Thursday, March 11, 2010
Let's talk about my vagina, Mr. Chairman
When I inherited such a boss several months back I was more than a little apprehensive. And let me begin by saying no, this is not my full-time job I'm referring to, this is one of several bit contract positions I've held onto from back when I used to do consulting. And unless you know me fairly well you won't have any idea what organization I'm talking about (which is fortunate for them, as you'll see by the end of this post).
I won't mention any names and so for the purposes of this post we'll just call him F.W. You can imagine these are his initials or that they stand for Fellow Workslave or perhaps Fuckwit.
I could tell this man was probably a little insecure when the staff started receiving long-winded and excessively formal emails that droned on and on about how he, as executive director, took his mantle of leadership seriously and sought to fulfill the office of executive director with all seriousness and to seriously address the grievous mistakes inherited from past leadership, etc, etc, yawn, yawn, signed F.W., B.A., Executive Director. And I would read these missives and turn to my friend and say, I'm sorry, I'm a little confused, who's the executive director?
This sort of thing in and of itself, while annoying, was just eye roll fodder until one day I came back from lunch to find I had several text and voicemail messages from him, all marked urgent. When I called he told me he wanted me to hold one woman's paycheck as he was investigating her because he thought she was scamming the agency. I was perplexed as I knew the woman to a sincere and dedicated employee. He told me, and he sounded a little rabid here, that he had been calling all around the community and talking with people as part of this “investigation” and had determined that she had never actually visited a number of sites, the names of which he reeled off, as part of her monthly rounds. He said he was going to call and demand that she give him an accounting of every place she visited along with dates and times. He said she earned more than anyone else did and this was not right.
I sat in shock. First off, it was not this woman's job to visit any of the places he had called, but he wouldn't know that because he hadn't bothered to talk to her or her previous supervisor about what she actually did. Secondly, she did turn in a detailed account of her activities every month, which I offered to forward to him. Thirdly, she earned more than anyone else because she worked more hours. Fourth, it was illegal to withhold someones paycheck. And finally, it's not surprising he didn't know any of this because it was only his third week on the job.
He reiterated to me that I shouldn't pay her until he said so as “he was the executive director and the buck stopped with him.” I hung up the phone and sat for a minute thinking what to do. Finally, I called the Chairman of the Board, whom I knew as a friendly acquaintance, and told him of the conversation, of my discomfort with the situation and that I was making the choice to disregard his directive and send the check, as I knew withholding it to be illegal. I thought it was important he know this for several reasons, one of which was that I knew that F.W. was under a two-month temporary contract. It might be helpful for the board to know this when it came time for them to decide whether or not they wanted to make a permanent offer. The board chair agreed with my decision to send the check and told me he would talk with F.W. and try to settle him down.
From that point on I tried to limit my contact with F.W. as much as possible. I dropped by the office occasionally to pick up mail and he was invariably there, regardless of the day or hour. While he backed down from publicly denigrating this one woman and eventually began fawning over her in a way I found equally distasteful, he suddenly turned and began making accusations about another colleague, again for reasons that completely escaped me, blaming this person for the most ridiculous of things (generally mistakes he made and sought to cover up). Again, these accusations were public and damning and completely false. He would lean in close and tell me, in conspiratorial tones, about some imagined transgression and I would lean back and notice the late hour and get the fuck out of there. After any interaction with him I just felt sullied and disgusted and wanted to run home and shower/shampoo/floss/douche.
Oh, and the two colleagues he went after had a few things in common. They both were intelligent, they both out-earned him and they both shared a particular anatomical trait. Any guesses what that might be? Here's a hint:
I could draw this out with long and cringe-worthy stories of bald-faced lies and questionable financial transactions, many of which he was kind enough to document in email, and I could tell you about the countless emails sent to “gentlemen of the board” which were notable only in that they were tedious, self-serving and omitted the 50% of females on the board, but I'm going to cut to the chase.
The long and short of it is that I gave my notice because I cannot work with someone like this. Even though I really wanted to just be gone, I offered to stay on for three months so that I could take care of the IRS filings and some other complex reporting that was on the horizon. I was disappointed that the board had not acted on any of my concerns (many of which I had shared with the chair). Then a couple of things happened. I began to put some things together for one. It dawned on me that the board hadn't done anything most likely because they probably had no idea what was going on. I suspected that my concerns had never made it past the chair.
Then, when I gave my notice, not only did F.W. not even acknowledge my resignation, he demanded from me a detailed accounting of every single recent financial transaction. Which led me to believe his fine investigative skills were now trained on me. I sent this accounting to him right away, of course. But that's not all I sent.
I also sat down and wrote a long letter detailing every professional and ethical and legal transgression of F.W.'s I had witnessed and I sent it to the entire Board of Directors. Because I believe in total transparency.
The letter described the conversations I'd had with F.W. in which he had denigrated staff and board members, lied about financial transactions, lied about non-financial transactions. I wrote the letter in a fit of anger then thought it best to sleep on it. In the morning I edited it to remove all profanity and mention of genitalia and Axis II diagnoses. It's a shame really, but in the button-down world of management, sometimes one must sacrifice art in the name of political expediency. Nevertheless, I pulled no punches. It was honest and sharp and damning and it arrived in email boxes the day before F.W. was to meet with the board for their quarterly meeting.
Had I been there to deliver it in person and had I been a smoker, at the conclusion of the diatribe I would have exhaled a long train of smoke in F.W.'s face and then extinguished my cigarette on his very small penis.
I don't know what happened at the meeting because I didn't go. But I do know that one of the board members walked out of the meeting. This same boardmember was in the midst of organizing a large fundraiser for the agency and the following week decided to pull the fundraiser and resign from the board, apparently angry at the board chair's lack of action. A second board member later contacted me asking for any detailed documentation I had. Something these two board member had in common?
I have no idea what will come of the situation. Needless to say, I also withdrew my offer to stay on for three months and do their IRS filings. I'm done and gone.
I will say this. We can't always know what someone is going to be like from a first impression, though I would hazard to say we can know a hell of a lot more than some people would think. Still, it happens that people end up in leadership positions who are dishonest, who lack accountability and integrity and, dare I say it, are misogynists. Happens all the time. However, to allow someone who has demonstrated such qualities to remain in such a position, in my opinion, is a dereliction of duties on the part of a board of directors.
Sometimes I wonder if I should have just walked away and done nothing. Let them figure out in their own good time what was going on. Let him take the place down in six or twelve months or however long it would take given their already precarious funding situation. But there is something in me that just can't do that. It's not spite. I was angry, sure, but it wasn't personal. I already have a good job and didn't really need or even want this one. He had no power over me, nothing to take from me. In the end it was simply a matter of principle.
It's a sad sight when someone who feels powerless finds a bit of power in the world and seeks to make it their throne. It's even sadder to sit idly by and let it happen.