The Promotion

Carol L. is a bright ambitious MBA who has set her sights on a managerial career. She is eager to climb the ladder of success and willing to work very hard for her promotions. Carol realizes she works in a highly competitive organization and that she is in a field traditionally dominated by men. She observes that many men and women get stuck on various rungs of the corporate ladder and that only one woman in the company has made it into top management. Carol knows that many tests of her ability and loyalty are to come: she is eager to meet them.

One particular obstacle to Carol's career is her exclusion from some informal networks in the organization. Another obstacle Carol notices is that while many men seem to have special sponsors or mentors who teach them the ropes and provide them inside information, she has no such affiliation. Determined, Carol attends every seminar she can and lunches regularly with her peers, most of whom are men. Over time, Carol has come to trust a co-worker named Lynn T.; the two share confidences frequently and provide valuable feedback to each other on work related matters. Carol values Lynn as a trusted colleague and a friend.

Bob J., Carol's present boss, has big sights set on top management, too. In his mid-forties, Bob has made many friends and a few enemies in the corporation. At the upper echelon of middle management, Bob is reexamining his goals and values due to personal crises: His wife is suing him for divorce, claiming he has neglected her and the children in his "workaholic pursuit of a career." Lonely, confused, and seeking comfort for himself, Bob seeks a confidant, someone who will provide a supportive and patient listening ear. He gravitates toward Carol to fill this role. Only a year ago, Bob had felt ambivalent about hiring a woman who would likely "breed and leave." In his current depression, Bob alternately throws himself relentlessly into his work (at which time Carol's loyalty is in evidence by her overtime efforts) or dawdles away his time preoccupied with personal problems and the search for "some values of substance" (at which time Carol and Lynn tend to cover for Bob.) On one such occasion when Bob returned from lunch less than sober, Carol volunteered to attend a meeting in his place.

John G., one of the company's several vice-presidents, took an immediate interest in Carol when he met her at the meeting she attended in place of Bob. He saw her as both capable middle manager and a lovely woman. Their acquaintance grew, and Carol picked up a great deal of informal knowledge about the corporation from John's casual conversations. She learned, among other things, that her boss, Bob J., had locked horns with John G. on an issue some years ago, and that the two were, for all practical purposes, unfriendly. She also learned that Bob's unsteady performance was under close scrutiny and that a parallel transfer to a regional office was imminent; he was about to be farmed out. John's advances to Carol continued and became romantic. No other man was in the picture for Carol, and although she would have preferred to keep her relationship with John a friendly business one, she yielded to her own sexual needs and John's steady pursuit. They became lovers.

Eventually, Carol confided in Lynn, describing both the romance and the wealth of informal knowledge she was gaining. She was not prepared for Lynn's abrupt response: "I don't know what to say. Frankly, I wish it were me." Carol was taken aback, and felt very uneasy around Lynn from then on. As the days passed, a distance seemed to grow between them. Within a week, Bob J. called Carol into his office and confronted her with the "rumor" he had heard--that she was sleeping with at least one of the company's vice-presidents. He asked her to verify the rumor or deny it. Under pressure, Carol took the stance that her private life was her own. Bob J. said that he understood that as an admission of guilt, and fired Carol with one month's notice. Her appeal to his sense of fairness was of no avail; he answered that her involvement was a serious breach of loyalty that damaged her credibility entirely.

Stunned, Carol sought the support of her lover, John G., who said he was helpless to do anything on her behalf under the circumstances. Nonetheless, he promised continuing emotional support and said he hoped this wouldn't interfere with their relationship. Her former friend and confidante, Lynn, suggested she leave the company quietly and not create a public stir through Affirmative Action. Her lawyer, although willing to take on the case, advised her similarly: "The best time to find a job is while you have one." Carol's alternatives seemed bleak indeed when Joe W., director of another division in the corporation, heard about the incident and called her to his office.

Joe W. began by briefing Carol on his understanding of recent events, indicating that he was aware of her good work and that he felt her dismissal was unreasonable. He reported that Bob J.'s transfer was now fact and that his replacement--Lynn T.-- had been appointed, and added that she, Carol, had been among those considered for the position before her dismissal. Joe shook his head sadly and said he had been an advocate of "free sex" for years. He then told Carol that he was willing to create a position for her in his office in light of her track record, a position equivalent in rank to her present position. He suggested that a couple years of experience in his division would greatly enhance her career.

Carol left Joe W.'s office with mixed feelings. She felt a rapport with Joe and sensed they would get along, but she wasn't sure whether or not to trust his warmth and generosity. She wondered whether or not there was innuendoes in his offer, whether or not she was being placated by the organization in some way, whether or not she could discern such, and whether or not it even mattered.


1. Do you believe the responses of Bob J. and John G. are realistic in the context of the expose' of Carol's affair with John? Is the response of each justified?

2. What are the courses of action available to Carol? Which should she select and why?

3. Do you regard Joe as a lecher or a savior?

4. What should the company do, if anything in this situation?

5. How is this case relevant to career development? End your response to this by drawing a moral.


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