There’s So Much Work Yet to be Done – #BlackBlogsMatter

There was an alarming, sickening and, sadly, not surprising story that hit the news last week; a lawsuit has been filed against General Motors (GM) in which 8 workers outline allegations of racist behavior, threats and intimidation in the workplace. This ongoing behavior, over a lengthy span of time, included a workplace where bathrooms were declared for “whites only,” black supervisors were called “boy” and other words, nooses were hung, white employees had conversations about bringing guns to work, and a white subordinate yelled and raised a heavy metal clutch in a threatening manner to his black supervisor. The white employee was suspended for one day. One. Day.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission completed a nine-month-investigation last March and the commission’s director of regional operations said that she would rank this case amongst the worst cases her team has ever seen. The racist behavior and culture is seemingly so entrenched that incidents even continued while the commission was conducting its investigation.

The union (UAW) apparently did little to nothing. The UAW local president discounted that racism exists at the plant and holds the belief that “people are a little too sensitive these days.”

GM apparently did little to nothing. While they didn’t deny that these things took place, their defense was that they had taken appropriate action – such as holding mandatory meetings, closing the plant for a day to hold training for every shift, and placing an article about harassment in the employee magazine.

The human resources team apparently did little to nothing; they didn’t even get a mention in the article.

This is some messed up shit; and I believe every word.

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Not too many years ago (in this century as a matter of fact) the company I was working for inherited a new work group via assorted business dealings. There were close to 200 employees who moved over to our organization and, since they were doing the same work (as third party contractors to our client), the biggest change for them was getting used to a new company/owner.

The vast majority of these employees had been working at this particular work site for years; decades even. It was incredibly labor-intensive work in a challenging environment but they stuck with it while, seemingly, time stood still in this part of south Louisiana. It took the vast majority of our employees a bit of time to trust us; both the GM and I were transplanted “yankees” with our US corporate office based in the Midwest and our global HQ based in the UK. Our site, for a variety of reasons, was such an outlier within our organization that whenever we had gatherings of the several hundred HR team members, I was inevitably called upon to share some strange/weird human resources issue to both the delight and consternation of my peers.

And sometimes those HR tales were from the dark underbelly of the racist south:

  • The time an employee came to me, with a timid knock on my door, asking “Miss Robin can I talk to you about something? They’ve started to hang the nooses again in my work area and I don’t know what to do.”
  • The meeting when a manager told his staff (predominantly black team members) – “If you all don’t get this situation fixed I’m going to have to fix it for you. And remember I had a great-uncle who was a Nazi in the SS so we know how to get stuff done in my family.”
  • The situation we tried to navigate that relegated our employees (3rd party contractors) to dingy dirty bathrooms in “their sections” of the plant floor while the client’s employees (predominantly white) used a clean well-lit bathroom that was, actually, centrally located and easily accessible to everyone in the unit no matter the “section” in which they worked.
  • The moment when, sitting at our monthly meeting with the client to review operating costs and billing, their #2 guy said “I like to take a look at these financials to make sure you’re not going to try to Jew me.”

So reading the story about the goings-on at the GM Powertrain Plant? You bet I believe every word of it.

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But what do we do? Can one person, one manager, or one HR professional change this sort of entrenched and institutionalized racism?

“I don’t have the positional power to make changes,” I’ve heard HR professionals lament. “I can’t speak up and afford to lose my job,” I’ve heard from mid-level supervisors and managers.

I’ve also heard the following from HR “professionals:”

  • “we have to hire those people; we have an agreement with the local city council member,”
  • “I don’t really want to recruit from that school; you know who goes there”
  • “she’s a black girl but she’s really good”
  • “I’m not racist, but….”

Today. Still. IN THIS ERA.

What do we do?  What can YOU do? Here’s a few thoughts:

  • examine your own biases and prejudices – unpack the suitcase, review your history, and seek to understand why you believe-what-you-believe  
  • acknowledge and own your beliefs and actions
  • read, learn and do a bit of self-education about what it’s REALLY like, for a wide number of people, to live in these United States (and elsewhere for that matter)
  • don’t expect someone else to do the work for you
  • vow to change that which is toxic in yourself
  • don’t put the responsibility for change on those who are marginalized or being discriminated against
  • remove those who do harm to others, whether via ignorance or on purpose, from your life
  • promote equity and equality in all that you do
  • challenge and call out those who perpetuate and embolden racism and misogyny – whether that be on the job or on the street

We can work on this together. Because #BlackBlogsMatter more than ever.

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Follow the #BlackBlogsMatter hashtag and read about the 2019 challenge, covering the next 12 weeks , at Sarah Morgan’s site “The Buzz on HR”

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Work and Life and Everything In Between

My mother, who has dementia, has been living with us now for a week.  

A really really REALLYlong week.

Getting her to Louisiana was neither an easy task not did it occur in a particularly seamless fashion. Over the last month I made two emergency (last-minute) cross-country trips. While some of these travels took place in the friendly skies, there was also a 1,100 mile one-way road trip (with a dog). Fortunately, this afforded the opportunity for a stop at a Waffle House in Mississippi; mom’s very first Waffle House visit and she ordered, of course, a waffle. Next visit, if she doesn’t order it herself, I’m force-feeding her some smothered and covered hash browns. Get with the program mom!

This is but step one of dealing with my aging parents though; plans are also in motion to relocate my dad.

And I, already, am utterly exhausted.

