Effects of providing incorrect information about the source of a quotation.

Ellen Ryan was the marketing manager for Klein Corporation, a midsized food distribution company located in Roanoke, Virginia. Klein served owners of family restaurants and franchisees of midsized restaurants. Its line of food included entrees such as chicken cordon bleu, salmon with béarnaise sauce, and vegetarian lasagna, and side dishes such as prepared salads and fruit dishes. Restaurants with high turnover used food distribution companies like Klein because the company’s product line enabled them to serve dependable, high-quality dishes without a lot of preparation.

Ellen had been with the Klein Corporation for two years. Before joining Klein, she had worked for a larger food distributor and then taken a break from work to pursue an MBA degree. Klein had given her the opportunity to forge a stronger bond between the sales and marketing divisions of the company. Ellen’s position required preparing all of the marketing literature for the sales force about the various food products that Klein offered. She worked with the sales force whenever there was a new product launch, helping the team understand how to position the product with other products in Klein’s line. In addition, she helped the salespeople work with individual restaurant owners to improve their profits by pricing and displaying products appropriately. Ellen felt strongly that the company could improve its own bottom line by improving the bottom line of its customers. As a supplier, Klein advocated working in partnership with the restaurants it served.

Ellen was a lesbian. She had been living with the same woman for nearly ten years. They considered themselves partners for life. Although she did not make her sexual preference known to anyone in the company, she did keep her eye out for other women who might share her sexual orientation. She often felt isolated and would have welcomed knowing if there were other gays or lesbians in the organization. She felt it best to stay in the closet in an environment that consisted mainly of men. She was careful not to display pictures of her partner in her office and she did not talk about her social life with her colleagues.

In order to foster better communication between the marketing and sales divisions, Ellen was occasionally invited to the annual sales meetings, not as a participant but as an observer. She was looking forward to the upcoming sales meeting in New Orleans in two weeks. Sales meetings were always an opportunity for her to see how marketing literature was used by salespeople. She was able to influence how salespeople used it and she was often given good ideas for ways to revise the literature so that it would be even more effective with Klein’s client base.

The Annual Sales Meeting

Ellen attended the sales meeting along with 20 male and five female sales managers from around the United States. Usually before the meetings officially started, everyone gathered for a continental breakfast in the meeting room of the hotel. The atmosphere was lively and informal. Clearly the sales managers were well acquainted with one another; some had known each other for years.

As they ate breakfast, the men’s banter soon deteriorated into sexist remarks about women.

“So, Carl, are you going to get any action tonight? There are some pretty good looking women down on Bourbon Street. Some even have moustaches and are about your size,” Phil joked.

“Yeah, Carl. Every year you threaten to bring one of them to the closing dinner, but it never happens. Haven’t you been able to score?” Stan added.

“You should talk, Stan. When was the last time you were successful catching anything? The only thing you’ve been able to dredge up is a fish out of Lake Pontchartrain when we all hired that boat. The high-class hookers in the casinos wouldn’t even talk to you last year!” Carl said.

“Talk about catching stuff. Did you bring your penicillin with you again this year, Phil?” Stan laughed.

“No, my wife forgot to put it in my kit this year when she packed the condoms.”

The men continued joking about “their inability to get some action.” Ellen sat there embarrassed, offended, and speechless, hoping the subject would end. The female sales managers, who were probably more accustomed to this type of bantering, seemed to ignore the men and talked among themselves. Bob Evans, the sales director, was present but had not been participating in the jokes. Finally, he called the meeting to order. During the meeting, the managers acted professionally, discussing sales targets as well as products that seemed to be more difficult to sell. Each manager reviewed his or her sales progress against their target. At noon the group broke for lunch.

The Lunch Break

When Ellen arrived in the dining room, all of the seats were taken except for one. She joined a table of six male managers for lunch. Again, the discussion turned to sexual innuendos and jokes. This time it was even more directly offensive to her.

Stan began, “Did you hear about the new brand of tennis shoes for lesbians called Dykes? They have a long tongue and it only takes one finger to get them off.”

The men burst into laughter.

“Speaking of dykes. Did you see Roseanne Barr on TV last night? Now that’s a dyke I wouldn’t put my finger into,” said Phil.

“Yeah, but Ellen DeGeneres and whoever her girlfriend is … that’s a pair I’d like to be a fly on the wall of,” said Stan.

“Yeah, you should know, faggot. Look at those beads around your neck. They’re sooo sweet.” One of the men chuckled while grabbing the Mardi Gras beads around Stan’s neck.

