Cricket, lovely cricket?

Cricket, lovely cricket?

One of the most difficult situations a business – small or large – can face is when an employee, or ex-employee, makes an allegation of discrimination. The natural, and understandable, reaction of many is to become defensive – but as the recent coverage of the issues raised by former cricketer Azeem Rafiq about Yorkshire Cricket Club have shown, it’s possible for an organisation to make a bad situation far worse. As one MP said, Yorkshire’s response to the allegations was a “Venn diagram of stupidity.”

I’m not going to comment on the Yorkshire situation (plenty of others have done that) but there are some key learning points for all companies to try to avoid the club’s many mistakes

  • Take any allegation seriously. If someone feels strongly enough to raise a formal complaint about racism/sexism or any other discriminatory behaviour, then you have a duty to follow it up, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.
  • If possible, have the allegations investigated independently. But don’t bring in lawyers to do it – approaching the issue as a way of avoiding tribunal claims or other litigation automatically means that the investigation is skewed.
  • Equally, don’t treat it as an exercise in reputation management. The role of an investigation is to decide if there is any substance to the allegations and make recommendations on how to resolve the situation, not to protect your business when it may have done something wrong
  • Don’t just make it about individuals. While in some cases the ‘rogue employee’ defence may be true, it’s unusual that they will have been able to get away with discriminatory behaviour unless others have tolerated or ignored it. As Azeem Rafiq pointed out in relation to events that happened in the presence of England captain Joe Root “Maybe he didn’t remember it, but it just shows the institution that a good man like him cannot remember those things” (my emphasis)
  • Don’t allow your own view of incidents to take precedence. It is sometimes suggested that  an individual is being ‘over-sensitive’ and if this is genuinely the case then there may be little substance to the allegations.  But what is ‘over-sensitive’ to you may be the culmination of a series of micro-aggressions to the individual – things which individually are not worth mentioning but which cumulatively result in a perception of discriminatory behaviour. This powerful video makes the point very effectively.
  • Take action on the findings – don’t brush them under the carpet. And this doesn’t just mean ‘sacking a perpetrator’ if deeper organisational issues are revealed.

Not dealing with matters invariably makes the situation far worse. And while your organisation may not end up all over the media or having to justify its actions to MPs, rest assured that the long term damage to it may be just as bad.

My thanks to Business Coach and Organisational Culture Specialist Lorna Leeson (@reallornaleeson) for some of the ideas and points featured in this post.

It was only a joke!

“It was only a joke”

“I didn’t mean anything by it”

“Just our normal office banter”

“Do we have to be humourless in work now?”

Over the last 12 months, the issue of harassment has come to the forefront of business, with issues such as Harvey Weinstein, and the Presidents Club. Only this week,  business leader and TV personality Lord Sugar  got into hot water for issuing a (now deleted) tweet about Senegalese footballers. His response – that it was a misguided attempt at humour –  is a common one when individuals are confronted with inappropriate comments.  In fact, the comments above are the usual reaction when a complaint is made.

If you run or manage a small business, you may be faced by an allegation of harassment and you need to take it seriously.  Dismissing claims as merely ‘banter’ can be both expensive and damaging to your business reputation, as this car dealership found out this week.  Investigate all allegations properly and – as importantly –  make it clear that inappropriate comments are not acceptable.

It doesn’t matter if the comment was not intended to be offensive, or that you can’t see anything wrong with it – in law the main concern is the perception of the individual. This doesn’t mean that every instance of an ill-judged comment is necessarily racist or sexist – case law is very clear that “it is… important not to encourage a culture of hypersensitivity or the imposition of legal liability in respect of every unfortunate phrase” – the point is that an employer must investigate a complaint properly.

And if you aren’t sure, take advice. There’s a world of difference between referring to a colleague as “The Producer” (because she is constantly telling her team that “she’ll put them in the picture”) and referring to her as “Sugar Tits”.

Humour is important in the workplace. Harassment isn’t. And remember, as I was once told by an Employment Lawyer, “Banter isn’t an excuse –  it’s an admission”. If you need more information, this piece may help you