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A CEO’s reference to slavery in a town hall meeting ruffles feathers

A Reader Writes:

I have a junior role in a mid-sized financial services firm.  Our CEO gives quarterly town hall meetings that are broadcast throughout our global offices. At one meeting the CEO expressed a desire to allow for greater work/life balance given the huge workload we all face, because, to quote him, “the last time I checked, slavery was illegal”. Given the good intentions of the CEO, I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, however I feel that expressions like that desensitize people to the heinous institution of slavery. Is it appropriate for me to complain directly to the CEO given that I am in a junior role and have no other contact with him?

Dear Reader,

Your thoughts should definitely be conveyed to the CEO, regardless of his good intentions. We would hope that a CEO rises to their position based on a hyper-focus of critical business metrics and trends. In addition, they have a responsibility to serve their diverse stakeholders which include employees, customers, and shareholders and adopt a lexicon that respects diversity. Senior managers who remain in a bubble of their own socioeconomic demographics are less likely to achieve this sensitivity without people speaking up.

The challenge here is how your message gets conveyed to him.  You did not mention in your question the kind of culture of your organization.  Does your CEO have an open-door policy where everyone is encouraged to approach him with their feedback?  If your organization is more formal, there could be consequences to going above your manager, known as a ‘skip-level’ communication. In that case, you should ask the HR person who supports your division to convey your feelings to the CEO, and check back with them at a later date to find out the CEO’s response.   Even if your feedback is met with some defensiveness up the chain, you will have sent up a flare that will serve to enhance future town hall meetings.

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the NavigatorA CEO’s reference to slavery in a town hall meeting ruffles feathers
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