(Mt) – Will the Real Stephen Please Stand Up Questions

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EXPERIENCE Case Study Humor or Harassment? A manager wonders whether to complain about her boss’s insensitive comments. by Dianne Bevelander, Jacqueline Nolan, and Michael Page client-facing computer and network systems used by the company’s international offices. This would both improve customer service globally and greatly enhance Dirksen-Hall’s ability to manage enterprise risk. Code-named “Samen,” the Dutch word for “together,” the project would affect some 600 employees in 40 offices across the 28 countries where Dirksen-Hall had a presence. It was a gigantic undertaking. However, Jack said, looking pointedly around the room, every person there had been handpicked by management in the knowledge that he or she could get the job done. By the time he’d finished speaking, everyone could see why Jack himself had been appointed the project leader. Sema felt excited. She had almost forgotten about the beginning of “M the meeting, but then Jack spoke up y, my, how tiny you are! as she was walking out: “Sema, let’s You must be the smallest get a meeting on the calendar for woman on earth. tomorrow, OK? Thanks, Dot.” Hello, Dot!” Bernhard’s Wife These were the first words Jack Matthews spoke to Sema Isaura-Mans. Sema and her husband, Sema, an accounts manager at Bernhard Mans, had been invited the Dutch-British financial services to a Dirksen-Hall welcome event that consultancy Dirksen-Hall, had night. The company was growing recently transferred from the Ankara then she looked the six-foot-five, office to headquarters, in Amsterdam. potbellied Englishman in the eye for all newcomers and transfers. Jack, the executive vice president for and, without really thinking, replied, Bernhard worked for the company He, too, had just relocated—from Manchester, England, where he’d been a VP of sales. They were meet- “Hello, Big Dot,” which made everyone laugh even louder. “Well, she’s got a sense of humor— too, as an IT specialist. He and Sema had met when he’d gone to Ankara to install new systems, and the two had nice one!” Jack said, clapping his dated long-distance for a while after he returned to Amsterdam. They ing for the first time at the kickoff for large hands. “I’m dead chuffed you’re a big project to which they’d both on our team, Sema. I’ve heard only had been married only a few months been assigned. good things about you.” when Sema was tapped for Project Sema was completely taken aback by Jack’s remark. Though she was He moved to the head of the table and asked all the others in the Samen, and both of them were thrilled: Finally they could share a house and a city. barely five feet tall and weighed just room to introduce them- under 45 kilos, she had never given selves. Then he outlined her petite build a second thought the task that lay ahead. Sema’s mother had said at the office. For a few seconds, as Their goal was to create when she heard the news. Jack and the others around the table a common platform for all “But remember who you chuckled, she sat speechless. But the various back-office and are, Sema. You might work 114 Harvard Business Review June 2015 “Luck is on your side,” CHARLOTTE FARMER special projects, was her new boss. rapidly; it hosted monthly parties HBR.ORG Case Study Teaching Notes for a European company and be married to a European Christian and be moving to Europe, but you are still a Turkish Muslim. Don’t forget where you come from.” Sema assured her mother that she wouldn’t. She and Bernhard had been chatting with a few of his colleagues at the party when Dirksen-Hall’s CFO, Harold van der Linde, approached. One of the men started making introductions. “And this is Bernhard’s wife, Sema,” he said. She felt a rush of indignation as she held out her hand to Harold. Bernhard quickly piped up: “Yes, we’re here for Sema, actually. She’s the accounts manager for Project Samen—” but someone tapped the CFO on the shoulder, and Harold made a polite exit before he could hear anything more about her. “Bernhard’s wife, indeed!” Sema fumed as they left the building. “Does that guy think all Turkish Dianne Bevelander teaches the case on which this one is based in her Women in Leadership class. WHAT INTERESTED YOU MOST ABOUT THIS CASE? The story is multilayered and complex—you can see something different in it each time you read it. That means it offers opportunities for very rich discussion around cultural diversity, organizational culture, and gender. WHAT ISSUES DO YOUR STUDENTS PICK UP ON MOST OFTEN? They seem to seize particularly on office humor, resilience, and sexism. Generally, I find that the case unleashes a lot of emotion in the classroom as students start to