By Albert Ellis, Group CEO, Harvey Nash Plc
When one is confronted with either an offensive remark or worse a boorish and unwelcome approach from someone you have never met before, there is a brief moment when you can choose how to react. There are the classic three (one at least is very British) responses; the stiff upper lip, an emotional outburst or a considered delayed reaction. Depending on your threshold, most would probably opt to avoid confrontation and brush the incident aside.
However, we now live in a society where much of our interactions are online and the intentions or tone of much of what we say is more likely to be misinterpreted. And what we believe are one to one confidential conversations, are quickly and easily forwarded at the click of button.
I was reminded of this by the recent headline surrounding the female barrister
labelled a 'Feminazi' for shaming a senior solicitor over his LinkedIn comments about her 'stunning' photograph and the student diversity officer
who is accused of posting hateful language to bar white people (males in particular) from a meeting for female ethnic minority students.
With diversity very much on the media and public's agenda, Charlotte Proudman, a 27-year-old human rights lawyer and Bahar Mustafa, a 28 year-old graduate at Goldsmiths University received significant coverage and at times a severe backlash as a result. At best, those would be sympathisers had mixed feelings about their online behaviour.
Some have taken Proudman's decision to post a private message as an overreaction to a harmless compliment or the wrong way to highlight issues of sexism. In the case of Mustafa, she claims that her words were "in-jokes" used by her community that have been misinterpreted, although she has later agreed that her use of '#killwhitemen' and 'white trash' were "unprofessional".
Depending on your point of view, you may agree that they have at least sparked debate and in Proudman's case highlighted serious issues, which lie just below the surface of online professional networking. These are gender and equality related challenges. In fact, our view is that whilst the female barrister's reaction has attracted widespread criticism the thrust of her complaint was widely understood by women in business. It was the blatant power politics behind the stupid and sexist observation. The context was all wrong even if the actual words were pretty harmless. But worse than that was the reaction from the employer of the offender. Either no reaction or defending the indefensible. When your work is threatened as a result of you objecting to an unwelcome approach from a stranger whatever the reasoned facts that reaction too is beyond the pale.
We know that with time, our society will only become ever more virtual and with that, we should all be reminded of a few things to consider before 'swinging' a few punches online.
A world stage
There are no closed doors online. Nothing is "off the record". With nearly everyone possessing a portable device, anything in writing or speech can be recorded and shared across a number of platforms from Youtube and Snapchat to Twitter and Facebook. We know in the recruitment world that increasingly, employers are looking at your online footprint before you set foot in the door. If your behaviours do not match up with their values or those of their clients and customers, you may be without a fresh opportunity or worse without a future.
Be careful what you say and understand what is acceptable. We have moved on from the Mad Men society, much to everyone's relief, and discrimination is no longer tolerated. Even harmless flattery to some, as in the case with Proudman, can be interpreted as unwelcome or inappropriate use of authority.
Take a moment and pause before you react online to think about how your comments or the information you put out may affect your career and reputation. The instantaneousness of our modern social platforms means within seconds we can enter our views into the fray. This can be abused as in the case of a police officer who has been made to apologise after tagging himself in offensive comments toward a female pianist whilst waiting for a train. A "career over!" situation in a moment of madness.
Organisations can help by ensuring their workplace challenges and stamps out offensive online behaviour. At Harvey Nash, we are taking steps to achieve a culture change, giving our people a sense of change through unconscious bias training that we are rolling out as a part of the National Equality Standard (NES). We want everyone to feel that they work in a safe environment but also to recognise their own complex beliefs and how they fit within our values and what is acceptable.
Technology in many ways has made things easier but it has also changed the dynamics of human interaction. We are now more connected than ever before and individuals have greater opportunity to amplify their opinions. All of this is positive and progress toward a more balanced and equal society, but no matter the situation or issue, it is always worth taking a breath to ask yourself, 'Would you say this to this person's face?' Taking that moment could save you from regret and potential career suicide.
For more 'How to' advice don't forget to re-visit this blog. If you have any suggestions for a future 'How to' piece please get in touch with us