I am also incredibly thankful, every single waking moment of every single day, that I work for an organization (Strio Consulting | Rocket Power) where (a) I am 100% remote and thus can work anywhere/anytime, and (b) we don’t put “rules” around our time off policies. As I recently wrote in the first edition of the employee handbook:“Time off is about the time you need and not about a quota.”

We believe in letting youtake care of you. We want you to take care of yours

Which, despite what every article in Fast Company would have you believe, is still pretty unusual. 

Of course, for years. it has been trendy, fashionable, and #FutureofWork’y for every workplace pundit, thought-leader and speaker-on-the-HR-circuit to lecture everyone else about the needs, wants and desires of employees for a flexible workplace. More often than not these pontifications center around “millennials want this” which, for some inexplicable reason, continues to be spewed forth and gobbled up by eager masses of HR ladies. (I guess anything with “Gen Y” still gets a whole bunch of clicks on the interwebs. Note to self: add #millenial to the SEO tags on this blog post). 

News flash: it’s never been a generational thing.

Listen…I just switched companies/jobs 3 months ago and, were I still working for my former employer, this would not be working out as smoothly as it is. Well, smoothly other than the fact that we had to discuss the year’s snowfall (remember: no snow: Louisiana) 12 times over the course of an hour yesterday.

But, at my previous employer, I would have:

  • had to get pre-approval for the TIME-OFF before scheduling a last-minute (“I need to book this flight NOW”) trip as opposed to booking it at 10 PM at night and then letting folks/TPTB know
  • used up 1/3 of my allotted PTO time for the entire calendar year (holidays included in that PTO balance) by the 2ndweek of January
  • not been able to do this at all because I cannot leave my mother alone in the house …… and I had no opportunity to work from home. We didn’t do it. We didn’t believe in it.  What would I have done? I think about this every single day
  • gone unpaid (after quickly blowing through that PTO balance) had I applied for leave under the FMLA to take care of my mother

The pooch would have been screwed.

There’s something fundamentally wrong with how we, as a society, allow our fellow human beings to handle life, family and health. 

Spending all these years in human resources I have, naturally, helped employees navigate child care, elder care and self-care issues. Sometimes the company I worked for cared and worked diligently to assist everyone no matter the circumstances or their position/level/job. Sometimes, and this was much more common, the company I worked for didn’t give a shit …. unless the employee happened to be the most senior-of-senior-executives. 

I vividly recall an employee, we’ll call her Kathy, who had no choice but to take unpaid FMLA to care for an ailing parent who had been sent home from the hospital. While out on her leave Kathy stayed in touch and one day, when she popped in for a visit to HR, she sat in a chair and sobbed. No income. No money to pay her medical/dental/vision plan contributions. No money to pay her utility bills or buy gas for her car. My heart hurt.

It’s for reasons like this that we need programs like those put forthby California Governor Gavin Newsom; his proposal expands California’s PFL so that it becomes the longest paidparental and family leave in the U.S. 

Let’s get our stuff together people of the U.S; this is a travesty.

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image: MaxPixel

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I Refuse to Maintain the Status Quo

I dare say that most humans are creatures of habit and routine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in our hurly-burly lives it’s nice to rely on muscle-memory so we can drive the same daily route to the office or know that Friday evening will inevitably be comprised of pizza, pajamas and movies. The usual and ordinary tasks we have are pretty straightforward when we do them the way we’ve always done them.

Naturally this tendency to adhere to the tried-and-true carries over into our work life. Whether we’re cranking out TPS reports or processing journal entries we get into the flow and rhythm. This is also a good thing. People who take comfort in the unremarkable may find a sense of peace cranking through mundane tasks. And for those folks who chafe at “sameness” day-after-day, entering automatron mode allows them to churn through the repetitious soul-crushing chores that exist in every job.

Now envision a department filled with people simultaneously jogging on the procedural treadmill as they push out the same reports, take the same phone calls, and sit in the same meetings week after week. Picture rows upon rows of cubicles. Department after department. Floor upon floor. A humungous organization located in either a suburban office park or on a busy street in a bustling urban city center.

Certainly all those workers are providing some sort of value as they strive to meet organizational goals while, undoubtedly, participating in the latest Corporate (HR) program-of-the-month designed to simultaneously boost engagement, track OKRs, and determine annual compensation increases?

There may be a fancy new name to this program-of-the-month but, let’s be real –  it’s the same old state of affairs.

And when you’re part of an existing entity, whether that be your job/company or your personal life/family, there’s an incentive to maintain the status quo.

It’s easy.

It’s cozy.

It’s safe.

And while human resources professionals are particularly adept at (and quite fond of!) maintaining the status quo, we are not alone amongst our corporate brothers and sisters.  In the corporate setting we’re often more keenly focused on reducing risk rather than setting our sights on maximizing potential.

So we make the “safe” hire. We stick to the same procedures whilst also building additional steps and creating complexity for the most insignificant processes (“let’s have the SENIOR Director sign off for all office supply purchases too!”). We rely on last year’s numbers (and the year before and the year before that). We look backward (only) instead of looking forward. We research other companies’ ‘best practices’ instead of designing our own ‘NEXT practices.’

We stay on the hamster wheel.

I get it. I totally get it.

But as for me? I want to try new things. I don’t want to settle for merely doing what’s easy, comfortable and that-which-has-come-before.

I refuse to maintain the status quo.

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