Last weekend this front-page story in the New York Times shook the wine industry, my home base as an entrepreneur. The article is about a celebrity sommelier and the women who allege that he had either sexually assaulted them or tried to do so, as Times reporter Julia Moskin writes.
It's a painful chapter in the wine and restaurant world's #MeToo chronicle and, having worked in the industry for almost 15 years, I found myself cringing repeatedly as I read the article.
That the beverage alcohol industry is in many ways still a bastion of an old boys club is hardly a secret; the Times article and the actions it documents are clear indicators of the dangers of its perpetuation. Knowing that the behavior still persists, even among the youngest workers in the industry, it's important to consider the fall out of this very public speaking out, and what happens next.
One "what happens next" question has to do with a significant reason why women hesitate to call out their harassers in the first place: fear that they'll lose their jobs and that their future careers will be negatively impacted.
Will that happen in this case? Will these women have difficulty getting hired in the future?
Time will tell, but there's a history of reason for concern, both anecdotally and in terms of academic research. A study earlier this year, for example, underscored the value of whistleblowing as a step toward preventing problems from becoming outsized. The goal, rather than revenge or retaliation, is to get to the root cause of the problem.
Those outcomes would, admittedly, mean a significant cultural shift for most businesses, which is exactly what makes this an appropriate moment for introspection as a business owner and entrepreneur. We are at an inflection point: awareness has been raised, the topic is out in the open, and it's front-of-mind for both staff and employers. When we come face-to-face with it in our own businesses, it's helpful to have already thought through some critical questions.
Here's how that looked for me, as I considered the pros and cons of hiring a whistleblower. Spoiler alert: I'm going with pro.
Would I hire a whistle-blower?
Let's assume the worst case scenario, and say that in the coming weeks or months the women mentioned in the Times article do in fact find it hard to find work in their industry. Would I personally give them a job?
I don't know these women, and I wouldn't employ them just for the sake of employing them. I'd obviously want to understand more about their skills and whether my business needs them. Full disclosure: I have not yet gone through this skills-review process but my gut says that yes, indeed, I'd find something that our team would find valuable to our business.
"Courage to Speak Out" isn't typically listed as a skill on a resumé, but "Takes Initiative" and "Responsible Leader" are. That would get my attention, and there would be evidence of the assertion.
Further consideration: the long game.
This whistle blowing incident, public and painful as it's been, is not the one and only event that will define the careers of any of the people involved. There's a long game here, for them and for the industry. Speaking out is a pivotal moment, undoubtedly, and it's what they and the industry do next that will set the tone for our way forward.
Individual businesses within the industry are impacted by whistle blowers but it's the people themselves who capture my attention even more: for their courage to speak out, and for the ways that speaking out affect them professionally and personally. My attention is also on the people who continue to employ them and, by doing so, send a strong message of support.