Some time ago I sent a candidate on an interview to a bank. He was intelligent, personable and, most importantly, well qualified. Not unexpectedly, he got the job – but not without having had to do some serious damage control following his second-round interview which involved two more, previously unscheduled interviews; a second with HR and the fourth with peers and the CCO again.
Fortunately, his first interview, with HR and then with the hiring manager, the Chief Credit Officer, went very well. Both he and the CCO told me after the interview that it had gone very well on all accounts, and they already wanted to schedule a meeting with the bank president. That interview took place the following week, but my candidate came away feeling something had been unsaid or unasked; he wasn’t as sure of himself as he had been following the earlier meeting. He was right.
My candidate was ushered into the interview that morning by the president’s admin who asked if he would like some coffee or water before she left. He thanked her but declined. As she walked out of the office, however, he let his eyes linger on her for a moment (as the president told me) and then commented, “She’s a very attractive lady.” That was a red flag. “We have some concerns about his character,” I was told. “…just not sure he’d be a fit here. We can’t afford to have any problems.”
That was a little over ten years ago, and as I said, he got the job, but not without convincing the chief credit officer that what he had said was intended only as a compliment, an innocent comment, not even a flirtation, and, his background check verified that he was a friendly person, easy to get along with, and had never previously been accused of any sexual innuendo or harassment.
Fast forward >> 2017. I’m not so sure he would still pass that test. If employers were gun-shy then, they’d have to think they’re facing a firing squad today if that kind of flag went up. Employees, both women and men, are coming forward recently, largely empowered by the bravery of others whom have done so, and are speaking out about having been previously harassed, fondled, debased, threatened, and even raped. They’re naming names. They are identifying companies that we thought were good working environments but, instead, harbor, hide and even cover-up the inappropriate actions of many of their top executives; companies which have had to pay out literally millions in undisclosed settlements.
Our corporate brethren don’t want that anymore, so, what we’re seeing now is, in many cases just by seemingly credible accusation, people being let go or suspended or offered the opportunities to leave of their own accord. Harvey Weinstein. Bill O’Reilly, John Lassiter, Roger Ailes, Kevin Spacey, Glenn Thrush, Charlie Rose. These are some of the people as of this writing, though I’m inclined to believe we’ll see more, whose characters have called into question – and that doesn’t include politicians who cannot be fired quite so easily. [Since the original edited version of this blog appeared in Leasing News, Matt Lauder was let go by NBC.]
There is no room in the workplace for sexual misconduct, harassment or innuendo. Companies are finally getting that, although while the management of many are becoming more protective of their employees because it’s the right thing to do, the motivation of others is that it’s the right thing to do for its owners. And, even though it may not be as visible as the high-profile cases, many smaller and midsized firms are learning that wolves belong in the wild, not in the office.
This is not about asking a coworker to have a drink after work, or even perhaps ending up in a fully consensual relationship. We’re talking about abusing power. Sexual harassment and predatory behavior is wrong and any hint of it during the hiring process, even an offhand, “innocent” remark is inappropriate and will most likely, as it should, result in having to continue one’s job search. Harassment is not victimless. Like bullying or any other kind of abuse, sexual misconduct leaves scars, feelings of guilt, inadequacy and shame. It negatively impacts work-life balance and job performance. And in the end, it can destroy people’s careers, both predator and prey.
Neither side of the fight-or-flight response, the former being continued denials, the latter issuing a mea culpa and acting like the bigger person because you’ve accepted accountability (though maintaining an unwarranted sense of justification for your actions), should not, and eventually will not, work on the job anymore. Abusing power and showing disrespect for others on the job are fast no longer falling under the category of things that are not easier to seek forgiveness than asking permission for. The scars don’t magically disappear when you say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Employers are gun shy and do not want to hire potential problems. Keep that in mind when you interview.