo to prison for sexually abusing the two females. “But great men, sometimes do bad things,” Low continued.

According to the article, the Judge said this while at least one of the victims sat in the room.

When feminists talk about rape culture, this is the sort of thing they mean. A man is accused and convicted of raping someone, and the judge still call him an “extraordinarily good man”.

The civil rights group Restore Our Humanity, is going to file a complaint against the judge. Hopefully this will remove the judge from any similar cases in the future.

Saluting people changing Denmark for the better

I think we all know that it is dangerous to make people into heroes, since they often show us their all too human sides. Yet, I also think it is important to acknowledge that there are a lot of people doing heroic work, trying to change society for the better. One of the major reasons why this is important, is because it is hard work to do so, and it can be easy to think that it doesn’t make any difference, and that nobody appreciate the work.

So, in that spirit, I want to acknowledge some amazing people doing great work in Denmark.

In recent months, I have been lucky enough to be at a couple of events where some of these amazing people participated, so I thought I’d share a couple of pictures from these events, and acknowledge the great work these people do.

Politikens Akademi feminist debate

Feminist debate

The picture shows a debate panel of five feminists, which happened on September 26, 2016. The debate was about feminism in the future, and didn’t try to create a false balance between feminists and non-feminists, but instead invited five feminists, so we could skip the whole debate about whether feminism is even necessary.

The participants are:

  • Rasmus Brygger – a libertarian feminist. I have some serious problems with Brygger and the brand of feminism he represents, but I admire him for trying to fight for feminism in a very hostile environment.
  • Emma Holten – well known for her great work fighting for consent and against revenge porn. She has done a lot to change the whole debate on this issue, not only in Denmark, but in all of Europe. On top of that, she does a lot of other great work for feminism and against inequality. I am a huge fan of her and hers work.
  • Natasha Al-Hariri – a Danish-Palestinian feminist. Often involved in debates related to feminism and immigrants, and debates about immigrants and integration in general.
  • Sanne Søndergaard – a comedian who often incorporates feminist themes in her sketches. The comedy scene in Denmark is quite misogynist, and Sanne Søndergaard is often the target of horrible attacks started, or at least cheered on, by her colleagues.
  • Henrik Marstal – musician and self-described gender traitor. One of the few vocal male feminists in Denmark.

I don’t agree with all of these five people on all issues, but they are doing a lot of work trying to make Denmark more feminist, suffering a horrific amount of abuse in the process. Even so, they continue the work. I cannot adequately express my admiration for what they do.

 

20161125_171447

The second picture is from a political meetup, where the subject was what could be done to reduce hatred in Denmark. This came after the Brexit and Trump votes.

The 3 participants were:

  • Tommy Petersen – a liberal member of the city council of Copenhagen for Radikale. He was one of the organizers of the first Copenhagen Pride parade.
  • Natasha Al-Hariri – I described her above, but here she participated due to her work with integration and acceptance of immigrants.
  • Niddal El-Jabri – the husband of Natasha Al-Hariri. Known for creating a peace-ring around the Jewish Synagogue after the attacks on it in February, 2015. He is involved with Mino Danmark, an organization working to help fellowship and a common community between people in Denmark, no matter their background.

There are many people working hard for tolerance, and against the intolerance expressed by xenophobic parties like Dansk Folkeparti, so these three are only a small sample, but the work each individual do is extremely important.

What is also important, is that we do it in different ways.

Since racism and xenophobia is not based upon facts, but rather feelings, it is important that there are people willing to reach out to people on the other side, and try to show them that their fears are irrelevant. This doesn’t mean we all should do that – there is also a need for people to forcefully confront the lies and propaganda spread by xenophobes, and that is certainly the path I have chosen, but it is good that there are people like Natasha Al-Hariri and Niddal El-Jabri trying to create bridges.

Male members form a barrier for women joining the corporate boards

Slate reports on PwC’s 2016 Annual Corporate Directors Survey, and points out something important.

Male Corporate Board Members Aren’t Stoked About Adding Women to Their Ranks

Much has been made over gender diversity on corporate boards in recent years. Study after study after study has shown that companies perform better when they have women on their boards of directors; it’s fair to assume that even the most crotchety, least woke board member would admit that gender diversity is an admirable goal, in theory.

Or is it? According to a new survey of 884 directors of public companies, 10 percent of current board members think the ideal number of women on a corporate board is somewhere between 20 percent of the board and zero. Zero! One in 10 directors mulled over the prospect of sharing a conference table with women and thought, “I could tolerate zero women, or maybe a very tiny proportion of women, but that is absolutely it.”

Every time the subject of women in corporate boards come up, there are always someone who claims that women have equal opportunity, and that there is no need for quotas or other measures to get more women into corporate boards. This study clearly shows that this is nonsense – there is an significant number of existing members of the boards that are actively against more women on the boards, so they form a barrier for women to join.

And don’t expect that corporate boards are swayed by evidence. As Slate stated, there are many studies that show that companies perform better when they have women on their boards of directors, but this doesn’t convince the male members

diversity-male-female-opinions

Source of the figure.

Given the weight of the evidence, the clear correct answers to the questions is “very much”, yet a majority of men doesn’t think this is the case.

RTL apologizes for spreading revenge porn

I recently wrote a blogpost about the media helping spreading revenge porn. In that post I mentioned how the German TV channel RTL had spread revenge porn of Danish feminist Emma Holten in a program about her.

As I mentioned in the blogpost, Emma Holten was taking steps towards legal action against RTL, and now there are more news on the matter.

The magazine of the Danish journalist union brings the news that RTL has settled with Emma Holten (article in Danish). The settlement involves RTL apologizing, acknowledging that they had violated Emma Holten, and giving a sizable compensation.

According to the article, and to Emma Holten’s comments on facebook and instagram (both links in Danish), this is a very satisfactory result, since it saves the trouble of a court case in Germany, and it sends a clear signal that media can’t violate the privacy of people just because somebody already had done so.

Congratulations to Emma Holten on a good result – hopefully she never has to fight this fight ever again.

 

Media, don’t spread revenge porn!

I find it amazing that it is necessary for me to write this post, but it appears to be necessary.

When you are a journalist, TV reporter, blogger, or any other type of media person reporting on revenge porn, you shouldn’t help spread the revenge porn!

Again and again, we see news stories reporting on revenge porn, in which examples of said revenge porn (sometimes censored) is included.

This is not OK. This helps spreading the revenge porn, and harm the victims.

A recent example of this is the German TV channel RTL, which in June reported on the story of Emma Holten who had pictures of her leaked on the internet, and as a response created some new pictures of herself, to take back ownership of her body. This has been widely reported on, e.g. in this video at the Guardian: Someone stole naked pictures of me. This is what I did about it.

RTL had made a story about Emma Holten and her experiences last year, where they used the new pictures, after having obtained the right to use them.

This time around, they also showed the new pictures of Emma Holten, but they also showed some of the original leaked photos, uncensored. As a matter of fact, they apparently spent more time on showing the leaked photos than the others.

All this happened without Emma Holten being informed about it, and thus obviously without her consent.

The Guardian has a good article on the incident and the results of it: Revenge porn survivor may take legal action against German TV firm

What the Guardian article doesn’t make clear is that RTL at first was dismissive of Emma Holten’s objections, saying there was a language barrier at play, but since then, the channel has apologized and removed the program from the internet, and promised that it won’t ever be broadcasted again.

Currently I don’t know if Emma Holten will press on with legal action, but if she does, she has my full support, and I hope that it will stop other medias from helping spread revenge porn in the future.

The Why Women initiative

There is a new Danish initiative, Why Women, which officially launches next week, but which already has a website. The about page describes the initiative thus:

THE WHY has initiated the media initiative; WHY WOMEN? The project aims to raise awareness about the challenges faced by women and girls today. WHY WOMEN? consists of 10 short films, 2 documentary films, a reportage and various outreach activities.

