Consultants need to keep the doors open between cycles and that can lead to accepting clients who are less than ideal humans. For most shops, this becomes a calculation that looks something like money plus time divided by headache equals how long practitioners invest in these folks.
But what do you do when your client turns out to be a harasser?
As a proud female business owner in an industry heavily dominated by men, the answer is obvious, even if it isn’t always easy: We must push employers and firm owners to confront such incidents head-on.
I have first-hand knowledge of this scenario, having been harassed by a client before starting my own firm. Doing nothing will inflict more damage down the road. When employers witness harassment firsthand, or are told by their employee about unwanted behavior from a client, the worst thing to do is brush it off like nothing happened. This perpetuates and reaffirms the violator’s actions, sending a direct message to the employee that their value at the firm is secondary to the value of that client’s invoice.
When it comes to harassment, firms are justified and should fire clients just like clients can fire their consulting firms. Both sides of the aisle work for candidates who champion “family values.” Harassing any member of a firm’s staff is the antithesis of that.
Typically, if an employee reports that a client or a member of the client’s team makes them uncomfortable because their eyes keep going to one point, or their jokes and comments are inappropriate, the employer redeploys the employee to another account and that would be the end of it. But that’s only perpetuating the situation. The employer should privately and immediately talk with the client or candidate to address the inappropriate behavior while respecting the privacy of the employee.
Wait, what? You mean to tell me that I have to tell my client who spends over $1.5 million/cycle with me how to act?
If you want to empower inappropriate, potentially harassing behavior, and if paychecks come before employees, then no. If you value your company, your team, and yourself, then you know the answer.
After you talk with your client, let your employee know you addressed their concerns anonymously. Let them decide if they want to continue to work on that account or not. Rather than perpetuating the unacceptable behavior by just moving that one employee off that account, you’ve addressed a real problem and ultimately showed your employee they’re respected and valued, and you’ve empowered them at the same time.
We are far from eliminating this problem, but as someone who has suffered from client harassment, not perpetuating the situation is a step in the right direction.
Cartney McCracken is a founding partner of Control Point Group, a minority-owned Democratic consulting firm. McCracken sits on the Women Under Forty PAC Board and held a leadership position with Women in Government Relations, a professional development group.