This is the Intercultural Incident that we will be debriefing live on Twitter on September 6th, using the hashtag #DINGame (see previous post for details). We hope to see you’ll join us!
Carol Friedrich is a project manager for a human resource consulting firm. The firm has been growing its business internationally and just last month signed a contract with a new client that has offices across Southeast Asia. The first project has a very short time line and will be an important demonstration of how committed the firm is to serving their clients. Carol is excited and a little nervous to be leading this effort. When she met with the firm’s partners they indicated that success with this first wave of work could accelerate her and the new team’s career trajectory.
Carol’s boss is Phil Trajor, one of the original partners of the firm. Last week, Carol had a conversation at the end of a meeting that has troubled her all weekend. Phil asked her whom she wanted on the team for the new project. Previously, Phil had indicated she had carte blanc to pick the best people. He emphasized how important the project was to the emerging relationship with the new client, and also to the Asian markets the firm is trying to penetrate. In fact, he said, “Choose the best. Let’s really wow them.”
In response to Phil’s question last week, Carol had enthusiastically listed the four leads she wanted and how their previous work had demonstrated the excellence the project required. When Carol mentioned David Finkelstein’s name Phil interrupted her. “I don’t think he’s quite right for this project—you know?” Puzzled, Carol asked, “What do you mean?” Phil smiled cryptically and thought, “I guess I’ll have to be really direct.” He leaned in and said in a softer voice, “Well, he is gay. I’m not sure our new, Muslim, Southeast Asian clients want an “out” leader of the firm’s GLBT affinity group in their midst.” Phil was interrupted and pulled away before they could continue.
On the way out of the office the same day, Phil ran into David. He said, “Hello” and thanked him for facilitating a tense meeting the week before. As he walked to the car he wondered why Carol did not get “it” and had forced him to be so direct. It felt uncomfortable. As Jim walked past David, David wondered if Carol had told Jim how excited he was about the possibility of working on the Southeast Asian project.
Following the conversation with Phil, Carol was stunned. David was the first person on her wish list. Carol is pretty sure the team really needs David, and two years ago he saved a very similar project that had fallen behind. Like many at the firm, David has been involved in a year long cross-cultural skill building initiative. Many credited the training with giving the firm a significant advantage in getting the new Southeast Asian client. She is very disappointed and a bit confused about Phil’s comment.
Although she hasn’t looked at the exact wording of the policy, the firm has a very clear policy of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation. Is this discrimination? Equal opportunity is not something Carol takes lightly—the firm’s commitment to equality had opened up a space for her to move forward professionally. She really wants to play by the rules, but what does that mean in this case? Should she have a conversation with Phil? What should she say? Should Phil and Carol talk to David about Phil’s concerns? What would David say?
©2005 Scott Sawyer and Dianne Hofner Saphiere. All rights reserved.