The Three E's

Etiquette, Ethics and Empathy in the Workplace (and in Life)

 

Jeanne Nelson

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Tuesday
May232017

A Sense of Humor is Good For Your Health and Good For Business

    

 wikimediacommons.org

Do the best you can, and don't take life too serious."
 ~ Will Rogers

 

Will Rogers (1879-1935) was considered one of the wisest men of his time and one of the greatest wits. He once said, "I never met a man I didn't like." That might seem like a bit of a stretch for most humans, but a twist on that statement might be the advice many parents have given to their children: Always try to find something good in everyone you meet." The same could be said of every situation: try to find the silver lining even in the darkest of clouds. Because being positive not only places you in a healthy frame of mind, the bonus is it's one of the top qualities employers seek in a job candidate. 

Think about the people you like to be around the most. Are they smart, upbeat, friendly and helpful? Do they have a sharp wit, great sense of humor, a strong code of ethics and a positive outlook? Do they tend to be more thoughtful and unpretentious, and demonstrate understanding and empathy toward others? Do they smile easily and often?

It Starts With a Smile

I've written about your smile being your most powerful secret weapon, and it's true. Smiling at others can improve your day and make others feel better about themselves and about you. Smiling, as well as laughing, is good for your health and good for business

Smiling helps you to bond with others, get your point across and make people feel good when they are around you. If you also see the humor in situations -- if you make people laugh and forget their worries --you can more easily exercise your influence and authority. You've broken the ice and spread warmth and joy.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Smiling can also lead to laughter, and both are healing. We all need a bit of comic relief now and then from the stress of life. For many years, people relieved stress by reading the "Laughter is the Best Medicine," section of the Reader's Digest, and now there is a collection available to relive that enjoyment and have some laughs.

And a true story of how one man decided that laughter could save his very life is the experience of Norman Cousins, legendary journalist and publisher who became better known for laughing in the face of death. In 1964, Mr. Cousins was told by his doctor that he had a rare disease and only months to live. Not a quitter by nature, he decided to take matters into his own hands; working with another doctor he combined massive doses of Vitamin C with laughter, watching endless funny TV shows and movies, especially Marx Brothers films. Amazingly, he wound up extending his life for another 26 years! Of course, it could be that Mr. Cousins would have recovered in any case because misdiagnoses and inaccurate prognoses are not unheard of. But it is still an extraordinary story that is documented in his book, Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived By The Patient.

Satirical comedy is so popular because it makes us laugh at everyday problems, chases our fears away and gives our anger a constructive outlet. How many times have we've laughed at the humor and satire of Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, John Stewart and friends and Saturday Night Live?  

But...Just What Does Having a Sense of Humor Mean?

Having a sense of humor is not exactly the same as being a funny, witty person. It simply means that you are able to see the humor in many situations, that you have a light side that can balance out tense moments. People with strong senses of humor also tend to take themselves less seriously and can be philosophical about problems they encounter. 

It's important to note, however, that one's sense of humor must be called upon in an appropriate manner. That's where emotional intelligence comes in; humor must be used with great sensitivity, kindness and empathy -- and good timing. It's essential to understand thoroughly the situation and the people involved, and feel confident in making a humorous observation. Sometimes people stumble when they misread a situation and make what they think is a humorous comment only to have it fall flat because it's inappropriate, offensive or even cruel. So while a sense of humor can go a long way in solidifying professional reputations and relationships, using it improperly can result in the opposite.   

When Not to Laugh -- and When We Just Can't Help It

There are times when we laugh precisely when we're not supposed to. You know the feeling, when a laugh insists on bubbling up and escaping your lips, and the harder you try the more impossible it becomes to suppress it? I've experienced that kind of laugh a few times like that myself, and they comprised some of the weirdest moments. There's one from my youth that I'll never forget. I was a child in church and the pastor we had at the time was one of those fire and brimstone sorts. For some reason -- probably because we were late -- my mother and one of my friends and I wound up sitting in the first pew right under the pulpit. As the pastor was getting up a strong head of steam my friend caught my eye and we were done for. Our faces screwed up to try to keep from laughing, but soon our shoulders were shaking, tears were streaming down our faces and our noses were running, but not a sound came out of us. My mother glanced over at us and was about to reprimand us when suddenly her face contorted as she tried not to laugh at us. We all had to remove ourselves and sit out the rest of the service in the vestibule. 

So...just for laughs...let's take a look at a few vintage scenes in which some comedians were not supposed to laugh but couldn't help themselves, and stroll down memory lane with the brilliant Mary Tyler Moore when she, as Mary Richards, attends the funeral service of Chuckles the Clown:

Tim Conway - in a Carol Burnett Show skit with Harvey Korman, who cannot contain himself.

SNL at Disneyland - with the SNL cast and guests having some difficulty getting through it.

Mary Tyler Moore - who has trouble keeping a straight face at the funeral service for Chuckles the Clown.

And if you're looking for summer reading that will prompt anywhere from chuckles to flat out hysterics, try these:

For J.K. Rowling fans:

Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them (not the screenplay, but the textbook that is required reading for Hogwarts first-year students), by Newt Scamander, and Quidditch Through The Ages, by Kennilworthy Whisp (I laughed my way through both delightful books.)

For light mystery fans:

Janet Evanovich - The Stephanie Plum Series (start at the beginning)

Dorothy Cannell - The Ellie Haskell Series (again, start at the beginning)

Donald Westlake - The John Dortmunder Series

Why Do We Laugh?

We laugh for so many different reasons. Sometimes the way someone speaks or a particular situation will prompt an amusing memory, or a private joke will pass silently between two people at an inopportune moment. Other times we might laugh because we are nervous or scared. And have you ever seen one person in a group start laughing, prompting others to laugh helplessly even though they have no idea what is so funny?

We all have the capacity to laugh; it's part of our human makeup from the time we are infants. Therefore, despite all the tension and worries with which we must cope, keep your sense of humor and remember what Will Rogers said, and you can get through most anything.

Until next time,

Jeanne

Tuesday
May162017

Workplace Restroom Etiquette and Best Practices

 publicdomainpictures.net

Men who consistently leave the toilet seat up secretly want
women to get up to go to the bathroom
in the middle of the night and fall in.
~ Rita Rudner

 

For many years one of the hats I wore at my financial services company was that of disaster recovery liaison; during the September 11 attacks I helped employees get to safety and managers to provide business continuity for customers, and later I was trained in the planning and implementation of a corporate disaster plan to prepare for the 2009 flu pandemic. That latter experience combined with my current role as business etiquette consultant and trainer has taught me that practicing good hygiene and showing consideration of others is simply another form of teamwork

So to help ensure that employees remain healthy, productive and pleasant to be around, I offer the following 10 restroom etiquette and best practices that are expected of professionals in the workplace:

1. Keep your restroom(s) clean, orderly and welcoming - Most companies employ a housekeeping staff to keep restrooms clean, tidy and sanitary. But staff members can do their part to keep restrooms shipshape for themselves, clients and other guests by disposing of trash in the appropriate receptacles, cleaning up messes in the stalls and around the sinks (regardless of who made them) and leaving such facilities in as good of or better condition than they were found. 

2. Don't use the loo as a meeting room - Some might remember those scenes from one of my all time favorite TV shows from the 1980s, Cagney and Lacey, in which Christine and Mary Beth held private and very dramatic meetings in the women's room away from their male coworkers. (I confess to having engaged in such meetings with my boss in another life.) But these two lone female detectives usually had the room all to themselves, so the key is don't discuss any private business or personal matters if others are in the room; it's not safe or considerate. Likewise check email and texts if necessary, but refrain from talking on your cellphone.  

3. Be aware and considerate of others - Open doors and enter restrooms carefully so you don't bump into someone coming out. Speak in a modulated tone and keep in mind that the loo should be a kind of sanctuary. There is nothing more disconcerting to someone sitting in a stall when a group of people enter talking loudly, laughing and even screaming. Before entering a stall check if you can see feet, tap on the door and push it open slowly just in case. Include additional courtesy flushes if necessary. Avoid spraying pungent air freshener or perfume. And for heaven's sake don't bring food into the restroom. 

4. Use the disposable seat cover properly -- or not at all. Disposable seat covers seem like a great idea, if only they would come out of the dispenser one at a time and without being torn to shreds and stay put on the toilet seat. Some authorities don't think they are necessary, but if you are among those who feel more comfortable using the covers, go here for a lesson in proper usage that professional organizer Amada LeBlanc tried to give to Steve Harvey.

