What Did You Expect?


As an executive I had a portion of our executive team (the CEO) exhibit several bad behaviors, including making fun of disabled employees, sexually harassing vendors (and sometimes clients!) and getting drunk at work from the beer taps he had installed. The rest of the executive team - including his cofounder - found this behavior terrible but not intolerable. I had conversations with each of them and the cofounder about the pain and damage this was causing, as well as the legal liability for the organization. The cofounder agreed on a Friday that it had become untenable.

That following Monday I was asked to come in early to discuss it and instead found myself meeting with HR (one person since it was a small company) and was fired on the spot. I found that the people most affected did not feel comfortable speaking up or pursuing action against the CEO because they didn't want to impact their chances of employment down the road.

So I guess the question is - for employees in vulnerable positions what actions (if any!) can they take to be able to speak against these kinds of behaviors, and what actions (if any!) can "allies" in authority positions do to help support that?


Thank you for submitting this question because, unfortunately, far too many folx find themselves working in frat house types of environments where they feel neither safe nor respected. They’re several things going on here, which I’ll attempt to unpack:

Everything you highlight in the first paragraph is beyond the pale, yet, as I’ve already stated, it is far too common in many workplaces. Nothing about this behavior is a demonstration of welcoming and psychological safety, and I would argue it sets the stage for eventual harassment and physical safety violations. This is a crisis management issue in the making.

This is a result of a lack of maturity and accountability within leadership, and unfortunately, whether folx are reporting it, active harm is being inflicted. It is for environments like this that HR spends an inordinate amount of time protecting organizational assets and reputation from the damage of this kind of egregious behavior from those who should know better. This is why any initiatives that are meant to center the development of human connections within an organization must NOT be housed with HR because their missions aren’t aligned.