WHY WOMEN? launches in May 2016, when New York-based NGO, Women Deliver hosts the world’s largest conference on the conditions of girls and women worldwide in Copenhagen, Denmark. THE WHY wants to make use of the momentum created by Women Deliver and initiate a public debate about the challenges of gender inequality.

The short films and documentary films are already online an can be viewed on the website (and elsewhere). I have embedded one of the videos, Striving for Utopias, which is written by Emma Holten and voiced by Dame Helen Mirren. Note that it is NSFW due to nudity in small parts of the short film.

An initiative like this is welcome in Denmark, where there anti-feminism is widespread in the media, and where prominent politicians frequently make verbal attacks on not just feminism, but often specific feminists. I am not naive to think that the initiative will stop that, but hopefully it will help change not only the tone, but also the focus of the debate.

The importance of diversity

When diversity, or rather the lack of diversity, is brought up in an article, discussion, talk, or some other context, there always seem to be some people who react by questioning the importance of diversity, saying something along the lines of:

Why is diversity so important? We should hire/select people based on merits, not based on their gender/race/other grouping.

That’s not an actual quote, but I have heard variations of it hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

What this argument does, is attacking the whole premise of the problem we are trying to address. They don’t necessarily deny that there is a lack of diversity, but they will usually claim that the lack of diversity is by choice by the people left out, and that it isn’t a problem, since diversity isn’t important, merit is.

Given the number of times I have come across this argument, I thought it might be time to write an article that addresses why diversity is important.

There are a few major reasons, which I think can be summed up as:

  • Fairness
  • Reducing biases
  • Better performance

Let’s take them one by one.

Fairness

There is a fundamentally lack of fairness if a group of people are excluded from certain positions. There are certainly special cases where it can be argued that it makes sense to exclude certain groups of people (e.g. firefighters cannot be paraplegic), but at a general level, this doesn’t apply.

The counter argument against fairness is usually a claim of meritocracy, but the math simply doesn’t hold up for such claims. Eric Ries does a good job at addressing this at this 2011 Techcrunch article, which I definitely think is worth reading. It focuses on the startup environment, but the arguments are as valid in all other fields.

In the article, Eric Ries also links to a blogpost he wrote in 2010, Why diversity matters (the meritocracy business), where he pretty much sums up why the claim of meritocracy is directly disproven by the lack of diversity:

Diversity is the canary in the coal mine for meritocracy. As entrepreneurs, more than any other industry, we’re in the meritocracy business. The companies that make decisions based on merit, rather than title, politics, or hierarchy execute faster and learn faster than their competitors. For startups (and other innovators), that’s a decisive advantage.

So when a team lacks diversity, that’s a bad sign. What are the odds that the decisions that were made to create that team were really meritocratic?

I think that is a pretty good argument. A meritocracy would more or less reflect the diversity of the society it operates in.

This is, unless one believes that there is some kind of gender-specific or genetic component to merit. Such a belief is, of course, completely unproven, and flies against all research, that shows that e.g. gender-specific differences are minor, at best.

So, all in all, a lack of diversity, shows a lack of fairness, where people are evaluated on their merits, and not on some other, irrelevant factor.

Reducing biases

It is well documented that there are significant evaluation and hiring biases at play when a person is being considered for hiring or promoting.

E.g. it is well documented that men tend to have a bias towards evaluating men better than women, and that men are considered better for leadership positions (see e.g. Women “Take Care,” Men “Take Charge” (pdf)). That there is a bias against hiring homosexuals (pdf), and that perceived race has a major impact on whether you are taken into consideration for a job (USA study, Swedish study (pdf)).

While no one is entirely free from biases, and will be affected by general biases in society, there is a strong case to be made for that having a diverse group will reduce biases. Not only biases regarding hiring and promoting people, but also in daily interactions. Diversity also helps when it comes to problem solving, as different backgrounds bring different ideas to the table.

