Q: As a new leader, in a new company, I am learning the ropes. I like 90% of my role and my new employer. However, this company is less structured, more casual. We schedule a lot of fun events like cookouts, bagel Friday, putting our pet’s picture on the walls, etc. We even each receive a plant to name, to put on the window sill of our lunch room. All cool ideas! I have a small team and they seem to know what is appropriate and what is not.
However, and I am sure you know this was coming, there are some comments related to our new hires. My former company would stop these as quickly as they started. Unfortunately, my fellow managers are sometimes encouraging these comments.
Some of the comments include “she’s hot, “or she is too old.” One manager won’t hire an employee because of their ethnicity.
I have a buddy who got in trouble for similar comments, at my old company. The company was sued and it was very difficult for all of us. I had to be deposed.
My question is this: I am a new leader. I am trying to build relationships with the other managers and I hope to be promoted to a director. It would be hard to challenge these comments.
A: This is surprising in 2023. You are in a difficult situation. You are beginning to learn about the culture and trying to build credibility with your fellow leaders.
I would recommend that you raise your concerns with your supervisor. Ask your supervisor if he or she has noticed anything about some of these comments. How your supervisor responds to your questions is important. He or she might downplay the comments or the response may be aligned to your reaction, which sounds like you are concerned. As a supervisor, you have a responsibility to ensure you are providing a safe and professional workplace.
The “line,” for what is acceptable and what is not, has moved. You can share your experience at your former employer. Employees (and candidates) have a stronger voice than in the past. There are online forums, like Glassdoor, where candidates and employees can share positive feedback regarding their employer, as well as their concerns. Sometimes the media profiles some of these complaints, which sometimes does not reflect well on the company. Additionally, a candidate or an employee could pursue legal action, as this sounds like these comments could potentially be illegal. Age, sex, and ethnicity are protected classes. This means that comments about a candidate’s (or employee’s) age, sex or ethnicity may very well put the employer at risk. Even emails can “discoverable” if a candidate or employee pursues a claim.
You have good instincts. I would try to model appropriate behavior and refrain from comments like the ones you have mentioned. I would ask your team to be careful about comments and/or feedback that could put your employer in jeopardy.
I would not “let it slide.” Not in 2023. You can approach it in a thoughtful way, explaining you have the company’s best interest in mind.