Health warning: what you say can damage your career

Today’s sacking by Dior of their designer Galliano brings sharply into focus how easy it is for an individual and a global brand to fall off a cliff. Galliano initially denied racist abuse but the emergence of a video put an end to believable deniability and the die was cast. Within days of the new collection a star designer is gone.

From an HR point of view this is a classic in that we have here:

  1. A highly valued individual with unique creative talent highly identified with the brand
  2. Behaviour inconsistent with anyone’s equality and dignity policy
  3. Public distribution of key allegations and facts
  4. Difficulty in not prejudging the potential disciplinary issues
  5. The need to act fairly but swiftly

Did Galliano spent time with people who privately held such views and remarks and didn’t realise he was being filmed? Did he not know about smart phones? A a person can think as they want, but across the EU there are limits to what people can say and racist abuse (or rants) fall outside those limits.

Was he suffering from some kind of stress or condition that meant he spoke out of character? Was the tension of the impending show why he had allegedly drunk the equivalent of two bottles of wine, or is that a ‘normal’ amount for someone in the fashion world to consume over dinner? Did he know the Nazi attitude to homosexuals?

The reality is that once the remarks and allegations were in the public domain there was little any organisation could do but terminate the relationship.

For an employer faced with this situation it is always difficult – staff and colleagues are often genuinely fond of their colleague and there are practical problems to be faced in replacing a key person at a key time in the business cycle.

Dior have moved relatively quickly (others delay longer). Confidentiality agreements will be signed and Galliano will make his own future, still being a gifted designer. The house of Dior will continue with a new designer moving away from the remotest suggestion by way of association with Galliano that a Paris fashion house could espouse Nazi or anti-Jewish views. They won’t be choosing their new designer for politically correct views but I am sure they will be asking a few questions about their views in key areas.

Organisations frequently ignore earlier problems. They don’t like to upset their key players or creative people with restrictions of any kind. We don’t know if that existed here. If you don’t deal with issues early your brand can be damaged. Some cynics will say this is all about free speech, or all about pseudo equality. This is not about ‘political correctness‘, it is about not alienating your customer base.

Key players in some organisations are often accidents waiting to happen, believing that what they say will never be held against them. .

After Sky and Andy Gray and now Galliano, can anyone really imagine that their ‘private’ remarks do not affect their career?

1 Comment

Filed under discrimination, employment law

One response to “Health warning: what you say can damage your career

  1. Galliano presents an interesting case! As you say most organisations dependent on creative people, do their best to provide them with as much freedom to express themselves as possible! It is always going to be a fine balance if that individual has a particularly idiosyncratic personality. It is rare for these kind of outbursts to happen only once! I would expect an organisation to signal early and very clearly what its standards were.

    Under pressure and with alcohol people can say quite bizarre things! This is so particularly if they are sensationalists seeking to make a sensation. I don’t know if that is the case here. As you say this is not about free speech, at its crudest, it is about a company wanting to keep its customers!

    Even before the camera phone, gossip about this kind of conversation would have been dangerous to the brand! But the warning to us all now is that we should assume we have an audience from the time we leave the privacy our own homes!

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