share their own stories. But as the discussion evolves, they come to recognize that one can legitimately interpret experiences like Sema’s in a variety of ways and that finding a solution to problems of this kind is less simple than one might think. WHAT LESSON WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR STUDENTS TO TAKE AWAY FROM THE CASE? I hope that they come away with a better appreciation of the differences and similarities between benevolent sexism and hostile sexism and that they understand that the former is by no means benign. women wear a veil and clean toilets?” “Come on, love, give him a break! the awards, reading selected lines from each one before asking the awardee to come forward. Turning to Sema, Jack read, “Given your tremendous addiction— number-crunching add-­ic-tion— it is just as well that you live in Amsterdam!” “You are certainly a quick study—not only do you appreciate Dutch humor, but you give as good as you get!” “Goes the extra mile and always finds the time to help others.” And finally, a joke that could only have come from him: “Help! I’m short of money because my accounts manager’s too small! But what a Turkish delight!” Her teammates applauded loudly as Sema stepped up to receive her certificate. She took it, smiled briefly, and returned to her place at the table, where she stuffed it into her bag. “Feel like joining some of us in the pub?” Jack asked after dinner. “I know it’s been a long haul, but hang to be a huge success, and Sema was in there, Dot.” I’ve worked with that guy for five energized by the work, she’d grown years. It’s only natural that he’d refer increasingly uncomfortable with the replied, forcing another smile. She informal team dynamics he encour- turned away, cheeks hot with anger, aged. He still called her Dot all the tears welling in her eyes. to you as my wife, and—” “So my master’s of science in finance means nothing, my MBA from Sabancı means noth- time. It was a joke that wouldn’t die. That night there was to be a team- ing, and my six years’ experi- building dinner at Toscanini, in the “No thanks, I think I’ll pass,” she The Breaking Point? “Can’t sleep?” Bernhard asked her ence as a direct report of the Jordaan district, and Sema knew it Turkish CFO at Dirksen-Hall would be a lively affair. True to form, “No, I can’t.” means little more. I see. My name Jack rose to speak after the second “What’s up?” is Dot, and I am Bernhard’s wife.” course, tapping his glass with a spoon. Turkish Delight “Thanks, everyone, for joining me for this great dinner,” he said. “You’ve all in bed later. “It’s Jack again,” Sema said. “Something he wrote on a stupid award at dinner this evening. ‘Help! Six months later, Sema still remem- earned it. But we still have a way to go. I’m short of money because my ac- bered the quarrel vividly. Of course, So, to help us along the way…it’s time counts manager is too small.’” She Bernhard’s colleague hadn’t been for the Dirksen-Hall Team Globes.” tried to imitate Jack’s accent. the real problem that night. She’d The awards were meant to in- soon learned that he was a lovely crease cohesion and commitment on Dutchman with the utmost respect the team and to recognize everyone’s ing away from him. “He’s just an for women; his wife was a surgeon; individual efforts. They consisted uncouth salesman who likes his beer and they had two whip-smart teen- of certificates on which individual too much!” age girls. The real problem was Jack. members had written short messages Although Project Samen was on track for their colleagues. Jack handed out Bernhard laughed. “It’s not funny!” Sema said, pull- “Sema, we’ve gone over this before. He’s respected in the company. He June 2015 Harvard Business Review 115 EXPERIENCE has a brilliant track record. And you up her laptop, logged on to Dirksen- cially the ones from the north. It’s Hall’s intranet, and read the first a particular kind of humor.” paragraph of the HR director’s intro­ “Humor? To ridicule someone’s physical appearance? It’s now become acceptable for the en­ Comments from the HBR.org community After a few minutes, she powered know these British types—espe­ ductory comments, which stressed the company’s commitment to Tell us what you’d do in this situation. Go to HBR.org. creating a work environment free from discrimination and harass­ tire team to make fun of my size. Last week he called me ment—one in which Dot in a meeting with Harold diversity was valued, van der Linde! And in front and all employees were of a client!” accorded dignity, courtesy, “Why don’t you just and respect. She clicked on tell him to stop?” a few links and found documents “Everyone laughs at his jokes. outlining the company’s ethics poli­ And they respect him too. The whole cies