Question Details

(solution) Should Susan report the incident or pretend it never

Should Susan report the incident or pretend it never happened? After reading their advice at the end of the article, which expert do you agree with? Why? H B R CAS E ST U D Y Should Susan report


the incident or


pretend it never


happened? AND COMMENTARY Will She Fit In?


by Joan Magretta


? Five commentators offer


expert advice. Reprint 97208


This document is authorized for use only by SAMIR MESSAOUDI ([email protected]). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact


[email protected] or 800-988-0886 for additional copies. Susan?s client made a pass at her. If she speaks out, will it destroy her


career? H B R CAS E ST U D Y Will She Fit In? COPYRIGHT © 1997 HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL PUBLISHING CORPORATION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. by Joan Magretta ?And then, well, he just lunged at me.?


?He did what?? Nancy asked incredulously.


?He lunged at me,? Susan replied. ?One


minute we?re sitting on the couch in his hotel


room, rehearsing his board presentation, and


the next minute he lurches toward me, knocking me over. I just couldn?t believe it.?


?Wow.? There was silence on the phone line.


?Yeah, wow,? Susan repeated. ?Now what do


I do??


Susan Carter was a partner at the Crowne


Group, a strategy consulting firm based in New


York. Her good friend Nancy Richfield was an


investment banker. In the 12 years since they


had graduated from business school, the two


women had kept in touch, often seeking advice


and support from each other at difficult moments in their careers. Susan and Nancy were


among a handful of women who had ?joined


the club??attaining the rank of partner at


elite, privately held firms in which 95% of the partners still were men. Crowne?s New York office had the kind of partner mix typical of most


consulting and investment-banking firms: there


were 98 partners in all, 4 of them women.


Promotion to partner four years earlier was


a goal Susan had worked hard to achieve. And


her successes on the Pellmore account had


given her a lot of visibility in the firm. In particular, her work with Brian Hanson, a group


senior vice president at Pellmore Industries,


was responsible for the dramatic turnaround


of a troubled business. The turnaround had


made Brian look like a hero, and he was so


pleased that he had begun to champion


Crowne to other executives at Pellmore. Almost overnight, Pellmore became Crowne?s


largest and most profitable client. Billings


mushroomed to $28 million?more than 20%


of the New York office?s revenue. And Crowne?s


senior partners were hoping to expand the


Pellmore budget even further during the an- HBR?s cases, which are fictional, present common managerial dilemmas


and offer concrete solutions from experts. harvard business review ? march?april 1997 page 1 This document is authorized for use only by SAMIR MESSAOUDI ([email protected]). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact


[email protected] or 800-988-0886 for additional copies. Will She Fit In? ?? ?HBR C ASE S TUDY Joan Magretta is an editor-at-large at


HBR. She was formerly a partner at Bain


& Company, an international strategy


consulting firm based in Boston,


Massachusetts. nual account review the following month.


Susan could feel the tension in the back of


her neck.


?So then what happened, after he lunged at


you?? Nancy asked.


?I pushed him aside, jumped up off the


couch, and said, ?This is not a good idea,??


Susan replied. ?And?can you believe this??


I?m the one who picked up the slides, which by


now were scattered all over the floor. Then I


just got the hell out of there. I still can?t believe


Brian Hanson would pull a stunt like this. I?ve


worked so hard. How am I going to get past


this with him? Talk about the things they


never teach you in business school!?


Susan?s second line began to ring. She


paused briefly, hoping her assistant would pick


up. No luck. ?Nancy, I?ve got to run now,? she


said. ?Can we have lunch tomorrow? I really


need some advice.?


?Sure. I?ll come by your office around




Susan hit the button for her second line.


?Susan Carter.?


?Susan, it?s Justin.? The line was crackling


with static. ?I?m on a plane to Chicago, but I


wanted an update on your meeting last night


with Brian Hanson.?


Just what I need right now, thought Susan.


Justin Peale was the senior partner in charge of


the Pellmore relationship. Tall, good-looking,


and athletic, Justin was one of Crowne?s leading rainmakers. The absolute confidence he


projected to clients gave them the sense that


no hill was too tough to take. But within


Crowne, Justin had a different reputation. His


colleagues respected him, however grudgingly, for his effectiveness in selling business.


But those who worked for him directly could


see that underneath all the bravado, Justin was


basically insecure. In fact, none of the junior


vice presidents liked working for him. He was


good at taking credit for work others did and


even better at distancing himself when things


went badly.


