I never thought I’d have to write this column.

I’ve written about workplace bias before — about racism (for example “The uselessness of race,” InfoWorld, 5/27/2002), and about male/female workplace issues (last week; “A tale of two genders,” Keep the Joint Running, 8/14/2017).

Always, when writing about bias, I assumed that its workplace expression would be limited to inappropriate word choices, tasteless jokes, and ignorant race, ethnicity, or gender-based assumptions about various colleagues’ abilities and contributions.

Speaking as someone whose ethnic heritage includes Kristallnacht, I don’t think we can look at images of a torch-bearing crowd of American Nazis and Klansmen and continue to consider the American workplace safe from bigotry-induced violence. And yes, I do include violence against women in my thinking; in groups like this misogyny is never far from the surface.

As a business manager you have a legal responsibility to your employees, to make sure they don’t in any way experience anything they might reasonably construe to be threatening or harassing based on their race, ethnicity, religion, sex, or, for that matter, anything else. Threats and harassment should have no place in your managerial domain.

What Charlottesville changed for all of us is what a reasonable person might find threatening or harassing. Take, for example, something you might discover in an employee’s cubicle: A small Confederate battle flag.

In the early 1980s, when the Duke brothers of Hazzard, Georgia put a decal of the Confederate battle flag on the roof of their car, it was largely considered cute and innocuous. There are those now who oppose its removal from public places, along with the removal of statues of prominent Confederacy leaders, as an attempt to sanitize history.

But we don’t erect statues, or display flags, or name streets and lakes because we think they teach history. If we did, Hawaii would have statues of Tojo and Hirohito near the Pearl Harbor museum.

Statues, flags and so on aren’t mere historical markers. They state who we admire and what we aspire to.

Before Charlottesville, an employee who displayed a Confederate battle flag might have thought it was Dukes-of-Hazzard cute.

No more. After Charlottesville, a Confederate battle flag or other such symbol of the antebellum South is no different from what displaying a Nazi swastika meant all along (Aztec and Buddhist swastikas are mirror images and are square, not diagonal). The person displaying it is communicating his affinity and affiliation with groups that have an explicit goal of suppressing, denying equality to, and inflicting violence on anyone who isn’t a heterosexual Aryan male.

Charlottesville has upped the ante for workplace management: What once might have been considered harmless looks, in Charlottesville’s aftermath, more like threats and incitement.

If you think that’s too strong, it’s certainly parallel to using one of the many ethnic, racial, sex-, or religion-based pejoratives that were at one time in broad use. Just as those who utter such repulsive phrases gripe about political correctness and excuse their behavior with some variation on the theme of “I didn’t mean anything by it,” so those who display symbols of hostility pretend, in public, that there’s no hostility implied to anyone. In private? There’s plenty of hostility to go around.

As a manager, your own attitudes and beliefs don’t much matter. You might be as certain as certain can be that Aryans are the pinnacle of evolution (although probably not; those who wave the Confederate battle flag are among those least likely to accept Darwin’s theory). Be as certain as you like. Your obligation to your employer is to make sure nobody is creating a hostile or threatening work environment.

So if you see any of these symbols in anyone’s cubicle, insist their owners remove them to more suitable environments, which is to say, places they’re only observable when the employee is acting as a private individual, and isn’t easily associated with the company that employs them.

Count me as a proponent of the idea that our Constitution’s First Amendment only matters if it protects speech we find objectionable. There are, however, boundaries even to this principle. Incitement to violence is one of them.

After Charlottesville, when symbols of Nazi-ism and the Klan are displayed, you must assume the displayer’s intention is to express hostility and encourage violence.

Once upon a time there was a queen bee.

She enjoyed talking to her beekeeper, who, fortunately enough, enjoyed listening to her. She was fortunate, that is, because the beekeeper considered himself a poor conversationalist, and so was happy not to have to share the burden of finding interesting topics to talk about.

Queen Bee

And besides, there are lots of talking beekeepers around, but not so many talking bees, so he figured he’d take advantage of the opportunity while it lasted.

The beekeeper was in this way wise, but he wasn’t very bright. The evidence: The queen’s favorite topic was the land of milk and honey, and how she was going to lead the beekeeper there.

Finally the day came when the beekeeper couldn’t stand it anymore. “Let’s go!” he said to the queen, flushed with the enthusiasm that comes from a vision of a better tomorrow. “I don’t want to wait another day!”

So off they went to find the land of milk and honey.

Leaving behind a hive full of honey. And full of the worker bees who made the honey. Also all of the ingredients needed to make a new queen for the hive.

The moral of the story is, don’t be a queen bee CIO.

I ran across one of these characters not all that long ago. I had four one-hour conversations with him over the span of a couple of months. He was a visionary, talking in glowing terms about how the brilliant information technology he’d recently brought in and the new and even more brilliant information technology he was going to bring in soon that would transform the company.

Remarkably, in all of the time we spent together he never once mentioned anything about the department he “led,” what his plans for it were, where it needed to improve, or where it already excelled.

Unremarkably, nobody in the entire IT department could make a decision of any kind, with the possible exception of where to have lunch.

What causes an IT manager to become a queen bee? That’s for psychologists to diagnose, not workaday IT commentators. Or perhaps for budding ethologists. We could, I suppose, get them together to resurrect the pointless nature vs nurture debate, even though it was long ago resolved.

Bee it nature, nurture, or a combination of the two really doesn’t matter. A queen bee sits at the top of your IT hive, and you have to cope with her. Or him; unlike honey bee queens, both male and female CIOs can wear an apian crown.

So what you do if you report up to a queen bee CIO?

You could feed her/him royal jelly (pushing the metaphor to its limits, this of course means mastering the fine art of sucking up). This can work in the short term … queen bees do love hearing how brilliant they are … but it’s a bad habit to develop. Once this becomes your normal you’ll lose the habit of initiative and decisiveness that help you succeed in healthier environments.

And so you’ll find yourself seeking out queen bees to work for.

No thanks.

Then there’s the obvious solution: Leave. It’s the best general-purpose advice there is no matter which sort of bad manager you report to, because bad managers aren’t going to change — the attitudes and behavior that make them a bad manager are what, in their eyes, got them to where they are today.

So by all means, explore the world of opportunities that surrounds you.

But as you do, consider a different sort of departure.

As has been pointed out in this space from time to time, wise CIOs are starting to encourage what’s commonly called shadow IT — information technology that happens outside IT’s organizational boundaries.

Unwise CIOs still try to stomp it out, but fail.

Therein lies an opening you can exploit.

If there’s one thing you can be certain of, it’s that your corporate beekeepers will soon tire of the queen bee CIO’s tales of milk and honey. They want their milk and honey right now.

And if IT can’t deliver it, well, maybe shadow IT can.

With your help.

You will, of course, need to tread cautiously. But there’s a good chance your company has a director or three who have the budget and don’t care about obeying the IT governance process that’s been stymying them as they try to turn their own visions into business reality.

You know IT. You know the business (you do, don’t you?).

With finesse, you can be the person who actually does make IT happen.

Not a bad place to be when the CEO kicks the queen bee CIO out of the hive.