Monthly Archives: May 2013

Are They Discriminating Against You? Probably.



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

Surviving A Tornado As A Metaphor

First of All

My family and I are fine.  I’d like to thank all the people who reached out to check on me.  For those who don’t know, I live in Oklahoma.  In fact, I was in New Jersey on a business trip when the big tornado hit on Monday, May 20, 2013.  The day before, Sunday,  tornados raged through Oklahoma and like many Oklahomans, I watched on TV as they moved across Oklahoma–within a mile or two of my work, within a mile of where my brother was working, within 2 miles of where my sister lives, within a mile and a half of where my other brother lives.  We checked with each other by phone as the storms moved across the middle of the state.  We did what we do in Oklahoma.  We closed the drapes, made sure we knew where the flashlights were, put the cars in the garages and knew where we would go (our safe place) if the storm came close.  In Oklahoma we know the weather broadcasters by their first names.  We know the name of the helicopter they use when tornadoes come.  We know the names of the vehicles that the storm chasers use.  We (all of us–the broadcasters, storm chasers, helicopter pilots, and TV and radio audiences) track these storms block by block.  They tell us what minute the storm will be at what intersection.  When the storm gets close, we go to the place that we have determined is the safest place in our homes, and we wait for the storm to do what it is going to do.

Have a Plan

This is not a passive reaction.  This is a proactive process that involves all of us.  There is a plan in place.  There is a complicated and detailed process to get the information to us about when to take action.  We do not mess around.  I was in an office building in Cincinnati once when the storm alarms went off.  Everyone just kept working.  I started to get up to go someplace safe but I came back.  I couldn’t go without at least trying to get others to come with me.  I went to the closest high-ranking person and asked if we shouldn’t get moving to the center of the building.  Then I went to another person.  And another.  They uniformly had the same reaction–they were amused by me, they told me that it was ‘just’ a thunderstorm, and that no one ever went to the center of the building.  I gave up.  I went to the center of the building and waited.  They were right.  Nothing happened.  The storm passed and I learned later that in Cincinnati they sound the alarm whether it is a severe storm or a tornado.  From an Oklahoman’s perspective–this is nuts.  People need to know when a tornado is coming, they need to not be confused with mixed signals, and they need to proceed to the safest place.  Oklahomans know what to do.  People are amazed that there were so few fatalities in the big Oklahoma tornado.  There were 24 too many fatalities, but there were not hundreds of fatalities because Oklahomans know what to do and THEY DO IT.

Sometimes It’s Different

Sometimes the situation is different.  Sometimes what is happening is bigger, worse than even your best plan.  That is what happened on Monday, May 20.  This storm was unprecedented.  The broadcasters knew it.  Lots of Oklahomans knew it.  Very few of us had ever heard the weather broadcaster who we listen to say that the only way to survive this storm was to get out.  To leave.  To get underground (only a small percentage of Oklahoma homes have basements or storm shelters) or to get out.  People knew what that meant, too.  It meant that this was bigger, beyond our standard ‘safe place’ plans.  My sister was in the backroom of a restaurant.  She was huddled with others doing what you do when a tornado is coming–waiting for it to do what it does.  Then my nephew called her and asked where she was.  When she told him, he told her that he was watching the radar–most Oklahomans have apps or access to watch the Dopplar radar of these storms–and that the storm was heading straight for her.  He told her to get out.  To drive south.  (This is not normal advice–normally he would be relieved that she was appropriately sheltered and tell her he’d talk to her once the storm had passed.)  She listened.  She got in her car.  She saw the terrifying tornado about half a mile away (the tornado itself was more than a mile WIDE, so that tells you how close it was) and she drove south.  This is NOT what you normally do.  In Oklahoma you know that being in a car is dangerous.  You know that semis get blown all over the place and are dangerous to be near.  They blow off overpasses (this happened the day before).  The drivers lose control and  become dangerous barriers in your way.  Sometimes, though, what is dangerous is LESS dangerous and you just have to do it.

Have a Plan, Execute It

There are thousands of stories from the storm this week.  People clearly did what they had to do to survive.  They KNEW what to do.  Many, many people owe their lives to the superior weather reporting that happens in Oklahoma.  They owe their lives to people who shared shelters and coolers (like at my brother’s store).  They owe their lives to teachers to protected them.  They owe their lives to having a plan and not hesitating about putting it into place.

Help Each Other

As the stories unfold from the tornado, there are so many stories of people helping people.  People reaching out and doing what they can.  Some of the unpublicized stories are what corporations are doing to help people.  Because I have an Oklahoma address, I’ve gotten emails from companies reaching out to me as a customer.  The company I work for has taken action to help Oklahoma with its resources and to reach out to employees who are affected.  (Makes me so proud!!) Our Oklahoma basketball hero, Kevin Durant, gave $1 million to help.  Even though I was not directly affected by this tornado, I’m so grateful to each and every person and corporation who has helped.

