#PIC POV: Paula Deen

** Welcome to our new micro-blogging series, where occasionally 2 or 3 of the PIC contributors will write a short paragraph or two on a hot topic in the news. We will try to keep it business/HR related but if something else pops up we may add our .02 cents to the pot. Sometimes we’ll agree, sometimes we won’t, but either way it’ll be interesting. Here’s our introductory article, it’s Sarah “Buzz” Williams and Chris Fields, talking Paula Deen.**

Chris Fields

I can tell you a lot about old southern cooks. My grandmother and her sisters were housemaids and cooks their entire lives. Oh, and they were black. The stories they told about working in the kitchens of southern women were quite eye opening. So the stories about Paula Deen don’t surprise me – at all. This isn’t her 1st offensive. Read more here.  On the Today show, Matt Lauer asked her did she know that the N-word is offensive to blacks and she said that when she goes in her kitchens and hears the things that those young people say to each other, “it’s distressing.” Well, it’s your kitchen Paula, you set the tone – what kind of culture do you tolerate?

I question Paula’s integrity. She sells unhealthy food which leads to diabetes while taking money from a diabetes drug manufacturer. Many people – black people – have come to her defense – especially the ones that eat her food.  But DYK this whole discrimination case is brought on by a white woman, who was tired of working for such a brand? As an employee, you want to know that your employer will take a stand – if it’s a matter race, gender equity, age discrimination or sexual orientation. The companies which have dropped Paula Deen have an obligation to ensure all employees and customers feel respected, valued and important. It’s about sending a message, corporate integrity (something Deen knows nothing about) and protecting the INTERNAL and external brand.

Sarah Williams 

I’ve always liked Paula Deen. I found her personal story interesting and compelling. I found her hustle to advance her brand inspiring. When she announced her struggle with diabetes last year, I defended her decision to keep her private heath issue under wraps while she figured things out (Read that here).

Recently, she confessed to using the N-word and having knowledge of discriminatory practices in her restaurants and organization. And she admittedly failed to act to correct it or stop it from continuing. She cited her Southern roots as justification … Networks and endorsers started dropping her like a hot pan of butter!

And I think they did the right thing.

I’m not going to waste time speculating on whether or not Paula Deen is a racist. I don’t really care whether she is or isn’t … But as a human resources and business professional, her actions are unacceptable and unlawful. Period. And, unlike what Paula did, the network and endorsers are taking action to correct the behavior and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Paul Deen is suffering the consequences of her own actions, the same way anyone who behaves that way in their workplace as a decision-maker should suffer. Because regardless of our upbringings and personal beliefs, it is not OK to mistreat people. Especially at work where the people around you generally do not have choices about whether they can interact with you or abide by your instructions.

I hope Paula Deen takes full responsibility and accountability for her actions so her career can eventually rebound. Until she’s ready to do that, she should just sit down somewhere and stop talking cuz she’s only digging her hole deeper.


9 thoughts on “#PIC POV: Paula Deen

  1. Chris and Sarah,

    Question 1: Do you believe, in this case, being HR Professionals, that the punishment fit the crime? Why or why not?

    Question 2: If you were running an HR shop and were told you had to ‘fire’ every single person in your office, who had used the ‘N-word’ in their lives, how many employees, of any race, would you still have working?

    Interested to hear your take,


    1. Tim,
      I can’t speak for the team or Sarah, let me speak for myself. I don’t care what an employee says at home or in their car unless it affects my workplace. We all know that your off the field, or out of office behavior does filter into the workplace.(see aaron hernandez) but to answer your question you can’t fire everyone that’s ever used the n-word…but you’ve missed the point here. It’s bigger than the n-word. Paula Deen has no integrity or class. I’ve been over her since the diabetes thing.
      I think the punishment more than fits the crime – i hope she never makes it back on tv again and her sons too. But I think she’ll be back at some point.

      1. Oh, and if I had proof that they said the n-word or any offensive language – gay slurs …whatever at work, I would fire EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM. I have zero tolerance for discrimination, racism, sexism, ageism any of it. I can’t stand it. Go be a douche bag at home – keep it out of the office. Control yourself.

        1. Chris,

          I hate to say this, but if you had proof every single one of your employees had used a slur – as a HR pro, you wouldn’t fire them – you couldn’t – you’re not thinking with a business mind – you’re business wouldn’t allow it. It’s a standard HR dilemma – what do you do if…knowing the ‘right’ answer would put you out of business. Over Political correctness in HR is what makes most leadership lose respect of HR pros.

          Paula was wrong no doubt – but to lose everything for admitting to something she said 28 years ago – to the use of a slur – you feel that punishment is just? I hope when I meet my maker, he or she is not you!


          1. guess, we’ll have to disagree. Tim, I am not currently in the workforce but I’ve worked for some bad places and in fairness to them, everyplace that I’ve worked when discrimination was discovered they handled it swiftly. They did not tolerate it. There are way too many good people who need work, to allow, wait scratch that, to pay bad people to work for you. So we’ll agree to disagree.

  2. Interesting discussion today. It seems to me things have drifted from Paula Deen and her troubles, to whether or not HR has the courage to remove blatant racists from their organizations.

    I’ll leave the Paula Deen fiasco for others to sort through.

    As for dealing with racists in my organizations, I can say with 100% certainty that I have personally made sure they were fired. Every single one.

    Keep up the discourse guys…I love how PIC has allowed for this type of collegial back and forth chat.

    – Jay

  3. If someone is a flat out racist/sexual harasser in the here and now at your organization? Absolutely fire them.

    But can you get business leaders to agree? What if that person is some kind of superstar that brings in loads of money? Your own job might be in jeopardy if you go after the wrong person.

    I’m not suggesting we ignore the racists/sexual harassers in our organizations but in some organizations it takes a lot of chutzpah to stand up for the right thing.

    Organizations get away with ignoring the racists/harassers because no one speaks up. If we take the attitude that we aren’t thinking about the business if we fire these people we’ve already lost. Yes, HR should always be thinking about the business BUT business leaders also need to think about the potential of continuing to employ people that we know, in the here and now, are racists/harassers.

    *On a side note I added in sexual harassers because that happens more often then we think and people try to justify it.

  4. It is great to see the interaction on this post. I can tell you that if you are using the excuse that you would have no one left in your workplace if you fired everyone for using a slur, then you need to look at your organization’s culture and if this behavior is tolerated I wouldn’t understand why anyone would want to work there. Most certainly depending on the severity of the slur it may result in further diversity and inclusion training/coaching, but generally a leopard doesn’t change their spots and the behavior will typically occur again.

    This behavior is only tolerated if we allow it to be tolerated; in these instances, ignorance can no longer be bliss. Examples sometimes have to be made to demonstrate the severity of the situation – if it doesn’t align with the organization culture/strategy, you are gone.

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