and grievance procedures. They team prides itself on being close and offered contact information for both informal and having a good time even the HR director, Gerda van Leeuw, when we’re under intense pressure. whom Sema had met during her re­ I don’t want to be the killjoy.” location process, and the company’s “OK, then quit. Ask HR for another social responsibility, Tim Connolly. There are plenty of jobs out there. No She opened up another window, one is forcing you to stay.” Sandro da Silva, executive coach, Rotterdam ombudsman and head of corporate assignment. Or leave the company. logged on to her e‑mail account, and “How would I explain that? And why should I quit? That would be like exonerating Jack for his offensive behavior.” started writing to both of them. But then she stopped cold. Project Samen was more than half finished. I’ve lasted this long, Sema “I know I’m supposed to just let you vent and not offer solutions, thought. How could she complain— or quit—now? Sema. But this has been bothering you for six months, for the entire time you’ve been in Amsterdam, for most of our married life! If you’re this unhappy, you need to do something about it.” Sema got up, went into the kitchen, and made herself a cup of sweet tea. Bernhard followed, Q but she gave him a kiss and told him to go back to bed. She wanted time to think. Dianne Bevelander is a professor at Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management and the executive director of the Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations. Jacqueline Nolan is a freelance case writer at the Rotterdam School’s Case Development Centre. Michael Page is a professor at Bentley University and its provost and vice president for academic affairs. Should Sema lodge a complaint against Jack? See commentaries on the facing page. 116 Harvard Business Review June 2015 Dutch Humor Sema reacts quite emotionally and fiercely to simply being referred to as someone’s wife. I wonder if she is stressed by the cultural differences she’s experiencing. I know I was, under similar circumstances. The Dutch talk publicly about things that we in Brazil don’t, and they’re not embarrassed to refer to their own or someone else’s “inadequacies.” This is very evident in their humor, which in many situations made me feel embarrassed, inadequate, frustrated, and angry. HBR’s fictionalized case studies present problems faced by leaders in real companies and offer solutions from experts. This one is based on the Rotterdam School of Management case study “Crossing the Dotted Line: Cultural Divides,” by Dianne Bevelander, Jacqueline Nolan, Michael Page, and Tao Yue, which is available at www. rsm.nl/cdc. Evenhanded Teasing? Jack’s attitude and comments remind me of Dr. Gregory House, of the TV series House. The doctor made sexist and racist remarks about all the members of his team, yet they all loved him because he had a larger mission and a reputation for saving lives. The key question is, Was Sema the object of Jack’s humor on every group occasion, or did he laugh at other team members as well? If the first is true, it’s a case of harassment; otherwise, it’s just plain humor designed to promote camaraderie. Muttom S. Prabhakar, independent technology consultant Three-Strikes Rule Sema should give Jack clear examples of when he stepped over the line. I believe in the three-strikes rule: Give the perpetrator three opportunities to change, and if things don’t improve, you have every right to take a grievance to HR. Rachana Nair, project manager, Alcatel-Lucent HBR.ORG The Experts Respond Sema should speak with Gerda or Tim and outline her concerns matter-of-factly. Gina Jardine is the vice president of human resources for the diamonds and minerals unit of Rio Tinto in London. THE GOOD news is that DirksenHall has a formal policy related to discrimination and harassment and a grievance process. The challenge is to convert its stated values into action and behavior and to embed them in the organizational culture. If Jack can call Sema “Dot” in front of Harold van der Linde and Sema should be a little more resilient and react less negatively to Jack’s humor. Hans Cleton is the managing partner of Auditing & Consulting Services (ACS) in the Netherlands. ON PROJECT teams at multinational companies, cross-cultural conflict is always an issue. Jack’s Manchester background and loud, freewheeling personality significantly affect get laughs from the entire team when he teases her, Dirksen-Hall is not creating an environment in which all employees are “treated with dignity, courtesy, and respect.” An employee in Sema’s position might confront the issue either directly with the problem individual (asking that the offensive behavior stop) or through