Katie Couric spoke to a room full of formidable women about sexual harassment in the industry at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast in Austin on Sunday, and revealed what she would say to her former colleague Matt Lauer in regards to allegations made against him.
“I certainly dealt with sexist environments and environments that marginalized and didn’t give women their due, and didn’t treat women as intellectual equals, but it’s hit very close to home with Matt Lauer and what happened there,” Couric told TheWrap’s founder and Editor-in-Chief Sharon Waxman. “It’s been an important experience for me because I never faced this kind of treatment. I was one of the lucky ones — I think I am harassable and I’m not harassable in that sense, and I think it is because I was in a position of power early in my career.”
When asked what she would say to Lauer, with whom she spent 15 years co-hosting NBC’s “Today” show, if she ran into him today, Couric said, “I hope he’s trying to figure out and understand his behavior and why he did it and why it was so wrong.”
“We had a wonderful working relationship,” she added. “It’s shocking, honestly, and disturbing, disorienting, disheartening — all of those d-words. But I think, he’s not the only one who behaves in this way. People all over the place … have participated in this kind of behavior, that have used their power in an exploitative and unacceptable way.”
After two decades at the helm of “Today,” Lauer’s career unraveled just 24 hours after NBC management was confronted with a detailed allegation of sexual misconduct against him in November. He was fired from the network, and he released a statement acknowledging his wrongdoings with women over the years and apologized — but he also said some of the charges against him were untrue.
Couric said educating and welcoming men into the conversation about sexual harassment and appropriate workplace behavior will be the fundamental steps to changing the culture and the attitudes of companies that should be transparent.
“Cultures have existed in the media, and in every arena, where behaviors were tolerated, people looked the other way, it was an accepted way of doing business,” Couric explained. “I don’t think people paid much attention to it. In my case, it was something I was unaware of because if you talk to experts about this, people are very proficient at being secretive about certain behavior and making sure people don’t witness certain behaviors. Culturally, it’s a huge problem: the tone that is set from the top. About having a complete male management structure, the very presence of women reduces toxic masculinity in the work place. Putting women in more leadership jobs with real authority and vision-making ability is absolutely critical if we’re going to change the culture.”
TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast also welcomed Jayna Zweiman, founder and creator of the Pussyhat Project, a social movement that focuses on raising awareness about women’s rights. On a panel moderated by Flipboard Managing Editor Gabriella Schwarz, Zweiman said she started knitting because of the incredible support system she witnessed in knitting stores, and how that is important to create change for women in the world.
“I got a ton of perspective, knowledge, and I realized it’s transgenerational,” Zweiman told the room. “There were women 15 years younger than I am or 40 years older. Understanding where we come from and where we can go is very important. You can be the worst knitter in the room, that doesn’t matter, everyone is welcome. When we talk about the culture we want to create, this is an incredible example of how this can happen.”
Lastly, founder of Play Big Inc. Nancy Giordano led a discussion about achieving 50/50 parity by 2020, with Christine Lubrano, SVP Original Programming at IFC, and Camila Jimenez Villa, president and CCO at Fusion Media.
Lubrano explained that not only has she reported to a women for most of her career, but IFC has always looked at, maybe “not consciously,” having balance in their shows. IFC has the satirical sketch comedy “Baroness von Sketch Show,” an all-female comedy also directed by a woman. IFC’s other popular show, “Portlandia,” stars a man and a woman (Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein) equally.
“Having a diverse staff helps,” said Lubrano. “It will happen if we support it.”
Villa explained that in corporate America, she’s mostly been the only woman in the room, especially a “brown woman.” To put change into effect, she said it’s important to make sure there is always a woman on board on a team of creators and to have as many female showrunners as possible.
“I just try to be very active from the very top of the funnel because I know it has a trickle affect,” said Villa. “What we can concretely do is to raise our sons thinking that they can be empathetic beings and feminists.”
“We are raising the citizens of the future,” said Giordano.
TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast series brings together women of remarkable achievement to connect and inspire the leading influential women of entertainment, media, technology and brands in the key cities where those women work, create, gather, network and connect.