The State of the Union on Wokeness

This week’s theme for #BlackBlogsMatter is “The Tao of Woke”. As a result, I decided to speak about the state of “wokeness” and what it should mean for you as we continue to navigate difficult themes around race relations and society.

The word: “Awake” is defined as: “to stop sleeping or wake from sleep”. “Woke” being a derivative of “awake” must then be related to that definition. You are not “woke” if you wear kente cloth and are vegan. You are not woke if you wear ankhs and have changed your name back to something more tied to African culture. You are not “woke” if you are white and have 3 black friends, where faux locs, watch Good Times reruns in your free-time, listen to Jadakiss and act as a part-time activist on social media for black liberation. You may not even be “woke” if you are out there daily as a full-time activist for equal treatment across the spectrum of societal issues concerning people of color.

Please know there is nothing wrong with any of those things I mentioned. Full transparency, I have an ankh tattoo. What I am saying is that being “woke” is not a function of those things or evidence that you have your sights on seeking the truth. It is more often than not that people do a mashup of these things in an effort to be seen as culturally-aware or even culturally-sensitive.

To be “woke” you have to awaken. To awaken you have to stop sleeping.  Being “woke” is a matter of consciousness and in that state of consciousness, you must also have a conscience. In other words, you have to care, be aware and open to seeing things as they are; not what you think they are. The state of our country is in a disarray not just because 45 is at the helm, it is in a disarray because of decades of neglect, discord, and greed among a few things I will not mention here. If you are awake and seeing things clearly, you understand that narratives like “black people are in dire straits and suffering” is not only not true, but you would know that if there were such an instance in being Black in America that it has more to do with the disproportionate ways we are educated, compensated, and treated legislatively that contributes to poverty in our communities and even crime.

There is a state of consciousness you have to be in to not merely accept the neatly-packaged narratives you are fed by the government, media and even loved ones. To be “woke” you have to be willing to discover the unabashed truth. You have to be willing to speak honestly about what you find. It is a state of being that will not allow you to turn a blind eye to the suffering and truths of others. Being woke means you lead with heart over head understanding that it was never in the plans for any human to suffer on their journey here.

To be woke is to explore yourself coming to a place of understanding for that which is most integral to your values and morality. Wokeness is having all of that knowledge in a world of representatives and boldly deciding to show up as yourself every day regardless of the consequences.

Is it easy? Not at all. Is it worth your time and effort to get there? Absolutely.

Let us not make the term “woke” another social banality that we get so tired of hearing that we missed the message and lesson it tried to teach us.

As humans and as professionals in a human-centric industry, we owe it to ourselves and to the people we serve to try a little more every day to awaken to the truth of other people’s experiences. You may not understand it fully, but exposing yourself to narratives that make you uncomfortable is a start.

I hope you will take the steps necessary to quiet your ego, speak less, and allow space for other people to speak their truths. If you can do that at a minimum, you are well on your way to being “woke”.

Is the “Grown Up” World Where Talent Goes To Die?

Image courtesy of Flickr

Image courtesy of Flickr

I am deep into a book called: No Fears, No Excuses: What You Need To Do To Have a Great Career by Larry Smith. In this book, he asserts that: “the grown-up world is where talent goes to die.” Reading this statement jolted me gratefully inside – as this is something I have come to realize in my own career journey and in the scope of coaching my clients in business.

You may be thinking that this statement is: “harsh” or “an unfair generalization”. Perhaps, you’re right, but I will wager that you are not necessarily wrong, but rather predictable. I say you are predictable rather than wrong, because you belong to a subset of thousands – if not millions of people who believe in a precept of work that is fast becoming a dinosaur. This precept of work includes: Choosing a degree field (preferably something that will allow you to support yourself upon graduation), studying hard even if you hate your field of study, finding an internship where you give your gifts away for free,  only to search for whatever job the economy will loan to you. This my friends is the age old definition of success and job security. The unfortunate outcome of all of this is: The lot of unhappy people and wasted talent living and participating in a society that appears to being conversely impacted by a perceived lack of skilled workers.

