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.
Diversity and Inclusion was not my intended path. It was something that I knew very well at the ground-level being most often the only black woman in the companies, departments, and teams I worked for. Nonetheless, it wasn’t my focus to be a diversity and inclusion professional in the way that some may choose it as a field now. My work in HR brought us together. Whether it was the first D&I training I had in my first job where I spent three hours picking stereotypes out of a hat and affixing them under posterboards labeled “Black” “Hispanic” “Asian” or my long-stretch working for federal contractors who saw diversity as a burden rather than an opportunity; it is safe to say that I should have seen that the course was being set for me to have an impact in this arena.
I had an impact ( and the journey continues). I saw the wayward relationship Talent Acquisition and HR as a whole had with Diversity. The annoyance of bosses of mine when asked about their hiring practices. They never had logical justifications for why they didn’t have a more diverse slate of candidates for jobs and I learned in the long run that they simply didn’t care. Watching the awkwardness of these relations and the contention at meetings, I often offered myself as the lone soldier that would either solely champion diversity efforts inside and out of the company or I became the one ally that Diversity had from Talent Acquisition. I went on to do some good work (never enough in my opinion). I became a regular face with local organizations that served the differently-abled population. I helped to train their people and even created some unique opportunities for internships and regularly paid positions for a few. I spent hours and hours for years combing through curriculum and tailoring it to what the market demanded to help my community organizations best empower their students. I fought for At-Risk Youth and got some of the most diligent and bright young men to work in fields they could never have dreamed of. It was good. I was doing good. That was until I realized that very few cared as much as I did about these people. I saw people. My employers saw these people as “good faith efforts”. Do you see the disconnect?
The Struggle is Real
You know you are in bad shape when you are working for a differently-abled person who doesn’t see the necessity in making a way for other differently-abled people. Add the red-tape of getting budget to move some of my programs ahead, even when I identified state funds that wouldn’t need to put a dent in anyone’s operational budget; the times that white people with no qualifications for the jobs they were being recommended for were dropped on my desk to execute an interview process and sometimes a hire. Perhaps you can start to get a glimpse of where my relationship with diversity went wrong. For whatever reason, there are companies that believe that putting a person of color or a differently-abled person in a diversity role means instantaneous success. Judging by the comments of Apple’s VP of Diversity (who has since apologized for said commentary), that is simply not true. In fact, it has been my experience that often times being a woman of color in diversity is a struggle. I remember being extremely excited to work with the African-American women who held diversity roles at two of my last jobs. In every instance, they all disappointed me and on some level, it wasn’t their fault.
You see, you can’t be a Black person or Latino person and start closing the gap for your own people in a substantial way. This is the trickery and illusion of diversity. Let me be clear, you cannot intentionally and substantially close the gap of employment, upward mobility and all of the other socio-economic factors where Blacks, Latinos, and even Asians are adversely-impacted. Even if all of the numbers around hiring, workforce census, metrics around people of color ascending to leadership or the lack thereof all align and express that there is a problem; in many companies, this will be regarded as you are hiring more Blacks, Latinos or Asians because they are your people. Instead, you have to speak about “diversity for all” white, blue-eyed men included with specific “initiatives” earmarked to attract more diverse groups.
Keep in mind we had a biracial, (but regarded as a black mostly) in President Barack Obama. If he articulated the disparities faced by diverse groups of people — supported by data and then went forward with closing those gaps ( and he did this to the best of his ability), he would be seen as being a president for serving individual interests. In other words, he would be somehow pegged as being discriminatory for eliminating barriers for people who really need it. This was the real and actual reality of his presidency. The same rings true for people of color in diversity and inclusion. Unless we are addressing the whole we can’t have programs for the select few who truly need our efforts and our help.
You may be wondering: Why is it like this? I have an answer for you. Diversity & Inclusion is the American Red Cross of Racism and all other “isms”. Companies have decided that it looks good to be taking an action or actions towards diversity and inclusion except many of us know that there is no real change to the plight of people of color or any other marginalized group being made. It looks nice. It makes the company look attractive to say “they value diversity and inclusion”, but in practice, many do not practice what they preach. It is the reason why Unilever who is the parent company of Dove can be a part of a myriad of diversity-related coalitions and alliances and still have Dove be tone deaf enough to release their recent ad that simulates a white woman removing dirt from her body as a result of using their product that really ends up being a black woman.
Diversity & Inclusion is like getting a band-aid after you get bruised or wounded and suddenly someone says you have healed no need for that band-aid anymore and they rip it off without concern for your pain. So, I have asked myself what does it all matter in the end? If we are going to continue the diversity & inclusion dialogue, conferences and summits all highlighting the star-students of the bunch while being thoroughly-oblivious to how that doesn’t nearly speak to the other 80-90% of companies who couldn’t care less or care, but play helpless, or do just enough to ensure that they don’t jeopardize contracts or possible litigation — ask yourself what good is it all doing?
This my friends is the truth about diversity and inclusion. It stinks. It needs an overhaul and/or dismantling and it is virtually useless if the practitioners who touch it on a day-to-day basis don’t care about the only thing that matters in all of this and that is humans.
I will keep up the good fight, but I prefer to fight for people over lofty concepts like diversity and inclusion.
I have been doing deeper dives on this topic on my weekly livestream show “Ask Czarina Live” if you are interested, feel free to watch the replays here.
Are we still at a point where leaders are unable to provide their employees with constructive feedback regarding their performance?
I’ve recently been made aware of several situations where there are clear deficits in performance from a team perspective in companies. In most instances, everyone on the team knows who is and isn’t pulling their weight and that includes the leaders.
You would think that this should be a slam-dunk scenario whereby the supervisor and/or leader – actively deals with the team members who are slacking off via performance discussions etc. I’m finding that this is not the case. Instead, leaders are opting to have general and redundant conversations with entire teams as an attempt to appear fair in how they delve out criticism.