5. Practice proper flushing & toilet seat etiquette - Whether it's a matter of forgetfulness or a bad habit, it's rude for men to leave the lid up if they are sharing the space with one or more women in a small workplace. It's a fact that closing the lid will help reduce what is called "aerosolization" of the "matter" that is in the toilet at the time of the flushing and which sprays over everything in the area, including people, toilet paper, handbags and briefcases, the floor and even the sinks, paper towel dispenser and / or hand dryers. (This is a great reason to shower and wash your hair each evening!) More immediately, you can assume that the toilet seat and toilet paper have matter on them from the last flushing, so wiping down the seat with a cleaning wipe and disposing of the first several toilet paper squares are good practices. In addition, wiping off your shoes frequently as well as your handbags and attaches can cut down significantly on the many kinds of germs and microbes we pick up during the course of the day. Try not to place your handbags and briefcases on the bathroom floor, wipe them frequently and keep them off of desks, tables, counters, etc.

6. Wash your hands properly - According to a recent study, Americans need to step up their hand washing routines. Washing your hands after using the restroom -- and that includes touching anything and everything -- is essential to stopping the spread of germs that make you and other people sick with cold and flu viruses, Salmonella and E. coli. Doing your part helps reduce the suffering caused by these illnesses and helps your company's bottom line by keeping people on the job instead of home recovering (although if you do become ill stay home until you feel better or are no longer contagious). Wash your hands properly with soap (plain will do) and water (cold, warm or hot all work well) for at least 15-20 seconds -- kids learn this good habit by singing Happy Birthday or the Alphabet Song while washing. Refrain from touching the faucet with your bare hands after washing or you'll just get those germs right back; instead use a paper towel, if available, to turn off the water or use a cleaning or hand wipe on the faucet before you begin. For more details on these best practices, go here. In a pinch -- there is no soap, for example -- use a hand sanitizer until you can wash your hands.  

7. Dry your hands properly - Dry your hands thoroughly; you don't want to meet someone after you've just left the restroom and offer a wet hand to shake! Avoid using those high speed dryers that sound like B-52s taking off if at all possible and stick to retractable cloth or paper towels. Finally, don't touch the doorknob or door on your way out; use a paper towel or facial tissue and protect your clean, dry hands.

8. Use toilet tissue properly and politely - If you use the last of the tissue, replace it if possible or stick a note on the door that there is none. Check before you settle in a stall that there is toilet tissue available. Be helpful if someone else becomes stuck in a stall with no tissue and pass some through if you are next door or in the main part of the restroom.

9. Protect the restroom combination and keys - Many companies install combination locks on the doors of restrooms to protect their employees. New employees, clients and guests should be able to use the facilities, but exercise caution in providing those combinations and keys to strangers while remaining cognizant of OSHA rules. In high traffic areas you might want to change the combinations and locks periodically.

10. Display polite signage - When users of workplace restrooms do not practice proper etiquette and consideration toward those with whom they share the space, putting up signs that remind everyone to do so might be in order. Just ensure that the signs themselves are polite and considerate; it's great to be witty and humorous but refrain from lecturing, vulgar or insulting signage that sabotages efforts to improve behaviors. 

Visiting the restroom should be a refreshing, rejuvenating and tranquil experience, and we should all do our part to make it so for ourselves and others. What other improvements can and should be made?

Until next time,

Jeanne

 

Tuesday
May092017

The Line to the Women's Room - From Then To Now

 

 

 Throughout modern history women who ventured out into public
 have run the risk of having to hold it in, either because there
were no facilities or not enough facilities for women,
creating endless lines.

 

Some years ago at my company's annual employee bash, I was waiting with my colleagues and other guests in a very, very long line to the women's room at an upscale midtown Manhattan hotel, following lunch and before heading to the theatre. Not only were some women physically uncomfortable but curtain time was drawing near. We glumly watched the smooth and efficient egress at the men's room, which had no line. Suddenly one woman had had enough and led a surge to the men's room, which appeared to have been vacant for several minutes. The invasion created quite a commotion and was a heady feeling, especially as it was accompanied by thunderous applause from the women standing in the line that was a block long. Even a number of the men were laughing. But why should women be driven to such desperation? 

Another time while actually at the theatre with my elderly mother we headed for the restroom at the intermission only to be confronted with the usual endless line of women and young girls. It was one thing to miss the curtain for the second act but my mom really couldn't wait so long to use the facilities. I felt her distress and my panic rising and took her to the front of the line and asked politely if my mother could jump the queue. Fortunately, no one minded in the least. Again, the men's room had no line.

The First Ladies Rooms

Prior to the 18th century, there were few if any public toilets in Europe or the U.S. But that changed with the Industrial Revolution (c. 1760-1840) and the rise of cities. At first only public urinals for men were available in some places. Ladies, however, who were already confined in tight organ-crunching corsets, were expected to comport themselves with restraint and decency and hold it in when they ventured out, spending only enough time away from home in public to make necessary purchases. As well, women during the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian eras were far too modest to take care of such bodily functions away from the privacy of their homes, or occasionally in the private homes they visited. 

However, economic considerations prompted the introduction of ladies' "retiring rooms" in the department stores that were cropping up in order to encourage upper class women to browse, shop and visit with each other in their stores for hours. It wouldn't have been polite to suggest that women might have to do anything in such rooms other than rest from shopping, thus to this day a room with one or more public toilets is still referred to as a "rest room" or "restroom." Of course, privileged ladies of that era also had the "luxury" of specially designed portable chamber pots in their carriages when traveling, but they obviously couldn't and wouldn't have hauled these around with them while shopping.

The first designed restrooms for both women and men were on display at London's Great Exhibition in 1851. But establishing public lavatories for women was challenging because first they had to overcome social pressures and discrimination that demanded that women's bodies and their needs must not be mentioned -- or even hinted at -- in public, because that was indecent. So despite the excitement over these new rooms they were slow to catch on. The issue was escalated as a result of the Ladies Sanitary Association stepping beyond its issuing pamphlets on cleanliness and launching a serious campaign geared toward women's health, which included providing public women's rooms.

Ladies Rooms in the Workplace

During the 19th century when women began leaving their homes, farms and rural America and heading for workplaces in the emerging cities, separate lavatories for women were installed to protect their privacy and virtue. Such structures were not as luxurious as the department store restrooms; after all, working women in factories, mills and even offices were not usually part of the upper class, nor were they spending money. Thus, employers provided the minimum required, if that.  

As the decades, eras and centuries wore on, women's rooms became more commonplace. However, as men still overpopulated most workplaces, accommodations for women remained inadequate in some quarters, especially for women in the non-privileged classes. As the 20th century progressed women experienced what seemed to be equality as more workplaces provided a ladies' room for every men's room. But the fact was women needed more restrooms than men did because they used them more. Wherever women are they usually have more things to deal with when they visit the loo; I don't have to list them all, you know what they are. And if a woman is pregnant or an IBD, well forget about it. Some workplaces where there are more women than men still have a ratio of one to one for each gender. These situations caused long lines to the ladies' rooms to be the rule rather than the exception.

Even the United States Congress and the Supreme Court were caught off guard without enough women's rooms to accommodate newly elected female officials and appointed justices. (Well, who knew?)

Of course, in the world of men and women working together, there is sometimes another phenomenon, such as the one Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg describes in her book, Lean In: Women, Work And The Will To Lead, upon meeting with partners of a private equity firm: "Being the sole woman has resulted in some awkward yet revealing situations...I turned to the senior partner and asked where the women's restroom was. He stared blankly. My question had completely stumped him. I asked, 'How long have you been in this office?' And he said, 'One year.' 'Am I the only woman to have pitched a deal here in an entire year?' 'I think so,' he said, adding, 'or maybe you're the only one who had to use the bathroom.'" 

And who was not moved by the scenes in the biopic of Margot Lee Shetterly's non-fiction book, Hidden Figures, of actress Taraji P. Henson, portraying mathematical genius Katherine Johnson, running a half-mile across the NASA campus from her workroom to use the only "colored" bathroom? That apparently is a fictionalized version of what really happened; Ms. Johnson reportedly decided to take a chance and use the "white" bathroom -- illegally. 

The Rise of the Family Restroom

Away from the workplace, in addition to having tended to their own needs women often have had babies and children to care for as well. Even when both parents have been out with the kids, it generally has been assumed that mom would be in charge of changing diapers and taking the tots to the women's room with her. The installation of baby changing tables in women's rooms but not men's rooms reinforced that assumption and added to those long lines.

