Letterman’s hostile workplace?
Nell Scovell, formerly of Late Night with David Letterman, offers up on VanityFair.com a great sketch of what it was like to work for Dave back in 1990 — and why she left the opportunity of a lifetime.
Without naming names or digging up decades-old dirt, let’s address the pertinent questions. Did Dave hit on me? No. Did he pay me enough extra attention that it was noted by another writer? Yes. Was I aware of rumors that Dave was having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Was I aware that other high-level male employees were having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Did these female staffers have access to information and wield power disproportionate to their job titles? Yes. Did that create a hostile work environment? Yes. Did I believe these female staffers were benefiting professionally from their personal relationships? Yes. Did that make me feel demeaned? Completely. Did I say anything at the time? Sadly, no.
Here’s what I did: I walked away from my dream job. The show picked up my option after 13 weeks; then, about two months later, while looking for a nicer apartment, I realized I didn’t want to commit to a yearlong lease. I’d seen enough to know that I was not going to thrive professionally in that workplace. And although there were various reasons for that, sexual politics did play a major part.
Via Letterman and Me
I dare you to read this (and you should) without having the same reaction as I did. First, I just want to hang out with Scovell. She’s clearly smart, funny, and an adult — she raises her point without sounding strident, disarming any critic who would dismiss her comments as sour grapes or immaturity. Case in point:
Now, I don’t want a lawsuit. I don’t want compensation. I don’t want revenge. I don’t want Dave to go down (oh, grow up, people). I just want Dave to hire some qualified female writers and then treat them with respect. And that goes for Jay and Conan, too.
Second, I can’t help but feel that this could be the beginning of the end for Letterman defenders — myself included — who’ve said you know, if there’s sexual harassment going on, that’s one thing, but it doesn’t seem to be the case in this instance. Unless you just hit “continue” during all of those company-required sexual harassment training sessions, harassment doesn’t have to be a quid pro quo situation, and you don’t have to be a target of such a relationship to be affected. To say you’re being singled out because you didn’t get flowers on Secretary’s Day belittles the notion, but what Scovell describes is clearly something more.
We might get a better picture if other female employees come forward. I’m guessing at least a couple will — with only seven female writers over the course of a 27-year run, it’s not like it’s difficult to find them.
Everyone has a different tolerance for questionable behavior — what’s hostile for one person isn’t necessarily a problem for someone else, and there are a million shades of gray in between. I’ve witnessed some workplace behavior that would curl the hair of someone more sensitive, and I know that what some of my friends and colleagues have experienced would probably send me running from the room. Heaven knows writers’ rooms of any kind are hardly a bastion of propriety. And I say hey, knock yourself out and tell all the dick jokes you want – just let me borrow them if they’re good. But fostering what sounds like an atmosphere akin to a fraternity house and its “little sisters” — with everything that entails — is just embarrassing.