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Colborn’s Corner: HRZone stirs up porn probe

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Quentin Colborn

Big Brother and the Ashes test series had better watch out for another topic has grabbed the limelight; this week Any Answers received a question about an inappropriate calendar displaying ‘Carmen Electra’ as Miss August – a heated debate ensued regarding the right course of action to take.




Carmen Electra is admittedly an unlikely sounding name, indeed if presented with her application form one might even wonder if she really exists! (Interesting to think what would happen if she had to prove her right to work in the UK!)

The situation arose from a posting on HRZone regarding the appropriateness of the placement of an FHM calendar on the wall by one of the partners in an accounting practice. The other (all male) partners felt that it was not worth causing a fuss over as the partner in question was due to retire in a couple of years’ time. The female questioner, however, asked the community their advice on whether she should have to put up with this display in the interim.

The issue has spawned an amazing number of hits and comments. The various responses, some factual and analytical in approach duly conclude (correctly in my view) that the calendar and a refusal of the organisation to address the issue amounts to sex discrimination. Other responses challenge what they see as the PC approach that exists across society and that anyone upset by such a calendar needs to ‘get a life’. For others of course, it’s simply a joke.

But how should we react as HR professionals? In most organisations where I have worked the first reaction to someone raising a question about the appropriateness of a calendar would be to ask HR what they think.

It’s very rewarding that our colleagues hold us in great esteem, but doesn’t the very fact that the question has been raised indicate that we may have failed in some way?

Firstly, why do many organisations see HR as some form of corporate police officer? Is it because line managers can’t or won’t, take decisions about such matters?

Alternatively, has HR taken the requirement to make judgements away from line managers on the grounds that we know best? Do we ever display a degree of arrogance in such matters? Certainly there is a time when we have to protect the interests of the organisation and if no one else is prepared to do so, we have to dive in and take action to prevent adverse publicity and litigation – but that should be the exception.

Where I believe HR has failed in situations like this is where their opinion has to be sought. Our skills should be deployed ensuring that an organisation’s leaders understand what types of behaviour motivate people and what behaviours detract from effective performance.

Yes, of course we should also educate people about employment law, but at the end of the day we are more than a function of lawyers. If we are doing our jobs effectively we should be driving enhanced performance and ensuring that the work environment is one which encourages that performance. If calendars (or anything else for that matter) detract from that performance then it should be the natural instinct of line managers to take action – not an action driven by the fear of litigation.

But what do I think of the case in hand? Of course the partner shouldn’t have been displaying the calendar, we all know that what was being done was an act of sexual discrimination. And what about Rachel, the originator of the question? Providing a link to the calendar, moves the story in my opinion to someone who has been treated wrongly to encouraging others to look at the image.

A final thought – I work for myself and so I decide which websites I wish to view. My choice was to not click on the link to view ‘Carmen Electra’, but what if some readers had done so? I spend much time helping organisations to draft handbooks and internet policies and from the description of the said Carmen Electra provided by the original questioner, looking at the site may well constitute a breach of internet use polices – now where does that leave HR?

About the author
Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant who helps organisations deal with employment relations issues. He can be contacted on T: 07946 873274 or at [email protected]

Colborn’s Corner: series articles


One Response

  1. Liberation
    >>>>doesn’t the very fact that the question has been raised indicate that we may have failed in some way?>>>>

    No, although there is legislation in this area to give us guidance as a society this is an ethical point that has been debated for decades. The cut off between porn, degration of women, high art, the boundaries of decency etc. These boundaries constantly change and evolve, they are fluid (in society’s mind)

    It would seem that the sexes view the issue differently – is the application of lipstick a blatant attempt to lure men and appeal to base instincts? Is the outline of a G-string under a skirt offensive despite being ‘hidden’?

    Without attraction and stimulation our race does not survice, lets for once celebrate our differences and emacipate both sexes so we can all lead fulfilling lives without fear of offence to either.

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