But steps have been taken in recent years to alleviate the lines. Around the turn of this century the "family restroom" began cropping up in airports and malls. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the family restroom falls under the code for unisex bathrooms, but generally most offer additional amenities such as a changing table, dressing area and extra toilets and sinks to accommodate children. 

And while over the past decade or so baby changing tables began appearing in some men's rooms, there still is an overall dearth of them. So last October President Obama signed into law the bipartisan BABIES Act, which mandates that all public buildings must install changing tables in men's rooms if there are changing tables in corresponding women's rooms. I believe this has resulted from an understanding and acknowledgement of women's needs and their growing demands for equity in child rearing, but also from the philosophy that a number of Gen X and Y men have that they should be taking on more responsibility for their children. Add to that the growing number of families headed by same sex parents and single dads and it's just plain common sense that men have accommodations to change diapers and take care of tots while out and about.

More Women's Rooms on the Way?

As someone who has been through Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan hundreds of times I was extremely pleased when in 2008 the men's room and women's room in the Station Master's Office were converted into one restroom -- for women! That was an unexpected treat -- and relief -- for the many women who have year in and year out stood in the long snaking line, especially during rush hours while, as usual, men walked in and out without having to wait in line for one New York minute. If there ever was a line to that men's room it was such a rare occurrence that one was tempted to mark it with a plate mounted on the wall that said, "This will commemorate the line to the men's room that formed on March 10, 1994."

And just a few years earlier New York City's mayor and City Council made a giant leap for womankind and passed legislation requiring new arenas, theaters and nightclubs that fall under the law to have a female-to-male restroom facilities ratio of two to one! Truly, I never thought I'd see that! Such decisions give us hope that more companies and organizations will get with the program and provide a two-to-one ratio restroom plan -- either with new construction or conversions of existing restrooms. We need to reduce or eliminate those unacceptable women's room lines before we get any deeper into this century.

Until next time,

Jeanne 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
May022017

Rookie Errors: The Job Search

 

 publicdomainvectors.org

Rookie Error: a mistake made due to inexperience
~ macmillandictionary.com 

 

 

Recently House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called out President Trump for committing "a rookie’s error” in his attempt to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act on the seventh anniversary of its being signed into law. And former Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard said of her campaign tactics several years ago, ""I put my hand up for that 100 per cent. That's my fault, you know. Sort of a dumb, dumb error - rookie error maybe."

It's front page news when a high official commits a rookie error because it's not expected of the very powerful. Yet rookie errors are committed everyday, and when made by those conducting a job search they can result in the loss of a prized position or career advancement. And it's a fact that winning candidates are frequently not the most qualified, but simply the ones that did not commit errors.

Some errors might be forgiven, such as forgetting to bring extra copies of your resume to a panel interview or turn off your personal device resulting in your mom's voice calling from your coat pocket to "pick up, pick up, it's your mom!" in the middle of your answering a question about how you handle stress on the job. Others, such as actually taking a call on your device or throwing a hissy at your interviewer because you feel that you've been treated unfairly or disrespectly can send your bridges up in flames.

But there are less dramatic errors that can also negatively impact a candidate's chances, and those who don't prepare themselves properly for a job search are doomed to make unforced errors. As Hamlet observed, "there's the rub." Thus, as a public service, following are an additional dirty dozen examples of rookie errors to avoid:

  1. Not having a strategic plan is akin to starting a college tour, buying a house or starting any major project without a plan, instructions, research or tracking process. Here is a blueprint to avoid this out-of-the-gate rookie error.
  2. Presenting a resume that is incomplete or outdated in content, style or format is like running an old-fashioned, outdated print ad or TV spot to sell a new product or service. Go here and here to fix that. And don't forget that all-important cover letter; you may use your prototype to customize as well as use it as a generic cover letter when appropriate (more on the latter in a future entry).
  3. Ditching, or ghosting an interview because you are no longer interested in the position is a potential bridge burner. You might want to take the interview for practice and to learn something, but if not simply call and politely and professionally explain that you are withdrawing your application, give a reason and thank them kindly for considering you. If you call, follow up with a brief email so you have a record that you did the thing properly. And it wouldn't hurt to follow up with a handwritten note as an extra nicety. You never know; the person you are canceling on might wind up interviewing candidates for another company or possibly being hired by your new company as your boss. Ah, yes, those things happen!
  4. Not having a positioning statement prepared to introduce yourself, both orally and in writing, that will connect the dots with your resume profile and cover letter is like leaving your house without being fully dressed. An exit statement (from your last job) is also crucial. Here's a guide to help you with these items. 
  5. Failure to nurture your network and networking social skills, and maintain your references leaves out essential pieces of your job search. Check out the links for some guidelines. 
  6. Being unaware of your Internet presence can leave you vulnerable and exposed when prospective employers conduct a search to find out more about you. This can be another deal breaker if you forgot to remove that photo of yourself dancing with a lampshade on your head. Right this way for help with your online persona.
  7. Not telling your story is a major missed opportunity. Many interview questions can be answered by referencing an actual experience. You can find out how to tell your story here.
  8. Preparing inadequately for your interview(s) by not addressing every last detail before you step into the spotlight is like stepping on the stage to deliver your breakthrough performance without knowing your lines, cues or spikes and not having your props organized and handy. Here are some tips to correct that error. 
  9. Behaving badly anytime, anywhere. Rudeness can take many forms, including poor cell phone manners, interrupting, failing to rise when being introduced, shaking hands improperly and insulting or offending someone. Good manners apply in all situations and extend to all with whom you come into contact at job fairs, networking events, interviews and so on.  
  10. Failing the "attitude vs. aptitude" challenge can expose your lack of savvy on the qualities for which employers are seeking. The idea is that a cultural fit for a company or department is more important in the long run than an individual's particular education or skills for a position, and that it is easier to train an individual to perform a particular job than to change a person's attitude or social wiring. Thus, employers these days are inclined to hire for soft skills over hard skills.
  11. Forgetting your table manners can kill your changes even as you're just about to cross the finish line. In the case of highly competitive companies and positions, employers often take their finalists to lunch to observe their table manners and weed out the clueless. After all, if an employer is going to trust you with clients and to represent the company professionally, it is essential that your dining etiquette measures up. For help with this, check out this series
  12. Failing to convey thanks by not sending a formal thank-you email and/or letter is so basic that not doing so speaks volumes about a candidate's professionalism. It goes all the way back to one's childhood and learning how to say "please" and "thank-you." For many employers, not receiving a thank-you from a candidate following an interview is a drop-dead deal breaker. The thinking is that if someone lacks this basic social grace, other more sophisticated qualities that are crucial to conducting business and working well with others will also be lacking. Please go here to learn how to avoid this ultimate job search rookie error.   

There are many more rookie errors made in the course of a job search. I can envision a reality show devoted to interview bloopers, can't you? Just don't turn your job search and hard-earned interviews into fodder for one! Oh, wait...

Eliminating the above errors will help you get on the right path and avoid slipping on any of those pesky rookie banana peels!

Until next time,

Jeanne

Tuesday
Apr252017

What Are Leadership Skills? And What Is a "Leader"?

 

 Wikimedia Commons

"In 1938... the year's #1 newsmaker was not FDR, Hitler,
or Mussolini. Nor was it Lou Gehrig or Clark Gable.
The subject of the most newspaper column inches in 1938
wasn't even a person. It was an undersized,
crooked-legged racehorse named Seabiscuit."
Laura HillenbrandSeabiscuit: An American Legend


For some the term, "leadership" raises anxiety and for others it produces yawns. We've heard for so very long how important it is to show leadership, the implication being that otherwise we will fail at whatever it is we plan to pursue, whether that's getting into a top college or landing a coveted position in a sought-after company. But the term has been overused to the point of its meaning being greatly diminished. 

And that's too bad, because leadership skills are important. But it does not mean that everyone must be the club president, MVP of the hockey team, CEO, President, Chief, Director or "The Boss" to be considered a success at leadership. It's equally important to be a productive rank-and-file member of a club, team, college, organization, government or society. To me, leadership means that individuals should strive to do their best at whatever they are doing, and to be professional, ethical, enthusiastic, dedicated, creative, honest, open and fair-minded while they're doing it.

Whatever your job is or wherever you are in your career, or whichever unexpected situations confront you, performing at the top of your game regardless of what comes your way and setting an example for others to follow constitute leadership.

The Leadership Craze  

Unfortunately, colleges and employers have overplayed and overstated "leadership" to the point that the term has become a cliché. But embedded alongside leadership in the list of desired qualities are those leadership skills that everyone, whether a leader or a follower, should possess in the professional world: work ethic, communication skills (written and oral), ability to be a team player, flexibility/adaptability, interpersonal skills/ability to get along with others (read: business etiquette), initiative, creativity (the old "think out of the box" thing) as well as the appropriate technical skills required to excel in college and your particular field.