While what I just outlined is not indicative of everyone’s career; it is the reality of the majority. Very rarely do I meet someone who says: I love my job and it is allowing me to utilize my full range of talents. In my head, I know of a handful of people in both my personal and professional circles who truly love the work they do. I know that “love” makes people uncomfortable, so let me define what “love” means in this context:

The handful that “love” their work are:

1) Doing work that aligns with their natural talents, interests and passions.

2) Fulfilled by the work, interactions and daily dynamics of the job.

3) Reinforced by having their basic needs for compensation, benefits, flexibility, long-term growth, challenge and continued learning met in return for their efforts.

Most people are not “in love” let alone fulfilled in the way I just described above. Every week, I observe the sentiments about work as we inch towards Friday. Most people, appear to be happiest from Thursday through Saturday. Sunday is a reminder that work starts in 24 hours on Monday – which brings on the inevitable social shares and/or griping about the drudgery that is returning to work. Put plainly, people are miserable and feel stuck.

Coming back to the title of this article which is: Is the “grown-up” world where talent goes to die? Is it true? I think it is. We start children off conditioning them to conform to the world rather than disrupt it. This conditioning often forces them to ignore their interests, innate skills and passions in favor of the road most traveled, lucrative and accepted. In doing this, we ship them off to university to study what seems like the best option for them. Sometimes it works out and other times a pivot emerges to the dissatisfaction of the parents, because of course we are supposed to have our entire life figured out at 22 – how reasonable!

Should we be lucky enough to get a job after graduation, more advice comes our way. The advice is: “Work hard, keep your head down, follow the rules and you will be promoted and successful in no time.” In “no time” is the operative word, because in this current economy promotions seem to be rather elusive and hard or good work is no longer a silver bullet for success on the job. By the time, people look up – they have a home, 2 cars, some kids, a dog, bills and a job that is a terrible fit for their skills and lifestyle; but the bills have to be paid, so onward with more drudgery.

For every person that works a job there is a dream and creativity deferred in the journey towards personal and professional success. We have all been conditioned to believe that holding a job whether it is a passion or not is a badge of honor – your right of passage into adulthood. More money, more bills, and more material effects are just a few of the things that define your adulthood in our current society. The problem with this rat race of superficial success is that it is superficial. Success is subjective and therefore much more to having longevity in your career than the degrees, certifications and clocked years of service.

Agreeing or disagreeing with this statement of talent dying in the grown-up or corporate world doesn’t matter. What matters is that you take a moment to realize what you want your life and contributions to stand for and taking stock of where you are so you can ensure that the two align. Here’s a hint: In the coming decades, success will not be defined by your retirement package, the money in your bank account or the amount of hours you worked – it will be about how you made an impact (however small) in your part of the world.

I spoke about success and what is means to be an adult in the modern world on my Periscope show: Ask Czarina Live. You can watch it below.

 

From Panera Bread to the Boardroom: Two Moms Collaborate to Empower Women

WLAM-Talent Think Partnership promo

Three years ago, I was a part of a small social media team that was covering the NY Business Expo Summit in New York City. After several hours of busily typing soundbites of some of the brightest minds in Social Media, I sauntered to the nearest lavatory where I was approached by Dr. Hilary S. Berger, Ed.D of Work Like a Mother®. She was fascinated with the speed at which I was typing and covering the event and asked me if I could help her hone her skills.

Not too long after the event we met in a Panera Bread in New York City to discuss the possibility of working with one another. As we were sharing our backgrounds and journeys as mothers, we realized we both had a passion for seeing women thrive. We spent most of our time talking about what we might be able to accomplish together someday. These lofty wishes were wrapped up in us being able to provide programs, events, and workshops that could assist women who have lost their way with a way to become relevant again through unique learning opportunities- an academy of sorts.

Some three years later, I am happy to say that academy was launched in 2015 as the Work Like a Mother® Career Academy for Social Media and Job Search Training. I came aboard as a social media and personal branding instructor. In 2016, we are collaborating in a more formal fashion to create new programming and provide the next iteration of the Work Like a Mother® Career Academy for Social Media and Job Search Training.

