Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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This is embarrassing. With all of the allegations coming out of well-known people in the media, including Matt Lauer most recently, I am concerned about my own reputation. I wonder whether I have inadvertently made women working for me uncomfortable. I have not engaged in any explicit contact or inappropriate behaviors, but I wonder whether I have said things that are considered demeaning or behaved in a way that seemed normal to me but not to my colleagues.
I am an outgoing and gregarious person and am not sure if I have ever hugged someone with happiness, or said something about their clothing or appearance. My wife has chastised me about calling the young women in my office “girls,” so I don’t do that. If I unintentionally did something someone found offensive, it could have been construed differently..
Is it prudent for me to reach out to the women in my firm and ask whether I have done anything they were uncomfortable with? I don’t want to hide my head in the sand and I also don’t want to cause an issue where none exists. It is a tough tightrope to walk. Your input would be helpful.
Ah, there is so much I could say on this topic! Having grown up in the financial services industry, I could write a book on the inappropriate things I’ve been exposed to and have witnessed with others. That said, I enjoy a hug or a nice compliment from my male colleagues. While it may seem like a fine line, I can assure you that most of us know the difference and can read the intention on the other side. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone – some people would not like the hug – but most of us know the difference between feeling like prey and having a colleague who genuinely likes and respects us.
Years ago I shared my personal history at a women’s event that included a couple of men and the men said, “Every man should hear these stories because they have no idea what goes on.” Now many men are hearing and worrying, as you are, about what it means for them.
This all said, I don’t think you should call a meeting and make a big deal of this in terms of asking about your own behavior or conveying a concern that you are guilty somehow. Call a meeting to remind everyone about the codes of conduct at your firm. If you don’t have them, now is the time to write them. You can start with simple things like “Treat others with respect” or “Listen when someone is speaking” and then add more specific ones like “Always ensure a colleague is safe and comfortable with your speech and behaviors” or “Take responsibility when someone is offended by what you say” or “Refrain from using derogatory comments around others.” These are just ideas – you need to write some that are relevant for your culture.
When you unveil, or reinforce, the codes of conduct you can use the time to say you are disheartened by what you see happening on the broader stage, with the likes of Weinstein and Lauer and others, and that you want to make sure – for every member of your firm – they feel safe and confident in the workplace. You can be more general about it – it’s not just women who experience “abuse of power,” it can be younger folks, older ones, minorities, etc. You have a chance to reinforce, for everyone who works with you, how important it is that your workplace upholds the values of respect and support for all team members no matter who they are.
You could also consider putting a policy in place by designating someone (if you don’t have formal HR, like many smaller advisors) who could be the “go-to” person for people to talk to if they think they have experienced an unwanted advance, or an abuse of power. Or, perhaps set up an anonymous mailbox where people could write comments to you, or someone else in the firm.
You want to refrain from encouraging people to find an issue that may not exist, but also let them know that (a) you care about this subject, (b) you want them to be safe and respected in your firm and © there is a process or set of standards people can turn to for comfort that this is real and not just lip service.
Thank you for being a considerate person who wants to do the right thing by your team. It is admirable you are asking this question and trying to find the right approach.
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