Category Archives: Diversity

I Am Heartbroken

black ribbon

This About Trayvon Martin

And this is about all of us.  I am a white woman.  To some that automatically disqualifies me to feel what I feel about the verdict in the trial about Trayvon Martin’s death.  I am angry.  I am heartbroken.  But I am also hopeful.

I Am Angry.

I am the mother of two African-American sons.  What happened to Trayvon Martin could have happened to them.  Yes, as their mother, I warned them.  Don’t run from police–it doesn’t matter what it is about–don’t run.  Be respectful of police–yes, even if they are not in the right.  Keep your hands empty and in sight. Don’t speed in certain neighborhoods.  Pay attention.  Be careful.  PLEASE.  Be careful.  I sent them out into the world and I worried.  And there were instances.  Both of them were accused of things that there was no way they did–they were just walking or driving by.  There are people who don’t believe that this happens.  White people.  It is true–if you are black, especially if you are male, you are guilty until proven innocent.  Trayvon was searched in association with his suspension from school and the policeman found a screwdriver .  The school investigator described this screwdriver as a burglary tool.  If your white child had a screwdriver do you really believe for a second that that would have been the automatic assumption?

This decision sends the message that it is ok to shoot a black child if you claim self-defense.  Even if you take actions that bring on the circumstances.  Even if you have a history of being abusive and racist.  As the mother of African-American sons, I find that intolerable.  As a citizen of this country I find this unconscionable. I am angry.

I Am Heartbroken.

I cannot imagine handling myself with the strength and grace that Trayvon Martin’s parents have.  I can’t imagine telling people to respect the jury’s decision.  I can’t imagine.  Their child walked to the store from a “safe” neighborhood and was confronted and KILLED on the way back home. On his way back home.  To safety.  He was suspected of being up to no good.  Because he was young.  Because he was black.  I think of their loss and I am heartbroken.

But I Am Also Hopeful.

The reactions that I have seen have been angry and enraged and heartbroken and desperately depressed.  I also see, however, a quiet powerful strength emerging.  I see a broad determination to speak out, to not tolerate this situation any longer.  I see people being introspective and outspoken and tough.  This isn’t about violence.  This is about making a change.  This morning I hear the most articulate discussions I’ve ever heard about implicit racism (the polite word is bias, but the real word is racism) that I’ve ever heard in public media.  We ALL have to understand how our thoughts guide our behavior, decisions and attitudes–and we aren’t even aware of those thoughts.   They happen in the flash of a second.  They happen at the speed of an electrical impulse.  EVERYONE has them.  People feel fear at the sight of a black man.  People feel fear at an interaction with a white person.  Yeah, go ahead and deny it.  Research–lots of it–says otherwise.

This has gotten better with each generation.  It is time, however, to fix it.  To stop it.  This is another Rosa Parks moment.  Our Trayvon Martin moment must be to take control of our own prejudices and wrestle them away.  We must protect the members of our African-American community, especially our boys.  We MUST.

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Filed under Diversity, racism, Trayvon Martin

Fat People Aren’t Good Workers.

I don’t really believe that fat people aren’t good workers.  In fact, I am a fat people (or at least I used to be) and I happen to think that I am a good worker.  There are a lot of people who do believe this, though.  I believe that this is just fuzzy thinking.

fat people are discriminated against

A lecturer at NYU recently tweeted “Dear obese PhD applicants: If you don’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.”  More fuzzy thinking:

fuzzy thinking re obesity

What does will power re: food have to do with willpower over anything else?  Why don’t people who don’t have willpower re: other things–alcohol, sex, spending, gambling, exercise, hoarding–fall into this guys criticism.  This guy is an evolutionary psychologist–a scientist–who should have more discipline in his thinking.

He’s not the only one.  Recruiters (I once had a recruiter proudly tell me that he made overweight candidates walk up four flights of steps to interviews and if they couldn’t do it, they didn’t get to the next level.  Why?  Is walking up stairs a job requirement?  If he doesn’t do that for normal weight people, then how does he know that they can (if it is a requirement of getting to the next level?), hiring managers, supervisors, co-workers, sales people, customers all make decisions about people based on their weight.  Is it relevant?  Sometimes.  More often not.

Prejudice against fat people is an acceptable prejudice.  It is close to the last acceptable prejudice.  If you find yourself being prejudice against overweight people, challenge your thinking.  Examine what you believe about fat people, thought by thought by thought.  Do they really support one another?

fat lazy fuzzy thinkingDo you just not like fat people?  Do you just think that fat people should do better/be better/act better?  Is this a big enough deal that they should not get a job or a promotion?  Do you believe that being fat is an indicator of someone’s character?  There is a recent study that shows that children as young as four are prejudiced.

