I serve as an unremunerated non-executive on the board of an NGO and, returning from a recent project visit, had an erotic adventure with an attractive younger project manager. He does not report to the board so there are no legal obstacles to an affair. As we both have families, we intend to be discreet. Inconveniently, the director just quit and my intended lover plans to apply for the job. For the gender balance, the board wants me on the selection panel. Are there alternatives to not being on the panel or not pursuing the affair?
Manager, female, 47
The words you have chosen to write up this sticky situation of yours are a giveaway. You start by stating that your position on the board is unpaid, as if that somehow lets you off the hook and allows you to behave as you like. It does nothing of the sort.
The job of non-exec at an NGO is partly to pay attention to its ethical values. That surely cramps your style: it means that when you go off on field trips to inspect the close workings of the organisation it’s best to avoid ending up in a closer embrace with a young project manager.
By describing what passed on this particular project trip as an “erotic adventure” you make it sound like jolly good fun – which it may well have been – but that’s hardly the point. Neither is the lack of any legal obstacles at all relevant. Most of the dodgy things we are able to do at work aren’t illegal; instead, what keeps most people on the straight and narrow are ethical, cultural or pragmatic considerations.
Yet your most sobering word is “inconveniently”. The fact that you view what is going on in the NGO – ie the fact that it has lost its leader – entirely through the prism of whether it makes it harder for you to stage repeats of this exciting one-night stand – is very bad indeed.
So in answer to your question: is there an alternative to being on the panel or not pursuing the affair? Yes, there is. It is to resign from the board. You’ve made clear that this “adventure” matters more to you than the mundane business of being a non-exec, so you should go. Here the lack of pay is relevant: you can quit without it affecting your ability to feed your family.
If you do resign, then you can pursue this attractive man as hard as you like, with no further recourse to business agony aunts. Though something tells me you may experience agony of another variety.
I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of this young project manager who is clearly dead set on professional advancement. Is he going to want further adventures with someone who has quit the board because of him and is of no further help to him? I very much doubt it.