Universities and employers should reflect upon and clarify what is meant by leadership, because the current message is taking a toll on students and young professionals with potential from developing the aptitudes they naturally possess. Overlooked is the fact that leadership comes in all shapes, sizes, fabrics and colors and why should institutions that value diversity try to fit everyone into a one-size-fits-all leadership straightjacket? After all, a student or yo pro who has not headed a club, chaired a committee, captained a sports team or managed a corporate team can still find a cure for a disease or sort out a company's back-office glut. Such a person can also impress, influence and inspire others. I call that leadership.

Diversity of personalities, talents and achievements strengthens a campus or company, and provides a fruitful balance of leaders and followers. Competition to get to the top is healthy and will always exist. But there must also be the support teams that weave a vibrant infrastructure in which the company can thrive through tough economic times and during periods of weak leadership, as illustrated by this 1980's piece in the Harvard Business Review, "In Praise of Followers." (How about that! This is not a new topic! You'd think we'd be able to solve it after all these years.)

Follower or Leader -- or Both?

We need both leaders and followers, and most people are both. In an issue of The Leadership Challenge, Apple financial analyst Susan Wong was asked, "Can leaders be followers?" Her reply was, "A good leader is also a good follower. This might sound like a paradox," she continued, "but based on my experience I notice that good leaders understand boundaries and are willing to accept sound advice from followers." (Read the entire article here.)

The fact is, before one is a leader he or she is a follower. And as there are many more followers than leaders, they need to be darn good at what they do if the organization, society or performance they support is going to succeed in engaging, impressing and winning its audiences. In that regard, I love the particular comparison of being an outstanding follower to dance movement, in "The Perfect Follow-A Journey in Dance."

Some people start out as followers and naturally develop into leaders in one or more parts of our lives. Similarly, some might start out as leaders but discover that they are happy and successful in follower roles. And, lest anyone ever underestimate the importance of followers to the success of a movement and give too much credit to the leader, check out this delightful TED Talk. And remember that the flip side of leadership, followership, also requires some heavy-duty skills. 

Thus, in many cases, leadership might not be so cut and dried at the starting line. And that is the reason I chose the photo of the legendary racehorse, Seabiscuit, to accompany this post (seen at the top working out with George Woolf). Seabiscuit was a small, knobby-kneed colt who was seemingly disinterested in doing much more than sleeping. He was an underperformer until the day someone recognized his potential and provided him with with top-notch training. The initially unimpressive and unmotivated colt might have been written off completely and faded into oblivion; instead, he turned out to be one of the outstanding racehorse champions of all time, a true leader with heart and guts that won nearly every major horseracing prize and was named American Horse of the Year in 1938. Seabiscuit inspired a nation that had been brought to its knees by The Great Depression and proved that it is possible to rise from obscurity to become a champion.

It's not always easy or possible to pick out which colt or filly is going to be a leader in his or her field, be it horseracing or career-building. Thus, it's wise college admissions and HR directors who understand this phenomenon and look for many signs that an applicant to college or company has the potential to be exceptional. 

Find Your Own Niche...and Own It

Leadership on any level and in any job entails possessing both hard and soft skills, knowing your job hands down cold, having the confidence in and courage of your convictions, being the go-to person in your position or even field, setting an example for others to follow, communicating clearly and effectively, influencing others to see your viewpoint, and showing and commanding respect. This is true whether you have a knack for a particular subject and can help another student to grasp a concept; you are in an entry-level position in the mailroom of your dream company and are performing so well that the CEO requests you be assigned to his floor; or you are a computer programmer who has a knack for explaining things in clear layman's terms in a friendly manner and consequently are assigned to a top-level project. These are all examples of transitioning into leadership positions organically, by outperforming in your job and being recognized for it. By mastering your passion and owning your niche, opportunities will unfold in due course. But as in the Seabiscuit example, unless there are those who are talented at crystal ball gazing these scenarios might not be apparent when a student applies to college or a new grad applies to her first job. It takes a keen interest and practiced eye to pick out future champs.

So whether your brand of leadership is quiet or loud, it's probably there and will emerge when you decide to access it, or find yourself stepping into a leadership role -- either temporarily or permanently --when necessity or opportunity arises. There will always be races to run.   

Until next time,

Jeanne

Tuesday
Apr112017

Taking a Spring Break!

 

For the Love of Dogs, llc

"Have regular hours for work and play;
make each day both useful and pleasant,
and prove that you understand 
the worth of time by employing it well."
~ Louisa May Alcott

The Three E's will return in two weeks!

 

Until then, all the best,

Jeanne

 


Tuesday
Apr042017

Where Is the Good Old Gals Club?

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When you've worked hard, and done well,
and walked through that doorway of opportunity,
you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back.
~ Michelle Obama

 

"It's not what you know, it's who you know," so goes the old adage that might well have originated with the "good old boys club" that grew out of the British and European elite, whose sons attended illustrious boarding schools, colleges and universities -- such as Eton, Oxford, Gormanston, Institut Le Rosey, Heidelberg, etc. The good old boys club has long been a powerful network that ensured that sons of the ruling class would achieve high stations in government, business, sports and other industries and fields. This practice goes back centuries, and has existed in other countries around the world, often patterning itself after the kind of protectionism and nepotism carried out by royalty throughout the ages. The practice also included daughters, but in a much different way; women were groomed to be accomplished, elegant and supportive wives, mothers and homemakers.

In the New World, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the good old boys club continued to flourish. The privileged male attended one of the Ivy League colleges and slipped easily into successful careers, while privileged women learned social graces and home economics and married the aforementioned successful men. To this day many CEOs encourage hiring from and corporate giving to their alma maters. But over time the term "good old boys club" generally has come to mean that successful men help other men that they deemed worthy and talented to become successful by helping them to build influential networks and opening doors for them. And, of course, the men had time to hang around their man-cave clubs because they had wives at home who were taking care of the kids, pets, household staff, etc. Women traditionally haven't had wives to handle such tasks so they could be free to go to a club even if they had one.

So, in America, this generally accepted unofficial boys club hummed along unopposed until the 18th century when women began working in mills and factories and the 19th century when the first "white collar" woman walked through the office door looking for her desk. A panic seized the boys that has never quite gone away, although the club prevailed and still exists.

Women and Men: A Clash of Cultures

Over the centuries men have worked hard to keep women out of the inner boys' circle, regardless of the industry or workplace. That effort has extended to maintaining exclusive men-only clubs to put a fine point on the fact that women are second-class citizens that must be kept in their place. After all, many men (and women) believed that women did not deserve to rub elbows professionally with men, nor did they deserve to mingle socially with men except at men's pleasure, such as arm candy or supportive wives or hostesses. Even in their own homes, women were not allowed to join men after dinner in the drawing room, when the latter retired to drink brandy and smoke cigars or cigarettes and discuss business and politics while in a separate room the women sipped tea and talked about their children or volunteer activities.

Problems occurred, however, when some women decided that they didn't care for this arrangement. They wanted to earn their own money, own their own property, decide when they wanted to marry and have children, and occasionally have a drink and a smoke in the same room with the guys. Problems escalated when circumstances made it necessary for women occupying the same workspace with men -- be it in factories, mills, saloons or offices.

Changing times prompted women to enter the workforce in many capacities. The Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Industrial Revolution, the women's movement, The Pill and the Information Age along with women's desires to seek other occupations besides cooking, cleaning and bearing children. Laws to accommodate those desires provided increased employment and career opportunities for women.

Conflicts arose when some of those jobs women wanted were already occupied by men. Sometimes it was okay; sometimes men no longer wanted to work as clerks, typists and stenographers, so women could have those. Of course, as women replaced men they were paid less and were viewed as cheap labor. In occupations that women dominated, such as nursing, the pay was low to non-existent -- partly because women weren't aware of what men had been earning or because they were simply driven to help.

But before and after the Civil War, women seriously banded together to help themselves and their families. They formed unions and went on strike to improve their wages and working conditions and protested increases in room and board by company-owned housing. Women founded organizations and in the U.S. they laid the groundwork for women to get the vote. If there ever was a "Good Old Gals Club," it was thrillingly active during periods of the 19th and 20th centuries; if it had not been, most women would still be segregated from men socially and professionally, working in horrendous conditions for long hours and pitiful pay, and dying in factory accidents and fires.

