I am no stranger to a good debate. In fact, I quite enjoy a healthy conversation comprised of fact, experience and well-placed opinion every once and again. The operative word here is healthy and by healthy I mean all parties in the debate are allowed their perspective and are illustrating a unique perspective rooted in actual facts.
I have often heard from colleagues, friends, and family that having conversations about inequality and racism are difficult. They have said it is an argument you can’t win and so they just don’t touch for any reason. Conversely, I have taken a different stance. I have an extremely difficult time seeing society run amuck with incorrect narratives about groups of people. I have an even harder time seeing how injustice doesn’t just stop at narratives and propaganda but extend to gross violations of civil liberties.
I have been increasingly outspoken about how we are all participating in this matrix of social constructs that oppress and label groups of people so we can perpetuate the lie that one group is more superior to another. After countless conversations, some solicited and many more not, I have come to a few conclusions about why it isn’t necessarily a good use of my time to engage in racial conversations.
Here are my conclusions:
- Most people have made up their mind about the history of events that led us here and why racism and inequality remain pervasive. In making up their minds, they have actively absolved themselves of any wrongdoing while making the assertion that every man has free will to overcome these significant obstacles that they intentionally created to have an enduring and lasting impact on the socioeconomic status of specific groups.
- I’m a black woman which makes almost anything I say dangerous and aggressive. If I sat around spewing fake news all day that would be simple, people would simply say my ignorance is just another example of why black people have found it difficult to reach the upper echelons of society. That I pride myself on being well-versed in the issues, history, complete with reasonable explanations for the usual rebuttals makes me a threat.
- Being a credible activist for what is right and just is exhausting. I’m not nearly close to fighting the good fight in the way that civil rights leaders did in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, yet there is a soul-deep lethargy that sets in when I find myself having to explain basic tenets of human decency, empathy, and fairness to people who see themselves as reasonably intelligent avatars.
I can’t help someone see beyond my color and the threat of my presence if they have decided that black means bad and white means right. It’s not always in my best interest to dialogue even superficially if you can’t separate fact from lies you have been indoctrinated with to preserve your social status. I am not your Racism 101 professor that you get to tap into because I appear to be tempered in my approach to the subjects at hand. I’m likely consumed by fire on the inside every time a white person finds my perspective unfortunate which is really code for I really wanted to like you Janine, but your desire to be forthright makes me uncomfortable.
As I mentioned in the last #BlackBlogsMatter post, my north star is peace. Don’t be shocked if my chatter sometimes goes quiet. I am tired for myself and for my ancestors. I have tried my best with some of you. Preserving me and addressing what I can fix among my own is starting to look like the best thing I can do for us all. Sometimes the loudest thing you can say is to say nothing at all.
Before I get to my story, a quote from a 2017 Forbes article titled: “How Empathetic Are You, Really?”. On empathy, the author Liz Guthridge says:
“Being empathetic is similar to cooking. You may know the recipe for how to prepare empathy. But until you actually use the recipe a few times, taste the results, see how everyone reacts and adjust the recipe, you and your guests don’t know how satisfying and nourishing your efforts will be.”
Empathy continues to be a challenge in life and at work. For most people, empathy has conditions and limits. It goes something like this, “if I agree with what you are saying and how you say it pleases me; I will support the breathe with which you are speaking your truth”. If by chance, you share something that fundamentally debunks a point of view or has earth-shattering ramifications for a particular position someone holds, empathy is (more often than not) enqueue to meet an imminent death.
I have both written and spoken about some thorny subjects in the past year. I knew going into it that there would be people who praised me for my bravery and others who would chastise me for sharing my truth. When I speak up on issues, topics or instances that matter to me it is just that — it matters to me. That I have something to say about matters of societal and economic importance as someone who also happens to be an HR professional should not rub people the wrong way in 2018. Working in any industry (and more importantly HR) is not an opportunity to operate as if dumb, deaf and blind nor is it a sentence for being mute when it matters most.
Last month, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at Connections 2018, an annual user-centered event curated by Ultimate Software designed to engage, enlighten and empower their user community. During my Women in Leadership panel, there were two women who questioned why a white man was moderating my panel and moreover why most of the event’s speakers were white males. Admittedly, it was an awkward moment and not one we had solved for in our discussions about managing questions as a panel. A part of me was overjoyed that someone saw the obvious inequity of the panel. The other part of me felt sorry for my moderator, Jason Lauritsen who I personally chose to be the moderator and is someone who I do believe is inherently good despite the gender and race he belongs to. Time stood still, but something had to be said.
Empathy in motion…
I shared the truth and posed a question. I shared that I had been asked to moderate and asked the two women how that made them feel? They perked up and said that would have been much better. In response, I said: “Really? Not for me. Why should I moderate a panel of all white women in 2018?” To which an Asian woman yelled out: “What is wrong with that?”. What I shared with the group is that I wanted the ability to speak my truth as a panelist, not as someone on the periphery of the discussion. I went for what I wanted and chose Jason as a moderator because I admire him as a person and because we cannot exclude men from the discussion of how women are treated in society and in the workplace.