I would argue that this approach is having the opposite effect. The impact of this approach is employees that are performing at and above expectations are unfairly being subjected to criticism that isn’t a reflection of their individual performance. Having to endure this criticism as a whole rather than individual performance being addressed makes employees feel as though they are working in a “romper-room” environment causing them to not only reject any pertinent criticism that follows; but also creates resentment among team members.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say I am a recruiter on a team of five recruiters for a manufacturing company. We all handle “easy-to-fill” positions, but requisition volume is high as is turnover organization-wide so we are in a constant state of active recruitment. There is an established number of hires each recruiter is required to upkeep on a monthly basis in order to ensure the plant has enough workers to absorb new work coming in via new contracts. In this scenario, the magic number is 30 new hires per recruiter. Three of the recruiters including myself meet and/or exceed the expected number of hires. The other two recruiters consistently hire between 15-18 people and claim they cannot possibly meet the established quota.
The three performers along with the leaders are aware that these two are the weakest links on the team and also recognize that their inability to meet the established number of hires has to do with a mix of poor work habits, slacking and a lack of urgency where they are concerned.
There are a few options in handling this situation:
- Continue treating the whole indifferently because parts of the team are not working in an optimal manner by imposing daily monitors of work completed on the entire team as well as threats of disciplinary actions.
- Have a performance discussion with the two recruiters who aren’t meeting the standard – while highlighting how they may work more efficiently. Additionally, recognize the recruiters who are consistently performing so they are aware that their efforts are appreciated and being seen.
Number #2 would be the most optimal solution to dealing with this situation. This scenario reminds me of grade school when there would be a student who misbehaved consistently during class. Teachers that had the better sense knew that it was far better to remove unwieldly students from the classroom in an effort of not robbing the other attentive students of quality instruction time.
The same is true here. It isn’t fair to your employees who are doing the right thing to be subject to rules, disciplinary actions or indifferent leadership because you refuse to deal with their co-workers’ performance issues .
Communicate, document, and/or cut ties with employees that aren’t meeting performance standards, if you need to. Just know that no grown adult wants to be treated like they are back in preschool, because you are incapable of addressing performance concerns head-on.
There are all of these articles about communication and engagement. I have contributed my thoughts in some of them. They are all useful in some regard if you want to get to the bottom of your engagement and communication issues. Except, we would have to include the one nuisance variable that most leaders and companies won’t cop to and that is: The cloak of silence.
We are working and living in the age of knowledge. We have more data points than we can use and have more information at our finger tips than previous generations. If given a chance, most leaders will cite wanting to understand their employees better. They want to understand things like motivations, propensity to leave, career aspirations etc.
What makes this problematic is leaders and companies want to know these things, but are often times not willing to ingest and digest the answers. Often times, when the answer they receive is unfavorable for them or the company – they react. The reaction is negative and usually sets such a tone that any further or future communication like it will be non-existent, censored and/or stifled.
Around the time of the 9/11 attacks here in NY the MTA came out with this whole campaign that said: ” If you see something, say something.” Many businesses latched onto this saying and started using it as a way to appear as though employees should feel free to share the things they are noticing and should feel safe to do so without fearing retaliation. There are some good eggs that truly stand by having an open, honest and communicative culture.
Others still, prefer a cloak of silence. They prefer for employees to be seen and not heard. These are companies that like when people speak up to praise the organization and its leaders. Companies that prefer a cloak of silence literally squash and black list anyone who dreams of raising a concern or anything deemed unfavorable for the company.
Let us examine through this example:
I worked for a company in a previous life that loved to hold town halls. If you know anything about town halls you know that they are meant to be open forums where people can come to have their ideas and concerns heard by those in power. The goal is that healthy debate and conversation is brought to the table by the constituents and those in power so that amicable solutions can be implemented.
When we had town halls, they spent weeks communicating the importance of our participation. It was even shared that no question was “dumb” or “irrelevant”. Yet, the first town hall I attended at this company was quieter than a church during Sermon. The CHRO spent an hour speaking about projects, opportunities, our organizational scorecard and then asked for questions. One of my co-workers raised her hand and if looks could kill she would have been dead. She continued to ask her question about adding additional members to our team, because of the excessive workload. Her question was answered abruptly and dismissed.
After the town hall, some of my more tenured co-workers spoke among themselves about how this employee who spoke up never learns her lesson. As in, she should have remained quiet instead, because clearly her question was not welcomed.
Every subsequent meeting and town hall was marred by a cloak of silence. We all knew that it wasn’t worth our time to ask questions or raise issues in these meetings despite what leadership was saying. They didn’t really want to know. It was all about faking their way to engagement and open communication – except they were doing a really poor job at it.
If you have noticed the same in your company here are some tips for building trust and getting your employees to communicate with you again:
1) Don’t ask questions, if you don’t want the answers. What people experience in their jobs day-to-day is very real. Don’t ask them to lie to you so your feelings aren’t hurt. Your employees have a right to not work in fear and you deserve to hear the truth so you can improve.
2) If delivery of certain messages are your concern, set a few ground rules for your town halls and meetings. Let’s be honest, sometimes intention doesn’t meet delivery at the finish line when it comes to communication. Having a few ground rules for meetings and town halls will help to set the tone. Be sure that your employees know you will abide by them as well.
3) When they speak, you listen and then take action. What is the point of having all of these data points, if you are going to simply hoard them – only to do nothing with it. When your employees speak up it’s an act of bravery on their part. The way they know that you have heard them is by acknowledging what was said and taking action.
Communicating doesn’t have to be difficult. Once you get over your own fears and needs to control what and how your employees say something – it will be a smoother ride for both parties.