Excuses, Excuses

Warning: Some of the information in the following section has been known to produce bouts of violent giggling and/or uncontrolled raucous laughter, and take several minutes to an hour or longer to recover. This may be followed by additional periodic outbursts when randomly recalling certain of the data:

Following are some of the excuses provided in bygone times by (supposedly enlightened) men and some women as to why women should not work side by side with men:

Women were:

Men-Only versus Woman-Only

Over time, thankfully, many men-only clubs have gone the way of the dinosaurs, but there are still some out there. One men-only club that is stubbornly hanging on is Harvard's Porcellian Club (originally called "The Pig Club), which says admitting women would encourage sexual assault! Stone Age on line 3!

And some men-only clubs will resist admitting women as members even when it means losing advertising business and tax breaks. Note: Even though Augusta National invited two prominent women to join as members in 2012-- much to the delight of women's groups and some male golf stars -- it's not exactly throwing its doors open to women; the club might be up to three female members now, I couldn't keep count. Finally, rumor has it that being resurrected from the bone yard is that relic, The Playboy Club, which is expected to reopen in New York later this year.

Some might ask what the big deal is if there are men-only clubs. The big deal is that networking is crucial to women as well as men for career and life advancement, and such clubs provide opportunities to make valuable contacts. If women are shut out men retain such advantage. And in the still male-dominated professional world, which has only begun to shift somewhat since the 1970s, clubs to which men belong are where the opportunities will be found. It simply makes no sense that women from the same colleges or social strata and who can afford the membership are not permitted the same access to the camaraderie, conversations, introductions and opportunities that flourish at such clubs. It should be noted that there is a handful of notable women-only clubs, but not nearly enough.

But if men-only clubs are so last century (and the century before) in their thinking, a 21st century take on one-gender-only clubs is the newly-minted and hot-hot-hot woman-only club, The Wing. The Wing opened last October and according to reports it's already expanding to another location in Manhattan as well as locations in Brooklyn and Washington D.C. Such a club could be transformative in the way that women network with each other. The Wing was co-founded by two young women who have put a uniquely Millennial stamp on the Club. A tiered-membership fee system is being put into place, but if you're thinking of joining plan to shell out roughly $1800 a year. And for those who are thinking that they can afford the ticket but don't have the time, start making time for networking with other women and taking a break from work and personal stuff! You're worth it, it's healthy, and you know you have to do this. And for those who cannot afford the price of admission, you can still network by joining a professional organization or other social club that caters to professional women; the idea is to get out there and bond with the sisterhood.

The Good Old Gals Club

But the real Good Old Gals Club is the one in which women in all jobs over every industry and in various economic strata help each other to advance, accomplish and attain...and to cope. Apparently this is not an easy task because after more than two centuries women are still struggling to achieve equality with men in the workplace (and in life!).

Let's look at some of the issues and ways that women can help each other, not only in workplaces but on college campuses as well:

  1. Reach back, as Michelle Obama exhorts. In industries and vocations in which women are under-represented -- such as the STEM fields, including the sciences and technolgy, as well as in the military and the legal field, among others -- and face a greater degree of sexual harassment and discrimination by men and harsh judgments by their fellow women, women need the support of other women. Thus, whether in a college or a workplace, women who have reached a certain level of authority and clout should reach out to women when recruiting, accepting, counseling, hiring, assigning, training, supervising and mentoring. It seems logical that one reason that men are selected over women for jobs and advanced degree programs is that women in some STEM fields and companies are still novelties, and who wants to take a chance on an oddity? For that reason, girls and women should be encouraged to study math and science, major in a STEM subject in college and pursue a STEM career to increase the numbers of women in these fields. But on the journey and when they arrive they need women as role models, mentors and champions.
  2. Intervene, when you see something wrong, such as sexual harassment, bullying or discrimination. When a student or employee is under such attacks -- whether overtly or covertly -- step in and intervene appropriate to the situation. That could mean helping someone who is being overtly discriminated against through the company's legal system, closing ranks with another woman who is being bullied, or simply being a sounding board. It is often the isolation felt by a victim of harassment, bullying or other form of discrimination that prevents her from standing up for herself; in those cases, stand with her. Help women deal with campus or office "mean girls," who should be pitied but not tolerated; and don't be one yourself.
  3. Manage fairly. There have been many reports that women in management positions tend not to help other women get ahead. While women in management have been proven to help a company's bottom line and its reputation, they don't make a difference in gender equality. Women tend to discriminate against other women as much as men do. This is deeply perplexing to me, as I have reported to women, which has resulted in my becoming a manager myself! My managers who have been women have always helped me to advance. I always strove to do the same when I became a manager. If you are in a position to recruit, hire or promote, put yourself in the women's places and be aware of hidden prejudices. You don't have to show favoritism to women, just treat both women and men fairly.
  4. Stick together. Gloria Vanderbilt said, "I always believed that one woman's success can only help another woman's success." And Mariella Dabbah said, "Lead by example. Support women on their way to the top. Trust that they will extend a hand to those who follow." When women work in isolation, either physically or mentally, they are weakened and separated from the power they need to advance. When women stick together they share their strengths and become more powerful and upwardly mobile. And, it's fine for women to compete with other women for assignments and positions, but they should do it on their own merits, not with dirty tricks or sabotage. Thus, wherever you are in your education or career, it is a very smart move to reach out and weave a strong network of women and nurture it with love and care; it will be your safety net for as long as you work. If your company doesn't have a women workers group or women's affinity network, start one yourself.
  5. Strive for gender fairness. Become gender intelligent by recognizing that because men and women are different they have different approaches to conducting business and problem solving and they have different needs. Because the good old boys network of workers has been cut in half with nearly 50% of workers now women, the workplace can no longer be defined in male terms. Women should no longer try to be like men in order to hold down a job. The needs and comfort of both women and men must be addressed in order to have happy and productive workers across the board. As the slogan of The Gender Intelligence Group's states, "Great minds think unalike." Explore the ways in which the differences between genders can be exploited for the good of employees, companies, industries and countries. Vive la différence can truly appy to the workplace, and women can make it happen.

So, the Good Old Gals Club has existed for a long time, and it's just waiting to increase its membership, the only requirement of which is that you be a female. It just might be the most important club you join.

Until next time,

Jeanne


Tuesday
Mar282017

We Interrupt this Woman...

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The opposite of talking isn't listening.
The opposite of talking is waiting. 

~ Fran Lebowitz

 

A long accepted workplace practice when women and men are present in any kind of meeting -- regardless of the industry or setting -- is men speak and women listen, or women speak and men interrupt them. On the whole, women are fed up with this practice.

An Age-Old Problem

Studies analyzing this phenomenon go back decades. The most prominent of which was published in the 1980s by professors Candace West and Don H. Zimmerman in their groundbreaking paper, Doing Gender, in which they differentiate between sex, which is biological, and gender, which is behavioral. And their '70s paper on interrupting women finds "striking asymmetries between men and women with respect to patterns of interruption, silence, and support for partner in the development of topics. We discuss these observations in this paper and draw implications from them concerning the larger issue of sexism in American society."  According to a ForbesWoman article regarding the latter paper, "In this study, the authors analyzed 31 two-party conversations that they had tape recorded in public places such as cafes, drug stores, and university campuses. Of the 31 conversations, 10 were between two men, 10 between two women, and 11 between and man and a woman. In the two same-sex groups combined, the authors found seven instances of interruption. In the male/female group, however, they found 48 interruptions, 46 of which were instances of a man interrupting a woman." (Bolding is mine.)

A more recent study conducted in 2014 by Associate Professor Adrienne Hancock and then graduate student Benjamin Rubin revealed similar patterns. Added to this disrespectful behavior -- which has its own designation called, "manterruption" -- is the patronizing habit of many men of so-called "mansplaining", a condescending habit of telling women something that they already know and in most cases know better than the man 'splaining it!

You Can't Make This Stuff Up!

A disheartening example of mansplaining -- as well as a truly cringe-worthy moment -- occurred in a meeting of Project Greenlight, in which Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, two white males, sought out first-time film makers for their projects. Keeping in mind that a long-running hot topic has been the entertainment industry's race problem, this meeting to discuss a current project included only one black person, a woman, who suggested that diversity should extend to the director of a film as well as the cast. Mr. Damon responded, mansplaining -- as well as "racesplaining" -- to her: "When we're talking about diversity you do it in the casting of the film not in the casting of the show." He apparently meant that it wasn't necessary to have diversity among the filmmakers, just the actors. O-ka-a-y. Um, what?!

