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Volume 7 | Issue 5

Putting it in context

A message from CDC Integrated Services, LLC

Accountability & the Missed Target

Accountability & the Missed Target

In a recent meeting via Zoom the issue of Sexual Harassment policies came up, and somewhat surprisingly one of the participants mentioned comments once made by Vice President Mike Pence. The participant commented that more conversations like his needed to find their way into the workplace.

My curiosity was triggered and I discovered the Vice President was interviewed back in 2002, and during that interview he stated that he “never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either,”…

This quote was widely reported (and miss-reported) last year, and was the subject of much debate. When digging down to determine the context of the statement and how it was reported in the 2002 article I learned it’s not an original idea of his. The Vice President and his wife follow many of the rules that make up a larger set of rules within Reverend Billy Graham’s Modest Manifesto.

Why is this relevant to anyone in a business setting? Years ago Vice President Pence recognized that he had political ambitions, and knew that the objectification of women in the political arena was a major problem, and it remains so today. 

In the business world the policy on sexual harassment was perhaps the most transformative public policy to come out of the civil rights act that benefitted women. This single policy did more to de-objectify women in and out of the workplace than any other public policy. 

With more than thirty million companies in the United States, it is truly astonishing that just one public policy initiative has had such a dramatic impact.

Two exceptions exist, however, and these two industries are very much in the news today – the entertainment industry, and the media. 

What made sexual harassment policies so effective across much of the business world? Companies instituted behavioral standard to reinforce the policy requirements, and over time those standards became the norm for American workers – except in the two industries noted above.

The Vice President worked in radio and television before entering politics, and knows from his experiences that sexual harassment policies are not the transformative influences experienced in the broader business community. 

The answer lies in accountability and more to the point, a broad base failure to establish clear lines of authority to drive accountability.  In these particular workplaces power was delegated but accountability for constructing new standards of behavior was not attached to key stakeholders. 

As most of us know, policies that aren’t accompanied by action-based processes that drive people’s behavior don’t work. They become static statements inside a binder sitting on a manager’s shelf.

In those environments where women are not treated equally with their male counter parts, many employees, especially men, must practice defensive tactics. 

When structural accountability is absent, employees will structure behaviors that emphasize their personal accountability.

What Vice President Pence said in that interview was a natural response to what he saw around him. He rightfully looked at the tenets of his faith as a guide, and put in place a practice that reflected his integrity. His decision to behave towards other women in a certain way also reflected a knowledge of how easy scandal can attach itself without any real cause.

What was not made obvious in the original interview in 2002, or last year when the article was resurrected, is the simple fact that many men behave in this manner. Contrary to popular myth men are very much aware when their companies, or the people they work with do not walk the walk on this critical issue. 

Many men, finding themselves working in these environments, take steps similar to those the Vice President talked about to protect themselves from the very real risk of being seen as part of the problem.

The primary goal of leaders in entertainment and media companies has been to enrich themselves, and followed closely after this is to immunize themselves from competition, and the perils of the marketplace. From everything we now know, many in key positions of authority deliberately exploited the women in their organizations, and they bent or broke rules with impunity, and this led to destructive behaviors by many in these industries. 

The damage to careers and reputations has been beyond dramatic, and the reputations of the companies where these behaviors took root are also in shambles.

Accountability matters at all level in an organization and it must be a goal, a practice, a behavior pursued as consistently as quality or reliability. If we do not take this approach, we miss the targets we shoot for, and we and those around us pay the price.

 

Jerry Cooper Books

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