Big Ideas: “Sexual harassment is not a Women’s Issue, it’s a Financial Issue” with Thea Ducrow

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Thea Ducrow, Ph.D., of Ducrow Consulting. Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path? Like many […]

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Thea Ducrow, Ph.D., of Ducrow Consulting.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Like many Gen Xers, I’ve done a wide variety of professional activities and lived almost different lives. My background is a mix of business and social work. As a business management undergraduate, professors stressed that employees should be treated well because then they are more productive. As a master’s and doctoral social work student, professors stressed that employees should be treated well because it’s the right thing to do. My 20 years of professional experience has led me to develop my own theory — employees should be treated well because they are the key to achieving your organizational mission.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In August of 2000, I landed a contract to teach parenting skills to male inmates at a Florida prison. On my very first day, a tall 6’5” inmate stood up and asked “Are you scared being in this room with us, some of us have killed people? You are alone with us and the guards are not nearby.”

I responded “my main concern was actually air conditioning. I’m from Louisiana and many prisons do not have any air conditioning. I was not willing to teach classes without air conditioning. As long as we have cool air, we are good.” The guys were satisfied with my response and it was an amazing experience.

Later I learned that the guy who tested me was indeed in there for murder and he asked the same exact questions of all outsiders brought in. Often outsiders got flustered and the inmates ruled those groups, not the leader. By being honest in my answer and not being intimated, I gained their respect. Respect is the most valuable currency in prison.

On a personal and professional note, I learned that I am not able to be intimidated. It’s comical now if someone tries to bully me or intimidate me, I always think “if a known murderer couldn’t intimidate me, I don’t know how you think you can.”

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

My big idea is that sexual harassment is a money issue where sexual harassers are the problem. The #metoo movement is great for bringing sexual violence issues to the forefront. However, people see it as a women’s issue. Most of the discussion is about teaching women how to not put up with it, stop it, or reclaim their power. For any organization to succeed, they must be profitable. Every employee’s activity every single day needs to be in service to the bottom line. Sexual harassment is taking away from company’s profits.

In other discussions like misrepresentation, time fraud, safety violations, etc., leadership says “it’s just business,” and terminate the offending employee. But for some reason with sexual harassment, people view the victims as the problem. They are viewed as troublemakers and whiners.

My big idea is that we look at the harassers and how they affect the business. Harassers are not gold star employees with one “minor indiscretion.” Harassers are usually costly employees overall. I developed a sexual harassment iceberg to illustrate all of the many costs of sexual harassment.

My hope is that people will view sexual harassment as a money issue and act accordingly. If someone shows that they are a harasser, the supervisors will address it immediately since “it’s just business.” Steps will be taken to address the harasser since the harasser is hurting the bottom line.

How do you think this will change the world?

I think if we take the emotions out of the topic and boil it down to what it is, a money issue, then leaders will no longer tolerate sales leader Jack harassing Katie because they will realize how much he is actually costing the company. Sexual harassment isn’t complicated. Either a company has a culture that tolerates sexual harassment or they don’t. When business leaders quit tolerating and excusing sexual harassers, workplaces will change for the better. Most people have to work. I believe being able to change work environments to ones based on respect, appreciation, and profitability will make peoples’ lives better. Companies will increase profitability and therefore be able to provide consistent employment to more people.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

A potential drawback could be that supervisors could have knee jerk reactions to any report of sexual harassment and fire potentially innocent employees. This can easily be avoided by having clearly articulated policies, procedures, and practices in place.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

I look at all social issues through a cost-benefit/business lens. After seeing weeks of stories of #metoo and the different payouts of various celebrities, I just kept thinking “there is so much more to this no one is addressing.” As an organizational consultant, I’m brought into organizations to conduct comprehensive assessments based on current challenges and develop recommendations. Most of the time, the presenting challenges are just the tip of the iceberg.