I have my views and strong ones at that. Nonetheless, my views are always rooted in experiences and fact and never devoid of the ability to see how it may affect another human. My panel could have been one big feminist party where we talked about how the patriarchy needs to die and how Ultimate got their programming wrong and how patronizing it must be for me to be the only black woman on the panel. What would have been accomplished by this? Isn’t this part of the problem and what we have always done?
That question was a twist of fate that I ultimately thanked those two women for. It opened us all up to have a more authentic conversation than was possible with my carefully-curated script of questions. We moved on to share openly and listen to one another’s experiences. From that moment on, we weren’t just listening we were feeling every word uttered in that room. Isn’t that the hope and prayer for empathy and also the challenge in exercising it?
The truth we all need to embrace and settle with is we are all right and all wrong at the same time. Life is a continuous cycle of contradictions. For every view you hold, there is at least one instance to debunk the position you hold. Even in a world of contradictions, it still means that what I experience is true for me. My experiences and knowledge of the world cannot be diminished or diluted. You can challenge it, but it cannot be dismissed as a data point. Dismissal is the typical reaction to hearing things we don’t want to accept. Empathy means that even if your individual or collective truths tell you that anything I say is bogus it warrants further investigation or at a minimum your heartfelt consideration if you can muster it.
People are not naturally wired to say or do what is convenient for others to feel good about a situation. This is also a part of the problem we have at the moment. Stop looking for convenient truths and answers to serve your agenda. Instead, ask yourself if what you hear, see or read could have the slightest possibility of being true. If your answer is “yes” (and it should because anything is possible), then it requires extra effort to understand on your part.
We are recalibrating as a human race which means an industry founded upon human relations should be doing the same. I challenge professionals everywhere to do the following:
1) Say less. People are finding their voices again and feeling more and more empowered to speak out. This is not the time for you to debate them and take up space. Instead, say less and hold space for the most vulnerable in our workplaces and society to share their truths.
2) Stay curious. Some of you grew up in towns of 1000 with not a dose of cultural or ethnic difference to color your world, yet others of us have grown up in complex environments with a myriad of influences. In both regards, there is a need for more curiosity, fewer assumptions, less convenient truths and judgments. Be open to learning a new perspective.
3) Exercise your empathy muscles. The road to becoming more empathetic is not linear. You will fail, you will be awkward, you will resist it at times. Still, you ought to try to be more empathetic and willing to endure all of that at the same time. I know it is a tall order, but what if it could shift budding interactions with people you admire or help someone you love feel more heard and understood? Trust me it is worth it.
For the livestream of my Women in Leadership panel click the link below:
Connections 2018 Women in Leadership Panel
Here is Jason’s account of the Women in Leadership Panel and lessons learned:
Gender at Work
May we all rise to the challenge of exercising more empathy.
Today not only marks the first day of February, but it also marks my first official day back on the blog. It is also the beginning of Black History Month and the revered Black Blogs Matter Challenge. Today’s theme is Black Blogs Still Matter.
Black blogs still matter quite simply because our silence as black people can no longer stand. By now, many of us have built our respective brands and rapport in various lanes. Even with the prestige, accolades, and recognition that comes with blogging for some time, there remains ignorance of epic proportions. Plainly, there are still people who like what we write about, will greet you with a smile at an event, but still lack the ability to hold space for you to be authentically, culturally and aesthetically who you are as a human and in word. How disheartening it is to realize that your ancestors were silenced or shunned for speaking their truths and here we stand in 2018 where not much has changed? The key difference is we will no longer be silenced, we don’t care what it costs us and we will be heard.
In the last year, I have learned it is more important than ever to speak up about matters that affect the black community and the society-at-large. I cannot afford the silence any longer. I cannot afford the silence any longer not because it is costing me money; on the contrary, it is still costing me, my soul. I don’t want to work with your brand if you want to censor me. There are plenty of bloggers happy to scoop up every dollar and coin of yours so long as they can say they worked with Brand “X”. I don’t want you as a client if you hold bigoted views, there is a special kind of consultant or small business out there to serve not only your business but satisfy your insatiable craving for racist banter. I am not interested in being your friend, colleague or online buddy if I’m only palatable when I meet your white standards or threshold for political correctness. I don’t want to attend your swanky event if you haven’t awakened to the fact that your speaker rosters and blogger teams need to be diverse. Inclusion at such events needs to look like I don’t sit through your dinners or group outings feeling like a foreigner in my own body. You may find my position unfair, but it is unfair to be held to standards that others never have to consider reaching. Yet, I smile, do the work and blaze ahead accepting those circumstances in which I am subjected to less than equitable conditions.