?Oh, Justin, I?m pressed for time right now,?


Susan said, stalling. The last thing she wanted


at the moment was to talk to Justin. ?I?m off to


Boston for a recruiting presentation. Then


there?s the reception and dinner. It?ll be a late




?Well, when can we talk?? Justin persisted.


?Not until tomorrow afternoon.?


?Okay. My office at 2?? harvard business review ? march?april 1997 ?Okay,? Susan replied, relieved to have


bought herself at least a day.


?Two o?clock, then!? Justin always had to


have the last word.


Hanging up the phone, Susan stared out the


window of her thirty-ninth-floor office at the


Manhattan skyline. She knew that Justin


hadn?t been wildly enthusiastic about her


being assigned to Pellmore two years earlier.


At the time, Linda Bushnell, the administrative


vice president responsible for client assignments, had pulled her aside. They had worked


well with each other for years, and Linda


wanted to give Susan a ?heads up.?


According to Linda, Justin was careful to tell


her that he himself had ?enormous respect?


for Susan. ?But we?ve got to do what?s right for


the client,? he said. ?They?re a pretty tough


bunch. I just don?t know if the guys at Pellmore will be comfortable with her. Will she fit


in? Susan doesn?t feel like the right choice to




In the end, Justin was overruled by John McMullin, the managing director of Crowne?s


New York office. Susan had been a loyal


trouper for Crowne, and John had promised


her the next high-potential assignment to


come along. He had kept his word.


John?s okay, Susan thought now. And


Crowne is a great firm. But the truth was that


she and Nancy had heard some version of Justin?s comments so many times during the years


since business school that they had invented a


name for it: the Comfort Syndrome. The two


friends knew dozens of talented women?in


their own firms and in client organizations?


who had been passed over for the same reason


Justin had tried to use to keep Susan off the


Pellmore account: ?We?re just not comfortable


with her.? Or ?We?re not sure it?s a good fit.?


And it wasn?t the first time Susan had encountered the syndrome herself, either. When


she first joined Crowne, for instance, there had


been some question about whether a client in


the steel industry would be ?comfortable? with


her. The guys at the client were ?very rough,?


the argument went. Would she be able to


?bond? with them? Despite this concern,


Susan was given the job, and the client ended


up being tremendously impressed with the results of the project.


Why is it, Susan wondered, that we?re never


uncomfortable with him? Not once in her four


years on Crowne?s promotion committee had page 2 This document is authorized for use only by SAMIR MESSAOUDI ([email protected]). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact


[email protected] or 800-988-0886 for additional copies. Will She Fit In? ?? ?HBR C ASE S TUDY Comfort was a code


word. What did it mean


when people said they


were ?uncomfortable


with her?? she heard that phrase. Comfort was obviously


some kind of code, but what exactly did it


mean when people said they were ?uncomfortable with her?? She?s too aggressive? She?s not


one of us? Or what?


Susan was convinced that most men were


totally unconscious of the Comfort Syndrome.


Just the previous month, for example, one of


her male colleagues, someone she liked a lot,


called her for a reference on a woman she had


once worked with. ?A client of mine is considering her for a senior position. What do you


think of her?? he had asked. Susan began to


describe the woman?s considerable accomplishments, but her colleague stopped her short.


?No,? he said. ?That?s not it. They?re nervous about whether they?ll like working with


her.? He paused. ?You know,? he said, ?it


rhymes with witch.?


Susan had been stunned, but she was careful not to show it. If I try to explain to him why


that?s offensive, she thought, I?ll become one


of those women he?s uncomfortable with.


Susan was reminded of something her father


once said. He had been a fighter pilot and a


great supporter of Susan and her sister. ?To be


successful,? he advised, ?many women in your


generation will have to learn to fly underneath


the radar?to go undetected?in order to get


along.? This advice had always bothered Susan: she wanted to believe she could succeed


by being herself. But the older she got, the


more she came to understand what her father




Returning her thoughts to the incident


with Brian, Susan began to play out various


scenarios in her mind. Should I try, she wondered, to smooth things over with Brian? I


could use Justin?s help in thinking this


through, but that means I?ll have to tell him


what happened. And if I do, he?ll panic. He


might have me taken off the client?s account:


he?d do anything to avoid putting Pellmore


revenue at risk, and he knows Brian is the key


contact there right now. If Brian is upset with


us, forget about a budget increase. And if I?m


?moved? to another client, I can kiss my bonus


good-bye?and not just this year?s. I?ve killed


myself for the last two years earning credibility


at Pellmore. I?m finally at the point where it?s


starting to pay off.