“Now come on … I’m wearing these to be in the New Orleans spirit. We went out partying last night. I’m not gay just because of a few beads! In fact, I threw a few of these beads at some of the rather well-endowed ladies on the floats,” he countered.

The gay-bashing discussion went on between two or three of the men as they ate their sandwiches. Ellen couldn’t tolerate the comments any longer. In disgust, she left the table before finishing her meal. She decided something needed to be done. The best course of action, she thought, would be to call the corporate head office’s human resources director to explain what was going on. After all, the company had a policy against this kind of thing. She called the director’s office and asked the director’s secretary to try to set up a conference call with both the director and vice president of human resources. She explained that she needed urgently to speak to both of them about a confidential matter. The secretary, noting the emotion in her voice, scheduled a conference call for that afternoon.

During the call Ellen explained in detail what had been said and by whom in both the morning session and during lunch. The HR vice president advised her in the following way:

“We don’t support this kind of behavior at Klein. I think you should feel free to personally confront those individuals who have offended you and tell them what they said and why it was offensive to you. The only way they will understand how their behavior is affecting you is if you make the complaint personally. They need to hear how their behavior affected you. I will support you if you decide to do this, but it’s up to you. You need to think about what you’d like to do and then do it,” he said.

Ellen decided she would bring up the sales managers’ behavior the first thing the next morning. But first she needed to inform Bob Evans to make sure he would support her actions. When she discussed the matter with him, he encouraged her to say something about it at the outset of the morning session.

The Morning Session

“Before we get started Ellen wants to say something about our meeting yesterday. I fully support her in what she has to say,” said Bob.

With that, Ellen began, “Well, I’ll be completely candid with all of you. I found the behavior of several of you and the jokes that were being traded back and forth completely unacceptable. In particular, Phil and Stan, I found your jokes about lesbians and ‘getting some action’ deeply offensive. I see no place for this kind of behavior in a business setting. Furthermore, our company has a policy against it.”

The room fell silent for several minutes. Finally, Stan spoke up.

“Well, I certainly didn’t mean to offend you. What I said wasn’t directed at you,” he said.

“Neither did I. If I knew it bothered you, I certainly wouldn’t have told any jokes. You see, Ellen, we are just used to being together in an informal setting and unwinding a bit. We know each other pretty well. We didn’t mean any harm to you or anyone else,” Phil explained.

Ellen continued to explain that there was no place in a business meeting for these kinds of remarks. It demonstrated disrespect for women, period, she reiterated. After she made her points, the sales director called the meeting to order and the group turned to business issues.

Two Months Later

Ellen was preparing for her annual performance appraisal. As part of this process, the company asked her to circulate questionnaires to gather feedback from various people in the company. She received feedback from her boss, her peers, and other employees with whom she worked—including the sales managers. Ellen’s manager collected the feedback and evaluated her performance, in part, on what others reported about her.

When her manager discussed her feedback with her, she was shocked to find that he had gathered quotes from some of the sales managers criticizing her behavior during the annual sales conference. She was said to be intolerant of others’ opinions and generally disruptive. Her manager read two of the comments to her:

“Ellen works hard, but she needs to learn to be more flexible and accommodating to others’ styles. She also took us offtrack during the sales meeting in New Orleans when she was meant to be there as an observer only. At the conference, we had a limited amount of time to deal with the issues and her interruptions did not add any value.”

“Ellen needs to better understand the sales managers’ jobs. She sometimes gives the impression that she is intractable in her views. She needs to be more tolerant of other people.”

Ellen sat stupefied as she listened to these criticisms. Her manager continued discussing her performance:

“Ellen, I discussed these comments with Bob Evans to see if he shared the same perspective as these two individuals. I am sorry to say that he did. He also thought that during the conference you took the group offtrack when they had important things to discuss. He told me that you needed to develop a better rapport with his guys.”

Ellen began to feel angry as she listened.

“You know that the relationships you have with the sales managers are very important to the work that you do. I think you need to work on them a bit more. Perhaps meet more often with the sales managers just to find out what they think and how they operate. You met or exceeded every objective that I set for you this year, but with this kind of feedback I cannot give you the top performance rating. I know that this must be disappointing to you, but I am giving you an ‘average rating’ based on the information I have from others. Perceptions are very important.”

She wondered what she should do about this feedback. Explain to her manager what had happened? Approach the sales director about these comments? Talk to the human resources department?

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