Sep 12, 2013

Here’s a question that should be added to the HRCI certification exam: What do you do if you have a high level executive who uses social media to share all manner of racist and sexist comments — and just about everybody in the organization knows about it?

The popular business website Business Insider had to deal with this kind of issue this week over some tweets sent out by Pax Dickinson. the company’s chief technical officer.

According to a story in Slate, Dickinson had been using Twitter to share pearls of wisdom like this like this for years:

  • Men have made the world such a safe and comfortable place that women now have the time to bitch about not being considered our equals.
  • “This election will be decided by single women. It’s an epic battle between ‘Jungle Fever’ and ‘Daddy Issues’.” and ,
  • In The Passion Of The Christ 2, Jesus gets raped by a pack of ni****s. It’s his own fault for dressing like a whore though.

How can top managers ignore stuff like this?

Wow — how does HR and top-level management deal with something like this? It’s a big problem if ANY of your employee’s are writing crap like this on social media, but what do you do when it is a C-Suite executive?

Tech media website ValleyWag has more of Dickinson’s tweets if you want to be further amazed, and the headline on the story pretty much sums it up —  Business Insider’s CTO is Your New Tech Bro Nightmare.

According to Slate, Dickinson’s tweets offended one of his fellow employees to the point that he quit following him on Twitter.

Even Dickinson had enough self-awareness to discern that his statements were “unpopular” to a degree that could affect his employment. It’s less clear why Business Insider (with whom Slate has a content-sharing partnership) took so long to catch on. Dickinson’s tweets were no secret within the company; the website’s chief correspondent, Nicholas Carlson, admitted to blocking his feed so he didn’t have to interact with him on Twitter.”

And that’s not all. The Slate article also notes that Dickinson was very public about who he was and where he worked as he tweeted out his racist and sexist drivel.

Dickinson listed his Business Insider title atop his Twitter feed; when he sent out calls for open positions at the company, he included his Twitter handle. (Occasionally, Dickinson’s feed even provided potential applicants with valuable information about the hiring process: “Tech managers spend as much time worrying about how to hire talented female developers as they do worrying about how to hire a unicorn,” he tweeted last year.)”

Sounds like a guy you really want to go work for, doesn’t it?

How a company deals with jerks says a lot about them

Henry Blodget, the Founder and CEO of Business Insider, knows a little bit about being at the center of a media firestorm. As his bio on Business Insider says, “During the dotcom boom of the late 1990s, Henry was a top-ranked Wall Street Internet analyst. He was later keelhauled by then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer over conflicts of interest between research and banking and booted out of the industry.

I’ve often wondered about Blodget’s second act at Business Insider, and I’ve grudgingly admired how a guy who was drummed out the business of being a stock analyst for ethical issues could resurface and build such a large and popular media website.

Blodget did the right thing and terminated CTO Dickinson, issuing this brief statement saying that Dickinson’s rants “do not reflect our values and have no place at our company.” He’s right, but it still doesn’t explain how you let this go on once you know that one of your high-ranking executives is tweeting out crap like this? I wish Blodget would explain that.

Every company has jerks and assholes, but how an organization deals with its jerks and assholes says a lot about the company, its values, and the integrity of its management team. And as just about every HR professional with half a brain knows, ignoring something like this doesn’t ever solve the problem. It only makes it worse when it finally does go volcanic and blows up.

This incident would make a good human resources case study, and I would love to hear from some HR pros out there who have some suggestions for how they might have handled it.

The Internet IS also the workplace – and real life

But Slate’s coverage of Pax Dickinson also made this point, and it is a good one worth considering no matter where you work:

Dickinson may see the Internet as a freewheeling alterna-reality where he’s liberated to air his “unpopular truths” about the ills of women’s suffrage and employment. But the Internet is also the workplace. It’s perplexing why Business Insider would employ someone as openly racist and sexist as Pax Dickinson is, but it’s positively mind-boggling that Business Insider hired a CTO who doesn’t even understand that the Internet is real life.”

Yes indeed; the Internet IS also the workplace and real life. That’s good advice to keep in mind as you ponder your company’s social media policy.

What that, you say? Your company doesn’t have a social media policy? Well, situations like this make it clear that failing to craft a strong and smart social media policy is something akin to corporate malpractice.

Just remember that the next time you find you have your own version of Pax Dickinson using social media to send out racist and sexist garbage that reflects badly on YOUR organization.