Grey matters ethical dilemma: World tour

This ‘Grey matters’, about sexual harassment in the workplace, was originally published in The Review in July 2008 and updated and reworked for this edition. The rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have brought the topic to the forefront of public consciousness. Ten years on, would we recommend doing anything differently?

grey matters

Robert is managing director for an international retail bank. The bank has recently appointed a new non-executive director (NED), Henry. As part of his induction, Henry is undertaking a series of visits to the bank’s overseas branches, accompanied by members of Robert’s team.

Robert liaises with colleagues overseas to ensure that Henry is introduced to appropriate staff members, local business leaders and government representatives. All the visits are high-profile, with a significant amount of press coverage.

However, Robert is concerned at feedback he receives from members of his team who accompany Henry on his visits. During one long-haul journey, Henry had liberally enjoyed the refreshments available on the aircraft. The flight was followed by a large reception at which Henry met senior members of the bank’s local staff, business leaders and several government representatives.

Robert’s team member, Stephanie, tells him that Henry continued drinking at the reception, which, compounded by his earlier indulgence, resulted in him slurring his words. Additionally, he seemed to be concentrating heavily on entertaining the female guests, including Stephanie, who were made to feel uncomfortable by his close attention.

A further incident was reported to Robert by an overseas colleague, Mark, who attended a reception for Henry, at which he conspicuously pestered a female guest, one of Mark’s valued clients, to go out to dinner. The client told Mark that she accepted the dinner invitation only to avoid causing a scene and that she was not happy about it, suggesting that she was unsure whether she wanted to remain a client.
He seemed to be concentrating heavily on entertaining the female guests These two incidents concern Robert for many reasons, including their potential to reflect badly on the bank, and the possibility of legal action. Accordingly, he feels that they must be reported, and makes an appointment to see the chief executive.

The chief executive tells Robert that, while he has done the right thing in speaking up, he does not feel inclined to take it any further. Robert feels as though he has done everything possible at this stage to take appropriate action, and advises Stephanie and Mark that the incidents have been reported.

A month later, following a further overseas trip during which Henry was again accompanied by Stephanie, she returns and tells Robert that Henry made several suggestive remarks to her. She is very upset and says that unless something is done about it she will feel compelled to speak up using any channels available to her, including social media.

Robert assures Stephanie that he will see that something is done but, having reported previous incidents to the chief executive to no avail, privately he wonders what more he can do. The chief executive is currently with Henry on one of his overseas visits (which is being covered heavily in the press), and Robert is hesitant to approach him again until he is back in the office in a couple of weeks.

What should Robert do?

  1. Go back to the chief executive once he returns to the office, even though this could mean that Henry’s bad behaviour continues unchecked on the current visit. Let Stephanie know what he plans to do, and encourage her to not say anything publicly until he has had a chance to speak with the chief executive again.
  2. Report the matter to the HR director as the senior staff member for personnel issues, which this has now become. Let the HR director know that the matter has been reported to the chief executive, but that nothing (to his knowledge) has been done.
  3. Report his concerns to the chairman, and advise the chairman of the previous report to the chief executive. The chairman is, after all, the only person who has the power to dismiss a NED.
  4. Email the chief executive while he is away, letting him know that another report has been received about Henry’s unacceptable behaviour, and that if nothing is done, the staff member concerned will almost certainly make her accusations public on social media.
Published: 24 Aug 2018
  • Integrity & Ethics
  • sexual harassment
  • Q3 2018
  • Grey Matters

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