Entrepreneurs

What Mark Cuban learned from the Mavericks #MeToo scandal: 'Treating people equally doesn't mean treating them the same'

Mark Cuban speaks onstage during the THRIVE with Arianna Huffington panel at The Town Hall during 2016 Advertising Week New York on September 28, 2016 in New York City.
Slaven Vlasic | Getty Image
Mark Cuban speaks onstage during the THRIVE with Arianna Huffington panel at The Town Hall during 2016 Advertising Week New York on September 28, 2016 in New York City.

The Dallas Mavericks had a rough run on the court this basketball season. And off the court, the Mavericks organization has had high-profile problems with sexual harassment allegations.

The NBA team's owner, Mark Cuban, opened up on the subject on Thursday to Kevin O'Leary, his co-star on ABC's "Shark Tank," during the "Three Sharks in a Castle" symposium.

The Mavericks organization was the subject of a February Sports Illustrated investigation that revealed a hostile work environment, including reports of inappropriate conduct against women by then-team president and CEO Terdema Ussery. Cuban tells O'Leary he "had no idea" what had been going on. But Cuban was eager to talk about the Me Too movement, saying he has learned a lot from the Mavericks scandal.

"Growing up, I always thought, 'I need to treat everybody equally,'" Cuban tells O'Leary. "But equally, treating people equally, does not mean treating them the same. And that's what I learned."

"[D]ifferent people, different ethnicities, different religions, different genders, different derivatives of genders — we all have our own unique perspective," says Cuban.

"And I used to think to myself, 'Well, I'm going to treat this woman, or this man, or this other person, the same as I would treat a friend,' because I want to treat everybody equally."

Watch the full "Three Sharks in a Castle" talk in the video, below, and the Mavericks discussion starting at 45:02.

Cuban, who himself has denied a recently resurfaced sexual assault allegation from 2011, says his original perspective was bad for business, too.

"I lost a lot of opportunity that way because I just had my frame of reference. I really didn't open the door to considering other people's perspectives."

Cuban uses the example of selling Maverick tickets. The organization wanted to sell more tickets to women and moms, but when he looks back, he realized the marketing executives were largely men. "That's a lost opportunity for me because I wasn't able to take a perspective," he says.

People's differences "are positive attributes that can benefit a business," Cuban adds in an email to CNBC Make It, which sought additional comment.

In the interview with O'Leary, Cuban says: "My thinking is now, that if I'm talking to a woman, it's not like 'OK, I'm going to treat you just like a man,' it's like, 'OK, tell me your different perspectives. Let me hear what you have to say.' And women react differently in certain circumstances than men do. You know, something simple like crying."

Cuban says the Mavericks' new CEO, Cynthia Marshall, has built a new human resources department that understands this. For example, says Cuban, "if a woman comes in and is really, really upset, I would just listen before and I wouldn't get upset that she was upset, and just take it in and again just try and treat them equally. An experienced HR person, someone who really understands, is going to know more of what's behind that and be able to ask better questions of why they're upset. ...

"What I didn't have initially that we have now is somebody who understood different types of people and how they respond to issues. I thought I could just handle it all myself and that was wrong," he tells O'Leary during Thursday's discussion.

"The new HR people we have in place have far more experience in understanding the benefits the unique attributes of each individual can bring to a business," Cuban tells CNBC Make It. That "has allowed us to be a better company. And will allow us to be more successful."

Additionally, Cuban tells O'Leary he hired two independent investigators to look into the situation — "One was the former attorney general of the state of New Jersey, the other was the head of SVU for Manhattan," according to Cuban.

He then had a meeting with everyone in the company. "I was very emotional, I was very upset, and I told them, 'If you have something to say, not only tell the investigators, but feel free to tell the media. I don't want you to hold back … because I want to know everything. I want to know everything that happened … so that we can learn from it and become a better organization,'" he says.

Interestingly, making himself vulnerable to criticism seemed to help Cuban empathize with women who have experienced sexual harassment, including "Shark Tank" co-star Barbara Corcoran, who also participated in the symposium and said that when she was working as a young woman, she "was chased around desks, pinched, everything. I just thought it was part of the job."

Says Cuban: "I mean, I literally told everybody in the organization, if there's something that bothers you, feel free to speak to the press. So there's a lot of anxiety that came from it, and it dawned on me very quickly: This is exactly how women felt when Barbara talked about being chased around the desk."

And Cuban admits the changes are long overdue: "[W]e're doing things we should have done 15 years ago," he tells O'Leary.

Here's a transcript of the full conversation between Cuban and O'Leary on #MeToo and the Mavericks:

Mark Cuban: We gotta talk Me Too, we gotta talk Me Too.

Kevin O'leary: Let's do that. OK. You know, Me Too, for a guy to talk about, is a really interesting issue. You and I both signed some very onerous moral clauses in our most recent contract.

MC: We did? I didn't even read it.

KO: I read it, it's onerous. It's important, I understand, but it's extremely bias[ed] in some views because there's no process, there's no day in court, there's nothing. It's an accusation, and it's over. How do you feel about that?

