Recently, one of my friends informed me the company they work for, Company “X” had won an important contract with a company overseas – I’ll call it Company “Y”.
While we often talked about work, it was more likely that we would discuss more directly relevant matters; so sharing this type of information was unusual.
I congratulated my friend, who looked at me and said, “Thanks. There was one thing they insisted on which stuck in my mind.”
“What was that?” I asked
“They specified that there should be no women on the team.”
“What does that mean?” I asked in total incomprehension.
“Company Y specified that they will not deal with women and do not want any women working on their account.
How is this possible?
I have deliberately withheld the details of the company and the Country of business, for reasons of confidentiality, but also, and more importantly, because I believe, here in our world, the year 2015, this information is really not relevant.
Respecting other cultures
There are constraints in doing business in other counties of the world.
I understand the need to be aware, educated, considerate, sensitive and most of all respectful to the customs and constraints of other cultures.
I have traveled to many countries, met, and developed relationships with people from very different backgrounds holding beliefs initially foreign to me. I understand that not everyone is the world is the same, that there are many shades of grey.
I know people who have worked in Dubai, where women not of that culture are confined to gated communities unless appropriately dressed and accompanied by a male escort.
It’s like being a houseguest. A good houseguest accepts and respects house rules, although they may be very different from one’s own.
Business Relationship, Business Obligations
However, this is a business RELATIONSHIP between two large (ostensibly) international companies.
Company “X” operates in North America, and is governed by the laws applicable in this jurisdiction.
I will only reveal that Company “Y” is an Asian corporation.
Fundamentally, the Company “X” has an obligation to Company “Y” to provide the product/service, which was contracted.
As a good and successful business, Company X should also strive to provide the best product, the best service and the best customer experience possible to their client. This is how relationships are built, reputations are made and continued success, enjoyed.
But Company “X “ also has a responsibility to be a good corporate citizen and an obligation to the society in which it operates and, importantly, to its employees, drawn from this community.
The obligation to the community is to model good corporate behavior. To respect and follow the best practices of management, human capital development and basic human rights.
It has an obligation to the development and growth of its employees, to provide them with opportunity to learn, gain experience and contribute, via achievements, to the overall success of the company– no matter who the employee is and irrespective of gender.
Moral, business and ethical issues
Obviously, the customer thought they could demand this concession.
This is what the client wants/is playing for, so what can Company “X” do?
I can understand that Company “X” felt pressured, and there was probably the unstated possibility of losing Company Y’s business if the terms were not accepted, but I believe that agreeing to the stipulation was wrong.
Not only morally wrong, because it is outright discrimination.
In the future, what’s to stop other potential business partners from demanding that redheads, tall people, lefties, employees of specific racial or cultural backgrounds or people of alternative sexual orientations be excluded from working on their business?
The precedent has been set, and that is a dangerous thing.
It is also the wrong decision for the business. It sends a demoralizing message through the organization that that some employees, in this case men, are more important than others.
Imagine being a member of the team who worked to secure this business – to do the research, perform the due diligence, run the numbers, determine the strategy, create the presentations – and discover that the team has secured the business, but because you’re a woman, you’re no longer on the team?
What does this convey about the organization, and would you want to work there?
Further, could this mean that some of the best qualified, most knowledgeable, experienced and talented employees would be prevented from contributing to the mutual success of the endeavour because they are women? My interpretation is, yes.
Is this, perhaps a question of ethics? I certainly question the ethics of a company who could compromise to this extent.
I know it’s not black and white and I would be naïve if I didn’t acknowledge that the situation is more complex and there is more at stake that mere ideal.
But this situation sucks!
I’m afraid to even wonder aloud how often similar situations arise.