Locker-Room Talk Can Poison Company Culture. Here’s How

You’ll Notice the Difference Immediately5337c71d1fb11c1f4361e2eb7b5873be-origina
Image courtesy of Alejandro Cortes.

By Terry Howard. The scene:

A local hotel, the site of a holiday celebration for an organization of 120 people. After dinner, eight men gather at the bar and stand around smoking cigars, drinking, ogling, and “rating” the women at the celebration while kissing up to Ronald, the highest-ranking person in the organization. The men report to Ronald either directly or indirectly.
RUDOLPH: So Ronald, what are your vacation plans this year?

RONALD: Will probably spend a week at the property I own in St. Thomas.

CURTIS: Wow, that’s cool. Your wife is gonna enjoy that!

RONALD: The wife? Are you kidding? This year I’m taking my mistress!

The men laugh and toast Ronald for being a “man’s man.”

On the way home, Stuart, one of those men, clutches his steering wheel in disgust, feeling guilty about the “locker-room talk” he just participated in and his silence. When he arrives home, Stuart takes a look at his wife, his two daughters, and vows never to be willingly complicit in what he experienced in that bar two hours ago.

Six months later, Stuart reluctantly joins his organization’s senior leadership team meeting in Newport, Rhode Island. Ronald, those same eight managers, and a dozen others drink beer and feast on lobster at a local restaurant—and the familiar locker-room banter starts up again. Unlike the first time, Stuart decides to take a stand and says that he feels very uncomfortable hearing such disparaging talk about women. The men present glare at him, glance at one another in total silence and, a few minutes later, call it a night and head back to their hotel rooms.

Back at work, and in weeks that follow, Stuart notices subtle changes to how others treat him. He gets the feeling that his co-workers, male and female, are avoiding him. His frequent invitations to lunch and after work informal gatherings disappear. His name also disappears from important meeting notices, and his previously well-received work projects are overly scrutinized and questioned. In less than six months, his performance rating drops from excellent to barely satisfactory. He quietly starts to search for another job outside the organization.

A year later, Stuart lands a position at a competitor with a huge increase in salary. Soon after, he gets an invitation to an off-site sales meeting with the senior vice president and his team of top salespeople.

“Oh my, here we go again,” dreads Stuart. “Knowing what will happen, I really don’t want to put myself in that position again. But if I don’t go, there could be unwanted consequences.” His wife encourages him to go.

At the bar on the second evening, Stuart notices that the men are chatting about their hobbies and their families. It all sounds very unlike the locker-room talk from before.

Stuart leans over and remarks to Tim:
STUART: Great place here, Tim. Folks are so nice and really seem to get along. This is so different from my previous employer.
TIM: Yes, it’s great here, but it hasn’t always been this way.

STUART: Oh really? What changed?

TIM: A business leader got his walking papers a few years ago and it was very public. Folks were literally dancing in the hallways when he left.

STUART: What happened?

TIM: The guy was a bully, arrogant as heck and said that the rules didn’t apply to him since he brought in big bucks to the organization. But then he got caught sexually harassing a woman administrative assistant. He even had the nerve to brag about it!

STUART: Unbelievable!

TIM:  Since then the environment has changed for the better, plus an extremely talented woman was promoted into his position. People really love working here now, and we’ve seen our profits go up. Cause and effect!

STUART: Wow, looks like I made a great decision to come here! Anything I can do to express my gratitude?

TIM: How about inviting some of the talented folks at your previous employer to make the switch? Everyone except Ronald and “his boys,” however.

STUART: Seeing as the company went bankrupt, that shouldn’t be a problem!
f1d8133e8d68ee5e0fa4a5640b67f57b-huge-55Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, storyteller and senior associate with Diversity Wealth. He is also a member of the Cross Cultural Academy, the founder of the Global Diversity Consortium, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, Catalyst, and the American Diversity Report. He can be reached at
Posted by Jared Cline on Oct 18, 2016 11:27 AM America/New_York

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