I've blogged so many times on politicians and high level execs caught up in sex scandals that it's almost cliché. But these headlines are ubiquitous - and nobody ever seems to learn.
This week has been rocked by two massive sex scandals courtesy of International Monetary Fund Chief and prominent member of France's Socialist party, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Strauss-Kahn's 2012 French presidential campaign may be all but over after his Sunday arrest over allegations of rape and assault of a maid at a New York City hotel. The IMF Chief has taken a "so what?" attitude on his notorious reputation as a womanizer - one that has landed him in jail and implicated the tens of millions of people regularly affected by the multi-billion dollar loans and financial policies. Speculating on the damage caused by Strauss-Kahn's arrest, Eamon Gilmore, the Irish minister of foreign affairs said, "There's no doubt that an event like that does cause a disruption in the functioning of a body like the IMF when its senior figure is arrested."
Schwarzenegger's indiscretion hasn't landed him in jail, but it has certainly landed him in the dog house. Not only has Schwarzenegger admitted to fathering an illegitimate child ten years ago, the child was born from an affair he had with a household staffer. Also significant is Arnold's timing. The child's paternity was kept secret, even from his now-estranged wife, until after he left the Governor's Office.
Since both men have faced numerous sexual harassment claims over their careers, one would think they would've learned to keep their pants on, their hands off, and woken up to the fact there are no secrets when you're a politician or a business leader. I could wax on here about lack of moral integrity and an overarching sense of impunity, but instead will focus on the practical takeaways from these stories.
First and foremost, prominent leaders need to be made aware of the fact that the rules do in fact apply to them. Sexual harassment training and ethics training are essential for everyone from the top down. Not only do senior leaders set the tone for workplace culture enterprise-wide, claims of sexual harassment and ethical violations on behalf of senior leaders are infinitely more costly and damaging.
Your employees also need to feel comfortable reporting sexual harassment, ethical breeches or other more serious offenses, even if they are reporting to someone in a position of power. Several women have come forward this week claiming they faced sexual harassment by Strauss-Kahn, but did not report it for fear of losing their jobs - a powerful reminder that the rules against retaliation need to be included in sexual harassment training and ethics training.
Employees under both Strauss-Kahn and Schwarzenegger likely faced both a hostile and sexually charged work environment ripe for expensive and reputation-killing claims. Protect your workplace from this kind of damage and distraction - make the rules about appropriate and inappropriate conduct clear, enforce them consistently from the top to the bottom of the organization, and ensure that your entire workforce has gone through sexual harassment training and ethics training.