Not Offending is Not Enough

Like most cities on St. Patrick’s Day, New York City bars are filled with policemen and firemen in full, formal uniform. It is the one day when Wall Street guys are better off staying home and watching John Wayne’s, The Quiet Man. I don’t recall the exact year, but it was March 17 sometime in the late ’90s when I was managing a small group of traders. One was Kate, an energetic, smart and all-around great young woman from Boston. While Kate was one of the more junior people in the group, she was wise beyond her years. As I stood up and put on my jacket to go home, I impulsively said to Kate, “What’s it going to be tonight, Kate…cop or fireman?” It took me a micro-second to realize I had crossed the line. My futile attempt at humor had clearly offended Kate, which led me to swiftly apologize. Kate showed little emotion replying, “Have a good night, Mr. Toes.” I went home convinced there would be recourse from Human Resources in the morning.
Before I give away the ending, it is worth noting that the outcome was determined by the relationship Kate and I had developed over the previous year, and not by my impulsive and insulting remark. Many diversity efforts today focus on managers not offending those under their responsibility. While some offenses justify a zero-tolerance policy, others do not and can be dealt with between the two people involved at the point and time of execution if the manager has established a relationship built upon trust and respect. Taking proactive steps towards building relationships better ensures that out-of-character acts  are seen as just that. Former Citi executive and now CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, Sallie Krawcheck recently published a thoughtful and personal article that takes a slightly different approach towards the same end. In Sallie Krawcheck’s letter to her daughter, she describes her MRI, “most respected interpretation” theory, which recommends that her daughter assume the best intent in others around her, because the alternative approach will only “…get you pulled down.”
So how did my St. Patrick’s Day story end? When I arrived at the office the following morning, Kate was already busy working, head down, phone to ear. On my desk was an official New York City Fireman hat. I quietly picked it up, placed in the drawer behind me and made no inquiries as to how Kate had acquired it. Kate returned to Boston after 9/11 and to this day, I consider it a privilege to have worked alongside her.
Read full article, “Sallie Krawcheck: A Letter to My Daughter, Post-Trump” here.
See November 2016 Newsletter here