Better performance

Again, this follows somewhat naturally from the idea that diversity is symptom of a true meritocracy.

As I already said in the reducing biases section, diversity helps solve problems (there is even a paper out there proving this mathematically), and there is clear evidence that companies with a diverse leadership perform better financially. As McKinsey & Company writes in the introduction to their Diversity Matters paper

The analysis found a statistically significant relationship between a more diverse leadership and better financial
performance. The companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to have financial
returns that were above their national industry median. Companies in the top quartile of racial/ethnic diversity
were 30 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median. Companies in the
bottom quartile for both gender and ethnicity/race were statistically less likely to achieve above-average financial
returns than the average companies in the dataset (that is, they were not just not leading, they were lagging). The
results varied by country and industry. Companies with 10 percent higher gender and ethnic/racial diversity on
management teams and boards in the US, for instance, had EBIT that was 1.1 percent higher; in the UK, companies
with the same diversity level had EBIT that was 5.8 percent higher. Moreover, the unequal performance across
companies in the same industry and same country implies that diversity is a competitive differentiator that shifts
market share towards more diverse companies.
Diversity matters because we increasingly live in a global world that has become deeply interconnected. It should
come as no surprise that more diverse companies and institutions are achieving better performance. Most
organisations, including McKinsey, have work to do in taking full advantage of the opportunity that a more diverse
leadership team represents, and, in particular, more work to do on the talent pipeline: attracting, developing,
mentoring, sponsoring, and retaining the next generations of global leaders at all levels of the organisation. But
given the increasing returns that diversity is expected to bring, it is better to invest now, as winners will pull further
ahead and laggards will fall further behind.

In order to get a diverse leadership, the workforce as a whole needs to be diverse, otherwise you have no recruitment base.

In conclusion

When you are a white cis male heterosexual it is easy to ignore the lack of diversity in society, and claim that your advantage is based upon a meritocracy, but there are plenty of studies that demonstrates that there are a lot of biases against anyone not falling within that very narrow group, which clearly demolishes the idea of a meritocracy. There are also plenty of experiments that shows that attempts to counter the biases, will result in a greater diversity (see e.g. the famous idea of blind auditioning of orchestra members), which clearly demonstrates that diversity would be a much better measure of a true meritocracy.

A clear sign of this being the case, is the fact that companies with a diverse leadership do better financially.

 

Denmark needs to change its rape laws

Content notice: The following blogpost will discuss a recent rape case in Denmark, where the perpetrators were found innocent.

There is something seriously wrong with Danish rape laws.

That is the only conclusion any rational person can reach after a Danish court found 3 young men innocent of rape of a young woman who said she was unconscious due to alcohol and insulin deficiency.

According to the newspapers, the defender managed to argue that the men thought that the women had consented to sex, and since she didn’t say no, they couldn’t know that she didn’t want to have sex with them.

It appears that the medical reports state that the insulin and levels were not enough to make her unconscious, and the judge didn’t think that her alcohol level were enough to make her unable to say no. Even if we ignore the fact that the judge isn’t really able to evaluate the combined effect of alcohol and insulin deficiency, it shows a very real problem, where a lack of no, is considered a yes by the courts.

That is unacceptable.

Denmark should change the laws, so it requires an explicit consent. or even better, a enthusiastic consent. For more on enthusiastic consent, see this post by Dr. Nerdlove or this post over at XOJane.

The court decision will probably get appealed, but even if the men get convicted at a higher court, the lower court’s decisions clearly shows that Denmark’s law have to be fundamentally changed, so they don’t focus on whether the perpetrators knew that the victim didn’t want to have sex, but instead changes to focus on whether there were consent or not.

Such a change would have several effects, among them changing the whole rhetoric around rape victims (“why didn’t she say no?”), teaching young men and women that they should get consent and not just avoid a “no”, and finally, getting more rape convictions.