Our first collaboration is a program that was one of my proudest achievements for 2015- my Talent Think Social Circle Virtual Mentorship Teleclass ™. I launched this program with an idea, shoestring budget and blind faith from October through December of 2015 following the conclusion of the academy and it was a success.

Class “Usie” after my Art of Personal Branding and Social Media Workshop.

 

With the interest and support of Work Like a Mother®, my program has an extended lifeline and has grown into a multi-level program serving two separate needs for the women we serve:

1) Some women just want to re-enter the workforce. As such, their primary interest is in enhancing their skills and building the confidence needed to become a marketable candidate in an ever-difficult and selective job market.

2) In complete contrast to the previous example, there are women who have ideas for businesses they want to launch and need a place where they can incubate and grow those ideas into businesses. They too require some up-skilling and coaching to get there and we want to serve that need as well.

Who better to nurture women who have either of these needs than two mothers/business women that understand and empathize with their journeys. Corporate America isn’t checking for them and certainly hasn’t made much progress in ensuring the career mobility and flexibility of women, so we are tackling it in the only way we know- through education and coaching.

WLAM Open House

Work Like a Mother Open House (1.15.16)

 

You may be thinking what does this have to do with Human Resources?

On the surface, probably not anything. Let’s dive a little deeper though. When I worked in HR, I recognized that people could skip along all day creating policies and procedures without any care or concern for how it impacts the workforce. We were keeping the organization compliant and that is necessary. However, I often wondered if things would be different if Human Resources could function in a truly altruistic manner. My HR buddy, Dave Ryan shared something rather profound in a recent blog post. The post titled: “A Utopian Workplace”drove home an important consideration which is: “it is hard for HR to create a utopian society in the way everyone expects when society has yet to right certain human wrongs. I have to agree and I believe one of the things we have screwed up left and right is how women are regarded and treated in the workplace. More disturbingly is how women who choose to become mothers are often displaced and forgotten. While my collaboration has really nothing to do with HR directly, indirectly Hilary and I are attempting to triage the ills of society from the outside-in-with the hope that these women can thrive and succeed in the way that is most meaningful for them.

If you are interested in learning more about our programs, go to: http://worklikeamother.com/Mentorship.html.  In addition, if you are interested in featuring us on your blog, publication, podcast etc. to discuss our work we would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with you.

Here’s a little more insight on Dr. Hilary S. Berger, Ed.d and Work Like a Mother® worth knowing:

Dr. Hilary S. Berger, Ed.D. is the founder of Work Like a Mother®  and is a Career Counselor and Board Certified Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselor who earned her Doctoral Degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College. With office locations in Fairfield County Connecticut, Dr. Berger has pioneered a solution oriented career counseling system designed exclusively for educated mothers at home raising their families. She has counseled women in transition both in university settings and in private practice for over twenty years.  Work Like a Mother®, a thriving and dynamic community for mothers, is a one stop shop for mothers rebuilding their professional relevance and marketability during and after their parenting years.

Helping Moms Get Their Career Mojo Back

Courtesy of Unsplash.com

Unless you are fortunate enough to have women in your family who will share with you the impact of the inevitable decisions you will make both as a mother and a professional; you would have no clue about the difficult choices that lie ahead – when and if you take that leap. Amidst lackluster maternity leave, pay equity issues, real and perceived concerns of upward mobility among other factors, many women can find themselves feeling inadequate, overwhelmed and discouraged. Not to mention, that we can still see glimmers of the ongoing feud of who does it better: stay-at-home-moms or working moms – which presents another unnecessary layer of guilt. I would wager that we all are doing our best. We shoulder much more responsibility than we are given credit and the policies and practices of bigger business have not caught up with the reality of the average woman.

When I wrote about #EqualPayDay back in April, I asked a single question and sort of pointed the finger at employers by asking: what will they do differently now that “equal pay” is a prominent discussion? It was an important question to ask, because we are so easily moved to superficial action in the name of the latest salacious headline or social catastrophe of the day. As such, I wanted to remind employers that when #EqualPayDay, National Women’s Suffrage Day, Mother’s Day and any other consumerist holiday is over and the hashtags have stopped trending that there is a human that must continue on in obscurity trying to make sense of finances, life, family, identity and career in a society that simply has no place for them.