Almost 7 years into blogging, the beauty is I have no cares of who I please. I have learned if I please myself first I will attract the right people, opportunities, and clients. I would be remiss if I didn’t say, this mantra is already in play as many of you have written to me over the years expressing how thankful you were for my candor on difficult subjects. Thank you for holding space for me.
It was never the intention of this blog to “go lightly”. Whenever I tackle a topic it is with precision and the truth. I expect callousness from celebrities, politicians, and others who permeate the upper echelons of society. What I hadn’t expected to see was the lack of empathy, privilege, blatant disrespect that I have witnessed within our own HR community. Nonetheless, it is when you see what is wrong in the world that you have choices to make.
1) Accept that this is what it is and what is going to be and remain silent.
2) You can see it all as an opportunity to share a different perspective.
I have chosen the latter. If you learn from me during the next 15 weeks, I have done your job for you. If I have shared my truth unabashedly in the next 15 weeks, I have freed myself and empowered others like me to do the same. This is not Racism 101 or Diversity and Inclusion 19 at some university or Continuing Ed. Black blogs still matter. My voice still matters and it for that reason alone that I will continue to do the work and share what is true. I hope you will hang in there with me.
This is the time of year that predictions are made and data is shared about what the strategic and operational goals are for the upcoming year. Although management firms spend an inordinate amount of time and money collecting this data all year long for these much-coveted reports, there is rarely anything earth-shattering about what CEO’s, business leaders or professionals have to say about where their focus will be in the new year. The usual banter will be about increasing engagement, improving candidate experience, technology, finding the best talent etc. As you can see, nothing really shocking.
However, 2017 has been illuminating. I wanted to say “different”, but that would mean that what I am about to share is new as of this year and it isn’t. In fact, what I will share is the result of something somewhere in the archives of time that started off as a snowball and is now an avalanche of end-of-the-world proportions crushing souls and careers to boot. This thing I speak of is the erosion of integrity and values in business.
2017 is the first year in my existence where just about every month there has been some company, company head or public figure who has come under scrutiny for either illegal or unethical practices. There have been so many “sorry’s” and “apologies flung around this year that it is becoming nauseating and unbelievable. The travesty in it all is that people who knew that all of this unethical and illegal behavior was the very thing that contributed to the fame, fortune and prestige always knew the things we see playing out. They were just waiting and hoping that the rest of the world would see it someday. So what has changed this year? For the first time ever and for reasons unknown to me, people were willing to believe the stories otherwise known over the years as individual gripes, “crazy talk”, imaginary happenings, urban legends and conspiracy theory this year. Suddenly, what was always in the shadows and dark got its much-deserved light via social media, blogs, livestreams, and a lot of bravery on the part of people who chose to break their silence.
In a lot of ways, this year has been one huge coming-out party and not in a good way. Whether it is our government and the corruption of the day or the growing list of sexual harassment and assault charges following the Harvey Weinstein debacle, it has not been a good year for US companies and more specifically humans as a whole. The latest debacle is set at Huffington Post. According to an article published yesterday by Gizmodo, Arianna Huffington ignored sexual harassment claims made by workers in her New York office while she was still running the company. The article goes on to state that one such former managing editor whose sexual misconduct was known to her also garnered a transfer to HuffPost India as a result of an HR investigation. How an investigation that leads to the proof that an employee of yours is engaging in sexual misconduct doesn’t result in a termination is beyond me.
Without diving too deep into this particular story, I prefer to examine the over-arching narrative of CEO’s and leaders, in general, both men and women who consistently overlook, engage in, and embrace unethical and illegal practices as a means to secure opportunities, line their pockets and the pockets of their shareholders and investors. I would be lying if I said I had never encountered leaders or employees behaving unethically who somehow managed to keep their jobs, lives, and lifestyles intact. It has disgusted me. I often spoke up about it only to be met with “Well you know it is John Bae. Yes, he is a jerk and misogynist, but he brings in a shit ton of money for the company, so we have to tread lightly”.
Frankly, I am glad 2017 raised a proverbial mirror to all of the things that make us suck at being human. Now, that we all know and finally see what we all knew was commonplace in business how do we move forward in trust? Can “building trust within my organization” really be on your scorecard when your foundation has been flooded with the truth and is now crumbling as a result? Can you genuinely accept that accolade for best company for women when you have investigations sitting on your desk overlooked and predators collecting checks on your dime? Can you really call your company culture “diverse and inclusive” if you secretly donate operating budget to the KKK or 45’s ongoing campaign? Note: “Diverse” and “inclusive” is maybe not appropriate if the latter applies.