And a truly outrageous and high-profile instance of manterruption was the one to which songwriter and recording artist Taylor Swift endured on stage in 2009 upon receiving the VMA Award. A male celebrity leaped on stage, confronted her as she was giving her acceptance speech and proceeded to praise one of the other nominees!

But the kicker occurred last year on a panel that was discussing Silicon Valley gender and diversity issues when Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt repeatedly interrupted U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, the only woman on the panel. Finally, Google's global diversity manager pointed this out to Mr. Schmidt. "Given that unconscious bias research tells us that women are interrupted a lot more than men," she said, "I’m wondering if you are aware that you have interrupted Megan many more times.”

You can't make this stuff up. Well, you can, but we aren't. And, of course, less dramatic but just as egregious are those everyday encounters that occur in workplaces across America and around the world.

Women Don't Talk Enough

As a result of men interrupting women and mansplaining to them as an ongoing strategy -- whether overtly or covertly, consciously or unconsciously -- women at all levels of the corporate hierarchy tend not to talk as much as men in workplace settings. Because when they do they are all too often interrupted, disrespected and treated condescendingly.

Observations and studies have shown that when men speak up with their ideas and opinions are viewed as creative, forceful, intelligent, contributing and competent; but when women speak up with their ideas and opinions they are viewed as aggressive, threatening and selfish, and their ideas are typically derided, ignored or appropriated. Even in the United States Congress powerful female Senators speak less on the Senate Floor than do male colleagues!

Women Talk Too Much

The perception has always been that women talk too much, with jokes abounding such as the classic by the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who wisecracked, "I haven't spoken to my wife in years. I didn't want to interrupt her." And when my husband, who is mostly a taciturn fellow, and I went on our first date it was clear that we had hit it off because I talked all evening and he listened with rapt attention! Without interrupting! The next day he had an art deco poster delivered to my office; it was of an elegant couple out on the town with the caption, "I couldn't get in a word all night." I was delighted to learn that this man had a great sense of humor! He signed it, "I had a great time. Let's do this again soon!"

It does seem that women talk more than men, but some researchers disagree. Studies from the University of Arizona, California State University and Harvard show that women and men speak about the same amount, but it depends on when and where and the specific circumstances. 

Do We See the Irony?

There might be some science to back up the perception that women talk more than men, such as the study that indicates that we ladies have more of the speech protein, FOXP2. But if it is true that females are biologically wired to be chattier, and if the data in the Doing Gender paper is to be believed, i.e., that women are more frequently interrupted because of learned and practiced gender behaviors, then the dichotomy is ironic, as well as illuminating.

Conversely, while men might be biologically wired to be less chatty they are also wired to be combative and dominant, not only toward women but also toward other men. Thus, aside from having terrible manners, men who chronically interrupt women might be doing so to dominate and perhaps intimidate the speaker, and maybe even show off. Such individuals may be driven partly by biology and partly by learned behaviors. We know that behaviors can be changed, that good sense can overcome primal urges, so let's hope that this is one of those occasions.

The Rules of Etiquette

To Fran Lebowitz's point, waiting until someone has stopped speaking is when we may begin speaking, not during.

And, of course, the problem of interrupting others when they are speaking is not just a woman's issue; it is a violation of a basic tenet of business etiquette, protocol and professionalism. The rules of etiquette are based on the respect for and the comfort of others as well as to keep things running smoothly and pleasantly. Interrupting demonstrates a lack of manners as well as empathy on the part of the interrupter.

But the practice of men interrupting women goes beyond a violation of good manners and is considered to be a form of covert sexism, which lends itself to just as hostile a work environment as overt sexism.

How to Fix This

Not to oversimplify the solution to this complex problem, but we can start with these steps:

To Stop Interrupting:

  • Practice Empathy - Before interrupting someone stop and consider how you feel when you have been interrupted and spoken to condescendingly. Make that type of behavior stop with you.
  • Demonstrate Professionalism - Consider how you look to others when you rudely interrupt someone. Such behavior does not lend itself to leadership. Someone will notice eventually and your brand, reputation and advancement prospects might be negatively impacted.
  • Examine Your Motives - Ask yourself why you interrupt when someone, especially a woman, is speaking. Do you have the urge to dominate the situation as well as the individual? Do you have issues with her? If it's simply a matter of brushing up on your manners, easy peasy; but if it's something deeper professional counseling or sensitivity training might help.
  • Be Aware - Take stock of your and others' behavior and make a concerted effort to improve. If you are in charge of a meeting -- no matter how large or small, casual or formal -- set the rules to ensure equal opportunity for everyone to speak. If some people tend to run on and you have a limited timeframe, set equal time limits for speaking. If someone interrupts another participant, interrupt the interrupter. After awhile attendees will understand that your meetings are a No Interruptions Zone!

To Handle Interruptions

  • Set the Pace - If you are chairing a meeting (see Be Aware, above), set the pace from the get-go. Get your thoughts out at the beginning of the meeting and ensure that everyone can get their thoughts out as well.
  • Be Pleasant but Firm - When you are interrupted (by anyone except your boss or someone else superior to you in the hierarchy), first smile and raise your index finger to indicate that you wish to finish making your comment or point. If the interrupter persists, respond pleasantly and, if appropriate, with humor, but also with firmness, perhaps with a comment like, "Please jump in, Ed, but first may I finish my thoughts?"
  • Have a Chat - If someone in particular regularly interrupts you, don't call him out in public but have a non-threatening private chat with him to point out his behavior and let him know how it makes you feel. This includes your manager.
  • Let it Go - Pick your battles. If the person who interrupts you also interrupts everyone else, don't take it personally. The interrupter is likely somewhat of a joke to everyone and taking him on in public, or even in private, could make you look like the bully. This also goes for someone who doesn't mean to offend, but simply has poor manners. Try to deflect interruptions the best you can, but know which situations you want to take on and which you want to let go. For example, it's not worth a confrontation with someone who is temporary or with whom you only occasionally have interaction. Use your good judgment.

Is It Ever Okay To Interrupt?

There are some occasions when interrupting someone while speaking is acceptable. Aside from emergencies, such as physical disasters or urgent business issues, interrupting someone during a casual conversation when someone new arrives to be introduced or interrupting in a kindly or jovial manner during a friendly casual conversation among colleagues is usually fine, provided it isn't constant.

And, as a woman, when you are in a situation where you can't seem to get in a word, or someone is rambling on, it's okay to interrupt. As we know it's often hard for women to be heard in a meeting. The first woman to be appointed to the post of U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, knows a few things about working in a man's world, and she advises, "...if you’re going to interrupt, you have to know what you’re talking about. And you have to do it in a strong voice."

And remember, if you interrupt a man you will be judged by some as aggressive, so if you have a chance after you've spoken, give a nod and smile to say, "thanks." Little gestures can go a long way to balancing your toughness with a hint of softness, so you don't scare everyone too much by speaking up and saying something brilliant! And there are those manners to demonstrate to all that while you are forceful you are also impeccably professional.

Until next time,

Jeanne

 

 

 


Tuesday
Mar212017

Women's History Month - The Long, Long Road to Equal Pay - in 2152

 "I do not demand equal pay for any women
save those who do equal work in value.
 Scorn to be coddled by your employers;
make them understand that you are
in their service as workers, not as women."
~ Susan B. Anthony, ca 1868 

We sought justice because equal pay
for equal work is an American value.
That fight took me ten years.
It took me all the way to the Supreme Court.
And, in a 5-4 decision, they stood on the side
of those who shortchanged my pay,
my overtime, and my retirement
just because I am a woman.
~ Lilly Ledbetter, 2012

 

More than a half-century ago, in 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act, which amended the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which in turn was signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

But currently languishing in Congress is the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was introduced in 2015 and would broaden the penalties to include full compensatory and punitive damages for gender-based pay discrimination by putting them on par with race-based pay discrimination. Congress so far has failed to bring it to a vote.

In 1963, white women earned 59 cents for every dollar a white man earned for doing the same work; after 53 years white women have bumped up their earnings only 21 cents, to 80 cents on the dollar! And the discrepancy is wider for women of color and mothers, and gets worse as women age. According to the American Association of University Women, at this rate and factoring in the economic setbacks that women frequently experience the gender pay gap will not close until 2152, another century plus! The World Economic Forum believes it will take 170 years for women to reach pay equity with men!

There are some, however, who believe that pay equity can be achieved by 2044. Is that acceptable to Millennial women, the oldest of which will be in their 60s? Is working into one's 80s and 90s to make retirement ends meet acceptable because the gender pay gap cannot be closed?

