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Truth and Lies around the Pink Ribbons

As most of us know, the Susan G. Komen (who was she, by the way?) stepped into a maelstrom of a media and managerial controversy over it’s initial decision to amend its granting procedures in a way that would have ended its funding to Planned Parenthood and then its reversal of that decision.

In one of my favorite blogs by a management scholar, Authentic Organizations, CV Harquil takes the decision and how it was handled to enumerate a very good list of reasons that lying is a bad idea.  I mean, aside from what our Moms and Teachers told us.  Its worth a read.  Among them, my favorite is that lying insults the intelligence of your audiences or stakeholders. One side issue in my mind is whether managers or others speaking in public, like Skilling and others with Enron, think they are lying.  Or, do they really believe that politics had nothing to do with  defunding planned parenthood or that their company is financially healthy.

CV’s post about lying got me thinking about speech, politics, and stakeholders.  See, I think all managing is about politics.  Not D and R politics, just everyday, unavoidable power politics.  The Susan G Komen foundation’s [SGK] situation was unavoidably a consequence of the reality of stakeholders.  I am being a social scientist here.  See, their very strategy of making breast cancer awareness greater through co-branding, a good idea it seems, gave them some mutually hostile stakeholders.  In trying to make a “big tent” they let in the equivalent of your crazy aunt who hates chicken and your cousin who is a chicken breed competitor to the Thanksgiving dinner.  Ok, bad metaphor.

SGK had Bibles with their ubiquitous branding.  Those got sold in, surprise, Christian bookstores.  So, before long, people who felt invested in the foundation and its brands discovered that it funded Planned Parenthood, among many others.  In being a big, aggressively marketed social cause, SGK invited this kind of stakeholder mess.  In trying to make everyone happy, both in how they worded their initial decision and in the walk back, that it was about protecting their core mission of women’s health and their fiduciary responsibility, they seemed to be lying.  Or at least being untruthful.  So, my point in my comment on CV’s post is that lying may be a product, in part, of the plate tectonics of political pressure from differing groups.

To me, a deeper lesson of the SGK mess is that making stakeholders all “happy” is like trying to be the kid in a family with divorcing parents: you can try to keep the peace, and it may work for awhile, but it will give you some psychological scars and warp your view  of reality.  So, if you have conflicting stakeholders, before you worry about the truth of your statements, you need to do the relational work of honest relationships.

For the record, Planned Parenthood does much more than provide abortions.

And, I agree with my wife: if SGK’s core mission is women’s health, and you are going to make either pro-life or pro-choice unhappy, wouldn’t you make pro-life unhappy in this case since that choice is more about stopping breast cancer.  In pure, pure utilitarian terms, Planned Parenthood does a lot more for cancer screening and women’s health, including helping healthy babies get born, than it does in ending pregnancies.


About Jordi

I am an assistant professor in the Management School at Bucknell University. I specialize in organization theory, social networks, and studying the network society. I have three children, including twins. They love bouncing on the couch, legos, music, and my waffles. My wife teaches English at the same university. I am interested in most things, but these days, networks, social entrepreneurs, the environment, innovation, and virtual worlds. Finding Hidden Abodes and Shaking Iron Cages since 1972


5 thoughts on “Truth and Lies around the Pink Ribbons

  1. SGK is the leading foundation for breast cancer. Susan G. Komen herself battled breast cancer. Throughout her battles, she thought of ways to make life better for other woman who were also suffering. What I did not know is her sister, Nancy G. Brinker, actually started SGK.

    The talk about supporting cutting funding to Planned Parenthood is disheartening. There has always been political pressure surrounding pro-life and pro-choice. Women’s health should be in the forefront of the issue. I feel that most women will have used services provided by Planned Parenthood in their lifetime that are NOT abortions. To see it has gone as far to the organization choosing not allow Planned Parenthood to be eligible for Komen grants has created such an uproar with the public. The public relations nightmare, which I think you described well Jordi, gives an example of ramifications that can occur when you try to please all stakeholders. This decision of the SGK funding policy, though having been reversed, has caused relationships to be damaged and much is going to need to be done to regain supporters: “The affiliate has already lost $50,000 in corporate sponsorship for a Race for the Cure in the fall.” I’m hoping to dig deeper into SGK as an organization, prompted by this post…

    As a side note, what initially caught my eye about this post was Planned Parenthood. There has been a lot of political debate surrounding abortions (no surprise there), accompanied by a lot of circulating news. One that found its way onto my Facebook page I feel is worth sharing and is quite comical, as I thoroughly enjoy Stephen Colbert. Watch his defense of Planned Parenthood!

    Posted by Danielle Marquette | February 7, 2012, 3:39 pm
    • Thanks for background on the foundation. She died of it?

      Not only is it your feeling that most of PP is other than abortions, it is a provable fact. And, while the pro-life movement I know objects to the legality of abortion, it is still legal and therefore Planned Parenthood is not doing anything illegal in providing it as a service.

      Posted by Jordi | February 7, 2012, 4:34 pm
  2. Yes, she died in her late 30’s from the disease. I’ve been skimming the website and there is a lengthy story provided on her battle from her sister’s point of view.

    I find it interesting that people jump to separate the issue of pro-life and women’s health. Abortions aren’t always the result of just wanting to “get rid” of the unborn child. A woman could become pregnant as a result of rape. There are also severe risks associated with pregnancy and a doctor might deem a pregnancy too dangerous for a woman’s body to deliver. There are circumstances in which abortions can do well for women’s health. I feel these are issues that aren’t as often spoken to.

    Posted by Danielle Marquette | February 7, 2012, 5:42 pm
    • I agree with you. I also tried to write my post and my comment to be clear about my view but not pointlessly alienate someone who is pro-life. It is a contentious issue in US politics and society. I won’t steer away from it on purpose. Even though maybe it doesn’t seem like it matters for BGS, this case shows that questions both of the ethics of honesty and stakeholder relationship as well as the social science questions of what the pro-life movement is and how it is trying to shape values discussions and policies are relevant questions.

      Posted by Jordi | February 7, 2012, 10:18 pm


  1. Pingback: Pink Ribbons and “Lying” Sample for week 3 « Business Government & Society III - February 11, 2012

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