Infidelity and Sexual Harassment in Family Firms
As a psychologist and family business coach, I see it too often. It is a well-known secret that many family firms struggle with sexual inappropriateness, infidelity, or even abuse. Even with abundant litigation for sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s still an ongoing problem because the underlying cause is not being addressed.
Like eating and drinking, the sex drive is a normal and necessary part of human life. Expression of our sexuality is learned. However, most people receive little useful education about how to make love work or how to make love last, or just how to make love. And unfortunately, much of what we learn about appropriate sexual behavior is gathered from unreliable sources such as television, movies or pornography, or worse, through exploitation by unethical adults. All of these sources are very two-dimensional and self-serving at best.
The problem isn’t that we have a sex drive. The problem is what we do with that drive. As with most human skills, sex can be used in a positive healthy way or it can be used to abuse and manipulate. Sex can lead to pleasure and a love bond within a relationship. Or sex can lead to pain, suffering, and corruption.
Other than a perfunctory sex-education class in public school, where the emphasis is on health and procreation, where does a child learn about sexual techniques, or the relationship between sex and love, or the subtleties of sex in the workplace? Where do they learn about sexual ethics?
I have met few parents who openly discuss sexuality with their kids. Most parents tell me they’re more than willing to answer any questions their kids ask about sex, as if any kid in their right mind will tell their parents they’re thinking about sex!
Let’s see how this lack of education plays out by examining the case of the Smith Family Firm.
(The names have been changed to protect their identities.)
Meghan and Greg were really scared when I first met them. They wanted their son, Dan, to take over the business when they retired. Dan just didn’t seem to have leadership abilities, and his latest escapade was about to sink everything. A female employee had filed a well-documented sexual harassment complaint against Dan.
Where did Dan get the idea that that was acceptable behavior?
Dan had seen his dad conducting numerous affairs throughout the years. As each affair ended quietly, his parents never spoke of the problem. Unfortunately, this lack of communication led to repeated affairs. They didn’t resolve their marital and sexual problems. Meghan thought suffering silently was the best way to handle it because her husband was always repentant. As a consequence, Dan became angry that his father betrayed his mother over and over again and that his mother let his dad get away with it.