Culture of Denial Couldn’t Suppress Harassment Truth: The E&C Pulse - July 22, 2020

July 22, 2020 Ben DiPietro

July 22, 2020

Culture of Denial Couldn’t Suppress Harassment Truth


When all is said and done, the truth comes out. It may take a while, in some instances, but however long it takes, truth reveals itself.


So it is for the NFL’s Washington football franchise, which faces allegations from 15 women of sexual harassment and verbal abuse that has transpired for years, including incidents occurring in 2020.


When wrong occurs for that long in an organization, people know. In this instance, the Washington Post reported allegations involving senior executives, including the team’s announcer, but did not implicate the team’s owner, or its recently ousted president. 


In fact, three of the executives named in the reporting were fired in the days before the story broke, nothing more than an effort by the team to try to look proactive in responding to a situation that many knew to be taking place for years, and to get ahead of the story it knew was coming.


In crisis management, the single factor that is predictive of how an organization will fare in leading through a crisis is denial, said Davia Temin, president and chief executive of Temin & Co., a crisis management firm.


“The sooner an organization realizes the importance of the problem, the sooner they will begin to fix it,” she said. “The longer they stay in denial, the longer it will take to recover, if they ever can. This makes it awfully hard on ‘masters of the universe’ who find it impossible to admit they may have made a mistake.” 


The team issued a statement saying it hired a law firm to conduct an independent review and to “help the team set new employee standards for the future.”


A better question to ask: Why wasn’t the culture changed after a New York Times report in 2018 that detailed how the team’s cheerleaders were pressured to take off their tops and to act as escorts with team season ticker holders and sponsors during a photo shoot in Costa Rica in 2013? 


At the same, the team issued a statement that said, in part: “Each...cheerleader is contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment.” That statement did not meet the moment. And the team now is paying the price for letting this problem fester and not addressing the cultural rot.


Especially in this time of social media activism, the kinds of abuses detailed by these women no longer are being tolerated. “The team and its management appears to have been in deep denial about that. Culturally, and reputationally, and financially, the team will need a reset from top down,” said Temin. “But are they willing to reset themselves?”


It would be one thing if this was the team’s only problem, but the fact we have to identify the franchise without saying its nickname is because the offensive name and logo finally were removed after years of protests culminated when several big-money sponsors threatened to pull their support. The team’s minority owners are looking to sell their stake in the team.


The name change is happening despite the owner’s promise it never would. 


“I think it highly likely that they lived in denial for a long time: Denial that the name of their team would ever be changed; and denial that standards have changed, and that their atmosphere of sexual harassment would not always be tolerated,” said Temin.


How to move forward from here? The team should seek to recognize and own up to mistakes of the past in appropriate but real terms, she said. “Fix the issues, and then seek to move on. Not easy at all, but better than bearing the consequences interminably.”


                                                                                                            BEN DIPIETRO






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