Are You Risking Your Career By Speaking Up?

It has been fascinating to follow the Weinstein effect as it ripples through other industries, including advertising and marketing.

Apparently there is no shortage of male predators in either business. But just as everyone in Hollywood knew for years that Harvey was leveraging his power to force women into sexual encounters, the same has been true in advertising.

In addition to the humiliation of the attack (call it what it is), women have to suffer the uncertainty of possible consequences to their careers if they come forward and speak up.

Most marketing, tech and media companies are still run by men who have their own ideas of what constitutes harassment, and they don't always align with the accuser's. The vast majority of women don't speak up because they think they will be branded as trouble makers, something that has allowed predators to operate with relative impunity.



While social media gives victims of injustices (actual and perceived) a whole new avenue to air their grievances, there can be a cost to taking a stand.

I was talking to the CEO of a sizeable company on Wall Street about identity politics. Deep into the discussion (and the wine), he said that those who caused trouble by forcing the company into making special accommodations were simply putting themselves (and others like them) into a "do not hire again" category.

"I don't need the threat of lawsuits hanging over my head from every person with a unique point of view of the world," he said. "We are better off not hiring them in the first place."

In a similar vein, I know people with medical conditions that they hide because potential employers might think they will be a future liability to company health care costs.

Just as very few in our industry talk out loud about sexual harassment (unless it is pretty egregious), almost no one in management will admit that they keep a sharp eye out for anyone who might sue the company -- so rather than figure out how to change the company culture, they simple avoid hiring them (or people like them).

In their defense, these managers say that identity politics is a constantly changing animal and the policies and procedures (many of them costly) they put in place this year could be outdated by next year -- and many such policies are essentially unenforceable because they fundamentally rely on the good judgment of the workforce. Realistically, one thoughtless gesture at a division 500 miles from HQ could cost the company millions in legal fees and settlements.

Just as we are asking tech companies to protect us from fake news that we should be smart enough to spot on our own, are we asking companies to police morals in a way they fundamentally can't? And when we do, are we really helping -- or just fencing off the potentially litigious?

What do you think?

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