For years, Under Armour allowed its employees, managers, supervisors and even its CEO to expense lunch buffet and happy hour visits to a variety of Gentlemen’s Clubs as part of its corporate policy. Under the former policy, Under Armour employees were encouraged to take clients, colleagues and sponsored athletes to strip clubs to relax and entertain their guests, and the company was more than willing to pay for it.
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal retrieved an email from earlier in 2018 that ended the longstanding Under Armour practice. The company also issued a statement to CNBC committing the company to addressing inappropriate behavior. The message stated:
“We have addressed these serious allegations of the past and will continue to address workplace behavior that violates our policies. Inappropriate behavior that challenges our values or violates our policies is unacceptable – and will not be tolerated. We are committed to providing a respectful and inclusive workplace.”
Office sponsored strip-club visits are nothing new to a variety of industries including legal, financial and athletic (among others). That said, women have recently become extremely vocal about the offensive nature of these types of business development or “team building” exercises, and the practice has slowed greatly in recent years. With the advent of the #MeToo movement, many companies have understood that catering to machoism and the objectification of women is a recipe for disaster in an environment where all employees' sensitivities to potentially offensive conduct are heightened.
Although Under Armour’s statements make a serious attempt at sincerity, the overwhelming number of national news articles on this topic display the danger in allowing inappropriate practices to continue. Although there will likely be a number of male employees upset with the company for correcting its inappropriate policy, moving away from a potentially misogynistic culture is never a bad thing.
Much of the ink that has been spilled on this topic in the last 24 hours has been overly critical of Under Armour permitting employees to expense visits to the strip club. However, at least the company was honest about its mistakes and is seeking to take a more positive stance on this subject in the future. This is in stark contrast to the many employers who allow incidents of harassment and discrimination to continue to persist on their premises and do nothing more than pay large settlements with confidentiality provisions to cover up their practices. While the practice may not have been appropriate, at least the company did something to admit its wrongdoings and attempt to rectify them going forward.
As always, companies need to take steps to ensure their images are protected and their cultures are inclusive and free of harassment and discrimination. Given the large number of stories like the Under Armour strip club fiasco, now would be an exceptional time to conduct an audit of your harassment policies and training guidelines to determine what steps your organization can take to ensure your organization is not the subject of the next embarrassing news story.