Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Netflix demonstrates it has zero-tolerance for the N-word

Netflix has fired one of its top executives for his use of the "n-word" at work.


According to The Hollywood Reporter, sources say that Jonathan Friedland, Netflix's (now former) chief communications officer allegedly used the n-word in a meeting with other Netflix staffers, in which they were discussing the use of sensitive words in public relations communications. Friedland then allegedly exacerbated the problem by again using that word during a meeting with two of the company's African-American HR employees counseling him on the original incident.

The Hollywood Reporter has also published the company-wide memo Netflix CEO Reed Hastings sent to explain Friedland's firing.

It's a great lesson on intra-corporate crisis communication.

  • It discusses why the n-word is never acceptable at work: "For non-Black people, the word should not be spoken as there is almost no context in which it is appropriate or constructive (even when singing a song or reading a script)." 

  • It tells employees that it will do better as company moving forward: "We seek to be great at inclusion, across many dimensions, and these incidents show we are uneven at best. We have already started to engage outside experts to help us learn faster."

  • It thanks Friedland for all of his great work at the company: "Jonathan has been a great contributor and he built a diverse global team creating awareness for Netflix, strengthening our reputation around the world, and helping make us into the successful company we are today."

  • It reminds people that confidential company matters must remains confidential: "Much of this information will be in the press shortly. But any detail not in the press is confidential to employees." 

Before we start down the path of "Did Netflix overreact," let's examine whether Mr. Friedland learned his lesson.

Shortly after Netflix announced his termination, he remorsefully tweeted:
I'm leaving Netflix after seven years. Leaders have to be beyond reproach in the example we set and unfortunately I fell short of that standard when I was insensitive in speaking to my team about words that offend in comedy.

I feel awful about the distress this lapse caused to people at a company I love and where I want everyone to feel included and appreciated. I feel honored to have built a brilliant and diverse global team and to have been part of our collective adventure.

And then, in response to someone's reply to his tweets, the tweeted the following (which Friedland has since deleted).

A couple of words indeed, that we white folks should not utter, especially at work.

Lesson (not) learned?