So Where is the Metaphor

Tornadoes are rare events.  Except in Oklahoma.  Except in Moore.  The lessons though–know what to expect, have a plan, have ways to get the information you need, don’t hesitate to act, know when you adjust your plan–apply to most of the things in our lives.

Blessings to All Those Affected by the Oklahoma Tornadoes This Spring

If you have the ability to help, the American Red Cross is always there for the victims of tornadoes (and other disasters).  I recommend giving them some help to help others.


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You Know How To Communicate, Right? You’re Good At It, Right?

Most People Aren’t Great At Communication

My experience is that not very many people are genuinely good at communication–in all the ways that they need to be.  You may be good at it with your kids or with your employees or with your boss, but it is highly likely that you AREN’T good at it in all the times/ways/with ALL the people you need to be.  There are so many factors that create good communication:

  • Language
  • Listening
  • Talking
  • Presenting
  • Pictures
  • Videos
  • Reporting
  • Words
  • Feelings
  • Visual
  • Ideas
  • Timing
  • Messaging

When you think about your communication, do you think about all of these?  Let me give a few examples:

If I tell you I’m thinking about a star, which of these do you think about:

A star is a star is a star

Depends, doesn’t it?  If you are an editor for People Magazine, then you probably think about the star on the red carpet.  If you’re a quilter like me, you might think about the Ohio Star quilt pattern (2d from the right).  If you’re Jewish, maybe the Star of David.  If you’re an astronomer, then maybe the galaxy.  If however, you are in a synagog, that makes it more likely that you’d think of the Star of David.  If you’re in a quilt class–you get the point.  Mind set and context have a lot to do with your interpretation of what you hear.  Do you think about that when you talk about something or ask people for things?  I’ve been in situations where people clearly misunderstood each other using common words.  When Engineers and Marketers are talking to each other, then it is easy to misunderstand.  People who are talking about new processes v. old process, new systems v. old systems, higher levels in the organizations v. lower levels in the organization, younger people v. older people, experienced v. inexperienced.

Think about the ways in which people use the same words that you use.  Is it possible you’re not getting your point across?  Remember that what you think is fast may not be what others think of as fast.  Complete may not be the same complete.  Strategy.  Urgent.  Important.  Right.  So many ways to have different interpretations.  So many ways to fail to communicate.

It Doesn’t Matter If The Message Doesn’t Get Through

That’s why it’s important to use pictures, questions, videos.  Whatever it takes to draw out the different interpretations will help you get clear.  It doesn’t matter if you are being clear (as far as you’re concerned), if the receiver is getting the wrong message (and especially if it seems clear to the receiver).  That is a failed communication.

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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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New Manager? New Team? How To Find the Balance.

Congratulations, New Manager!

You just became a new manager.  You just got a new team.  You have lots of ideas of what needs to change.  You point out things that are wrong.  You tell them what needs to be different.  All is good.  Right?  What?  They resent you?  They are sulking?  They grumble?  They stop talking to each other when you walk up?  What’s wrong!?  Why isn’t this working the way you dreamed?

Well . . . put yourself in their shoes.  What makes you ‘righter’ than them?  They’re doing the job.  They’ve been doing the job. They are not deliberately doing a bad job.  Their perspective is their job.   Let me put that more clearly–each person is looking at his/her job.  The tasks.  The deadlines.  The barriers.  The annoyances.  They are not looking at the ‘whole.’  They are not thinking about how it all fits together and how to make it better.  They have a different perspective than you.  In fact, I’ll bet $$ that your perspective is recent.  Especially if you got promoted to manage them.  Now that you have a different job, you’re looking at it differently.

Why would they understand your perspective unless you explain it to them.  Provide them some context.  From what they can see, you’re being critical (if you were formerly their coworker, they may think you’ve lost your mind) without any basis.

What is happening to you is a little like how you walk into your house day after day and see nothing wrong with it, until you find out your mother-in-law is coming in 2 hours.  Suddenly you see everything that is wrong and freak out about how you can’t get it all done before she gets here.  Neither perspective is right.  The house has some things wrong, but not all that you see from your mother-in-law’s view.  The same is with the new job, the new team.  There are some things wrong.  You need to EXPLAIN how and why you see these things, though, to your new team.  You need to realize they are perceiving the criticism as being about them, which is not fun.

See it through their eyes and work hard to explain what you want to change in a way that provides context and an appreciation of how they can help fix it–not how they are the problem.

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