Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Dec 29, 2005

Parquet Shortstop

Instructor, Caroline Bender

Nearly 30 years ago, a well-meaning (but now painfully outdated) book called Games Mother Never Taught You attempted to explain the mysteries of the male corporate world to us career gals. Among the skills we were advised to learn were "locker room talk" and the art of the sports metaphor.

Most days I think I fall back too easily on my sports metaphors, to the point of cliche. But recently I stumbled onto one which summed up for me an experience I had been trying to define and express for the past year.

I realized why I felt so crowded, so frustrated, so elbowed on the job. "I am a baseball player," I said to my Boss. "And this company... is basketball."

I enjoy the poetry of baseball -- the celebration of the individual player in the execution of a team success. Watching baseball puts me into a calm state of alertness, even as the tension builds toward the heartbreaking pop-up when the bases are loaded. But basketball is stressful to me. So much crowding under the basket -- the speed of the play from end-to-end, then back again. I've got the ball, no he does, now him! Whistles and squeaks and the thunder of giant athletes running at top speed.


So it happened that in a project meeting where 15 people literally shouted for an hour over what should be done and how and when and by whom, I heard those sneaker squeaks and shot buzzers, and I recognized where I had felt this before.

I like to play my position when the ball comes to me, and get out of my teammate's way when the play is hers. Collision on the diamond is generally regarded as dangerous, and avoided as much as possible. The one guy who expects to take a hard mid-section hit is issued full body armor.

I want my manager to plan the line-up before the game starts. The manager and the coaches know which skills are needed from whom; they understand that the progression of skills matters. When they take care of the strategy, I can concentrate on the tactics of getting the game played.

The defense keeps control of the ball. No fumbles, no interceptions, no turnovers, no jump balls, no face-offs. Until you've had your allottment of plays, the other team has to wait. How I wish we could maintain that level of control over anything in the workday.

The rules of engagement are civilized and respectful. One of my favorite moments throughout any game is the friendly chat between the baserunner and the infielder as they wait for the next hit. Imagine man-to-man defense around that bag instead. It's enough to give you belljar.

Understand that this is not a problem I have solved. I am still out there everyday, cap on, punching a pocket into my glove with the shot clock running. I don't know the devil is going on most of the time. ("Guys...? Man off base. I'm open...?"). It was enough just to articulate the problem.

So this morning I went in search of a baseball team in need of a utility player. I'll let you know how it works out.

Watch this space. Batter Up.

Dec 21, 2005

10 Great Working Woman Movies

an occasional list of diversions from the Faculty and Staff of the BWFS&SC

1. The Best of Everything
Indeed, the best of the best. And doesn't Hope look great in those wool suits?

2. Woman of the Year
There are a lot of Kate Hepburn at work movies. This is the queen.

3. Working Girl
The movie that taught us there is no sisterhood in the workplace.

4. 9 to 5
The movie that taught us there is.

5. Private Benjamin
Can a woman find her self-identity through her work? Even if it is in the Army?

6. The Apartment
Because Shirley MacLaine is the center of the panelled universe, moral-wise.

7. Designing Woman
Peck & Bacall? You're thinking, "I've never seen this!" Now you can.

8. Baby Boom
As deliciously 80's as a Bartyles & James. And don't we all think we could just move to Vermont and start a jam business?

9. His Girl Friday
What you think work will be like when you are 14.

10. All About Eve
What it is like.

11. Flashdance
Not really.

Dec 16, 2005

The Little Email Thread That Could

Instructor, Caroline Bender

This is the story as it was told to me -- with the usual changing of names, ranks, and serial numbers.

An Individual Contributrix (Trixie) was working on a high profile project for someone other than her boss. The sponsor said, "Let me know when you get into trouble," and so she did. When another department planted its feet in the way of progress, Trixie knew that she could not just plead at her own level across the hierarchy. She needed the project sponsor to do a little politicking at his tier in order to get the blockage removed. But the sponsor was not at his desk, and his calendar showed him as out for the next two days. So she expressed her need to an email to him...and only to him.

She made her points firmly, with a sense of urgency, but taking care not to name names or throw shade on a group that was only trying to take care of its own business. But her frustration was clear, and her need for the situation to be "handled" was explicitly stated. The email's exclamation point was enough to get the sponsor's attention and a phone call was made. Trixie and the Sponsor agreed that Sponsor would handle this with his fellow executive 1-on-1, and an order to cooperate would trickle down from there.

But Sponsor did not call his peer -- at least not before forwarding Trixie's email to his Boss, a Veep with an inability to understand that "FYI" really means "reporting in, ma'am, not asking for assistance." The Veep broadcast Trixie's request for assistance to as many people under her as she could (which in this company was nearly everyone), including the staff of the Fellow Executive. This started a flurry of responses that rang In Box bells all the way down the cube rows.

The Fellow Executive, who now considered the glove thrown, responded "all-plus some" (which should be an Outlook feature) with a defensive reply about how helpful his staff can be when asked appropriately.

Fellow sends another stern reply to Veep, the Sponsor, and our Trixie about their unprofessional way of doing business -- including the broadcast of Trixie's email, which (he points out) was clearly not meant to be read by others. The Sponsor, mortified, shuts that thread down by offering to call Fellow Executive for an explanation and defending Trixie's original words. He sends a separate apology to Trixie, cc'ing the Veep, who replies-all with her version of an apology. ("I didn't see anything wrong with having other people see it.")

The live version of this workshop would have me shout, "And...FREEZE." at this point in the story. Already there are so many eye-opening lessons we must process some of them.

You Can't Block EMail Forwarding
Oh, would that it were true. But it is not. So assume that anyone could -- and will -- read your words, and write as if for the company bulletin board. This doesn't mean you can't ever complain, or call them like you see them. It means that you must stick to the facts (or obscure them completely, but that's not our point here).

Refer to Business Units, not to People
Unless you are filing a harassment complaint or an award nomination, try to stick to "The Legal Department procedures state..." or "Customer Service representatives reported..." Like, "senior White House officials." Your readers will naturally ask "Who," but answer them off the page.

Limit your Recipients
Imagine if, in the day of the inter-office email and the literal carbon copy, you would have included all these people in this discussion. Trixie took her concern to one reader, and he to one reader, but then the knotting began.

The backlash of not cc'ing the World is that others assume you didn't answer if they didn't hear about it. They will start new threads of their own, contradicting your plan or repeating your effort because they think you did not offer. So...hanged if you do...

Reprimand Privately
One action I like on the part of the Fellow Executive is that he let his peer and his peer's veep know they had offended him, and he did so outside of the large thread which included his own staff. I think he should have left Trixie out as well.

Notice how Sponsor apologized to everyone for a turmoil that was not entirely his fault, but certainly kicked off by him. He offered to call the Fellow and resolve the whole thing the old-fashioned uncomfortable way (in person) when he really could have spun several more reply rounds. Notice how the Veep... still doesn't get it.

And what in the world did Trixie do, you ask?
Trixie stayed out of it, but not consciously so. She stayed out of it only by virtue of not being in the office that day. Trixie admits that if she had been there, she might not have made the choice to stay silent, which she now realizes was the safest position. By the time Trixie was even aware of the storm, it had passed. She looks forward to using this hard lesson learned in the future by...

Not Replying Immediately to EMail Threads
Some emails deserve a quick response. They are identifiable because a question is asked, and a "need to know by" deadline is sensed. These are not the messages we are talking about.

I mean the little threads that keep going -- up hill and down -- on their way to the circus. Challenge yourself not to play along, or at the very least to call the sender with your feedback-- thereby getting your point of view directly to the source rather than competing with the reply-plusses. If this means limiting your email checks to only 8 times a day (that's one an hour) do it.

It's very freeing to delete all but the final reply, read the thread, then call the originator and say "Do you need anything more from me on this?"


Dec 7, 2005

Be the Chicken

Instructor, Caroline Bender

I would like to comment briefly on the new business allegory that is making the rounds, and of which I am already sick to death. This is the kind of Move My Cheese story told by blustery Boss/Presenters to inspire and delight us into giving "more" (which see our earlier entry on getting a life).

The parable uses the commitment made by both the Pig and the Chicken toward the outcome of the project, in this case a bacon and egg breakfast. Presenter makes the point that while the chicken "showed up" for the endeavor, the pig "really committed."

Presenter will stick her tongue in her cheek and wiggle her eyebrows, meaning "Get it? D'ja get it?"

I would like to posit that this is a terrible analogy, makes no sense, and undermines its own point.

Yes, the pig did commit; he literally put "skin in the game." But he has committed at the sacrifice of himself. As a result, he can no longer commit again. He is a one-time resource which is all expensive fat without nutrition. The sizzle without the meat. Most of his contribution melts and is drained off, resulting in a very large expense on his part for a very small contribution to the project.