OK, So I Think This Discrimination Is Wrong

But it is not illegal.  It is hard to prove (and a lot of people think it is justified).  So . . . if you are overweight, this is something that you can actually do to affect your employability and promotability.  It might have as much of an impact (or more) as getting more education, or more experience, or even more networking.

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My Boss Is Young Enough To Be My Child!

Mental Model of Boss

Younger Bosses

It happens to all of us–no matter how successful we are–if you stay in the workforce long enough, you’re going to have a boss younger than you.  Why does this matter?  Why do you care?  Yeah, yeah, it shouldn’t, but to most of us it does.  I’ll go back to harping about mental models.  We have a mental model of what a boss is and that we need to look up to a boss and someone who is younger doesn’t deserve that.  So why does our mental model require that our boss be older than us?  Back in the day, when people entered the organization immediately after high school or college and then moved up the organization step by step, the bosses were 55-65 year old men who retired and made room for the next person  (Oh, by the way, back in those same days, women only had some non-boss roles –I very specifically remember when people (both men and women) had the same issues with women bosses–bosses were NOT supposed to be women!!).  I know there are lots of people who don’t remember those days.  Most of the people, though, who are struggling with younger bosses now do remember those days.  In fact they are mostly from those days.  Things are different now.  It’s time to change our mental models.

I certainly had the experience of working for bosses who were older than me who were not as smart, or knowledgeable or skilled at their job as me (I’m sure it was no one who reads this blog, though:-)).  Age didn’t have anything to do with this.  Neither did race or gender or even educational backgrounds.  You aren’t guaranteed good bosses.  Given that, though, good bosses come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders and educational backgrounds.  There are people who are younger than you who have more knowledge than you about somethings.  There are people who have less education, less experience, or talent who can be good bosses for you.  Good bosses bring what the job and the team need AT THE TIME.  So change your mental model.  Start thinking about what you need in a boss and stop assuming that someone younger than you can’t bring it.  I know twenty-somethings who are better people managers than most of the middle managers that I know.  I know fifty-somethings who can explain technology better than tech professors.  One of the very best Executives I ever knew only had a high school education, but he sure knew how to gather information and make a quick and effective decision.  He had an instinct that I’ve never seen in anyone before or since.  I had a female boss, back in the days when that was rare, who focused so completely on the customer that she changed the culture (and the profits) of the organization.  She did it before it was “THE THING TO DO.”

Mental Model Actual Bosses

My point is that you’ve GOT to stop thinking about bosses as if they should be a certain gender, race, education or age.  Ask yourself what your boss brings to the table.  What does s/he bring that you don’t have?  How and what can you learn from him?  How can you improve the chemistry/relationship with her?  How can you earn his respect?  Unless you are knocking at retirement’s door, this is not the last boss you will have.  Bosses will come in more different versions as our world changes.  Get used to it.  Get good at it.  Especially if you want to be the boss.

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Filed under Bosses, Career Development, Career Goals, Communication, Diversity, Inclusion

Reactions To My Discrimination Post

generations at work

Reactions to Reactions To My Discrimination Post

I had readers respond to my Are They Discriminating Against You?  Probably. blog post in a couple of different ways.  First, one reader challenged me about “accepting” discrimination.  He believed that I should advocate challenging the ‘discriminatory behaviors’ of others through complaining to the powers that be and/or Human Resources within the organization, or through the legal system.  I certainly don’t mean to suggest that those aren’t legitimate avenues.  It depends on your goals, though.  Do you want to help fix discrimination long term?  In your company? For everyone?  Then routing yourself around the problem and going to find some place and someone(s) who can judge you for what you are and what you bring and make decisions based on that (as suggested in my last blog) is NOT the solution.  Challenging the status quo is the right thing to do.  Go for it.  Those of us who wimp out on that will really appreciate you.  And support you.  And do whatever you need us to do.

If you need to get a job this month, then you need to find a place that doesn’t discriminate.  You need to find decision makers who are smarter, have better judgement and who are worthy of you.  Leave the others in the dirt–where they belong.

The other people admitted that they themselves discriminate and were unhappy with doing so.  One person who reacted wrote that she found herself sometimes on the side of being a discriminator.  She finds herself feeling the way about young people that older people used to feel about her.  Yet another person who responded–same issue–being a discriminator–just can’t break her thinking of older people as ‘time to go-ers.’ The good news is that both of these readers don’t think that it is ‘right’ to think the way they do–they just feel justified.

So What Do You Do?

I guess my first advice is to acknowledge that there is a huge “humans are this way” element to this. We think of people who are different from us as, well, different.  Not as good.   And then my second advice is to do what I do–struggle with yourself every day to challenge this thinking.  Instead of seeing the instances when the young or old person, does something completely wrong, look for when they make sense.  Work really hard to see it from their perspective.  What do you know that they don’t know that would change their perspective.  What EXPERIENCE (not advice or ‘telling’) could you help them have that would help shift their thinking.  Don’t give them the experience and then take credit for it.  Give them experience and let it go.  Give them the experience and try to figure out the next one that will lead them to an understanding of your point of view.  Think of it as an experiment.  Keep trying things.  Try with one person.  Try with two people.  Compare.  What worked and why.  What didn’t work and why?

Now experiment  with yourself.  Listen to your language.  Are you “them” and “us” -ing?  Are you plopping damning stereotypes on a whole category of people?  Work to see each as an individual.  Note the ways in which the person is ‘different’ from the stereotype.  Another thing we humans do–we make fairer judgements about others who we see as ‘exceptions’ to the stereotype.  “Well, s/he is DIFFERENT.”  Of course s/he is–we are ALL different.  None of us completely fit the damning stereotype.  The sooner you can stop applying that stereotype, the sooner you can stop discriminating.

Go for it!

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Are They Discriminating Against You? Probably.

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Discrimination

Not only is it likely that someone (or several someones) are discriminating against you, it is also likely that you are discriminating against someone (or several someones).  It is human nature that we like/trust/believe in/select those who are like us more than those who are different from us.  So . . . Europeans choose Europeans, Americans choose Americans, young people choose young people.  Then there is the problem of stereotypes.  We believe them–without even being aware of them for the most part.  We believe that ‘old’ people aren’t as capable as people our age. We believe that young people aren’t ambitious (at least the latest generation).  Asian people are smart at math.  Women aren’t ambitious because they’re going to go have babies. White men are more ambitious than black men.  And on and on and on.  These stereotypes cause us to discriminate, sometimes without our even being aware of it.  Stereotypes are as  wrong as they are right.  In fact, those of us who are the subject of the stereotypes usually believe they are wrong–period.  I say all of this to acknowledge that discrimination is alive and well in all of our behaviors.   I’m not in any way defending it, just acknowledging it.

So what?

There are laws against discrimination.  There are rules against discrimination.  There are lots of reasons for all of us to struggle against discrimination by others and ourselves.  There are people whose whole existence is focused on the struggle against discrimination.

Can you wait?  Can you wait until everyone stops discriminating against you?  I can’t.  I think it’s time to take the battle on directly.  I think it’s time to work around/through/over and under discrimination.  Just because the decision makers at your organization think you are too old or too young, that doesn’t mean that that is the case at other organizations.  You have a responsibility to yourself to find a place to work that values you for who you are and what you bring to the table.  You need to find a way to make a living that values who and what  you are.

I talk to people who are absolutely sure that they are being discriminated against.  That makes them feel like there is nothing that they can do about it.  They are the age they are.  They are born black or Hispanic or Asian or female, and nothing can change that. True.  There are places, organizations, friends, decision makers, and opportunities where it doesn’t matter.  Go find them.  You are not sentenced to the status quo.  You choose it.

Do something different.

You are not stuck.  When you graduated from high school you didn’t think about this the way you do now (unless, of course, you just graduated from high school).  Life and your experiences have made you believe that people are discriminating against you.  Wipe all that experience off your radar and ASSUME that someone out there can and will believe in you and what you can do.  Go FIND them!  Where are they?  Make people prove that they don’t believe in you instead of assuming that they don’t.  To be clear, I’m not saying they AREN’T discriminating.  I’m saying, don’t let that rule your life.  Go work someplace else.  Go work for a different boss.  Find a way to make a living (including working for yourself) that doesn’t let those who discriminate against you prevent you from doing/being/having what you deserve.  I know that it might be hard.  I know that it would be a lot easier for all of us if discrimination wasn’t a factor.  Don’t let it prevent you from living your life, making a living, being successful.

And then focus on your own discriminatory behavior.

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Filed under Derailment, Diversity, Executive Development, Inclusion, Job Hunt, New Job

Reflections on Being a Mother, Working and “Leaning In”

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a great day to reflect on being a mother.  And on being a mother who works.  And on the controversy over Sharon Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.  I come from a family of working mothers.  My mother worked.  Her mother worked.  It frankly never occurred to me not to work. It never occurred to me to hold back or not be ambitious (something that Ms. Sandburg says that some women do). I guess I was lucky–I had models of working mothers who managed both jobs and families. I had the luxury of having a husband who believed that I should work, who supported me in working and who carried close to a 50/50 load at home (he traveled more than me for many years, so it wasn’t 50/50 in those years).  My kids were adequately cared for–if not perfectly cared for; my house was never really clean, and my career worked well enough–until I got near the top of the organization.  Whatever the reason for my not becoming a C-suite-r, it wasn’t because I was a mother or because I cut corners because I had a family.  Or maybe it was.  Maybe the people above me made decisions about my career taking my family into consideration.  I don’t know.  I just know that a certain point I chose to leave the organization where I worked because I definitely wasn’t going up any more and there were interesting opportunities for me outside of working for that company.

The bottom line is that being a mother is very important. Working is very important(to some). Being at the top is very important (to some). You have to find your balance among them. You have to find your own happiness.  There are prices–guilt, being tired, dirty houses, missed soccer games. As long as you’re being driven by your own values and dreams you can make it work. I have two very successful daughters, in part because they had a model to follow.  My successful sons regularly do more than 50%.  I guess they had a model too.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Diversity

Recruiters Are Prejudiced

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Recruiters Are People

I know lots of recruiters.  I like lots of recruiters. In fact, maybe I like all the recruiters I know.  Recruiters are regular people.  And like regular people (yes, that means you too), recruiters are prejudiced.  We are all prejudiced.  We don’t necessarily know that we’re prejudiced.  We don’t think or believe that we’re prejudiced, but all humans are.  If this were a geometry problem, I would have just proved that recruiters are prejudiced, because recruiters are people and people are prejudiced.

If recruiters are prejudiced, then why should you care?  You should care because if you’re looking for a job, it has an impact on you. If the recruiter believes negative or positive things about people ‘like’ you–young, old, fat, African-American, Asian, Southern, Republican, Catholic–then it can affect whether they pass you along for a job. Worse, recruiters are frequently under instructions from someone with a different set of prejudices–maybe about education, skills or particular schools.  So you’re up against (or supported by) layered prejudices.

What Can You Do About It?

First of all don’t waste your energy railing against it.  I’m not saying it isn’t wrong or unfair, but sitting around complaining about it is not going to do any good.  Recognize it as a problem that you have to figure out how to overcome.  Just the same as if you need a certification to get a particular job or  you need to know how to use Access.  You HAVE to address it or look for other jobs with other recruiters.  How do you address it?

  • Don’t get paranoid.  I know, I know.  I just told you that recruiters’ prejudices may be keeping you from getting passed along for a job.  But look at it as a matter to be dealt with.  Be strategic.  Don’t take it personally.
  • Understand what may be triggering the prejudice.  Is it your age?  Are you ‘too’ young?  ‘Too’ old.  How can the recruiter see this?  Does your resume tell it?  How can you make it less obvious?  Take the dates off your education.  Leave/put as much work experience on as is necessary for the job.  Show adequate depth of experience, but don’t go overboard.  Don’t put personal things that aren’t necessary and that might be a hook for prejudice (sewing, cooking, gaming, sports).
  • Use the words that the recruiter used in the job description in your resume.  Mirror the job description as much as you can.  A lot of time and effort went into creating that job description.  The words mean something to the person who wrote it.  Use the words to describe your qualifications.
  • Check out your image.  Minimize the prejudice triggers to the extent that you can–dress older or younger, remove the multiple piercings, cover the tattoos, dye your hair, lose weight, dress professionally, stylishly.  (I can hear you objecting through the electrons that separate us.  I am not telling you to not be who you are.  I’m telling you to do things that get you around the things that are in your way.  I’ll bet big bucks that you dress differently when you go to church or to school or to work or camping. Put the foot forward that will help clear roadblocks out of the way.)
  • Form a relationship with the recruiter. Keep working at the relationship.   Humans think in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us.’  Humans like ‘us’ better.  People who we know and like become ‘us,’ even when the new ‘us’ has traits we are prejudiced against.  In other words, if I’m prejudiced against people ‘like’ you, but I like you, I think you are different and I’m not prejudiced against YOU, just those others.  I KNOW that sounds crazy, but go read some psychology research–you’ll find that this craziness is supported by the research.
  • Don’t ever give in and believe these prejudices.  Just because you are young or old or less educated, doesn’t mean that you aren’t capable.

Once You Have The Job

Examine your own hiring prejudices.  You have them.  Challenge yourself, remembering your recent experiences, to act against those prejudices and to hire people based on their individual abilities, not on stereotypes (even if stereotypes  are faster, as George Clooney said in “Up In The Air”).

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Filed under Career Development, Communication, Diversity, Job Hunt, New Job, Recruiters