I know what Justin will think, Susan said to


herself: This wouldn?t have happened if we?d


put Don Finley in instead of Susan. But maybe harvard business review ? march?april 1997 I?m just being paranoid. Didn?t Justin tell me


only last week that I deserve a lot of the credit


for growing the Pellmore relationship? And


hasn?t he been kidding me for the last month


about the beach house he thinks I should buy


with this year?s bonus? He couldn?t possibly


blame me for what happened!


Susan?s door opened. It was her assistant.


?You?d better get going or you?ll miss your


flight,? she said.


On the shuttle back to New York that night,


Susan couldn?t stop thinking about the irony


of the previous 24 hours: My client makes a


pass at me. I don?t trust my boss?or the


firm?with the truth. And then I spend an


evening with a group of eager M.B.A. students


telling them what a great place the Crowne


Group is for women. What?s wrong with this




Susan?s presentation at the business school


had drawn a packed house. And there were a


couple of really impressive candidates at dinner. This was a part of the job that Susan


loved: working with talented young people.


Crowne measured its recruiting success by the


number of bids it won against archrival Spectra Consulting. And in the previous several


years, Crowne had been gaining ground, especially among the strongest female candidates.


Susan knew she had a lot to do with that success. Whenever there was a woman Crowne


didn?t want to lose, Susan was trotted out to


win her over.


The sad thing, thought Susan wearily, is that


Crowne is, in fact, one of the better firms for


women. She closed her eyes. It had been a long




Susan and Nancy always ate at Café Soleil


when they needed a quiet place to talk. After


the waitress brought their salads, they picked


up their conversation where they had left off


the day before.


?Did you see it coming?? Nancy asked.


?Had Brian been sort of coming on to you for a




?No?not at all,? Susan answered quickly.


?I mean, I?ve been working closely with the


guy for almost two years. We?ve had at least


half a dozen meetings like this one in his


hotel room to review work. I thought we had


great rapport. Part of my job is to get clients


to like me, to build relationships. But there


was never anything flirtatious on either his


part or mine.? page 3 This document is authorized for use only by SAMIR MESSAOUDI ([email protected]). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact


[email protected] or 800-988-0886 for additional copies. Will She Fit In? ?? ?HBR C ASE S TUDY ?So you had no clue what he was up to??


Nancy asked.


?No,? Susan said firmly, but then she


paused. ?There was one funny thing, though,?


she suddenly recalled. ?I really didn?t think


anything of it at the time. But maybe??


?What?? Nancy prompted her.


?It happened that night, before Brian and I


went back to his room. We were at dinner with


a bunch of people from Pellmore, and Brian?s


planning guy pulled me aside right afterward.


He said he was really sorry that he wouldn?t be


able to sit in on the meeting later in Brian?s


room. What was odd was what he said next. He


asked me, ?Are you okay with that?? I remember being thrown off balance slightly by his


question. I mean, I knew the details of the presentation much better than he did, so it struck


me as an odd thing to say since there didn?t


seem to be much reason for him to be there in


the first place.? Susan looked at Nancy,




?Do you suppose the planning guy knew


something I didn?t know about Brian?? she


asked. ?Do you think he?s got some kind of




Nancy shrugged. The comment left her


wondering, too.


Susan pushed her plate aside. ?It?s not as


though I haven?t been in meetings with clients


in their hotel rooms?it happens all the time


in this business,? she went on. ?You?re always


on the road, you work crazy hours, and a lot of


business gets done over dinner and sometimes


late into the night.?


?Yeah, but try telling that to Justin,? Nancy


broke in, ?and he?ll want to know what you


were wearing. And, worse, maybe he?ll start to


think your success at Pellmore has been based




?Don?t even say it,? Susan interrupted her




?Okay, but don?t be naïve, Susan. You tell


Justin, and whether or not he pulls you off


Pellmore, you can bet that this will come up


every time they evaluate you or think about


you for a new assignment. It may never be


raised explicitly, but it will always be there at


some level.?


?I think you?re right,? said Susan. ?The old


Comfort Syndrome rears its ugly head. And


this time, it?s about me.?