You may say the chicken only showed up, laid an egg and left. But what is the quality of her contribution? She is a renewable resource, who can give every day one of nature's perfect foods. In addition, the chicken's contribution, if fertilized and incubated, yields more chickens.

Be the chicken. And you can tell the Boss I said so.

Nov 17, 2005

Free Speech on the Job

Instructor, Caroline Bender

Ordinarily, you might expect me to approach this topic in the tone of "you should be above board" and "don't put anything in email you can't answer for..." and generally that is Miss Bender's attitude. But I am a little annoyed with the Company these days, and I have decided to take a more educational (and practical) approach instead, and offer tips for beating the system.

Years ago, when the Law began supporting the Company on the topic of email privacy and network ownership, we all got a little worried that we were being watched. This website alone may be grounds for my dismissal; not carefully hiding my identity and that of the Company would be professional suicide. But in those days I used to say that the volume of email alone -- not to mention the brick-hard TEDIUM of its contents -- ought to prevent any employer from bothering to skim it. And I was secure in that belief.

Since then, a few things have happened -- roughly in this order. And they may be happening to you right now.

The Boss' job became more boring than yours
And... she is under some pressure to protect the Company and herself. There is so little supervisory time, no one has been trained for their job, and she can't always be sure she knows how you're representing the department. (and she might be a little crazy )

Monitoring your activity allows her to know what you're up to -- and she doesn't have to apologize when caught! In fact, if you suspect you are being monitored, you are a fool to confront her. What you must do instead is take preventative action.

On-Line Employee Suggestion boards
Get real. Those aren't anonymous. But when they are presented by the Company as if they are, the Boss has to work harder to confront you about whatever you submit. This takes time away from the other nefarious snooping they are up to.

Countermeasure ~ Disguise your handwriting.
By this, I mean learn what your verbal tells are. Avoid your common catch-phrases and conversational style; throw around regionalisms that don't match your region. For example, Americans might use "whilst" or "colour." The trick is to be completely inconsistent, post-to-post, and not to repeat in person a clever turn of phrase you have used on the board. Sometimes, you might post something you don't even care about, just to start a goose chase.

Job board surfing
True story: Head of HR calls the Middle Manager and says "Junior Employee's resume is posted on BigPhat Job Board. Are you going to talk to her?" The Company enjoys passing the time searching job boards for their name (or, quite frankly, your name) to see who has posted a resume.

Countermeasure ~ Mask your identity
Most job boards will allow you to mark your resume "confidential," which masks your name and address. Make sure to also remove your name from the resume itself. No headers, footers, fancy letterhead, etc. Don't worry that your resume doesn't have your name on it. It's also in plain text and marginless.

Same idea on a wider scale. Googling web groups is an especially interesting way to find out what you're doing on company time. And now search engines include Blogsearching, where the Company can find out what you are posting about them.

Countermeasure ~ Google yourself often.
See what's out there. You can't dispose of it, but you are at least aware. In addition, if it is something obscure ("Rita Renteria wins karate final," ) and the Boss mentions it... you have a good idea how she came across it.

Always post to web groups using a personal email address, preferably one that doesn't reveal your name. If you have an unusual name, misspell it periodically, when it really doesn't matter (like on eBay).

Blog carefully. You know Bender is not my real name, and I would not name my company. If you actually read these entries with any consistency, you'll start to identify the people, places, and events behind all these pseudonyms. But the Company is not reading...it is searching and spot-checking. If you want to see how this works, blogsearch your company (or any company) and see what comes back. Then avoid it.

IP lookup
Here was one that shocked even me. In an anonymous survey, Businesswoman includes a quotation to enforce her point. The Company narc googles the quotation, then determines whether a company-owned IP had visited that site. But, as mentioned above, the Company doesn't confront the commenter; they just tuck the info away into their
file of known subversives.

Countermeasure ~ deflect and distract
I'd like to tell you not to surf at work, but 8 hours is a very long time to watch your screensaver. So rather than not surf, I say surf a LOT. Surf to a hundred sites of your competitors, search for job-related words in groups, click on every on-line version of your industry's trade magazines. This is the equivalent of sneaking the condom box in with the cartful of groceries. "I probably was there. I'm all over the web. Where else was I that day?"

This can also work for confusing Ironmail, which looks for patterns and percentages. Volume can confuse the statistics.

IronMail (and its ilk)
The people who promise you "inbound protection" (oh my) also throw around the phrase "protect against outbound policy and compliance violations." This means filtering. And to see an IronMail demo in action is to get your head spinning about the kinds of filters and measurements you might run if you wanted to spy on goldbricking employees such as yourself.

Volume and tedium are no longer a problem, as the Company may now search by keywords, word roots, fuzzy words...file types, file size...recipient domains. They can delete, archive, quarantine, and best of all report. And I do love a compelling report. Who at our company sends the most mail? The largest mail? Who receives mail from our competitor? And what is that mail exactly? We should read it!

All perfectly legal. You are a guest in their home.

Countermeasure ~ cryptology
If you ever passed mean notes (and you know who you are, you Mean Girls) or signed a slang book, you can do this without trying. Nicknames, code names, abbreviations, gangsta rap, cockney rhyming slang... whatever works for you.

Example: "Marilyn accidentally sent Rita the payroll file
with all the salaries attached" can become "Nineball has the $$ list." No one is searching text for "Nineball."

Just like your parents would have made. Includes actual screenshots, IM capture, keystrokes, browser logging, and once again more reporting than you would think they had time for. But how they do love the metrics.

Countermeasure ~ Spyware
You probably can't install this on the company computer yourself, and more's the pity. But isn't it nice to know that someone is making money by playing us off of each other?

What to do when you are confronted
I am operating under the assumption that you have not done anything unethical, like stolen company secrets, embezzled, harassed a co-worker, or violated any actual laws. If you have, you are not only to take the punishment coming to you, you will kindly leave my class.

My assumption is that you have violated your company's silly "No Being Disgruntled" policy, and for that I applaud you. But now you're on the hook and you need to play it cool. This can get very interesting, because the Boss's snooping is no better or worse than whatever you said or did. No laws have been broken except that of trust and loyalty.

1 - How did they find it?
If this was a forum that was supposedly confidential, deny authorship. With a slow shaking of the head and a never-heard-of-it eyebrow raise, lower lip protruding thoughtfully...simply say that wasn't you. They won't want to admit how they know it is.

If this has your signature right on it, read on.

2 - What did you actually say?
If it was untrue ("She slept with him to get that promotion."), cite your source...vaguely. Never sell out your co-workers, but you can say apologetically, "It's true, I don't know that for a fact. I shouldn't have passed on gossip," (even if you made it up yourself)

It if was true and mean ("I can't believe a moron like that is in charge."), call it an emotional outburst. As if disappointed in yourself add, "That's a lesson learned, for sure."

If it was true and coded ("Cyclops and Gandolf missed the meeting.") obfuscate. Laugh, shrug, and say, "Who even knows anymore. What did you want to ask me?"

If it was just plain true ("She cuts me off at the knees every time I try to raise an original idea.") Commit to it. Square your shoulders, hold eye contact and say, "I firmly believe that with all my heart."

In any case, follow-up with, "How did this come to your attention?"

3 - How much data is there?
Bosses who like data like to present it in a dramatic flair. (The slinky-drop effect of unfolding a ream of form-feed paper is sadly now lost to us.) When the numbers don't lie, take an absurdly long time to review them. Preferably with a pencil in hand. After the Boss has shifted weight at least 3 times, say "It's certainly a lot of information. What does it all mean?"

If you want to know what your rights are, you can look at some of the reference below. Better to stay cloaked. And best to stay above it all.

But you can see that even I don't do that.

Cyberspace and the Law
Protect your Digital Privacy
How to be Invisible


Oct 27, 2005

Master's degree Required/Some Heavy Lifting

Instructor, Caroline Bender

There is a lot I don't remember anymore. Not like a blackout, or even "it's all a blur." I still remember the facts of things every day, snapshot incidents that characterize how it all dissolved.

I remember that I used to get the dry heaves in the morning, just before brushing my teeth, and that I cried at my desk at least once a day. I remember that once I did hide in the footwell and found the enclosed dark space very comforting. But the real feeling of that pain -- say, the feeling that drives you to leave the building in the middle of the workday to go to a poolhall to shoot people with video guns -- I don't have sensual memories like that anymore.

But this is not the story of that pain, or the way that it ate me away, or how one wakes up -- as our previous contributor described -- not knowing how one got there.

