These last couple of weeks have been rather eventful for Paula Deen and there are lessons here that we can all learn. To bring those few people who aren’t aware of her free fall up to speed, Paula Deen sits atop a southern comfort food empire which ranges from a cooking show to QVC products and restaurants. She has been slapped with a lawsuit alleging a hostile work environment – the details of which you can easily google. I won’t pass judgment on the accuracy of the allegations but I will take the opportunity to make a few comments from my own experience.
In my capacity as a recruiter, I have partnered with both clients and consultants who have stuck their proverbial foot in their mouths. The topics have ranged from racism to gender and sexual orientation. In this age where we should be evolved, there are lines that need to be drawn in the sand for those who aren’t quite there yet. Repercussions should be swift and nonnegotiable. In one case, I recall that a consultant was immediately released and in another, the client only told me about the comments after the project had wrapped up. He said that the consultant was too critical to the success of the project to make waves and potentially lose. Unfortunately, this errant line of thinking is what we are up against.
A top down approach to setting the standard of tolerance within each company is critical. If the top brass act with dignity, respect and fairness regardless of race, creed, gender, etc…, then the entire firm will take note. The lesson we can learn is that tolerance for an offhand, off color comment is not acceptable. In the workplace, you are condoning behavior of this sort if you are around it and don’t react. If the allegations are true, Paula Deen is belatedly learning a very tough lesson right now and it seems that corporate America has a long way to go.