By Elliot H. Clark
I try to teach my children that when you cause offense to be the first to apologize and give an apology before it’s requested. I need to practice what I preach. I made a mistake in the delivery of a message, but I want to explain that I feel the message has some merit and fits within the mission of HRO Today.
First, the mistake. I was trying—in an entertaining way—to review the HR angle of some social, political, and international issues. I knew before the event that it was a difficult tightrope to walk. I wanted to get the audience to think about controversial issues, but to communicate with humor. It backfired.
There is literally no worse feeling for a public speaker than to be “dying up there.” And I was.
The presentation really rolled off the rails when I discussed the #MeToo movement. This issue was too “raw” for the audience. I’m sure people were not shocked by the revelation of sexual harassment, as we all knew it was taking place at some level, but the public exposure and discussion was both shocking and refreshing last year. I received feedback from some members of the audience that they were offended. One even described my opening as “unprofessional.” I want to sincerely apologize to those attendees and the other members of that audience.
I still believe the point I was trying to make has merit, but the medium used to deliver it was the wrong one. In the presentation, using humor, I was trying to say that the social consequences of sexual harassment are not serious enough. For example, I mentioned some cases where drugged victims or underage victims couldn’t provide informed consent. To me, that is assault. I suggested that these people should be criminally punished since not all have been. I tried—once again using humor and failing—to say that just losing your job is not enough for this type of behavior. We need more severe punishments in the corporate world.
When I was a young recruiter, I worked in a company where young women in the office were repeatedly victimized by the alpha-personality, high-billing consultants. It made the show “Mad Men” look tame. At that time, I wasn’t in a position to voice opposition, but I remember how sorry I felt for the victims. I’ve had family members consult me due to my HR background and have heard harrowing stories. I am dating a woman who has been repeatedly propositioned by prospective clients in her career.
I am fortunate to have a bully pulpit and I am dismayed and sorry that I communicated so poorly. I understand the complexities and gravity of what everyone in HR faces and have helped facilitate meetings on these topics in our growing CHRO Today Executive Network (C-TEN) meetings.
However, I want to reiterate a brand promise that I think is at the core of HRO Today. HRO Today is a vibrant brand in human resources and an important voice. I don’t ever want to do anything to diminish that. When I first arrived, we updated the editorial policy to be more edgy. In those days, HRO Today and the other HR trade press outlets fed the community a steady diet of “fluffy, happy” pieces. I told the editorial staff that HR in real life was hard, complicated, and not “fluffy,” and that we should talk about the real “grit” of running HR.
I am proud that we do not shrink from covering the controversial or the contentious, and we will continue to do so. We will discuss the real world of real HR in our magazines and at our conferences. I am not sorry I discussed controversial topics, but I am sorry that my choice of tone obscured the message and, again, to the people in the room, I offer my sincerest apology.