I kept waiting for the business leaders to start leading the discussion as they did in my undergraduate career saying “we have to treat employees well so they are more productive. This is losing revenue.” No one focuses on sexual harassment harming businesses and taking away profits. I finally decided if no one else was going to say it, I would. So, I wrote and self-published a short book, Sexual Harassment Explained, that looks at sexual harassment as a money issue.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

I need people to become aware of and join the discussion of sexual harassment as a money issue. I need business leaders, writers, and educators to see sexual harassment as a business issue first. C-Suite executives need to understand the value of company culture and how harassers destroy culture and cost valuable profits.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

Focus on bringing in money. As an undergraduate, one of my business professors said “if you want to be successful, always make sure you are bringing in money.” He was primarily talking about sales. However, I went into academia and worked for non-profits before consulting full-time. In all of my previous positions, I made sure that I brought in money. I found, wrote, and secured grants. I delivered keynotes, trainings, and other programs where my employer would be reimbursed. As a consultant, I charge based on the value I provide to my clients. My worth is not just making people feel good, it’s about using resources in an effective manner that’s in service to their mission.

Determine your mission. Before I turned 30, I had a huge existential crisis. I wasn’t happy with where my life was personally or professionally. I took a one day time management course that changed my life. I learned about the importance of governing values and wrote them out. I got a divorce. I developed my professional mission “I work with people I like, on issues I care about.” Every decision since then has to pass that litmus test and it’s helped me be nimble in response to market changes.

Respond to market changes and let go of your previous expectations. When I first started my Ph.D. program, adjunct professors were respected and paid well. I planned on being an adjunct while maintaining a speaking schedule. Then the university landscape drastically changed. Now, adjuncts are treated as disposable and hardly paid at all (I know one who taught for over a year, for free!). Every few years, I change my consulting focus just a bit to: 1) keep it fresh and fun for me and 2) respond to changes in the business climate.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

I would develop a leadership development consulting firm to provide in-house leadership development consultants for 18 month positions. There is a new position that some organizations are using called Leadership Development Consultants. They hire individuals with Ph.D.’s or Master’s degrees to internally coach their employees and develop programs. The advantage is that it is cost effective compared with using outside consultants. However, the disadvantage is that once someone becomes entrenched in an organization, they lose the ability to see things objectively and make fresh recommendations. I would develop a firm of bright, energetic, consultants with at least 10 years of real world experiences to work in-house with companies for 18 month terms. This would allow the Leadership Development Consultant to give an unvarnished, complete view of the company. It would also allow the LDC to create and build on relationships. After 18 months, the LDC would move on to another company and be replaced by someone who could provide a fresh look again.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

At 29, I wrote down my governing values. I read my governing values every day and they guide me personally and professionally. The first and most important one is “I surround myself with positive, encouraging, loving, kind, supportive, successful, fun loving, funny people.” While it’s the one that led me to get a divorce, it has also led me to work with some amazing people making a difference in the world. I believe in the power and sacredness of work. Creating a positive profitable company culture significantly impacts employees, their families, and those with whom they do business.

Another governing value is that “blessings are overflowing in all aspects of my life.” I come from a place of abundance. When I was looking for a husband in my late 30’s, everyone kept saying “there are no good men left out there.” My response “I don’t need MEN. I just need 1 man. That’s easy.” In my professional life, I only work with leaders I like who are looking to do better. I turn down opportunities if the organization does something I’m not in favor of or if the leaders aren’t mission focused. I believe in an abundance of opportunities. Just like I only needed 1 man, I only need a few clients.

I mentioned this recently and someone said “that’s easy to do now that you have experience and money.” But, I started this when I was 29. There were times I didn’t have cash reserves and I still stayed true to my values. Every single time, opportunities arose.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

With every ounce of my being, I believe in the power of the mission. The ultimate success habits for both individuals and companies is to have every action, every day, be in service to the mission. Individuals get into trouble when they don’t have a clear mission or goal of where they are going in life. So, activities are random and not purposeful. Companies miss opportunities when they don’t focus on the mission and spend time reacting. To be wildly successful, companies need to create and nurture positive company cultures focused on their missions.

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