Leadership

Ethics: Consultant says no to porno client, keeps job

It's tough to say no, especially when it may mean your firm will lose money. Find out how one consultant found a way to be part of a solution without compromising her own values by working for a pornography vendor.

While moving from company to company, and sometimes industry to industry, keeps consultants’ work lives interesting, it can lead to ethical dilemmas. Take for example, the experience of “Midge,” a software development manager at a custom software consulting company in Minneapolis, who was asked to work for an Internet client that provided pornography. Find out how she navigated between her high moral ground and keeping her job without any negative repercussions.

Ethical dilemmas
Read about other consultants in our ongoing ethics series. Other articles include “Web host neglected its duties, so consultant told host's clients.”

The situation
Midge was asked to manage a project for a client that hoped to expand its Web presence for the sale of X-rated videos and related products. She considered the proposition because she knew she would benefit from both the technical and project management experience. She would also receive a bonus based on the revenue.

On the other hand, Midge didn’t want to help a business expand its sales of pornography because it was against her personal beliefs. She also felt that some potential clients might object to her firm having been involved in the project.

Additionally, she knew that the work would lead to conversation topics that she found unacceptable.

“I would likely have to listen to the typical jokes that abound when this type of material is discussed,” she said.

Actions toward resolution
After taking inventory of her values, Midge said she decided she didn’t want to be involved in the project and wouldn’t feel comfortable working directly with the client. She discussed her feelings with her manager and asked for his input on the situation.

“He was satisfied because the client didn't send unsolicited e-mail, and he didn’t personally object to X-rated products being purchased by those who wanted them because it is a free and legal market,” she said. “However, he wouldn't use this client as a reference due to possible negative reaction from other clients.”

She described her manager’s reaction as understanding, and said she respected her manager’s viewpoint, and felt he respected hers.

Working with the team
To help resolve the issue, Midge offered to talk with others in the company to see if the project could be successfully managed without her involvement. She met with various people within the firm on an individual basis and put together a team of folks who didn’t object to working on the project.

“The team would be larger than usual because no one individual possessed all the skills necessary to manage the project,” she said. “However, they did have a good chance of success.”

As a manager, Midge met with her subordinates to explain why she wasn’t involved in the project “so they wouldn't hear rumors and assume the worst.”

The aftermath
Midge said that she hasn’t suffered any negative repercussions from refusing to work on the project, but her coworkers do jokingly refer to the Internet business as her “favorite client.” She said she has no regrets about not working on the project.

“I think it actually turned out to be a good way for me to show that when I have differing values, I will work towards a reasonable resolution,” she said.

If a similar situation came up, Midge said she wouldn’t begin by trying to explain her views right away. Instead, she would develop a resolution before speaking with her manager, she said.

“This would help me to really understand my position on the ethical dilemma before I tried to explain it to my manager,” she said. “Talking to other trusted people that are close to us can really help us understand ourselves.”

In fact, Midge said that ethical dilemmas, though difficult at the time, are good learning experiences for both consultants and managers.

“I think managers should always work to find a creative approach to a middle ground that both sides can accept,” she said. “We should not be scared or ashamed of our personal values, but we also shouldn't attack those that have different values.”
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