My Harassment Story...part 2
part 2

January 11, 2018

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Happy New Year!  I hope your holidays were enjoyable and you are well prepared for 2018...

As promised, here is part 2 of My Harassment Story.  If you missed part 1, please read My Harassment Story...part 1.


Five years later.  I was living in St. Louis and in my first executive role, leading a team that sold to the largest wholesaler in the US at the time. While the harassment issue of the past was a distant memory, how it was addressed was not, thankfully!  As I needed to dust off that playbook and reapply.

One of the larger customers on our team was also located in St. Louis, and the EVP of that customer had been in the business for decades.  He was respected but also feared by many for his demanding and gruff style.  It was part of my responsibility to build the relationship with him, as he was the top ranking person at the customer.  We were getting along well, considering I was younger, female and had not previously worked with his organization.

About 6 months into the new role, one of our team members told her boss she wanted to quit.  Mary (not her real name) was on the team who reset store shelves when there was a plan-o-gram change (for those of you who didn't grow up in Consumer Goods Industry, a plan-o-gram is a shelf map for products).  It was a surprise to all who knew and worked with Mary that she wanted to quit.  

While not a glamorous or high paying job, she did it really well, liked the flexible hours and was an excellent employee.  None of us wanted her to leave.  When asked why, she hesitated.  Eventually she shared that the customer employee in charge of overseeing all the store resets was making her work very difficult.  He was saying demeaning things about her and her body parts in front of all the other people working on the reset.  While Mary didn't technically work directly for him, he did have the power in this situation, because he was overseeing all the manufacturers doing the work in the stores.   

So, I set up a meeting with the EVP.  I thought for sure telling him that one of his employees was harassing one of my employees would set us back.  Requiring he do something to stop it could kill all the work done to build the relationship. Or maybe we could strengthen it?  Regardless, it needed to be done.  I had both a legal and ethical obligation.  I needed to be Bob and Joe for Mary (reference My Harassment Story...part 1, in case you forgot Bob and Joe).  

The EVP handled the information well.  He brought in his HR VP and they both were completely professional.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The investigation would be done internally by their company.  They assured me it would be handled.  The EVP also assured me that there would be no repercussions for me or my company.  What?  Repercussions?? A red flag went up.  Perhaps this wasn't going to go as smoothly as I thought.   

Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, I got a phone call from the EVP, who indicated the investigation was complete and the person in question had been dealt with.  Once again he mentioned there would be no repercussions.  At that point I knew it was coming but wasn't sure what it would be.  Until the next plan-o-gram update three weeks later showed that 16 of our company's items had been deleted from their shelves.  Over 20% of our laundry business gone.  Ouch.  

Of course I couldn't prove the connection between my request for him to handle the harassment and the deleting of 16 items.  But it was crystal clear what had happened.  And truth is, I didn't care.  OK, maybe I did.  Still, it was the right thing to do, and I knew my team was strong enough to build the business back.

Part 2 of this story may not have happened if it weren't for Part 1.  So, thank you Bob and Joe once again.  Your lesson paid it forward to help support Mary.  

What lessons of support are you reapplying?  Who are you paying it forward to? A new year is a great time to start.  Here's to an outstanding 2018!!

Kate Johnson
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