Porngate Prosecutors Get Their Sensitivity Training

Or was it just fancy corporate pep talk hokum?

Seth Williams, left. Paul Meshanko, right.

Seth Williams, left. Paul Meshanko, right.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams released a statement today detailing the sensitivity training his staff underwent in the wake of the “Porngate” scandal — and probably none too soon. In recent weeks, a growing chorus of elected officials and activist groups have called on Williams to fire three of his prosecutors who’d been involved in the sending and receiving of pornographic, homophobic and racist emails while employed elsewhere. Williams said he wouldn’t fire the men–Frank Fina, Patrick Blessington and Marc Costanza–but he would implement training.

According to Williams, Paul Meshanko, president and CEO of Legacy Business Cultures, led the training. (According to his Facebook page, he’s the former CEO, but other sites describe him simply as CEO.) Legacy is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, but Meshanko lives just outside of D.C. He is the author of The Respect Effect: Using the Science of Neuroleadership to Inspire a More Loyal and Productive Workplace. The “neuroleadership” part of Meshanko’s theory is based on the notion that respect primes our brains to do their best work, and that the brain responds more happily—with serotonin and oxytocin—to respectful behavior in the workplace. When we are disrespected, this triggers cortisol and adrenaline and other negative mojo that unpleasantly drugs the prefrontal cortex.

The seminar Meshanko gave in Philadelphia was called “Connecting With Respect.” Here’s how the Legacy site describes this training:

Imagine an educational curriculum for increasing respect in the workplace and changing organizational culture so unique and thoughtfully designed that it appeals to everyone.

Imagine an educational process so impactful that participants immediately develop the awareness and tools necessary to engage their peers in healthier, more respectful relationships.

Imagine a workplace culture where leaders, managers and individual contributors consistently engage each other as unique individuals, each with the capacity to make a difference.

Based on the most recent neuroscience research, this workshop takes a scientific approach on why we should treat others with respect.

If that sounds vague, it is. I watched a number of videos of Meshanko doing corporate trainings on the same topic, and I was struck by how repetitive the advice was and also how simplistic. The presentations are a mix of utter common sense and vacuous platitudes, like “global respect is the universal language that leads to workplace inclusion” and “respect is an active process of nonjudgmentally engaging other people.” One of Meshanko’s 12 Rules of Respect is simply this: “Smile!”

At the beginning of a webinar training for a Singapore-based company, Meshanko told the attendees that it was his personal goal to get 2,000 connections on LinkedIn so he encouraged them to connect with him there. He seems more of a self-promoter than a penetrating thinker, but the customized content for a full-day training is certainly different than what’s found in video clips. So how did the training go?

Williams was pleased:

“As it relates to Frank Fina, Mark Constanza and Patrick Blessington, I know that they found this training seminar as instructional and helpful as I did. Frank, Mark and Patrick are great prosecutors who clearly made a big mistake. They have learned from their mistakes. This training along with continued reinforcement and supervision will allow us to move the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office forward and do what we do best – work to make the city a safer and more honest place to live, work and raise a family.”

Meshanko proffered his own thoughts on the training to Seth Williams, noting some important steps for follow-up:

“By exploring how blind spots, stereotypes and biases can lead to inappropriate actions and behaviors, both consciously and unconsciously, I believe the entire group is now much more aware of steps they can take to minimize the degree to which subtle demonstrations of sexism, racism and/or homophobia can taint the otherwise outstanding work done by your office. Nobody is perfect all the time. By working on individual action plans for behavior change, I think your team members have also demonstrated a great deal of personal accountability for owning their own improvement efforts. The Code of Cooperation exercise completed at the end of the day sets a very high standard for the expectations that the team members will hold one another accountable for going forward.”

Meshanko also seems to think that this whole email thing can now be put on the back-burner: “My professional opinion is that past issues have been effectively dealt with and that everyone is emerging with a greater level of personal awareness and resolve to do better in the future…it’s time to move on and tackle the more pressing issues and work your office is performing for the City of Philadelphia.”

Speaking of personal awareness, perhaps a guy who does diversity training for a living might want to reconsider this tweet: