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Email abuse vs sexual harrassment - Elf M. Sternberg
Email abuse vs sexual harrassment
I'm going to tell a story about a company that illustrates for me a key detail about the whole Trump vs. Clinton thing.

The CEO of this company was one of those rare men who had Steve Jobs' infamous reality distorting charisma. If you were in the same room with him and he was talking, you quickly started to believe every word he said. It wasn't as overpowering as Jobs'; the moment you left the room, you realized almost everything he had said was nonsense, but while he spoke everyone within reach of his voice was enraptured with his vision.

In the three years he was CEO, he used that charisma to plow through a succession of tall, blond, leggy secretaries. Five or six, if my memory serves me correctly. At company parties women warned each other not to be alone with him. He was a notorious womanizer who regarded the workpool as a hunting ground. I don't know if he ever quite reached the stage of sexual assault, but he was the very definition of a serial harasser.

Eventually, a sexual harassment lawsuit did ensue, and he was quietly shuffled off. So were a number of other men in the C-Suite who enabled his behavior. Here's the kicker: the company was hoping to IPO someday, and their main crime had not been to enable the CEO's behavior, but to have retained materially damaging comments in their email, in this case, snarky exchanges about how many women the CEO was banging.

Sexual harrassment by a powerful man in a leadership position was completely tolerable until it looked bad. What the board couldn't abide was that the other men had had poor judgement in their emails that made the company look bad, so they had to go as well.

Yes, one could spin it the other way and say they were let go because they knew about this highly embarrassing time bomb in their midst and did nothing about it; or because they knew he was a harasser and found it a matter of contempt, of envy, or of comedy, but never a moral issue. But what it really came down to was they wrote it down where it could be discovered. They misused email.

Today, that former CEO is again a CEO. I only know the fate of one of his enablers; he went on to run a small lifestyle web service that pays the bills, but it will never provide the high-flying, champagne-sipping, VC-hustling life he once lived.

Current Mood: insightful
Current Music: Brain.fm

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