formal mechanisms. Because Sema seems so uncomfortable with the idea of confronting Jack, I recommend the latter. She should speak with Gerda or Tim or both and outline her concerns matter-of-factly, supporting her perspective with evidence, such as the certificate. how he operates. His leadership style and sense of humor suit the local Dutch culture and have served him well in the sales environments to which he is accustomed. Sema, by contrast, is more reserved and thoughtful, consistent with the Turkish culture and her accounting background. Her identity is rooted in hard work and accuracy. I think Jack is unaware of the problem. He sees his “award” and recognition of Sema as signals that he really appreciates her work. Meanwhile, Sema has never shown that the nickname “Dot” or Jack’s jokes bother her; in fact, her “Big Dot” rejoinder may have made her seem happy to play along. Her failure to report Jack’s behavior during her first six months of working with him does not mean she encouraged or condoned it. Gerda and Tim will understand that her reluctance stemmed from a desire to fit into her work group and do well in her new job, and that she probably felt intimidated and was afraid that any complaints would be met with recrimination. I imagine that they would support her and address the matter appropriately by means of a direct but confidential conversation with Jack and some form of follow-up with Harold to ensure that he, too, will promote behavior that jibes with the company’s policy statements. Sema’s “keep your head down” approach is probably a carryover from childhood, when we’re often told to “just ignore” bullies and they will go away. But in the workplace, issues like these need to be addressed. I think Sema should be a little more resilient and learn to react less negatively to Jack’s humor. Her team is producing great results, and its members will be duly recognized. Everyone, including Sema, will benefit. Complaining now could put her in a bad light with her team and possibly with others in the organization. Once the project is completed, Sema can raise the issue with Gerda or Tim with a view to changing company culture rather than punishing Jack or altering the dynamics on a successful team. She can then offer her perspective on what happened without having to defend her earlier silence or fearing any negative effect on her direct work relationships. HBR Reprint R1506K Reprint Case only R1506X Reprint Commentary only R1506Z June 2015 Harvard Business Review 117 Copyright 2015 Harvard Business Publishing. All Rights Reserved. Additional restrictions may apply including the use of this content as assigned course material. Please consult your institution’s librarian about any restrictions that might apply under the license with your institution. For more information and teaching resources from Harvard Business Publishing including Harvard Business School Cases, eLearning products, and business simulations please visit hbsp.harvard.edu. Read “CASE STUDY: HUMOR OR HARASSMENT?” Next, answer the following the questions. In all of your answers, use examples/quotes from the case to support your responses. 1. In your opinion, does Cialdini’s “Authority” principle explain why Sema did not speak up to Jack about her discomfort? Why or why not? Ensure your understanding of the “Authority” principle is clear. 2. Sema is contemplating leaving Project Samen. Explain how continuance commitment would encourage her to remain on the project. In your explanation, make sure that your understanding of continuance commitment is clear. 3. Although Dirksen-Hall is committed to “creating a work environment free from discrimination and harassment” (as taken directly from HR), the norms of Sema’s team promote “everyone laughing at [Jack’s] jokes.” Using your course knowledge, how do you explain the misalignment between the behaviors in Sema’s team and what the organization says it values? Be specific about the course knowledge you are using in your answer. 4. If Sema were to use the rational decision-making model to make her decision (about whether to leave Project Samen), what would that look like? In interest of time, limit your analysis to 4 decision criteria (inspired by the case); choose to use either relative or absolute weighting; and listing two alternative courses of action will suffice. In completing your analysis, do your best to consider Sema’s position and perspective so that the final decision (in the last step) truly represents what you think she should do. 5. Do you consider the conflict between Sema and Jack to be indicative of A- or C-type conflict? When making your choice, clearly distinguish between the two types of conflict.



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