Susan?s thoughts jumped to the upcoming


account review. ?On the other hand,? she con- harvard business review ? march?april 1997 tinued, ?if I don?t tell Justin what happened


and our budget gets trashed because Brian?s


mad at me, I?ll be blamed.? Susan stopped. She


was getting ahead of herself.


?You know what?? she said after a moment.


?Isn?t there a bigger issue here? We both know


that most of the men we work with wouldn?t


do what Brian did. They would think it was


wrong. And from everything I know about


Pellmore?s CEO, this is absolutely not the kind


of behavior he?d tolerate. It goes beyond the


fear of lawsuits: he?s a decent guy, he has two


daughters in college, and he wants to make a




?Finished?? asked the waitress as she began


clearing the dishes. Susan and Nancy both signaled that they were done.


?But maybe,? Nancy suggested, ?Pellmore


ought to be more concerned about lawsuits. I?ll


bet you a million dollars that this isn?t the first


time Brian has tried something like this.


Maybe the CEO really needs to put a stop to


this guy.?


?Maybe,? said Susan. ?How can he?how


can anyone?be an effective leader when we


all maintain this conspiracy of silence? When


we pretend everything is fine? Maybe the


same goes for Crowne. Maybe John McMullin


ought to know, too.?


?What do you mean??


?Well, most of the guys on our executive


committee?except Justin?are okay. They


just don?t always see the connections. I?m not


trying to be a saint here, and I can?t picture


myself ever saying anything about this to


John, but I wish there were some way to manage this so that something positive could come


out of it.?


?Or maybe it?s simply too hot to handle,?


Nancy said. ?You?re right. Most guys are not


like Brian. But a lot of them would say, What?s


the big deal? Get over it. They don?t understand that the easy part is saying no. The hard


part is picking up the pieces afterward.?


Susan looked at her watch. ?It?s 1:45,? she


said. ?I?d better run. It?s time for my meeting


with Justin, and you know how he hates to be


kept waiting.? Should Susan report the incident or


pretend it never happened? ? Five


commentators offer expert advice.


See Case Commentary page 4 This document is authorized for use only by SAMIR MESSAOUDI ([email protected]). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact


[email protected] or 800-988-0886 for additional copies. Will She Fit In? ? HBR C AS E STU DY Case Commentary


by Gillian Derbyshire Should Susan report the incident or pretend it never


happened? If Crowne treats Susan


badly and blames her for


what happened, then she


has learned something


important about her


firm. page 5 On one level, Susan Carter?s dilemma is


straightforward. We all have problems with


clients or customers at one time or another.


When that happens, there is an obvious and


normal response: you assemble the client


team and you figure out an action plan to resolve the problem.


Suppose, for example, that the Crowne consultants had done some analysis for Pellmore


and that the numbers did not make Brian


Hanson look good. Brian might ask the consultants to position the data in as positive a


light as possible during their meeting with


Pellmore?s leaders. That probably wouldn?t be


a big problem for Crowne. The partner in


charge could easily respond with integrity,


?We?ll position the numbers as positively as


possible under the circumstances.?


But suppose Brian asked the consultants to


change the numbers in a materially misleading way. That would be a major problem. And


it?s the kind of problem the partner in charge


would be unwise to handle on her own. Better


to take it to her colleagues. In such a case,


would Susan be held responsible for the client?s behavior? If the firm?s leaders have any


traditional core values to speak of, I doubt it.


More likely, Crowne?s leadership team would


stand behind Susan and refuse to yield to the


client?s unethical request.


Following this logic, then, Susan should


take the Brian Hanson case to her partners. It?s


a business problem. Treat it like any other. As


for Brian himself, Susan has at least two


choices on how to deal with him. One is to


press forward as if nothing happened (the


What?s the big deal? approach) and see if he


takes the escape route quietly. After all, he,


too, has something to lose by having the incident exposed. Or she could talk to him and try


to salvage the situation gracefully: ?I must say,


you took me by surprise the other night. I?m


happy to put this behind us if you are.?


But, having made the case for treating the


Brian Hanson incident like a straightforward


business problem, one has to acknowledge


that Susan?s situation strikes a deeper, far


more troubling chord. Clearly, it doesn?t feel like a normal business problem to either Susan


or her close friend Nancy Richfield. Both


women have achieved all the visible manifestations of success. Susan is a partner at


Crowne?an elected member of the firm?s


leadership. Many regard her as a role model,


especially the younger female associates. But,


as many women in Susan?s position discover,


success feels qualified?conditional.


