By now you've heard the back-story making the rounds on Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers. Sterling is long known to have issues surrounding race, and TMZ broke audio over the weekend of him waxing poetic to a girlfriend/mistress about his embarrassment when she posted pictures of herself on Instagram with black people, and asking her not to do that moving forward.
That's a problem in any workplace, but Sterling's NBA workforce is 90% black, as is the rest of the NBA. Being a racist is always bad for business, but in the NBA, it's especially toxic. Check out coverage of all the angles to the Sterling story here.
1. Don't expect employees to jump ship automatically when it gets thrown in their face that their owner is a racist and they're part of demographic that racism is directed at. There's lots of wondering about the Clippers team walking out in a form of a protest. The problem with that is that they're all under contract, and they can't afford to risk having their contracts voided. The coach of the team (Doc Rivers, also black) has the same problem. Millions of dollars on the line. Walking out and taking a stand is much more difficult than it looks, and you can make an argument that's not the best way to go if real change is what the employee group truly wants.
2. Recruiting will never be successful once it's public knowledge that the organization is owned by a known and active racist. Let's say your organization needs to recruit diverse candidates and your owner has been personally named in multiple EEOC lawsuits. I'm recruiting the same pool of diversity you are - think I'm going to negatively recruit vs your company with that information? Of course I am! The Clippers are in a destination market that NBA free agents want to live and work in (LA), but they'll never land another free agent of any significance as long as Sterling is the owner.
The Sterling/Clippers situation is unusual, primarily due to the fact that the workforce in question has an average salary of 5 million per year and the majority of the workforce is in the demographic that's the subject of the hate. Most times, racist managers hire people who look like them. But the lessons hold true for a low ticket workforce that's "at-will" as well. They've got economic realties that dicate they can't leave automatically, but once the exodus starts over time, recruiting will tighten if it's public knowledge that ownership - or leadership - has racist tendencies.
Most HR pros will look at the Sterling case and thank the man upstairs that no one cares enough to record select managers in their company "riffing" on race issues - or any issue that has legal exposure, for that matter.
But the same recorder that was used on Sterling can (and has) been used by employees in the workplace to document racist views that emerged in lawsuits. It's just not as public as Donald Sterling.