Currently, women of all ages, backgrounds, marital and family status and education levels across all industries generally earn less than men. These include positions in which both women and men do equal work or take on equal responsibilities. It doesn't matter whether you're a member of a hotel's housekeeping staff, a movie star, an athlete or corporate CEO. For example, even Yahoo's golden girl CEO Marissa Mayer's male successor has been offered twice as much in salary and benefits as she was making, and not even for doing the same work but for a much scaled-back position compared to the impossible job for which she was hired to do.

Not only that, but in industries in which women dominate they tend to make less than men do in male-dominated industries. And the kicker is that men in women-dominated industries still make more than women, and when women begin to dominate formerly male-dominated industries, their pay scale drops! This is a historical situation that has become entrenched in modern society, and it is another playing field that must be leveled. Women should not have to enter a field just to achieve higher pay; industries that historically been dominated by women should have the same pay range as those that have been dominated by men. It's time to reassess our values as a society.

The Glass Cliff

But getting back to impossible jobs, I'm going to digress for a moment to address a related phenomenon that I believe sabotages women's advancement and long-term earning potential, and that is the glass cliff, the concept and term created by Professor Michelle Ryan, University of Exeter, UK, and Professor Alex Haslam, University of Exeter and The University of Queensland, Australia. The term is used to describe a situation in which a woman is hired to fill a top position in times of crisis that might otherwise have gone to a man in times of stability -- and then to add insult to injury pay her less than a man would be paid for the same post, and then dispose of her as a sacrificial lamb whether or not she has delivered. Some very high-profile women who assumed CEO and other senior positions at major companies at times when they were at various crossroads, only to be replaced include the aforementioned Marissa Mayer, Mary Barra (GM), Ellen Pao (Reddit) and Carly Fiorina (Hewlitt-Packard). This type of situation also appears to occur with some frequency with women at middle management levels.

To avoid crashing through one of those glass ceilings only to be knocked off a glass cliff on the other side, women must evaluate carefully and thoroughly when offered what seems to be the opportunity of a lifetime. To paraphrase the old adage, if an opportunity seems too good to be true, it is advisable to turn into a version of V.I. Warshawski to get to the bottom of said opportunity. To this end, here are a few examples of the observations and advice from the authors of Her Place At The Table:

P. 41: “Not all the i’s can be dotted and the t’s crossed up front when a new assignment is contemplated or a new role considered. A certain amount of confusion is natural. As a result, people often ignore these signals, figuring that they can take care of them once they are on board. That can be a dangerous approach. Not all confusion springs from superficial sources. Beyond a certain threshold, the confusion, if not confronted, can seriously reduce your effectiveness. Top management’s ambitious plans do not square with the organization’s capabilities. How can you perform without the basic systems in place? The CEO balks at putting you on the operating committee, but promises you free rein. How can you exercise that authority if you don’t have a voice at the table? Is this a setup?”

P. 45: "It is a good idea when taking on a new role, to remember that organizations are political places -- and that the people in them are political players. They have interests to protect and agendas to advance. They also operate with mixed motives -- concern for the organization's health and their own career being the prime drivers. There will always be outliers whose ambition swamps all other considerations, but in the main, executives' corporate and personal interests pull in the same direction. Or at least they almost always think they do."

Page 50: "Drilling deep provides the information you need to make informed decisions. Greater understanding of the factors in play lessens the temptation to cast situations in black-and-white terms. Yes or no gives way to maybe and opens up the possibility of negotiating other options."

As various headings in the book indicate, when accepting a new role, including the top spot, women should tap into their networks, confront confusion and anticipate blockers. Taking a top position under any circumstances and at all costs could cause you to slip off that glass cliff. On the other hand, doing your due diligence before accepting a position can open avenues for discussion and negotiation (salary negotiation being just the beginning), which can be the difference between staying above the glass ceiling and slipping off the glass cliff.

The Misleading Gender Pay (Very Small) Exception

On the other hand, deniers of the gender pay gap will point to a handful of top female CEOs who actually earn more than many male CEOs. But this is misleading. The women CEOs who earn more are paid a "diversity premium." This is due to the perception that there just aren't enough qualified women for the top spots and some large corporations want to fulfill their diversity goals, or at least appear to be doing so by appointing a woman to a highly visible top spot.

Of course, there are some corporations who are genuinely interested in hiring or promoting women who are considered to be "high potential." Such companies genuinely believe in gender diversity or have come to understand that companies headed by women, have women in decision-making rolls or include women on their boards of directors generally tend to perform better financially than companies who do not have women filling the top spots. And there is some evidence that companies with women as well as men in charge at the top of the house fared better during the Great Recession than those run by only men at the top.

But the question is, with all the talented women in college and the workplace, why is there the perception that only a handful of women are qualified to hold a few top spots, and that they are singled out to be paid the same or better compensation as men are paid? Is it because there are so many obstacles and barriers in a woman's path that only a few are able to break through to gain the experience needed for a top spot? If so, it's time to remove those barriers.

National Equal Pay Day - Tuesday, April 4

National Equal Pay Day was established in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity, which was founded in 1979 by a partnership of organizations devoted to gender and race pay equality. This year the day and the cause will be observed in two weeks from today. Participants are asked to wear red, to indicate how women and people of color are in the red with their pay.

Wage earners, employers, students, professors and everyone who believes in equal pay for equal work are encouraged to join in and organize marches, lobbying events, speak-outs and meetings -- both physical and of the mind -- to end pay discrimination. But everyone can wear red to work and make the day high profile.

Let's Make Equality a Reality Before 2152

It's beyond absurd to think that women must wait another century plus to achieve equal pay for equal work with men. Or that we should have to wait another half-century or even a decade. There are as many or more women as men in the workplace and on college campuses; thus, it's high time that women start to define the workplace and campus to accommodate both genders, not just one. That means taking definite actions to keep the changes and advances going that began so many years ago. Millennial women don't want to represent just one more generation in which women were paid less than men.

Here are some of my suggestions to achieve gender pay equality now:

  • Vote: Don't let another election go by in which you miss a vote. That includes voting in local (village, town, city and county), state and national elections. That means you must vote in interim elections, not just in Presidential years. That means you should vet and elect candidates whose track records and stated goals reflect their desire and ability to strengthen legislation on every level to ensure that labor laws are in place that promote and protect equal gender pay. And don't forget to volunteer to help get your candidates of choice elected!
  • Negotiate: Don't settle for the salary offered if there is room for negotiation. How will you know if there is room? By doing your homework on the industry and organization to which you are applying. In many cases there is room for negotiation, sometimes there is not. The key is to be sure that you are getting as much compensation in salary, benefits and bonuses as possible -- in other words as much as a man would get for the same position. The formula for asking for the compensation you deserve is (a) the market salary range for the position, (b) your credentials (degree, experience, accomplishments, status in industry, excellent reputation, high-level references and endorsements, etc.), and (c) the particular demands of the job (for example, long hours, travel, size of staff to manage, other expectations). What is not part of the formula is your current or past compensation. Research negotiation techniques and polish your skills and approach (hint: it's different from a man's).
  • Network: Building a strong network of contacts will increase your knowledge, skills and confidence. Your network should include mentors, role models, teachers, professors, coaches, volunteer colleagues, managers and coworkers present and former with whom you have good relationships, family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, LinkedIn contacts and so on. Include in your network one or more women's groups where you can acquire support and encouragement in your professional endeavors. Having that kind of structure will provide you with current intelligence and data, constructive feedback and strong support that will shape your negotiation expertise.

Women do not have to wait another 100 years for equal pay. We have the numbers and the motivation to close the gender pay gap starting now. So what are we waiting for?

Until next time,

Jeanne

 

Tuesday
Mar142017

Women's History Month - Gloria Steinem - Trailblazer Extraordinaire

"The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off."

 

In 1972, when I was a twenty-something single woman working in the book publishing industry, I became a charter subscriber to Ms., the groundbreaking magazine founded by Gloria Steinem and Letty Cottin Pogrebin. Not being a well-to-do suburban housewife I had not quite connected with Betty Friedan's brand of female equality. But the young urban single career woman Gloria Steinem I got. She spoke my language. By the time Ms. debuted I had encountered some incidents of gender discrimination in the pre-feminist "mad men" workplace. Little did I know what lay ahead as the turbulent 1970s unfolded; the good news was that we were also in the Steinem Era, a major factor in guiding me through the decade. Those years turned out to be a most amazing time of growth for women as we discovered that we were not bound by restrictive conventions of the past. But the road was littered with minefields of sexism and misogyny, and at times it was mighty difficult to remain a lady and not throw a metaphorical punch or two. 