The story I want to tell here is how it changed the way I think about my professional life. This is not necessarily advice for you to follow; this is not a diatribe against "careers" or those who desire them. This is only my story. I am Caroline B., and I am a workoholic.

The class does need some background, so let me spend a few moments on that. I did not plan to enter the profession I did; that is, I had no path or formal training. I had been inspired by two women I worked for to enter their field and was encouraged by them, by my colleagues, and by my staff to grow in qualities I had never known in myself. I had never been happier. I had found a vocation that was not only career and ambition, but a ministry, and way of life. It was the method I had found for making my contribution to the world, and even when for periods it was the hardest thing I had ever done.... I found tremendous joy. I had never been so in-the-game, or felt so good at anything. I knew exactly what needed to be done every moment of the day in any situation, and was at my best when several situations were happening at once. I was one of those finger-snapping, fast-walking, clipboard carrying dynamos in heels -- every moment tightly managed, every task anticipated, accounted for, delegated and executed. Staff development, budgets, office politics, facilities management, curriculum development, project management, student advising, breakfast meeting with the dean in the morning, awareness programs at night, leadership retreat over the weekend. All before work-from-home, conference calls, emails, or cell phones.

I entered the field at 23 and was elevated to management at 25. At 28, on a career development plan, I took a slightly higher position at another campus. At 30, the veneer began to crack. Underweight, underslept, emotionally dead (except for the crying jags and $10 rounds of Lethal Enforcer, which were euphoric), I kept playing through it. Walk it off. It's a phase, it's flux, you're just tired, she's just a bitch, it wasn't his fault, this too shall pass... whatever got me through the rough spots until I could get the groove back. These are the trials on the way to the deanship, I kept telling myself, ignoring the voice in the back of my head that I was still many levels away from a deanship I might not live to see. I wasn't even sure I wanted that anymore, but that was the career path I was on. Just keep working, keep working. It can't catch you if you're moving. This road leads somewhere if you can stay on it. Only the strong survive.

By 32, I had full-on rock star exhaustion. All I thought about was making it stop.

When I tell you that my resignation was rejected, you must believe that this actually happened. Like an infidel questioning the cult, I was shamed and punished for betraying our insular community, and daring to believe I could succeed anywhere else. I won't recount the words said in that meeting -- they were shockingly painful, and all has since been forgiven. Let's sum it up by saying that it was clear that if I walked out that door I could never come back -- not just to that campus, but to the profession.

And there's the heartbreak. Because I did want to come back. I wanted to stay. But I also wanted to feel better, and I knew I couldn't get sober until I walked away from the bar.

I have been re-examining my relationship with my work these days because it was 10 years ago this month that I submitted that rejected resignation letter. It took me this long to separate how I earn my money from defining who I "am." I went through a journeyman period ("This is my profession; I just happen to work for you.") followed by a need for utility ("I just want my best skills put to use every day.") Today I work for a company I don't particularly respect, doing a job that is not fulfilling, in an industry that bores me to tears.

But I stay.

I stay because the only real agreement concretely made between my employer and me was that I would show up and complete my duties, and in exchange they would pay me a salary, invest my retirement money, and provide me with healthcare.

I stay because it is more money than I ever thought I would earn -- and like the saying goes, they give you a thousand dollars a week until you need a thousand dollars a week to live.

I stay because it is 15 miles from my house and doesn't require me to drive on the highway.

I stay because I finally understand that the promise of "parking provided" delivers more consistently than "growth opportunities in a dynamic industry."

My colleagues and my supervisors will tell you that I still deliver, often far beyond their expectations. They'll tell you I still make the place a decent place to come to every day, that they value my partnership, that I cut through the garbage. I'm not puffing myself up; they have told me these things themselves. Only I know the difference.

And I guess now you do too.


Oct 20, 2005

Want to manage? Consider these five things

By Ms. Trienta Y. Heureux
Director of Department Zed, Geldstrafe College

I am a manager.
I manage people, programs, money, staff developments and staff meetings. I hire, I fire, I hold people accountable, and I tell them when they’ve done well. I make decisions, sometimes going against what others think. I am able, and sometimes required, to make people do things that they don’t want to do, don’t think make sense and actually, in some cases, hate.

I manage up.
I deal with politics, with relationships, and with protecting my office and my staff. I manage those above me in areas different from my own who still believe that because they are higher on the hierarchical chart, they can tell me how to do my job... even when they have no idea what they are talking about. Then, I make sure that I work well enough with those people so they still respect me, my office and therefore, my staff. If I don’t represent my office well, and people lose respect for it, my staff suffers.

Oh are the woes of the mid-level manager. Because, women, let me tell you, there is a difference.

Manager is a broad term, and as you aspire to become one, make sure you know what you are getting into. Who and what do you manage? Will you be in a management sandwich? Just because you are managing others doesn’t mean you have any power whatsoever. It might mean that your life is miserable, because the manager above you makes all the decisions and you are left playing both sides in the middle.

So, as you move through your career and you begin wondering how to get in charge of something and stop being someone else’s lackey all time, here are some words of advice.

These are in no particular order because frankly, I don’t think in any particular order. (A downfall for a manager, really.)

Don’t become a manager before you are ready.
How will you know this? Well, subscribe to some self-awareness. Seriously. Sit down and have a nice long chat with yourself. Write it out, talk out loud to your best friend or your mom, or talk to yourself. It doesn’t matter, as long as you consider whether you have what you will need to manage other people.

These aren’t plants, people. They aren’t cats or even dogs (who, I think, are hard to manage). They are other human beings. They have lives, worries, problems, varying skill levels and are different than you are. They will not necessarily act as predicted. They will not necessarily make decisions in a way that makes sense to you.

You might have to fire someone. Can you do that?

Are you ready to bring someone your own age or older than you into a room and tell them to stop wearing flip-flops to the office? A good test: can you tell your roommate that her pans in the sink are annoying? Or do you just let it go because you can’t deal with the fact that maybe she won’t like you anymore? There’s your answer about whether you can manage another person.

Don’t think that because you are a manager, people will finally give you the credit you have deserved all these years and stop questioning everything you do.
It just won’t happen. In fact, it’s possible the questioning will get worse because you are making much more important decisions.

When you are signing the form that spends $13,000 for the spring event down payment, and when you have to go to HR to talk about why your incompetent assistant needs to go, people will question you. You have to be clear about why you have made the decision and have the gumption to stick by it. A waffler won’t get far. If you can’t explain yourself, soon the questioning will grow.

Play nice with others.
So this is probably a no-brainer, but it really isn’t. Lots of people are incompetent and inefficient and even downright stupid. (Look at George W. Bush for evidence. But I digress.)

The thing about managing is that you have to be at least nice enough that people will want to work with you, your staff will respect you, and want to do good work with you.

I am not a nice person. I am blunt, judgmental, cheeky, and even offensive. I tell it like it is. I have to work hard every day to make sure that people don’t hate me. So don’t think this advice is coming from Ms. Candy Sunshine. It’s not. ‘Nuff said.

Don’t think being a manager means having to do “less work."
This, apparently, is a common misconception. While the staff is toiling to make sure the programs succeed and the big event is successful and the sales quota is met by working extra hours, the managers are also working.
Apparently, we don’t do a good enough job at telling everyone else how we are working.

We have to figure out the bottom line. We have to manage the money. We have to manage the staff. An inordinate amount of time is spent dealing with staff who are either underperforming, having issues, or making mistakes (that then have to be managed to create as little damage as possible).

We have to communicate. I believe this is one of the biggest downfalls of management nationwide. We don’t tell those “below” us what’s going on enough. There are limits to this and timing issues, but it should be done better and more often. (I do. Gets me in trouble sometimes, but I think it’s not okay that this doesn’t happen more.)

Remember it’s still only work. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
Yes, other people’s lives depend on your decisions. You do their salary raise recommendations and you do their performance reviews. You are a role model. When you come in and when you leave and how often you bend the rules will be noted by other people and they will follow suit.

You will think of something you forgot to do while you are in the shower, out running, in the movies, at dinner with your friends, or halfway through your fifth beer in front of the game on Sunday afternoon. Figure out how to do your job well, but still have balance in your life, still maintain your relationships, and still remember it’s only work.

So many people forget this. They don’t take vacation. (I had to write a letter to HR excusing one staff member who has accumulated over 250 hours of vacation time and can’t figure out how to use it up, and he’s not even a manager yet – if I had that time, I’d be gone for 2 weeks every three months or so.)

A recent anecdote I read said to always remember Rule Number 6: Don’t take yourself so seriously. (The other 5 rules don’t even exist, this one is so important.)

In my book, these are the top five. There are a million more, in actuality.

Many people spend their whole career outside of management, either by choice or by circumstance. Many people aspire to be in management without a reason -- except that society says that’s what we are supposed to aspire for. Some people spend 80% of their career in middle management while others climb very quickly and spend 80% in upper-level management. Almost nobody, I believe, had a plan. People don’t make an active decision to be where they are, but instead find themselves there.

Be different.
Do think about it.
Make a decision.
Only get the next degree if you intend to use it and only intend to use it if you want to. (Yes, money is part of the issue here, I know. Take that into account as well.)

Long story short, be clear with yourself and those around you. Don’t wake up when you are 40 (or 32 for that matter) and wonder where you are and how in the world you got there.

Oct 5, 2005

When work is your life

Fireside chat with Ms. Minchin, Miss Minchin's younger, hipper sister.

Let's start with a quiz. For each question you answer "yes" to, give yourself 5 points. For each "No" give yourself 0 points. Workers in philanthropic or life-saving jobs are exempt.

1. I think about work anytime I am not at work. yes/no
2. I talk about annoying things that happened at work every night when I come home. yes/no
3. I drag myself to work in the morning because I hate it there. yes/no
4. At lunch with my co-workers, we only talk about things we hate about our company. yes/no
5. On the weekends, I mostly spend my time recovering and preparing for the week of work ahead, because it's going to suck. yes/no
6. I can't let go of the defects in my company's organization, the people who run it, and the people who annoy me at work every day. They should just change, why can't they see that? yes/no
7. I only socialize with people I work with, and then we mostly talk about work. yes/no

0 points = Congratulations! You don't really care about your company and recognize that it's just a job. You probably lead an active life outside of work, and know that no matter how much effort you put into your job, you will still get a "meets expectations" rating on your review just like the lazy bum in the next cube who pawns all his work off onto you. You'll both get the same 3% raise and that lazy bum probably makes more money than you anyway. Kudos!

5 or more points = You need a little more balance in your work/life sicha-ation. You probably believe that if you just keep sacrificing your personal time and energy, the company will recognize your efforts with a nice promotion, a fat raise, and reciprocate your loyalty if ever a layoff comes. You don't realize that the boss thinks you are a nerd, and knows she can make you "Team Leader" to get you do stuff she doesn't want to do, for free. If you aren't burnt out yet and resentful, you soon will be, and will probably cry during your review when you're told you "meet expectations" after giving so much of yourself to do three times the work of all your teammates. When you wear out and your performance slips to doing only twice as much work as the lazy bum in the next cube, you'll get a "needs improvement" rating and will probably quit before you find a new job. Read on to avoid this fate...

Balance is Good
Everyone knows equilibrium is important. Without it, we would be falling out of our chairs and puking at our desks. Even the ancient greeks knew that an imbalance of humours could lead to all sorts of maladies from Phlegmatism to Melancholy. Hence, in Spanish, a person in a bad mood is "de mal humor". Don't even get me started on why you should see your Phrenologist on a regular basis. All this brings us to the first step: blood letting. Now, once you've seen your local Leech-monger (or the Red Cross because they could probably use it), you're ready to move on to the first step in the work/life balance equation: Having things to talk about.

Things to talk about
One reason that you talk about work with your spouse/roommate/friends/family is because you work at a really frustrating company. But perhaps another reason is you don't have anything else to talk about because you don't do anything except work.

Here are a few ideas for fun things to do that will give you something else to talk about:

  • Read Books
    You can borrow these from the library, from your friends, even your coworkers (because we know you don't get paid enough to keep buying these from Amazon). Ask what your coworkers are reading, and when you read it, you can discuss it over tater-tots in the cafeteria. Check out the best sellers list, when you find out you hate most of these, at least you can talk about that.

  • Take a Class
    Check out your local adult education center or community college. Try a wine-tasting course, social dancing lesson, or a cooking class. Yes, there will be crazy people there, because it is open to everyone. But you already risk encountering crazy people every day when leave for work and besides, those crazies in your class will give you something to talk about over tater-tots in the cafeteria. You could even go a little wild yourself and try out a subject you shied away from in school, like Chemistry, Drama or Driver's Ed (it's about time you got your Driver's license after all these years anyway). You might just find out that the subject you always avoided is actually pretty cool when your GPA isn't riding on it.

  • Take up a hobby
    You've probably forgotten about all the interests you used to have, before you decided you were too busy with work to have time for anything else. Well now is the time to put those karate pajamas back on and finally earn your blue belt, or dust off your dancing shoes and get clogging. Private investigation is enjoying a new surge in popularity. Learn Observation and Objectivity, or "the two obs", and who knows you might just land yourself a part time job for a PI firm.

  • Join a society
    Now that you remember your hobbies again, you might want to join a society. Hanging out with others who share the same interests is a good way to expand your skills and share ideas or techniques. Unless of course you are a writer, because writers hate other writers, and they'll just steal your ideas anyway. Yes there will be crazy people, but fewer because crazy people don't like routine and monthly dues.

  • Enter a competition
    Now that you have taken on a hobby and have joined a club, you should enter a competition. Why not? It gives you something to work toward, takes your focus off of work, and you might just win something. If you do photography, enter the town photo contest. Enter a ballroom dancing competition. Submit an idea for a new postage stamp. You don't even have to be good, crappy people enter all the time. Just think, you can say "I got 6th place at the dance competition," and you don't have to tell people that there were only six people competing.

Family time
By now you've probably figured out that I'm trying to make you more well-rounded under the guise of having things to talk about. Well since we're finally being honest, you really need to spend more time with your family. Even if your family consists of your cat Fluffy and your distant Auntie Edna, they want to hear from you. Giving more focus to your family life can make your work life seem less important, and can even give you some interesting stories to share over lunch, especially if you have a crazy family.

  • Date your partner
    Word on the street is your life partner wants his/her sweetie back. Forget about work for a day and go bowling, or plan a night out, or make a nice romantic tater-tot dinner at home. You know what to do, so just do it for once.

  • Visit your grandparents
    Gramps and Granny just want to see you. They don't even know what the internet is, so you definitely won't be talking about work with them. A Sunday playing scrabble and dominoes with your grandparents can really put your work and life imbalance into perspective.

  • Call your mother
    You heard me. The woman carried you in her womb for 9 months. Ask her about her early experiences in the working world when women worked for "pin money" and were still called "girl". You might feel a little better about the working conditions you have at your stupid company.

  • Give your sibling a break
    You know, the one with all the kids. Offer to babysit while she goes out on the town. Or spend a day going school shopping with your neice. She'll think your her cool Aunt.

Get your finances in order
Another reason you may be feeling so down about work is that you really need the money and feel like you have no choice but to keep coming back every day. Unfortunately, being in this position tends to make your work life harder. Employers can smell desperation and take this as their cue to treat you poorly, offer no advancement, and keep your wages low. Getting your finances in order gives you more control over your destiny, and having a plan for your financial future can give you the confidence to expect and request more out of your employer, or to dazzle another employer into hiring you for more money and better benefits. Don't believe me? I dare you try the following steps:

  • Create a budget: When you truly have a handle on how much money is going out vs. going in you will know whether you are living within your means. When you live below your means, you are less dependent on that weekly paycheck to get by, and less desperate to keep that crummy job. If you are living above your means, you are headed for trouble and are extremely vulnerable to any financial setbacks (ehem, layoffs). Buying things you don't need on credit is like signing yourself up for indentured servitude; you are spending your future wages for that thing you couldn't wait just a few months to save up for. If you are in this situation, start a plan to get out now, or you can look forward to many many more years dragging yourself to work in the morning.

  • Start saving: Put aside money now for that rainy day. Start saving now for retirement, there's no guarantee that you will always be employed as long as you feel like working. Save, save, save, and save. When you have an emergency fund, you will feel freer to take more risks like asking for more responsibility from your manager, or having an interview with that recruiter who calls you from time to time.

  • Set financial goals: When you know where you want to go, you can start taking steps to get there. Having goals to work toward can help you to see yourself progressing as time goes by, even if nothing at work seems to change. Hitting milestones you set for yourself can feel so good, that you won't even care about that lazy bum in the next cube. You might even score a nice retirement out of it too.

Get Involved
Once you've taken some time to do things that you enjoy, visit with family, and get your finances in order, you are ready to start giving back. Any discussion about well-roundedness would be remiss if it left out the feel-good part where you help other people and get involved in the larger community. Here are a few ways to get involved in your community.

  • Volunteer: Volunteer gigs come in all shapes and sizes. No matter what your special skills or interests are, there's probably an organization that can benefit from your time. Soup kitchens always need someone who can cook tater tots, for example.

  • Participate in your spiritual community: Every house of worship needs a constituency. Take part in the services and pitch in.

  • Local government: Campaign for your chosen candidate, or at least go out an vote once in a while. You might even want to run for a position yourself. Why not? Crappy people run all the time, you might just win.

  • Community theater: Why not take part in a spectacle put on for the entertainment of the community? In the olden days before Xbox, Tivo, and ipods, people only had each other, and TVs without remotes, to keep entertained. I'm serious, we had to get up to change the channel. You can keep the tradition alive of amusing thy neighbor with some community theater. If you're not good at performing there are plenty of jobs backstage, and there's always the role of "Tree #1."

Getting a life
If you start taking any of the actions we've outlined today, you'll be well on your way to having a rich, rewarding life outside of work. Once you have that, you may even find your job to be more stimulating, or at least you may come to view it as just one piece of the pie chart of your life.

Sep 17, 2005

Employment at Whose Will?

Instructor, Caroline Bender

Recently, I found myself at an unpredicted professional crossroads which required me to explore several contingency plans, most of which led to the same outcome: leaving my job.

Our departmental director suddenly vacated his postion, leaving his lieutenant in charge...untapped, only by default. Even though the lieutenant was assured by the company president that his ascendancy to the director's position was only a matter of paperwork, this same president left his own job within a week of making his flimsy promise.

As an
Employee At Will, I know I am daily vulnerable under any circumstances, but this turn of events seemed especially risky. I knew a couple of things: I should wait for my employer to exercise its will first, in the hopes that it might be a decision that makes sense, AND... I needed to be able to exercise my own will in response to that, if I could only figure out what that was. As I worked out all the possible outcomes, like a tangram puzzle that makes no recognizable picture, I started to hope they would just lay me off.

The lay-off has become a stepping stone on the modern career path. We no longer think it won't happen to us; on the contrary, it has become a visionary windfall of both time and money. What a weight off my shoulders, I was thinking, to have this decision made for me -- not worrying beyond that. Waiting for the "something" to happen was torture, and I began to believe that getting let go was the one "something" with no follow up "something." The one that finally would settle the problem.

Is it possible to orchestrate one's own lay-off -- to count on it the way you might a tax refund? As a colleague recently described it, the ideal game plan would be to line up a job just in time for the layoff, so your current company would give you the severance without ever knowing you're already taken care of. Or maybe you would like to just be out of the way for a limited period of time -- say, until the merger is settled, your boss finishes his dissertation, or the next generation software product is released. How might this be accomplished?

Your instructor can not advise on pulling off this scheme. She is single, without children, whose stakes are low and obligations are few. When I thought, even for only a few weeks, that I might have to just walk away, I did not spend time on a plan at all. But in the not-planning, I did explore some time-out options.

The lay-off
Don't be so certain that your company has golden parachutes left. The pay-out may only be one check, and the notice may only be an hour, so be careful what you wish for. But the set-up is still what it has always been: you are honorably discharged, often with a nice reference letter and an invitation back, and sometimes they really mean it. Try to get laid off in good weather.

The furlough
This happens less often in business professions, but as knowledge industries become run more like factories, slow business can mean an opportunity for you to volunteer to stop working for a specified period of time. There are few standards on what a "
furlough" is, so do your research ahead of time. You won't get paid -- that's the whole point -- but you can usually keep benefits and other perks of full employee status. Not likely that you can pay your electric bill with such perks.

Early retirement
In the action movies, the old cop is always 30 days from his pension when he is convinced to crack "one last case." In the business world, the old executive gets offered the early retirement cash-out. Guaranteed that it benefits the company more than the retiree, but it's not a bad deal if you can get it. Make sure you do your
homework before the negotiations so you know what you might be getting haggled out of.

Please don't injure yourself or your loved ones. My point here is to make sure you know what your
rights are if you find yourself in a Family and Medical Leave situation. If you are entitled to the time, take it. The person who needs your care will likely return the favor someday. Your employer probably never will.

Service leave/sabbatical
It's not just for academics anymore. Like the early retirement option, the sabbatical is usually granted only after a long period of service, and usually only to staff of a certain level. But more companies are under pressure to allow employees the same option of leave for volunteer service that military reservists are allowed. You may not get as much time as you would like, but more than you might expect. Approach your employer with some
strategies for supporting such a program. But hey, don't be jerk -- do the volunteer gig if you get it approved. It's good for you and good for the world.

Grants are just like college scholarships: there is one for everything, no matter how absurdly specific, and it takes a lot of time to find one that applies to you. Our students may wish to start
here (and we apologize in advance for whatever unfortunate gender-stereotype banner ad appears. It is often clothing, and "cookbook fundraising" is the featured program of the moment. you've come a long way, baby).

The important thing to remember is that you and your employer each has a "will" in the Employee-at-Will relationship. Do not allow yourself to believe you are trapped in any situation, even if your stakes are high and obligations many. When the ground begins shifting under you, sitting back and hoping for the best may relieve some of your stress, but a contingency plan will stick with you longer.


recommended reading:
Firing Back : Power Strategies for Cutting the Best Deal When You're About to Lose Your Job
by Jodie-Beth Galos, Sandy McIntosh

Aug 18, 2005

Thursday Night Sex

Guest Lecturer, Scottie from Inside Sales

You shouldn’t have sex with someone you work with. I know that now.

Because the next morning there she is at the staff meeting, or the coffee room, or god forbid the elevator. And she knows that you know that she has a tattoo of Woodstock flying upside-down on, of all places, the side of her breast – but not her breast, but her rib, or her whatsicus. Wherever it is, it looks like it fell out of her armpit when you pull her top off over her head.

Allison works in Purchasing. She’s the only one worth looking at in there, and that’s not saying much. Rita, with the wrist cast, runs the place – runs the women in the place, that is. The Director is the fat doughy guy who looks like the Monopoly man, only without the wardrobe. Rita the Cast skits around him like he’s their powder keg alcoholic father. She whispers to the other one, Ashtray Sandy, who smokes so much her face has puckered to the center like a dried apple-head. But Allison tries to chat when I show up running paperwork. She doesn’t seem to know or care that I’m an assistant to an assistant or that I outgrew my pants in the past month, or in fact that I’m 32 and share a four-bedroom in Canton and drive a Honda coupe to a park-n-ride every morning at 7:30.

Rita and Sandy only acknowledge senior staff, which they define as anyone who was present at the 1991 Thanksgiving potluck when someone named Artie (“you don’t remember him”) brought vegetable Samosas that his wife made (“she was some kind of Hindu”). If you know the correct passwords required for that exchange, they will speak to you. I do, but only from years of eavesdropped rote. How surprised would they be if I chimed in, “Terry opened the seltzer and it went ev-ry-where!”

Allison wasn’t at the potluck. We met in New Employee Orientation, but didn’t get partnered up for the icebreaker. I didn’t give her a thought at all then, but over time she became the only person who didn’t have to speak to me who did, and she seemed to enjoy it -- like she hoped Purchasing was her big ticket out, like she’d chosen it over the switchboard because there was more prestige. She wears decals on her fingernails, and a thumb ring. Rita and Sandy don’t take her seriously at all. They know she’s not there to stay, and whisper to each other that she’ll never get the big promotion if she doesn’t cut all that hair.

So I’m bored. I’m bored with women, and I’ve been trying long enough to know I can’t reach the girls on the top shelf. I’m not hopeless, but I know I don’t have It. I’ve put on some weight; I need new clothes. I’m sorta funny, and sorta sporty, and smart enough to suit most situations. It’s just that dating was costing a fortune and yielded low return on the investment. I know phrases like that – I’m not uneducated.

So Alison said she had bought the Entertainment Coupon book from HR, and had I ever been to McElroy’s, because some girl she knew was playing in a combo there Thursday night. And I’m so out of practice that I think she’s asking if the food is any good, or if I know how to get there, but she’s asking me would I want to go.

McElroy’s is not Houlihan’s. I know that now. It sounds the same to me – wings and nachos, pitcher of beer and a New York strip. Turns out it’s a lounge in the Suisse Hotel on 128, with black bucket-shaped booths and dim lighting. The beer was $7 (not covered by the coupon) and the special was a venison London broil with fennel salad and whipped potatoes. Allison ordered it, and later it made her kiss taste funny – peppery and gamy with the undertaste of the zambucco she had with the pie. I stuck with what I know, chicken alfredo, even though it’s heavy, and if I had thought ahead to what might happen between us, I would have been afraid the alfredo would give me gas. But I didn’t, so I wasn’t. And it did.

Coming back from the bathroom, during the musicians’ break, I took a look at Allison from a distance. Decent rack, good eyes, too much hair, those damn chunky shoes they want the girls to wear – they sort of suited her and the black bell-bottoms she had changed into at the office. She was looking away, and I felt relief that she couldn’t give me the same once-over. She was talking to her friend the singer, whose vocal style was a kind of failed community theatre mixed with too-good-for-the-church-choir.

They were chatting it up and I realized I could ask how they knew each other and all of that, as a way to get to know her, and decided I just didn’t much care. Maybe she has hobbies, maybe she went to Italy, maybe she has a brother in the Air Force. But it would mean one more conversation we weren’t going to finish because we were in a cabaret, for god’s sake, where everyone expected to listen to the music. And I was glad for it. I didn’t much care about getting to know her, seeing her again, sleeping with her, impressing her, buying her a Christmas present. Not caring if I did is not wanting not to. I know that now.

She has to drive us around, because I’m at the park-n-ride. She lives in Brookline, and drives a two-toned Camry with a heart-shaped sun catcher on the rearview. She didn’t turn on the radio when we got in. But we’ve already talked about work, I’ve already complimented the jazz group as much as I can, and we’ve already run the lines on “you say jimmies; I say sprinkles.” There’s nothing else to do but fool around.

The kitchen was right out there in the main room. Her recycling can sat in the open and I glanced in without realizing I had. Three short Crisco cans, rinsed clean, mixed with plastic Coke bottles – red, white, and blue against the plastic green box. I wish I noticed more about that kitchen, but I didn’t.
It made me think of her alone on a Saturday night, with worn-down moccasins on, baking her own birthday cake, and decorating it with little frosting stars. It flashed in my head even though I couldn’t know when her birthday was or even how old she was. I needed her life to be sadder than mine. I needed to know how the girl from Purchasing could afford a one-bedroom in Brookline and a two-tone Camry.

Face to face on her couch, we kissed and groped and worked off our shoes. She had a bird under a covered cage that made little snoring sighs. Grabbing my face, she said, “Let’s go in the bedroom.”

I don’t like the date’s bedroom. We end up there because I live with three guys, and it’s not anywhere you take a woman, bottom shelf or otherwise. But if I have to be in the date’s bedroom, I’d just as soon have the lights off if that’s all the same. They do too, most of the time, because they’re usually drunk and usually slobs. The pillows everywhere, and the stuffed animal, for god’s sake. I’d like to prop my Matchbox car-carrier up on my headboard. Would that win them over? Is that what they want to see on first glance? Allison’s was a goddamned unicorn. I turned the overhead light off.

I sighed in the dark, wondering when it all got so boring, listing in reverse order the women I had slept with. Their horrible country-crafty bedrooms leafed through my mind. Melinda had lasted for nearly a year, and in that year I never once saw her bedroom. I wondered where her number was.
Allison was up and down and a thousand pair of hands, doing some kind of Le Freak while I just stood there in the middle of the floor. Then the removal of the top, the falling tattoo, which I nearly tried to catch, and I thought, Five years ago I could have called this off somehow. I would have resorted to “let’s stay up and talk all night,” but I’d put that to the numbers since then, and sex took up less time. But Thursday night sex is not Friday night sex. I know that now.

I took a cab at 2am, because I was not enduring breakfast, not wearing the same clothes, not walking into the building with her. I would rather take a cab to my park-n-ride, go home to a beer and a short nap before having to see her again.

Friday morning I stick to my cube, and dodge the email alarm, until it’s 11 o’clock. Nothing. No email, no voice mail, no hatbox with a fedora inside and a cleverly worded, “here’s your hat, what’s your hurry.” Looking out the window, I can’t find her car in the parking lot and I try to remember the last thing we said to each other. “Well… bye.” “Yeh, bye.” Was she mad? Was she ashamed? Was I? Did I care? No, I don’t care. It was her idea, the whole Dutch treat, downright upright, coupon date and the I’ll drive, don’t be silly, and the come on up… did she say come on up? Did she offer to drive me to my car? Didn’t she drive straight to her place, without the radio on, without saying much of anything…then what happened? I couldn’t remember. Just the kitchen, the recycling box, the unseen bird, the unicorn.

I was still staring out the window when her car pulled up, still standing there when she got out with a Burger King bag and her unbelievable hair. When the wind blew it across her eyes, she tossed her neck, and for a second I thought she would see me there, so I waved. I waved all spread-fingered, like a five-year old showing how many he is. She tossed her neck and I waved, but she didn’t see me. She didn’t even glance up at my window, when she must know that’s where I sit.

Aug 6, 2005

Today’s glass ceiling

guest lecturer, Emma Davidson

My family consisted of two immigrant parents. Both came to the States in their early twenties, all because they wanted to create a better and easier life for their children. I was the first of three and the only girl. In fact, out of all the cousins on the East Coast, I was the oldest and the only girl for 20 years. There was a lot of pressure put on me – my parents, grandparents and all the aunts and uncles had dreams for me. To go to college, meet a nice man, get married and have babies.

What they didn’t expect was that I was going to be part of the most significant driving force in my generation. That force is the Generation-X working women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we make up 51 percent of the total employment in executive, administrative, and managerial occupations. In 1983, women in our same age group only represented 38 percent of the higher profile jobs. Not only have we grown in numbers but we have advanced up the corporate ladder at a faster rate and across many more industries.

Hear us roar
We still have a long way to go, but thanks to our predecessors who broke many barriers for us we now have more opportunities available, and without a fight or question that we’re capable. It is now expected for us to develop a solid career, maybe two. We finally have permission to achieve what we dream – and we go for it in full force. We are even breaking many barriers of our own and exceeding expectations.

We have gone into careers once thought impossible for us to succeed in.
We are shaping the way employees are managed.
We are starting small businesses at a faster rate than men.
We are changing the way we all work, flex-time and telecommuting are now commonplace.
We are fighting for ways to balance a personal/home life and careers.
We can be feminine and still be respected at work.

We have shown that we are qualified and tough enough to be at the executive table. What the business world has learned is that women are stronger managers and more efficient workers. I was impressed to hear from two leading life and career coaches, Dr. Martha Beck and Suzanne Blake that the executive men are trying to acquire many of the traits that most female executives naturally have.

Where have all the mentors gone?
But what I’m sad to see is that many brilliant and talented women are also leaving their jobs. Going are these great mentors – for both men and women, the mentors that can keep shaping a shift in better management and better work/life balance. One of our generation’s barriers is the ability to maintain our leadership roles while having the time to relish our successes with our many loved ones and time to really recharge our own batteries.

As much as we shape, influence and grow the companies we work in, corporate expectations of their employees remain unchanged. The traditional corporate culture of the more you work, the more you’ll succeed is still the constant – regardless of how efficient the employee. Lawyers are a good example. In order to achieve partnership level, you have to put in years of working 80+ hour weeks. If you choose not to, then you will not succeed and will get pushed out of the firm – regardless of your talents.

As the primary caretakers of our families, most women cannot work those hours and take care of the children, the household and in some cases their ailing parents. Even after we build our skills, gain great credibility and acquire much success we need to take a break. Whether it’s to have a child, take care of a family member or ourselves. Eventually we realize that we really can’t ‘do it all’ even though many of us drive ourselves mad by constantly trying – the “super woman” expectation cannot be maintained (at least I haven’t figured it out).

Regardless of our skills and experience many women decide to either leave their career or stay at a level that is well beneath their capabilities. This allows us to leave our work day at a decent hour, without guilt, (and not take the work home) to take care of ourselves and families. The result, a male dominant senior management team.

As hard as we have worked to advance our stance in the working world, we get to a place and realize that the traditional ‘work like a dog’ expectation is unacceptable. It’s unhealthy. The higher we get, the more tired we become, especially those who go home to a family. Where are the rewards to our hard work? Why is it that there’s a low percentage of women at the senior executive level? How do we get there when corporate expectations don’t change? Talented women are leaving those companies because they have had enough and have realized there’s more to life than just work.

A pause on the ladder
Fortunately, it’s not all gloom and doom. Because we’re driven and we know that there are alternatives to the ‘norm’, we naturally take matters into our own hands. Talented women across the nation are starting their own companies, and we’re doing it at a faster rate than men. The Census Bureau's latest study, Survey of Minority-Owned Business Enterprises, found that women owned 26 percent of the nation's 20.8 million non-farm businesses – translating into 5,417,034 firms. As a result we employ 7.1 million paid workers, and have generated $818.7 billion in sales and receipts. Many women leave their current jobs to start their own business so that they can find that work/life balance. There is hope out there.

A few months ago, I was at a “women in advertising leadership forum” where Lisa Hall, President, COO and one of the founders of The Oxygen Network, was one of the keynote speakers. I was inspired by the fact that there are companies like hers that allow employees to live their lives and not make them feel bad about it. It’s okay to go to your child’s school play or meet with your significant other. What also stuck with me was that everyday when her kids get home from school she gets a call from them and regardless of what she is doing or who she’s meeting with she’s answering her cell phone to check in with her kids. Of course my immediate thought was who do I send my resume to?

Unfortunately, the company where I work is run by partners who do not understand the concept of having a personal life. One of my colleagues has two young children and when hired she arranged to have a 4 day work week. She’s continually asked to work 5 days a week “just for the time being” and is expected to manage a work load equivalent to 5 days – in the advertising industry this is an average of 60 hours a week. And, her compensation is based on the 4 day/32 hour week.

I feel bad for the pressure that she feels from the partners and the guilt she feels when she works late. But I also support her for trying to stand her ground as much as possible and battling the partners to get them to realize that maybe they need to hire another staff person to accommodate the constant growth in business. Its people like her that hold their ground that will help us shift expectations and demonstrate we have a lot to offer and should not be disregarded.

Sure we still have many barriers to break through. There’s the issue of still getting paid less than our male counterparts. We get penalized for taking a break from our careers to have/raise children. We’re intelligent, hard working, determined and never is a concept to accept. I plan on doing my part to keep the momentum going.

My dream is that we always find new ways to push the boundaries of corporate expectations so that we can enjoy our successes, our families, ourselves and without guilt. Let’s continue to lead by example and evolve corporate cultures and expectations for the benefit of all of us. If we push for our rights to work, lead, mentor and grow on our terms, then perhaps our daughters will have a better chance at really having it all.

Jul 23, 2005

Are you in a Cult?

Session 4: Staying Grounded from 9 to 5

Instructor, Caroline Bender

Isn’t it great when you love your job? When you feel that “groove” of knowing exactly the right thing to say or do, how to motivate others toward your goals, and support others in theirs? How good you feel about yourself when you’re there…how you think about it when you’re not there…how it is the first thing you think about in the morning… and how sometimes when you can’t sleep at night, you try just a little of it, to help you unwind? You know… like alcohol

Perhaps your current employer, even your entire professional field, has that added component of charisma that convinces you that you are a better person because of your affiliation with them -- that others would be too, if they only knew the joy you know -- and that those outside this protective sphere should be avoided if they can not be converted.

You may wonder, as you peek over your usual lens at the world outside, whether you have stumbled into a cult.

Cult? or Culture?

I generally believe that your cult is what you make it. Most situations are not inherently cultish. For example, some people manage to have lunch with their girlfriends every Thursday, call each other by their given names, and wear whatever they like. Others require pseudonyms and specifically-colored hats.

The people of FactNet (Fight Against Coercive Tactics Network ) provide guidelines for identifying coercive environments. If these descriptions apply to your workplace, you may wish to get yourself a support group. (Keeping in mind, of course, that some of them turn out to be odd themselves.)

The guidelines are theirs; the commentary is mine.

Common Properties of Potentially Destructive and Dangerous Cults

The cult is authoritarian in its power structure

Of course most workplaces are authoritarian in nature – Management/Labor being the common division of most business environments. The coercive difference is how that power is used. "In a cult," says FactNet, " the [cult] leader claims to have the only and final ruling on all matters." When conflicts arise on the job, how high is the appeal allowed to escalate? How often are names dropped as a way of “getting to yes”?

The cult's leaders tend to be charismatic, determined, and domineering

Who doesn’t love charisma? Wouldn’t you rather work for a charismatic leader than a schlub? Charismatic and domineering… that is the danger sign. Let me reference my colleague’s earlier post on Predatory Mentors, in case you have forgotten.

The cult's leaders are self-appointed, messianic persons who claim to have a special mission in life

If you work in the “start-up” environment, you encounter founder/CEOS firmly convinced of their own PR. In the ivy-covered world of finance, publishing, insurance, energy, and the like, the family name carries clout.

If your company’s mission statement makes you roll your eyes and/or scoff, go ahead and mark this one yes.

The cult's leaders center the veneration of members upon themselves

Who is your charismatic figurehead most like: Disney…Oprah…Martha…Frank Perdue? It’s one thing to be a living brand; quite another to be the high priest of one’s own church.

The cult appears to be innovative and exclusive

Your exclusive “A-Player” club of the best and the brightest counts on you to increase the workforce by convincing your friends to change their lives and work there. So does the Army.

The cult tends to be totalitarian in its control of the behavior of its members

“Behavior” does not only mean modes of dress and call to prayer.The 3-martini lunch and strip club visit with the client is not dead. For us gals, it often manifests itself as smokes with the Boss, the office baby shower, ribald karoake at the Sales Conference, and good old-fashioned 12-hour days.

The cult tends to have a double set of ethics

It might be a different standard for executives than staff… for sales than for engineering… it may be that women are held to a different standard than men.When it is exposed, it is not usually denied. And you'll be expected to "get on board with it."

The cult has basically only two purposes, recruiting new members and fund-raising

Well, that pretty much defines any business, doesn’t it?

But don’t take my charismatic word for it. Research further with some of these suggested readings. Also watch this space for the Dean’s thoughts on fighting those Manipulators.
~~ CB

Suggested Reading:

21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com

Corporate Cults: The Insidious Lure of the All-Consuming Organization

The Organization Man

The Paranoid Corporation and 8 Other Ways Your Company Can Be Crazy: Advice from an Organizational Shrink

Jul 15, 2005

Workplace Dangers: Idea stealers

Freshman Seminar with Miss Minchin - Session 2

It's happened to nearly everyone. You pitch an idea to your boss, or share a thought with your colleague and next thing you know that other person is taking credit for it as their own. What does one do in this situation? Well, there are several approaches:

Vigilante approach: Demand justice at high noon. Set out to expose the idea stealer’s traitorous ways, regardless of whether he or she is your boss. Set out on a smear campaign designed to make others see him for the slimy weak thoughtless leech that he is. Be sure to jump up and shout "that was my idea" and offer to "take it outside" when it happens.

Passive-aggressive approach: Secretly fume and imagine the idea stealer being crushed under a giant boulder while you pout in meetings. Give him the cold shoulder. Refuse to meet with him unless he agrees to have your conversations recorded. Then as these guys did, feed him an awful idea that he just can't resist taking credit for, and then sit back and enjoy his demise.

Zen approach: If it's your boss, accept the fact that your job is to make your boss look good. Your boss probably doesn't even realize the idea came from you, but will remember how valuable you are to her success, and will keep you close by; even taking you to the next company she works for. If it's your colleague, remind yourself that you are all part of the same team and be happy for him when he gets promoted over you. Remember that it's accomplishments, not ideas that you list on your resume. Get yourself on the projects you want to work on and contemplate letting go of your attachment to recognition while you practice yoga on your lunch hour.

Direct approach: If a colleague tells you that the boss just congratulated her for suggesting your grand idea, you can march into the boss's office and say "Bernice tells me you really liked my idea! I can't wait to start implementing it." Or as suggested in this excellent article on e-magnify.com, if the idea-stealer makes his move during a meeting, stand up and say 'Thank you, Bernie. I'm so happy to hear that you were listening when I proposed [idea]. I'm looking forward to working together on this project..."

Collaborative approach: As Nigel Nicholson put it, you can feel good about the clear value of your ideas to your boss and your colleagues. Be proactive by scheduling meetings to discuss specific project ideas and document everything. This makes it easier for the boss to remember that the idea came from you. Nicholson also suggests that you give feedback to your boss. Let her know how much you appreciate recognition for your ideas.

You'll see that some approaches work better than others, and a good combination of approaches will likely work best. In any case it is never a bad idea to document everything. At the very least, during your annual review you can remind your boss of the ideas you suggested and how successful the implementation of those ideas has been. Having a timeline to refer to makes this conversation much easier, and reminds you of the value that you know you bring to any job.

Jul 6, 2005

Actually a Cowboy

Session 3: Deciphering the Dress Code
Instructor, Caroline Bender

Now that it is mid-summer, it’s likely you have received the dress code memo – the one that vaguely scolds you for violating a policy you were unaware of until receiving the memo, and without telling you how you did so.

Used to be that when you were reprimanded, you knew it. Used to be that when they didn’t like what you were wearing, they sent you home.

Do as I imply
Today, the Company is confusingly schizophrenic about dress. It wants to have that flexible-and-fun reputation, but also wants you to be the kind of employee who doesn’t really take advantage of it. So they send this:

if you would wear it to a beach party, a backyard barbeque, or a nightclub, you probably shouldn't wear it to work...

(probably.) Notice how this puts you on your own recognizance. Because the Company is afraid that if it requires you to wear pants in the office, you might go work for someone who doesn’t. On the other hand, these are the kinds of “intangibles” they consider when looking for who should move up and who should move on.

But when your only guidelines are

While dress is, for the most part, a matter of individual taste, management reserves the right to determine what is acceptable or appropriate depending on the job functions performed...

what is a girl to do?

Who will tell you 'bout yourself?
I “came up” a secretary (as we would say it in the South) just one generation removed from hats and gloves; in fact, Easter pictures testify it wasn’t quite “removed.” We had a lot of rules of dress, and not just of the White v. Labor Day variety. Never sleeveless, never bare-legged, never open toes. And never, I learned the hard way, a pair of jeans. Being dressed down for dressing down is indeed humiliating, but if it happens to you young enough, you know that it really is for your own good. Somebody needs to tell you what you clearly don't know.

The best thing I took away from that encounter was this line:
"Blue jeans are not appropriate workwear… unless you actually are a cowboy."

I wasn’t yet 20 years old, and didn’t have much of a business wardrobe. I had tried to economize, and didn’t realize that it was better to repeat than to resort to…. Dungarees.

Casual Anyday
I can’t recall how Casual Friday happened. It just sort of….happened. Millionaire Gen-X geniuses founded on-line companies and became the Bosses while the tail end of the Baby Boom was changing out of their running shoes in the lobby. The intention was to relax some of the Big Eighties new business conservativism. What they meant, I believe, was “jacket and tie optional,” “khakis OK,” and an acceptance of the goatee.

In 1994, Discount Store News cautioned that the hosiery business was down 20%, due entirely to the popularity of Casual Friday. In that same week, Footwear News and the Daily News Record suggested casual men’s shoes and linen suites, respectively, as a way for apparel designers to stay in the game. Eleven years later, Friday is no more casual than any other day, and there isn’t a suit or a shoe in the place.

Correcting the market
Together we can swing this pendulum back to center, and you’ll want to get on-board with this one. Because even if -- right now -- you enjoy the free for all, imagine these scenarios:

    • Missing a growth opportunity because you’re not presentable
    • Having to confront your own staff for limboing under the already-low bar you yourself have set
    • Introducing your braless sneaker-wearing boss to your top prospect

Universal dress code
The Company memo incorrectly assumes the Workforce knows the difference anymore between a beach party, a nightclub, and a board meeting. Know this: office-to-evening does not mean slipping your “Reform School Chick” satin-trimmed scoop neck T over your bathing suit.

What the Company memo wants to say, but is afraid to:

Save your jeans for Friday
Better to repeat your one great outfit for a single day than to repeat your jeans for 5. They’ll feel more like a treat as well.

Always dress for meetings
Even on a Friday, and especially if you are running them.
Corporate-wear (golf shirts, oxfords, and the like) is an acceptable compromise.

Accept a few “nevers.”
Challenge yourself to draw a line between work clothes and play clothes. Even on a Friday, learn to say Never to

the beach wear:
flip flops
halter tops
Shorts…unless you actually are in Bermuda

the backyard barbecue:
ball caps
t-shirts (with or without witty sayings)
sneakers… unless you actually are a gym coach

the nightclub:
belly shirts
mini skirts
sequins… unless you actually are a magician's assistant

Be a trendsetter
You know what you can afford, what suits your body, your personal style and your position. Don’t let lax business rules set the tone for your business persona. You wouldn’t hand in sloppy work. You wouldn’t show up late to your own presentation. You wouldn’t eat an apple throughout a conference call. Dress like you know better. It’s all part of the same package.

Jun 22, 2005

Workplace Dangers: The "Predatory Mentor"

Freshman Seminar with Miss Minchin - Session 1

While the idea of forming a relationship with a more experienced professional to guide you as you traverse the treacherous waters of corporate life may be appealing, one must take care to avoid the dangers.

What was once a common technique in ensuring the "old boys network" of yesteryear has been transformed into a powerful tool for women to help each other break through the glass ceiling. At its best, mentoring is an altruistic commitment to help develop another's skills and career, while only acting in the best interest of the mentee. At its worst, it is a tool of manipulation, politics and abuse.

Bad mentoring is like "Bad touching"
It started one day after a meeting. I was invited to lunch with a new female manager who I had come to respect and admire. I was looking for a role model, and with so few female leaders in my world, I was easily impressed by her skills. When she asked me to lunch, I felt pleased that she had noticed my talent enough to take a special interest in me.

"You know I'm a big fan of yours," she said fastening her seatbelt as we headed out to lunch.

"I'm a big fan of yours!" I gushed, stunned to find my regard reciprocated.

At lunch I was so pleased to be getting job advice and to have someone listen to my work problems, that I didn't notice how the questions kept steering me toward issues with my boss. I didn't realize how useful the information would be to her.

"You know, I'd like to mentor you" she declared 'spontaneously'.

She quoted someone about the rewards of altruism, and explained what a pleasure it would be to offer assistance to someone as competent and talented as I. Looking back I see this was all her plan from the beginning, but at the time I was emotional at the kindness she was showing me. To me she was my fairy godmother.

"But we should keep this between us. I will treat anything you tell me as a confidence, and I trust you will do the same."

Warning signs
After several monthly "mentoring" lunches, I gradually became aware of what was going on. Ideas and thoughts that I had shared were turning into *her* ideas. My position on how our teams at work could work better together suddenly became her brilliant philosophy. She was feeding me inaccuracies about my boss, and constantly digging for "dirt". And very little of our time together was dedicated to helping me with my career.

In retrospect, I didn't receive any advice that I couldn't have skimmed from the back cover of "Careers for Dummies". It wasn't until the day that I caught her in a lie, after which she burst into tears about how she missed our friendship, that I could no longer deny that it was all a scheme. When I didn't fall for her desperate attempt at manipulation, the tears immediately stopped and so did the "mentoring".

What's in it for the "mentor"?
I learned the hard way that there are manipulative women out there who will take advantage of the sisterhood for their own gain. Guides on office politics advise these machiavellians to "Groom princes and princesses". The techinique is to "hitch yourself to a rising star". This serves several nefarious purposes:
  1. By offering your assistance to someone who is bound to succeed without your help, you give yourself the opportunity to take some credit for their accomplishments
  2. By making the mentee feel you are responsible for their success, she will then feel indebted to you and will want to return the favor someday
  3. By developing your own personal cheerleader, you ensure that you are spoken highly of in
    her circles.
  4. You can gather information that you would not otherwise have access to, which you can
    then use against your colleagues and for your own gain.
  5. You can steer her toward projects or positions which will better serve your needs, to help make you look good.
Anatomy of a predator
I see now how particularly vulnerable I was to her brand of manipulation. Transitioning between two very male managers, in a mostly male department, I found myself constantly misunderstood and underappreciated. I felt overworked and undervalued, and after the way some conflicts I had had with my "bosses" played out I also felt betrayed and depressed. The perfect conditions for an unscrupulous "advisor".

Predatory mentors are just like other types of predators, who seek out vulnerable and easy targets. Consider the online predator:

"Online predators try to gradually seduce their targets through attention, affection, kindness, and even gifts, and often devote considerable time, money, and energy to this effort. ... They listen to and sympathize with kids' problems."

The pedophile:

"They play the game slowly. They befriend the child, play with them, and get to know them. They see their chance to advance the game, and they take each calculated move as it comes. Each step is carefully planned to draw the child closer to them. They gain their trust, reinforce it, then eventually violate it.

Just like these predators, the Predatory Mentor:

  • detects the vulnerable target, and gains her trust
  • makes her feel "special" with attention, gifts ("here's a book I thought would be helpful"), and compliments
  • listens and sympathizes
  • then gradually abuses that confidence to serve their own needs.
Some mentors use their powers for good
Mentors can be extremely valuable. To avoid the pitfalls, here are a few things to look for:

  1. Find a mentor outside of your company. You not only want to avoid any appearance of special treatment due to your relationship with your mentor, but you also want to avoid the opportunity for your relationship to be abused. Several mentoring organizations exist for professional women who truly want to give back.
  2. Think carefully about what the mentor may get out of the relationship. Be sure that you do not choose a mentor in a competitive company to yours, or who may be good friends with the CEO. Also, be wary of anyone who offers to mentor you who you have not known for long. A good mentor will not enter into the relationship lightly, and will take very seriously the influence she can have on your career.
  3. Be prepared to break it off. Recognize when a relationship is not working. Like any relationship you may not have the right chemistry, you may not be getting the time investment that you need or you may not be getting good advice.
Mentor yourself
Many women simply don't have enough self-confidence. You know your value to your company, so act like it. You have done a pretty good job making decisions up to this point about what's right for you and your career, so trust yourself to do what's right. Seek guidance from trustworthy sources and trust your gut.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Powered by Blogger