Men Building Bridges #12
“you are sheep in the midst of wolves: be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
A long time ago, I was looking to expand my horizons by interviewing with a large, national consulting agency. As a young professional with several years’ experience under my belt, I had privileged access within the organizations where I had been employed. The consulting agency vetted, hired and assigned me to a client. A project team with several consultants from our agency was providing services and support to this particular client. Many were angling for full-time positions with the client.
While working at the client’s corporate headquarters, an inadvertent discovery was made. The lead engineer’s project was in jeopardy. He was a regular employee of the client. In working with him, he asked for assistance with an innocuously labeled data set. When I inquired, he confided, ‘It’s all of my best porn man!’ I quickly advised him that I wouldn’t be able to assist him with that particular data set.
In continuing to work with him, the director, the admins, and several executive board members of this company, I discovered, to my chagrin, all had massive amounts of porn saved on company servers & laptops. It represented a huge liability not only to myself, but to the consulting agency, and the client as well. Later that same day, I was to make an even more shocking discovery. Walking into an impromptu project meeting with a co-worker, we witnessed one of the regular, full-time employees, a young single mother, receive numerous unwanted sexual advances & propositions. They were sleazy, aggressive offers of pornographic employment by a young, married director, himself an expectant father, some company engineers, a senior company manager, and worst of all, the president of the company himself. Rather than awarding her a well-earned raise as an already hard-working employee, they instead pandered a cash offer in exchange for becoming their side venture’s ‘new porn queen’. I was stunned. She flatly turned them all down, turned around, and stalked out of the meeting. Opening my mouth, I was cut off, informed that I was a consultant there to fulfill a single purpose only: tech support to the engineers and directors, and that they would ask for my input when necessary. I then excused myself from the meeting they’d invited me to attend.
Immediately leaving the meeting, I made what I thought were confidential, discrete inquiries to the consulting agency’s HR & legal departments, reporting the actions. Then, I asked to be reassigned to another client. Unfortunately, HR moved to limit the consulting agency’s risk, not mine. None of the other consultants had ever said a word to anyone. They had even more direct knowledge than I, and had done nothing. I was given no direction by my employer on how to proceed. I was the first one that had spoken up.
I struggled with what to do. I repeated my request for reassignment and was refused. Apparently, my skills were ‘particularly valued’ by the client company. Not long after though, my privileged access was restricted due to ‘improved access controls’. Work became that much harder. I strongly encouraged the single mother to report the activity to her company’s HR department. She refused and was terrified of losing her job or worse. She had to support a young son and was unable to find other employment.
The situation was daily becoming worse. I traveled in and out of the country to this particular client’s other locations on assignment. Revealed was a barely hidden, permissive corporate culture throughout the entire organization. I learned even more, that I wished I’d never known. The inexperienced, young, married, male director, the birth of his first son now immanent, escalated the situation. He became more brazen and aggressive in his sleazy approaches to the single mother. His incompetence and ethical lapses were revealed on more than one occasion. He took his lead from those above him, all the way to the top. Fortunately, the revelations had absolutely nothing to do with me. They appeared to be, in fact, the chief reasons the board kept him: he was easily manipulated.
I had been seeking employment elsewhere up to that point, with no results. There were, however, several leads, at possibly becoming an independent contractor. Some of the other consultants, with full, unreported knowledge of what was transpiring, were hired as full-time employees by the client company. Others were reassigned to different clients.
Then, one Monday morning not long after, as I was getting ready to drive into the client’s headquarters, I received a call from the consulting agency. The client had requested someone else be assigned in my place. I wasn’t surprised. I was even more relieved, when, the same person informed me that my services were no longer required. In order to avoid jeopardizing a lucrative contract with this client, I was being let go. I learned a hard lesson as men looked the other way. I felt like a modern-day Joseph: trapped. Contracts were few and far between. Tougher, real-world, and more business lessons were in store. The value & price of risk management was much higher than I had ever anticipated, but were still less than looking the other way. As satisfying as whistle-blowing or a lawsuit would have been, I was instead learned discretion and patience. Neither were easy lessons. They never are. The older we get, the tougher the lessons are.
Often, we are unwitting, or unwilling recipients of risks such as these while working. Risk management is, unfortunately, a double-edged sword in ethically challenged environments. Should we choose to manage the risk with our integrity in tough times, with even tougher work environments for an illusion of security or temporary gain? Absolutely not. The price of doing the right thing may be far higher than you had ever thought. As high as you may think the cost of doing the right thing is, the price of not doing the right thing is even more devastating and far higher.
Good deeds are often punished in the real world. I do believe what goes around, will come around. sees all. Doers, and the recipients of these deeds, (everyone), will all end, at some point, with the consequences of their actions, they cannot be escaped. The fire of life, refines and prepares us, awaiting. We may even be ground & sifted by the evil of others. It may not be apparent at the time, life is faithful, and compelling – if you are. It is preparing you and your heart. There still are men, entrepreneurs, and companies whose business models depend on their employees doing the right thing. Do the right thing. Let others manage the risk. Karma’s a bitch.
I was especially satisfied to later learn the young, single mother had, with the assistance of her attorney, negotiated an undisclosed settlement with the company’s executive board which the shareholders had to, and did, approve.