Suddenly, no company, CEO or person is safe from the truth. Your money, prestige, and power are on a timer and the time is nearly up. The only thing leaders should be thinking about going into 2018 is integrity. I’m not sure where along the journey, so many decided that money trumped having values, meant destroying lives and doing it with a smile. Now is a time to ask your employees to blow the whistle internally before the public has its way with you and your brand. It is time, to be honest, and say sorry because you mean it. It is a good time to make amends and provide whatever you must to make it right with the people who show up daily to impact your bottom line.
Everybody needs to take one long hot shower to wash the filth of 2017 and before off and start anew in 2018 with a focus on treating employees, customers, and citizens of this world with the dignity they deserve as a matter of being a fellow human. It may cost you revenue. You may piss off your board of directors and investors, but isn’t it time for “good” to make a comeback?
For some starter tips on cleaning house, revisit an Aristocracy of HR throwback: The Untouchables: Why you should stop salvaging bad employees at every level.
Yesterday was my 6th year blogiversary for this here blog. I am eternally thankful for the ride I have had to date with this blog. After 10+years of living HR day-to-day (6 of which I have spent writing about it too) — you have many a-ha moments.
This blog has spawned a business, speaking engagements, brand partnerships and more. I created this blog as a safe space for me to reconcile the things I was experiencing as an HR practitioner who struggled between being human and being in HR. I’ll explain more about that later. Ultimately, the more opportunities I garner to step outside of the traditional HR box the more I see both the potential and disarray of HR as a discipline. Both warrant our attention separately and collectively.
As such, I have decided to share 6 HR or more specifically business epiphanies with the lens of HR for my fellow practitioners to sink their teeth into.
Here we go…
1) One of the reasons that I struggled to find sustained success in my HR positions was I was always striving to be more “human” in Human Resources. That should not be an oxymoron, but judging by discussions I have had with friends who are practitioners as well as attendees of my workshops — there is almost always a moment or moments in which we all as practitioners need to yield more heart than head; less policy and more practicality. No HR practitioner should be working in HR feeling like they are at constant odds between their HR duties within their respective organizations and their own morals, values, and well-being. This needs to stop.
2) Change is happening quickly. Innovation is the new buzzword we all love to hate. That aside, I’m not sure that we are moving quite as quickly towards innovation in our own discipline as we should. If we are the core or the heart of the organization, how well can the rest of the moving parts operate with a slow or non-existent “heartbeat”? Ponder that for a moment.
3) On innovation, we can not afford to have change happen to us, we must initiate and lead from where we sit. Forget “seats at tables” and our usual bouts of being “strategic”. When was the last time we shifted or pivoted for the sake of being a better industry without first being beat down in some doom and gloom article or being coerced by other elements outside of our sphere of influence? Don’t get me wrong, we are very much guided by what happens in our individual organizations and must keep an eye to that, but it is safe to say that we should have many ideas about how HR can be done better and be actively seeking to implement or experiment with them.
4) The truth hurts. That is if you are brave and bold enough you have to realize that speaking truths outside of the normal realms of compliance, strategy, and protocol will rub people the wrong way or they will pretend to not understand. I’d like to believe we have gotten smarter as a species, so it is a little hard for me to believe that people can’t or won’t admit to some of the harder truths working against us like: Why does Diversity & Inclusion exist? Is it because it is necessary for having a sustainable business or is it because there are systems beyond the scope of business and HR designed to marginalize groups of people who are now being “managed” and given “opportunities” under the guise of D&I? I’ll let that marinate.
5) For HR practitioners and HR Influencers alike, if you don’t have a zeal for improving lives, society, businesses — get out! There is a space for you in this world. You owe it to yourself to find it as there is a vast labor market of opportunity calling you to find your true passion and purpose and/or a tiki torch, but I’ll save that discussion for a different day. I have had my fill of HR practitioners who have fallen and bumped their heads on HR and do it with hate and disdain for the industry. As for the “influencers”, many are great, just as many exist to blow hot air about how terrible we are as a discipline while collecting checks from said discipline. There’s a difference between “tough love” and “snark for snarks-sake”. Know the difference. Evaluate yourself and if all outlined here is applicable– get out! As the saying goes, we can do bad all by ourselves.
6) Lastly, there is still hope for our discipline despite the calls for its obliteration. It’s called imagination, creativity, and humility. These three things are the foundation for what HR needs to be in the present and in the foreseeable future. These three approaches to HR and business are not to be seen as scary but are meant to excite, inspire and galvanize those of you who are ready and willing to face societal ills, digital transformation, and rapid growth head-on. The future is exciting and so is the work we have ahead of us.
So there you have it, my epiphanies on HR 6 years into blogging. I hope it sparks conversation, makes you think, and promotes change. After all, the initial intention of The Aristocracy of HR was to raise the standard of HR while always asking ourselves the hard questions about how and why we do what we do.
Thank you for reading, supporting and inspiring me through the years.
Janine a.k.a. Your “CzarinaofHR”