MC: It is what it is.

KO: You cool with that?

MC: Yeah, I mean look. I mean, it's not something I stress over. And so, you know, if I drink too much O'Leary wine and do something stupid, so be it. But yeah, that's not something to stress over at all.

KO: So how do you feel about executives out there that have been accused, are gone, lost their careers, their whole family's been destroyed by it. There was no due process, there was no trial, there was no diligence afterwards. It's just over.

MC: It's difficult. … Look, for those of you who don't know, at the Dallas Mavericks, we had a CEO that was accused of inappropriate behavior and then we also had a gentleman who physically assaulted somebody outside of work but that worked for us. I had no idea. But in February, there was an article in Sports Illustrated where several women that worked for the Mavericks spoke up. And it's probably going to end up being the best thing that ever happened to the Dallas Mavericks. And to me, as an entrepreneur. …

KO: Did you judicate the outcome, or did you…

MC: No, no.

KO: Were you asked to decide, did you stand up for them? What did you do?

MC: What we did was, I hired two investigators that weren't from Dallas, weren't from the state of Texas. One was the former attorney general of the state of New Jersey, the other was the head of the SVU for Manhattan. And, I said you know what, "Here's what I know," and I didn't know what was going on but I told him everything that I did know, and "I want you to come in and talk to everybody. Talk to current employees, talk to former employees." And then I had a meeting, it was a very emotional meeting. ...

KO: And the accused as well?

MC: Everybody. Yeah, everybody. And I also had a meeting with everybody in the company and I was very emotional, I was very upset, and I told them, "If you have something to say, not only tell the investigators, but feel free to tell the media. I don't want you to hold back, I don't want you to think I've tamped down, because I want to know everything. I want to know everything that happened, so that I don't have … so that we can learn from it and become a better organization." We also immediately went out and hired a new CEO who's amazing, and she came in and brought in a new HR department, and so we think we're taking all the right steps, but I think the bigger point that I want to make is what I learned. And I learned a lot. And what I learned is going to make me a better entrepreneur, a better investor in "Shark Tank," it's going to make me a better person, a better. …

KO: What is it?

MC: You know, growing up Kevin, for people of our age, 23, 24 [laughs] but no, growing up, I always thought, I need to treat everybody equally.

KO: I think that's true.

MC: But equally, treating people equally does not mean treating them the same. And that's what I learned, because when somebody … different people, different ethnicities, different religions, different genders, different derivatives of genders, we all have our own unique perspective. And I used to think to myself, "Well, I'm going to treat this woman, or this man, or this other person, the same as I would treat a friend," because I want to treat everybody equally. But I lost a lot of opportunity that way because I just had my frame of reference. I really didn't open the door to considering other people's perspectives. And so now, with the new folks that we've brought in, I've changed dramatically. And I've learned …

KO: So how's your thinking now?

MC: My thinking is now, that if I'm talking to a woman, it's not like "OK, I'm going to treat you just like a man," it's like, "OK, tell me your different perspectives, let me hear what you have to say." And women react differently in certain circumstances than men do. You know, something simple like crying.

KO: Does that equate to a change in policy in how the Mav organization operates?

MC: It's not so much … yes, there's changes of policy because there's different ways, our HR now … we brought in people at HR that understand that already, long before I did, that if a woman comes in and is really, really upset, I would just listen before and I wouldn't get upset that she was upset, and just take it in and again just try and treat them equally. An experienced HR person, someone who really understands, is going to know more of what's behind that and be able to ask better questions of why they're upset. Somebody … when we're selling a new product, like with the Mavericks, we want to sell more tickets to women, but when I look at our marketing executives, they're all men. You know? And we had a couple of women, but there was [inaudible] of men. That's a lost opportunity for me, because I wasn't able to take a perspective. If we're, you know, there's just so many things that I just thought, you know what, equal is equal, you treat everybody the same. ...

KO: This new thinking, does it tighten tolerance or expand it, for both sides, when you're dealing with an issue? An upset man or an upset woman, frankly. More tolerance, less tolerance?

MC: I think it's more tolerance but the difference is, you get somebody, what I didn't have initially that we have now is somebody who understood different types of people and how they respond to issues. I thought I could just handle it all myself and that was wrong.

KO: So the corporate organization is basically changing with the times is what you're saying?

MC: It's not the word changing with the times, we're doing things we should have done 15 years ago. Look, and I'll tell you the other thing I felt, when you're going through this, and every minute, it's not a story if I'm not involved right? The Dallas Mavericks, great, but they're not going to write it unless they can put my name into it. And that's going to what you were talking about with celebrities and the like before. And there's a lot of anxiety that comes with, what's next. I mean, I literally told everybody in the organization, if there's something that bothers you, feel free to speak to the press. So there's a lot of anxiety that came from it, and it dawned on me very quickly. This is exactly how women felt when Barbara talked about being chased around the desk. Going to work, not knowing if you're going to be chased around the desk.

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Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank."