This Election is What We Get for Making Harassment OK at Work

This election is an unending nightmare.  A constant stream of derisive and dismissive remarks.  An insult to the founders of the nation.  This election is one big trigger for anyone who has ever experienced workplace harassment or worse.

I have in the past used my few posts to share what I have learned in my career that helped me to move from a retail sales representative to a marketer in my company’s national office in just 5 years.  Pretty tame stuff – common sense – just a few thoughts to help young professionals navigate common issues.  Now, in year 7 of my career, I feel like I have a responsibility to use this tiny platform  to express a frustration that is boiling over as a result of Donald Trump’s remarks towards women, and the excuses made by his camp and those supporting him.  This is NOT a candidate bashing post.  This is a post about experiences I have had in my career, which I had hoped to put behind me, but which I am being reminded of daily by the unending stream of excuses for what is clear and unabashed derision of the women who had the courage to come forward.  Speaking up is difficult and painful, and often carries consequences.  One of those consequences is having your entire identity be consumed by what other people think of your decision to speak up, how you spoke, and when.  To those accusing these women of lying please hear this:  when you dismiss one, you silence many.

Workplace discrimination and hostile work environments are extremely common, and addressing those situations is shockingly difficult.  If that is true in 2016, consider how much harder it must have been in the 90s, or the 80s, when it wasn’t nearly so assumed that women were equal to their male colleagues.  For someone experiencing harassment, where no lasting damage has been done, no major assault committed, it can often feel foolish to come forward.  People still think that being on familiar terms makes touching and flirting completely acceptable and young women in particular are vulnerable to these advances.  In fact, add just about any additional qualifier to “woman” and the difficulty speaking up just gets more and more difficult.  The qualifiers “Of Color,” “Single Mom,” or even simply “shy,” can all make it nearly impossible to bring up workplace issues, let alone harassment or assault and all the shame that comes with it.  As I will discuss a little further down, there are valid fears associated with doing so.  Social and economic repercussions await those who bring up their feelings of being harassed with their supervisors, their HR departments, or their colleagues.

When I was 22 I got a job in New York City.  My coworkers were diverse and they were local and they were, to my eye, so amazingly cool. Our store had a manager who stood too close, always placed his hand on the small of my back or on my knee, and instead of saying hello, would say things like “I missed those legs.”  It was harassment.  It wasn’t assault by any means, but it was harassment.  Others experienced similar behavior and worse, but those are not my stories to share.

I was afraid that to speak up for myself would sound stupid.  That the harassment would be passed off as all in my head, just a misunderstanding, or worse, that I’d be accused of lying.  This is exactly what happened on an occasion later in my career when I did address serious workplace issues, and I felt intense fear of retribution.  Fear wracked my decision process: fear of being transferred to a location with low traffic where I wouldn’t be able to make money, fear of being called a liar, fear of being ostracized by my team.  To stand up for others would have been social suicide – to be sure, I thought, these other girls would simply bail on me, afraid of the very same things I feared myself, and wondering why I insisted on rocking the boat.  After all, this guy wasn’t trying to be a creep, he was a dad, a buddy, and besides – he didn’t care about people taking lots of breaks or long lunches.

When I got promoted into a new job, a job I loved, I watched male colleagues experience similar sexually charged remarks and aggression from someone interested in them.   It wasn’t ok there either.  I got promoted again, and again felt pressure to ignore inappropriate words and behavior because to be there was to be “one of the guys.”  This is not a complaint.  It’s not an indictment of my company.  My company gets a lot of things right – this is just to remind those you who may be parroting the idea that people only come forward when there is fame or gain, that it’s not easy.  You don’t just suddenly come forward.  You try to never think about it and not make too much of it, but when there’s a reason to talk, something powerful enough to make you risk having your entire life become about this one thing, you finally step into the light and let people know, and for the 10 brave women who are speaking out about what Donald Trump did to them – and being derided, called liars, and discredited, every fear I had as a 22 year old is coming to bear.

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Make Integrity More than just a Buzzword

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Businesses love the word “Integrity.” It makes them feel good about themselves. You can eat “Food with Integrity,” at Chipotle and kill cockroaches with a clear conscience courtesy of S.C. Johnson, who “…act with integrity at all times.” And certainly you can be reassured that the New York Times Company believes that “…integrity is the basis…” for their reputation (I won’t judge if you want to make of that whatever you like). But if you worked for any of these companies, could you say that everyone around you acts with integrity? If your company, like these ones, has integrity or ethics somewhere in its mission and principles, do you feel that your workplace operates with these values?

By definition, integrity is about honesty first, and the strength to stand behind what is true and moral second. It is always about speaking up when it needs to be done, and never about allowing things to go on in front of you just because you’re not actively involved.

I recently sat down to do a little bit of meditative self reflection (I’m on a yoga journey, but that’s another post), and as I sat there staring at nothing I realized that I had been participating in more and more office chatter that was going beyond venting and veering off towards gossip. I also recognized that this is, although wrong, natural and unavoidable in office settings. I decided to make an effort to stop participating but not to make a fuss if others chose to behave that way. But then something happened; I walked in on a cruel pantomime of a co-worker. We are talking full on mockery with voice and movement impressions that were deeply unkind and honestly pretty pathetic behavior for a grown up.

That was a moment when I knew the right thing to do was to say something. All I said was something to the effect of: “Hey guys, I know we’re all frustrated, but that’s enough, it’s over the line.” Would you believe me if I told you I got attacked for being too sensitive? That I was advised by a leader, in front of my colleagues, that “Everyone is entitled to their opinion and you cannot tell them how to express themselves?” I couldn’t believe it either, but it happened.

When you work for a company that has “Integrity,” it only suggests that they will have a focus on ensuring that their product delivers and that the business as a whole is conducted in a way that is open, honest, and ethical. We hope. It in no way guarantees that they will hire managers of outstanding moral fiber. It doesn’t even guarantee that they will take action against those who it turns out are of pathetic and appalling moral fiber. That is why you have to have integrity of your own. You have to make sure that everything you do is ok with you. Ok enough that if your mom read about anything you did, anything at all, on the front page of the NY Times, you’d say “Yup! I did that.” If at any moment you think you’d be embarrassed to see your actions on the front page of the news paper, stop what you are doing and ask yourself why you’re doing it.

Behaving well and having integrity go together pretty nicely, so if you’re not sure whether or not people think of you as being someone with integrity, consider whether or not they’d say you’re well behaved. Sometimes, you just have to start tweaking actual actions, and then the thought processes will follow as you get in the habit. I know that I can say confidently that I am a person of high integrity, but I also know that sometimes my behavior isn’t exactly where I need it to be … because I’m human. Also because I’m pretty loud and outspoken. So, I acknowledge when I’m wrong. I apologize to those who I am worried I may have offended. And, I try very very hard to do better the next time.

Sources for this post include dictionary.com ; http://www.nytco.com/who-we-are/culture/standards-and-ethics/ ; http://www.chipotle.com/en-US/fwi/fwi.aspx ; and http://www.scjohnson.com/en/company/principles.aspx ; (image from http://www.allprodad.com/dungy/integrity-when-no-one-is-watching/ )

Waiting to Hear Back about a Job? Ward off Depression and Paranoia.

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Waiting to hear back after your interview might just be the hardest part of the job-search process.  Many people become paranoid and depressed, and may even stop their job search while they wait to hear back.  If this sounds like you, ask yourself three questions:

1. Did I do everything in my power to prepare myself for the interview and provide my most professional image of myself?
2. Do I feel good about how my interview went?
3. Did I give 100% on the project or work sample I provided (if they asked for one)?

If you’ve done all the possible preparation, you gave the best interview you could, and you even sent a lovely thank you note, the only thing you can do now is wait.  Depending on who you are trying to get a job with, this could be just a day or a few days, or it could be long, painful weeks.  As the waiting stretches longer, candidates usually start getting down on themselves.  If you start having thoughts like “they’d never choose me anyway,” or “they obviously already have someone picked out,” or my favorite, “I’m definitely not what they’re looking for.”  While you’re not alone, you’re also not doing yourself any favors!

Only the hiring manager has all of the facts, and that’s why the urge kicks in to fill in the blanks with wild speculation.  Do not surrender to this urge.  When you try to guess what other people are thinking – especially what they are thinking about you – you are setting yourself up to take actions that may not be characteristic of your normal self, and which may damage the image you presented to the hiring team.

During the first 3 weeks you should not:

– Call and leave a message for the hiring manager checking in

– E-mail again after sending your thank you note

– Freak out and start trying to guess what the prospective employer is thinking

 

During week 4 it is now appropriate to:

– Call or email the recruiter or hiring manager and let them know that you are still interested and hoping to be joining their team.

 

Remember that while you may be totally focused on this job posting, the hiring manager is probably not sitting at their desk all day researching you.  Businesses continue to run during candidate searches and if the role you are hoping to fill is on a team that’s short on headcount, they are probably spending most of their time dealing with the additional work that comes with being down one person.  They have regular business to attend to that is most likely the cause of any delays, not a spirited back and forth debate regarding your candidacy.

So when does the paranoia really become an issue for most people?  In my experience, it’s when you’ve been waiting 4 weeks or more.  This is the time when the negative self-talk kicks in, you may begin to feel a little depressed.  After so much time has gone by you may even have written yourself off for the job in question.  Don’t do it.  Instead, think of a time when you meant to do something right away, but suddenly realized that several weeks had gone by and it was still incomplete.

While there is no cure for the waiting-to-hear-back-blues, the best ointment for this particular wound is more job applications.  Keep applying for jobs, because if this one comes back as a “no thank you,” you will still have other irons in the fire.   You have to have faith in yourself if you want to walk into the room and convince a hiring manager to have faith in you.

Relocation; Should You Move for a Job?

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Here’s a surprise, I vote YES!  If you don’t have major obligations holding you in a certain place, and if you have an opportunity that feels too good to turn down, then you should take this time for yourself and do this thing that may turn out to be awesome!  Even if it ends up being a raging fail, you’ll never need to wonder “what if” you took that chance.

Relocating is something I’ve done twice, and which changed my life, made me stronger, and put me on a career path with real options and potential.  THAT SAID – READ THIS PART AND LISTEN CLOSELY WITH YOUR EYES … I’m not advocating that you just quit your job and move to your dream city without a job or apartment hoping to pull everything together on your arrival because you are hungry and driven.  It doesn’t work that way.  Even if you’re pursuing a “dream” career, you still need to lay the foundation and groundwork.  I am, however, advocating that if you are not happy where you are, and you have the option of relocating, that you do it – it can really pull good things out of you!

I moved to New Jersey (and told everyone back home that I moved to New York, and it totally counts because Hoboken) for a guy, but I didn’t just buy a ticket and hop the next flight.  Before I moved I spent 3 months (and two plane fares to come out and interview) and finally got a job working retail for a great company.   With some help from my mom and her extended network, I lined up an apartment.    And just like that I moved to a town I had never been to, with a roommate I had never met, in a region where I had exactly zero friends and zero family members … for a retail job.  I had a boyfriend who was living over an hour away from the place I’d moved … to be with him.  Not exactly the glamorous start I had pictured.

The reason I was OK with all of the above terrifying things was because I had enough money to cover 3 months of expenses, and I had researched my company.  I was getting a decent salary, great commissions, and full benefits.  I had looked into other people who worked for them and they seemed happy.  To get to this point, I submitted at least 100 applications and resumes, and actually flew out to New York City twice to interview and reconnoiter. The process may have started on a romantic whim, but it came to fruition after careful planning and strategic decisions.  It took me a complete fiscal quarter to put it together, so it wasn’t like I just woke up one day and thought “I’m going to move to New York,” and it just happened.  After that last interview, I had to fly back to San Diego and co-ordinate a cross country move, and find a place to live, and a roommate, and all within about 12 days of finally getting the job offer.

I’m very lucky that I have amazing supportive parents, and that I had about $5,000 to use to get started – thanks to everyone who sent a check for my Bat Mitzvah – I know that not everyone is nearly that lucky.  So it doesn’t have to be New York, it just has to be somewhere new where you can challenge yourself to fight for your independence and live on your own terms.

How to Make Your Point: Stop Talking Sooner

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Nothing ruins a point like taking too long to make it.  I’m very guilty of this so here’s my simple fix: I’m trying to talk less.    To stop talking sooner.  To quickly say what I mean and to say it better.  It’s not because I don’t feel good about how I acquit myself it’s that I seem to be incapable of answering questions succinctly.

The problem is that when you go on and on, the message gets lost.  In my case, people tend to tell me that they perceived me as competent, confident, and intelligent, but that they sort of missed my point.  This is the good news and the bad news.  Good news is I am being seen exactly the way I want people to see me, I’m communicating my brand well.  Bad news is, I’m not being heard for what I’m saying!  Good information is getting totally lost in rhetorical flourish and tangential indulgence, and that is a big problem.

If any us of want to be heard, we have to be good at saying what we mean.  So, here are my new tactics for answering better when people ask me a question.

1. Restate the question (naturally, not like you’re writing a short answer essay)

2. Pause at the end of each sentence to give the asker a chance to participate in the discussion.

3. Check for understanding if you think you’re getting off track

4. If you feel you are getting off topic, you probably are, so JUST STOP TALKING.  The other person will either ask a follow up question, or they will run with what you said.

I’ll check back in soon and let you know how these are working for me!

The Easiest Philosophy of all Time: JBN

It’s easy, popular, and fits on one of those oblong bumper stickers:  JBN – Just Be Nice.  Be nice to yourself, be nice to other people, when it’s time you stand up for yourself do it in a respectful manner, and play by the rules.  JBN.

That’s it. That’s the entire philosophy that gets me from day to day and job to job in my working life. Just be nice. Obviously I’m not always right on the money here, I have bad days like anybody else does, and I am a girl from Southern California so I obviously know my way around a mean-girl moment, but I do my very best to be nice and apologize when I’ve been nasty (which despite my efforts still happens more often than I’m comfortable with).  Of course I will gladly elaborate ….

Well meaning friends and advisors have often told me to look out for myself because people were going to try to hold me back.  I appreciate that they want me to succeed, but I struggle with the idea of a world out to get me.  I also disagree that looking “out” is the always the way to go.

When looking out for oneself, it’s easy to miss what’s going on with the people working around you, and it is also easy to make the assumption that you need to take constant action to avoid the evil that others have in store for you.  While bad people do exist, and while you should always avoid putting yourself in a dangerous situation, or one that doesn’t feel right (more on that in another post), I find that I do better when I look “in” for my own actions, instead of “out” for my own interests.

I find that looking “in” tends to lead me to consider fairness and manners.   My father is a big fan of Miss Manners, and manners generally, so at every possible moment during my childhood he encouraged me to consider them – even if it meant giving up a win or a starring moment, to ensure that I gave things that merited attention their proper due.  Thank you notes, for example, are not an outdated tradition reserved only for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, they are an important proof that you appreciate someone spending their money on you, and a reminder to yourself that you don’t take that for granted.  And just look at the apology:  Apologies are not a rhetorical device to get you off the hook, they are important tools to acknowledge that you may have been wrong/unkind/rude etc., and which may cause you to feel some discomfort before forgiveness comes around.

The deep understanding of the importance of traditional manners, and the role they play in our development as business people has been a tremendous boon to me in my career.  I’ll tell you my “Thank You Note Story” some other time, it’s one of my greatest hits.

And so we come back to my strategy – which I try to allow to guide my actions and reactions, and which protects me from many sticky situations that are easily avoidable by stepping up before things get bad.  Just Be Nice.  People are usually not out to get you, and if they are it has to do with them and not with you – by being nice to everyone else around that meanie giving you a hard time, you will make a larger and longer lasting postivie impression than you would have if you went to war.

Write it on a sticky note that you can see when you look up from your computer and consult it every time you’re about to answer an email that had a nasty tone, or when you’re on the phone with someone exasperating.  Look at it when you’re gossiping with your colleagues (which is fun and addictive and awful), and try your best to live by it…

 

Just Be Nice.

 

 

 

What My Brand is About (these days)

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You need a brand because you have one anyway.  Not having a brand just means that you aren’t driving the way you’re being perceived.  Recently, a girl I used to work with asked me what my “secret” was and why I keep getting promoted while she (and so many others) seem to be stuck in their entry level positions for years just getting more frustrated.  Obviously there’s no one thing, but here’s how the conversation started:

Me: I work hard to maintain my brand
Her: You mean you work hard, period
Me: Of course, but also, I work hard to be the things I want my brand to be
Her: What are you, Coke?

I swear to god it was one of those moments where I couldn’t believe I got such a great lay-up…

Yes!  I’m like Coke.  People know what to expect behind my label, they know it’ll be the same ‘product’ every time, and I’m loud and proud about the good things that I try to do outside of the office.  It’s not that different from Coke at all!  Behind their red label is the same taste, every time.  No matter which store I go to, or where I order it, it will always be the same formula, and they make huge noise around their good works that go beyond massive product sales.  

The sad truth about navigating the corporate world is that we are all products – the hard part is finding a way not to feel used for the product you are giving in return for your income, and instead feel like you are contributing to your organization.  This is the ONLY way I found to mentally survive my first five years in corporate America. 

My brand is about competence, intelligence, exuberance, and helpfulness.  I’ll explain…

Competence is something I try to build and embody by having as many skills as possible and then executing as quickly and accurately as possible whenever those skills are needed.  

Intelligence is something I try to demonstrate by choosing the words that say exactly what I mean, avoiding swearing in professional life (and personal, but nobody’s perfect), and then I try to build it by reading.  Reading books, reading the news, reading my emails closely to make sure I know what the sender was trying to say to avoid looking stupid in my response, and yes – reading DListed for celebrity gossip because I love that garbage. All of it gives you more to talk about with more types of people.

Exuberance – sometimes bites me and gets me labeled “loud,” or “annoying,” but it’s at the core of who I am.  I am thrilled to be alive, and grateful to be employed, so I try to act like it!

Helpfulness – Everyone comes to my cube with questions.  It’s not my job, and it takes time I don’t always have, but it makes me feel good to help, and since I usually know the answers or where to look for the answers, it supports my brand elements of competence and intelligence.  Added bonus?  It makes people like you when you help them.  

I don’t fire on all cylinders all the time, and I’m definitely not perfect, but I try to keep these four things in the back of my mind like a mantra to keep me on track. 

OH, and when I screw up?  I admit it IMMEDIATELY and apologize if needed.  

Why the Past Matters in Creating Your Brand

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Well hey.  Look at that, you’re reading my writing!  At some point I thought that was all I’d ever want or need after university.  As it turned out, rent, food, healthcare, and tickets back to California twice a year also turned out to be things I wanted and needed.  That’s how I ended up working at a fortune 500 technology company as a retail clerk.  And then as corporate store support.  And then as a B2B rep.  And now in marketing.  It’s been a journey that began the moment I picked up the phone for my first phone interview, and which I almost derailed without even knowing it on many many occasions, at many many Manhattan bars those first two years working in the city.

The thing about building your brand is that everything that happens to you matters.  What happened to you to make you who you are, how you deal with those things and how you communicate their impact on you (and to whom), and whether or not you learned from them matters.  It drives me crazy when some hip, enlightened New Yorker tries to explain to me how they’ve “left all the negativity behind them” and they are starting fresh.  We don’t start fresh – we walk around with all of our stories rattling around inside of our heads like beta-fish, they fight for attention and sometimes eat each other leaving behind murky confusion and bits of the loser.

So why the enormous Tortoise in the picture?  Because its so easy – especially as a go getting twenty-something, to forget that the things we are doing now are the story of us next year.  The choices we make today will be the choices we have to live with tomorrow, and the people we give our time to will not only impact us, we become associated with them in the minds of everyone who knew us then.  Will you give yourself weight to carry around?  Or build an exoskeleton that will protect you from harm?  That tortoise will live to be over 100 years old, and carries enormous weight, that also serves as awesome built in protection.  He doesn’t turn so well, but he can motor pretty good when it’s time to eat.  Moral of the story: your actions in navigating the corporate world, regardless of your goals, need to be about making choices now that will give you options later.