To be fair, I worked for and with some wonderful men, although many practiced what has been referred to as "benevolent sexism," a form of discrimination that was cloaked in what some -- whether innocently or otherwise -- considered "chivalry." Unfortunately, many other men outright disrespected, mocked and blocked women in professional situations.

During a particularly rough patch in my career during this revolutionary time I faced a series of incidents as I rose from staff assistant to professional team member. I overcame them with inspiration from Gloria Steinem and her message of women's self-worth and importance. "What would Gloria do?" I asked myself more than once as I fought for my dignity, self-respect, rights and happiness, as indicated by the following examples:

How to Get a Promotion and Raise - '70s Style

After a few years of increasingly having my work credited to my boss, with no promotion or increase in salary commensurate with my contributions despite my having broached the subject more than once, I decided to take matters into my own trembling hands. Off to the Personnel Department I went with my portfolio of work and summary of my accomplishments. The Personnel rep couldn't believe that someone at my level had produced such a volume of press releases, articles, drafts of speeches, proposals and had worked exhibitions at remote locations with the professional team. My promotion, title and increase followed swiftly after that meeting. This irritated my bosses, especially because my actions inspired and encouraged other women to attempt the same.

The Assault Heard Round the Firm

One of the first indications that I had rattled some cages occured while I was in the copy room (which was crowded with secretaries and assistants waiting to make copies), had bent over to pick up a paper and felt a sudden and hard slap on my derrière. Shocked, breathless and with tears in my eyes I looked up to see that the person who had assaulted me was one of the top executives who had suddenly appeared in the no-man's land of the copy room! Everyone froze and stared wide-eyed with jaws dropped. The powerful executive was laughing; no one else was.

With my fury finally under control, I marched down to the offender's office. After being stonewalled for more than a week by his gatekeeper I finally obtained an appointment to see him. Although my knees were knocking together in fear it turned out that this top executive was much more nervous than I. As calmly as I could I explained how he had humiliated me in front of staff members and damaged my image and credibility, not to mention hurt me physically. He was humble and apologized profusely, asking what he could do to make it up to me. I asked him for a public apology. I didn't get it; but he did apologize to me in front of my division head (which was disturbing to the latter because men generally didn't apologize for, you know, being men!). Fortunately, as fast as the story of his assaulting me had soared through the company, so did the story of my confronting him and his subsequent apology travel at warp speed through the grapevine.

"The Next Time You Want to Grab a Little A..."

Once I was a professional member of the staff I was invited to the weekly planning meetings in the division head's office. As only the second woman ever to achieve such status, I was made to feel special by having a part of my anatomy grabbed by the division head as everyone was filing out of his office. I guess he wanted to finish the job that was started in the copy room. I knew direct confrontation wouldn't work as well this time. Inspiration hit one day when I was browsing in a curio shop in New York's Chinatown and spotted a tiny figurine of a donkey. I purchased it, gift-wrapped and presented it to the boss at the end of the next meeting. As he unwrapped my offering, looking puzzled, I explained, "It's just a little something to keep handy the next time you want to grab a little ass!" He roared with laughter, kept it on his shelf and told everyone who passed through his office the story. That joke eased some of the tension between us and improved our relationship somewhat; at least he kept his hands to himself from that time on. And even the men in the division showed more respect for me. It was all very odd, but sometimes battles are won in strange ways.

A Brief Shining Moment

I believed that my professional capital was rising when my boss and the division head approved my proposal for company participation in a major national annual event. To this point they had seen no value, but gave me the green light to plan and execute the project. Imagine my disappointment when I later learned through my intelligence sources that my bosses were gleefully sure I would fall on my face. However, as it turned out the reception and exhibit were deemed to be among the best at the entire convention and company executives who attended declared it a resounding success. For that brief shining moment I was the golden girl, much to my bosses' confusion and dismay.

"More of the Same Old Bitching"

My next proposal was a "Women in Business" roundtable of selected women throughout the company who were either managers or had outperformed in their jobs in some way. Although women rising in business was a hot topic by the mid-'70s, my idea was met with resistance. I persisted and finally received a reluctant approval, with the provision that the roundtable would not consist of "more of the same old bitching." The roundtable was a success on many levels, but the accompanying article I wrote for the company magazine was ripped apart by my bosses like Cinderella's stepsisters ripped apart her dress for the ball. The article was in shreds, just like that famous dress; but I felt like I had been to the ball and danced with the prince, professionally speaking. The roundtable and even the tepid article that followed gave a boost to aspiring women in the company. 

A Woman for All Seasons

It is doubtful that I would have had the courage to stand up to my bosses, overcome the obstacles they threw in my path or recover from the horrific abuses had I not had role models like Gloria Steinem and the glorious women's movement of that decade. Looking back on the outrageous and seemingly overwhelming challenges that I and millions of other women faced in the workplace during the '60s and '70s it seems like a dream -- or more aptly a nightmare. In many respects it was both a deeply challenging and exhilarating time for women, and at the center of it all was a woman named Gloria Steinem. In some ways, Gloria reminds me of Sir Thomas More, who was the main character in Robert Bolt's play, A Man for All Seasons. Her integrity, appeal from the start to a wider audience of women as well as to men and unwavering dedication to her feminist message throughout the decades and seasons of change have made her the archetype and stalwart on which women of all ages and backgrounds have been able to depend.     

For these reasons I was dismayed over the reaction of many young women during the recent Presidential election season to Gloria's reply to a question on Bill Maher's show about the reasons young women are being drawn to the messages of Senator Bernie Sanders. She said: "When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.'" I did not believe that Gloria meant that every young woman who was supporting Bernie was motivated because she was boy crazy, but college life in particular often involves jumping on the bandwagon of popular trends because it's important to seem to be on the generally accepted side. And although women continue to outnumber men on many campuses and even outperform them academically, it would appear that men rather than women still control the culture on campus. This is likely one of those truths that first will piss you off before setting you free.

Gloria Steinem's honesty is one of the many things I love about her. She has also been quoted as saying, "I hope that young women feel supported in expressing their talents and understanding that they have the right to have choices. I don’t want to make young women feel that there are no obstacles. That’s a lie; there are obstacles. It’s not so good when we say to kids you can be anything you want because it’s not true. Much better to say you should be able to become anything you want and overcoming these obstacles is going to be so satisfying and so much fun and you’re going to have so much company."

A Historical Perspective

Gloria Steinem's emergence as a writer and feminist began in the early '60s when she famously went undercover for a free-lance writing assignment to expose career truths about Playboy Bunnies and wrote an article for Esquire about college women and birth control pills. From the late '60s to early '70s, Gloria co-founded New York Magazine and Ms. She also became an advocate for choice and a passionate and highly effective supporter and organizer of the budding women's movement that ultimately swept the '70s and echoed throughout the following decades. 

One of those echoes was the outstanding feminist movement of the 1990s that was launched by the publication of Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls, by David Sadker and Myra Sadker and the Ms. Foundation's "Take Our Daughters To Work Day." Both events opened the door to a new generation of girls and women to the enlightenment of gender equality. My young daughter, Lyn, and I developed, created and executed seven highly successful professional-level events for the employees and their children at my Fortune 500 Wall Street company. I recruited women from across my sector to be hosts at the event and work with the girls within the various themes (career planning, job hunting, producing TV spots, preparing for Y2K, managing a stock portfolio, planning a marketing campaign and mastering business etiquette). The women enjoyed networking, bonding and learning as much as the girls did!

My hope is for a continuation of what was begun in the 1970s -- and in the previous century that resulted in the 19th Amendment.

Modern Feminists and Trailblazers

While there has never been and will never be another like Gloria Steinem -- just as there will never be another Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger and other towering figures of social reform, there will be those who will emerge to take up the mantle of equality for women, people of color, LGBT people, the disabled and others.

Sheryl Sandberg, Chelsea Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, Emma Watson, Tina Fey, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, Kirstin Gillibrand and other women across multiple industries and world cultures who are proud to call themselves feminists currently are just a few who are taking up the mantle for women's equality -- not in just some areas, but on every level. On behalf of those of us who started down the gender equality path decades ago, I believe that young women today understand what they have to do in the here and now and for the foreseeable future to get over the finish line. But against the backdrop of 21st century feminism, equality, fairness and determination Gloria Steinem demonstrated at the Women's March on January 21 that she continues to march on with all of us, precisely because there is so much yet to be done.

Until next time,

Jeanne

 

Photo is courtesy of gloriasteinem.com
Quote under photo is popularly attributed to Gloria Steinem.