Have you ever had one of those moments in your life when you happen to come across stories or events that stop you dead in your tracks and you scratch your head in disbelief as to the incredulous situation unfolding in front of you? A moment where you realize that this really is happening or has happened. That it is neither fiction nor speculation?
One of these moments occurred this weekend. Whilst scrolling through NetFlix’s we came across a US TV series called The Keepers. An incredible documentary about the unsolved murder in November 1969 of Sister Cathy Cesnik a Catholic Nun who taught at the all-girls Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland where institutionalized sexual abuse against vulnerable pupils was rife. Perpetrated, primarily, seemingly and incredulously, by one man amongst an entire female faculty and staff.
There are a mind-boggling twists and turns in the series but the murder to this day remains unsolved.
Now, this unsolved murder of Sister Cathy has been attributed to the profound collusion of religious officials, police, politicians, educationalists and federal and local government and law enforcement officials - so called community and organizational “leaders” in Baltimore and surrounding area.
Cognitively, I am not particularly surprised about mans inhumanity against man (just watch or read the news on a daily basis for such evidence around the world) but what I am always surprised by is the single “leader” (aware of the situation) who just stands by and allows this to happen.
There is so much that is talked about regarding leadership on social platforms and most of it is just repetitive, pithy, platitudinal and non-sensical garbage but one of the things that I don't hear or read a lot about is the absolute moral responsibility that comes with the territory when you are designated a “leader.”
Your role as a “leader” is not just to manage the performance of your direct reports but to also ensure their complete safety and well-being – staff, clients and stakeholders alike. This includes their physical and sexual safety – yes, let’s bring that taboo term out in the open in the business world. Why are we so afraid of the term sexual abuse?
When you turn a blind eye to sexual harassment and sexual abuse in your organization you are complicit in that same moral and legal crime.
It is absolutely shameful that as “leaders” we just standby and allow others to suffer and other “leaders” in the organization to get away with crimes that affect the lives of their victims often for generations to come. You will understand this clearly in The Keepers. It is sad and it is ruinous how secrets destroy lives decades after the crime. The psychological and emotional threads of that abuse are transmitted to children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren – such is the impact. Just listen to the victims of the sex crimes committed in the recent Rotherham or Newcastle scandal in the UK, for a timely example.
As a leader I take my responsibility of protecting the well-being of my staff, associates, clients and stakeholders extremely seriously and this includes protection from sexual harassment and sexual abuse. This is not the role of your HR Director or HR Department but your own responsibility as a “leader.” Out of sight and out of mind by hiding behind your organizational policies and procedures doesn’t solve the problem and nor should you use that as a tool or opportunity to expunge your guilt and conscious.
Being a great leader is more than following company procedures and policies. As I see it, delegating the problem is the problem in many organizations. Delegation is not a solution nor an absolution of your responsibility as a guardian.
When there is an outcry in the international media due to the gender pay gap, for example, let us stop and think that in those very organizations (with blatant and institutionalized discrimination against women) would there not also be the propensity or potential for sexual harassment and or abuse within those very same organizations – are they all not part of the same syndrome?
If the organization's culture is designed to keep one gender inferior at the expense of another would there not be gravitation toward “acting out” such discrimination? In essence, a creep towards self-fulfilling prophecy?
In other words, what would stop sexually deviant men in those organizational cultures from not being sexually deviant? It is implicit in the organizational culture, isn’t it? They have been given “permission”, so to speak, to proceed. The message is clear, women are inferior and therefore lack power, authority and protection – this is the dark side of the gender pay gap that no one is talking about. After all, females there are seen as inferior and clearly manifested in a discrepant salary, title and power. Aren’t they? Do the implicit seeds of sexual abuse/harassment not imbedded within the cultural norms and codes of the organization where such discrimination is institutionalized?
Look at what has happened at Uber and what recently happened at Google (the engineers memo on gender differences and promotions that has created an internal storm which eventually lead to him being fired. Let us also not forget the state of sexual harassment at VC firms in Silicone Valley and so on. This doesn't happen by accident. Organizational cultures are explicitly manufactured and therefore leaders responsible for that culture ought to know what they have created – a culture that allows sexual deviance and sexual deviants to thrive. The world is not short of such evidence.
The sooner that leaders in organizations begin to realize this the sooner they can clean out the very context and platform that allows such atrocities to occur under their brand and under their watch. But in order to do this, it requires cleaning up their culture, policies, norms and re-establishing values that are the personification of decent and common moral code. This includes removing people from their organizations suspected of such behaviour. The rhetoric of zero tolerance as a mantra (often promoted in banal company values) is not enough.
It is my role to provide those organizational leaders who are my clients with guidance and wise counsel in these very serious matters and I am proud of the work that we at nStratagem do in this regard (behind the scenes and in confidence) in assisting organizations in building their moral character just as much as their performance culture.
Would you allow your own daughter, sister, wife, mother, cousin, sister-in-law and every dear and loved woman in your life to become a victim of sexual violence? Any woman for that matter? Could you?
As a “leader” also ask yourself this, are you part of the problem or part of the solution in your organization? What you deem as just a bit of male banter or a “macho” culture (disguised as competitive attitudes) may hide a very dark, secretive and dangerous culture of abuse and harassment in your organization.
As far as I am concerned without moral leadership you or I are nothing but a title! If you want to be a “leader” then stand up for someone who cannot! Bring such atrocities under your watch into the light. Then you will have my respect and I can read what you write on leadership. Anything short of that is just theory and trifle.
"Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens."
Be strong. Be significant
I look forward to your thoughts and comments on this article.
is CEO of nStratagem. We have a great deal of experience in helping leaders and organizations through their development and challenges. Contact us for a discreet discussion.
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