Susan?s ambivalence reminds me of a survey of senior-level business managers that I


heard about recently. The male respondents


generally reported that they felt ?accepted? as


leaders in their organizations. The women, on


the other hand, reported that they felt merely


?tolerated.? Imagine what it must feel like for


these women to step out on a limb?to challenge the status quo or to call attention to


themselves in any way. Think about it. An individual who is merely tolerated is not in an


empowered position that supports her taking


a leadership role.


Susan?s real dilemma is that, whether she


likes it or not, she must confront some fundamental issues about herself and the firm at


which she has made her career. She has been


asked by a client to do something totally unacceptable, and, as a result, she believes that an


important piece of the business may be at risk.


She obviously is afraid that she cannot count


on her ?partners.? This is a moment of truth. If


Susan is going to act as an accepted member of


the team, she must bring the Brian Hanson incident to her firm?s leadership.


But how? Susan correctly perceives that the


Pellmore revenue is at risk and that her ability


to manage the account may be compromised.


It is unlikely, however, that Susan would be a


partner at Crowne today had she not developed good relationships with some of her partners. Now is the time for her to use some of


the equity she has built up over the years. She


might approach John McMullin, for example,


or another member of Crowne?s executive committee who has supported her. Her objective


should be a mature and sensible conversation


about how to resolve the problem without


compromising the Pellmore business. harvard business review ? march?april 1997 This document is authorized for use only by SAMIR MESSAOUDI ([email protected]). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact


[email protected] or 800-988-0886 for additional copies. Will She Fit In? ?? ?HBR C ASE S TUDY In the final analysis,


Susan?s story is one about


leadership, authenticity,


and integrity?not only


hers but also her


organization?s. But here?s the bottom line: If Crowne treats


Susan badly and blames her for what happened


in the hotel room that night, then she has


learned something important about the firm.


On the other hand, if she already knows that


the partnership will respond badly, then she


also already knows that she is working only for


the money. Although many women and minorities I have known find this bargain acceptable


for a while, over time the price they must pay


for living in ?bad faith? becomes too high. They


leave corporate America. Many join or launch


small, usually entrepreneurial ventures in


which biases and double standards, if they exist, can more easily be exposed and banished.


But they shouldn?t have to leave. That?s corporate America?s great opportunity today: to


create an honest environment in which harvard business review ? march?april 1997 diversity?defined in its broadest sense as diversity of thought and experience, as well as of


race, gender, age, and so forth?is respected


and valued. In such an environment, Susan?s


encounter with Brian would be a straightforward business problem. She would have


nothing to fear in taking it public. This is the


kind of culture that Susan?s firm and others


like it must cultivate if they want to retain


the competitive advantage that diversity in the


workforce can bring. For, in the final analysis,


Susan?s story is one about leadership, authenticity, and integrity?not only hers but also her




Gillian Derbyshire is vice president and general


manager of EZ Foil, a specialty-packaging business of Tenneco Packaging in Evanston, Illinois. page 6 This document is authorized for use only by SAMIR MESSAOUDI ([email protected]). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact


[email protected] or 800-988-0886 for additional copies. Will She Fit In? ? HBR C AS E STU DY Case Commentary


by Anthony P D?Andrea


. Should Susan report the incident or pretend it never


happened? For once, making the


men she works for


uncomfortable is what


Susan must do. page 7 Susan is between a rock and a hard place. She


has succeeded in her career by doing all the


right things and playing by the rules. She has


understood the importance of not making


men ?uncomfortable? with her. But I think


she?s reached a point where all bets are off.


For once, making the men she works for uncomfortable is what she must do. Susan must


tell Crowne?s leaders about the Brian Hanson


incident. If she doesn?t, the underlying problem of the Comfort Syndrome will never get


fixed. The question is, Will Susan be true to


herself or is she such a slave to her paycheck


that she won?t risk the immediate consequences of speaking the truth?


Admittedly, the very fact that Susan has


been placed in this position is an injustice.


Why should she be the one to have to risk


anything? But doing nothing is worse. If Susan


allows this incident to pass without seeking redress, she?ll never again be able to look a recruit in the eye. More important, she may have


trouble looking hersel...


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