Wednesday, July 28, 2010

(Un)Acceptable Alpha Male Behaviour

David Jones, a department store largely staffed by women for women customers, is being sued for $37 million by a young woman who alleges she was sexually harassed by the former CEO. It is to his credit and that of the Board that he resigned promptly - acknowledging in that act the substance of the allegations.

That is not that substance I want to discuss here. I’m more interested in the tone set from the top.

The CEO in question was by all financial measures a star, generating improvement on improvement and rewarding shareholders for their investment in the company and their faith in him.

He is a classic Alpha male - driven to success and instinctively competitive. In the primate world those characteristics would translate into competition for mating rights. And I heard one commentator suggest that we should accept that it would be a really ‘hard call’ for an Alpha male at DJ’s not to take liberties with female staff.

Whether we accept that it is a hard call or not, all organisations reflect the tone set from the top - by the Board and by the CEO and management team. We know that for a senior member of staff to use their position to take liberties is unacceptable. We can probably accept that a person who demonstrates a lack of restraint in one area of their life is likely to be unrestrained in others.

Reports indicate that DJ’s ex-CEO’s behaviour was widely acknowledged. It would appear that it was tolerated firstly as no other woman had the courage to face the scrutiny which comes with making public allegations, and secondly because of ‘halo effect’ - where good performance in one area dulls our ability to perceive the lacks or lapses in another.

The tone from the top seems to have put financial performance well above staff welfare.

Could an organisation with a CSR-driven culture, an organisation that lives and breathes respect – respect for society, people, the planet and profits – have prevented the opportunity for this behaviour?

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