Sounds grim, but this is the reality of many women who have made a very natural decision to have children. In this process, many of us moms have loss a sense of self while performing one of the most benevolent jobs known to humanity. I had aspirations of climbing the ladder, grappling for a title and reaping the rewards of a decent salary. I chose motherhood and suddenly climbing that ladder had extra rungs that I never saw before childbirth and that decent salary seemed further and further in the distance. I bowed out, but not completely.

There have been glimmers of hope, like the announcement by IBM last week that they will ship breast milk home for traveling mothers free of charge. Still, so many other companies don’t understand or get the magnitude of the reality I have just illustrated and so women have to consider other career options.

You see we are in a time where you don’t have to live in obscurity. Becoming a mom doesn’t have to limit your personal and career growth. In fact, if your career has been at a standstill the problem isn’t your employer -it is you. Social Media and this new reality of global connectedness allows you to create your career reality. If you need to work for someone else, you can do it. If you want to start a business, you can do that. If you have always had a knack for writing, you can pursue that and be recognized. All of these options are possible because we are our own brand ready to be cultivated and marketed in the right setting for a specific purpose.

We all have a purpose. Women deserve to continue with their careers or shift gears if need be. Becoming a mother shouldn’t have to be an all or nothing endeavor. This is why I am so happy to be working with Dr. Hilary Berger, Founder of Work Like a Mother. She was one of my initial clients when I decided to launch my business a few years ago and now two years later I am partnering with her through her Work Like a Mother Career Academy to help some very deserving women get their career mojo back.

Through this academy, our participants will have everything updated from their resumes to their knowledge of how to use social media for personal branding and jobseeking purposes. I am so excited and honored to be in a position to help brilliant women discover their passions and further their careers. If this academy puts a small dent in the number of women who have lost their way in motherhood, I will feel like I have made a difference.

I will be teaching three courses over the next three months that will hopefully open the minds of my fellow mommies and help them get their career mojo back. Follow our workshops via the #wlmacademy hashtag.

If you feel compelled, send a kind word or words of encouragement to our academy participants to let them know they are already headed in the right direction.

 

Your Workforce Issues Are Bigger Than HR

Image Courtesy of Flickr.com

There’s no question that there are things that HR can do to change how we service both the business and our employees. The other side of the coin that rarely gets discussed is how HR is fairly low in the food chain when we look at the contributing factors of why the overall workforce has challenges and issues.

The decision to lag the market, lead the market or remain stagnant with regard to wages- like what we have seen in recent years is administered and managed by Compensation. However, wage increases or stagnation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It has to have higher levels of approval than HR. We can say HR may not be as diligent about pushing back, but how far can we really push it? Unless you have a CEO or CFO who appreciates the value of HR’s consultation; HR is fighting a war with no armaments.

If you canvas the open job vacancies online long enough, you will find a strong presence of job descriptions that appear to include responsibilities and duties enough to for 2 FTE’s ; but it is being marketed for one person. In addition, if you go a step further and apply to a few of these jobs and are lucky to have a conversation with some of these companies; you will also find that the pay isn’t nearly as competitive or fair as you would expect given the employer’s expectations. It’s easy to ask HR why wages are down or stagnant, but perhaps we should be asking the CEO’s why they choose to stagnate wage increases when it is clear that they want more from their workforce. What is further interesting is: a 2014 report from The Economic Policy Institute reports that CEO wages at the largest corporations have increased 937% since 1978 (when adjusted for inflation). According to Rebecca Hiscott of the Huffington Post, the average worker’s compensation grew only 10.2% during that same time period.

Less income has caused lower assets, decreased net worth, increased debt and liabilities. Throw in familial obligations and other personal concerns coupled with work pressures and it may not be hard to understand how we still have around 70% of the workforce being disengaged.  I believe the tone gets set at the top. Toxic leadership often leads to toxic HR, particularly when we don’t have the balls to speak up or leave. HR can only be effective in addressing workforce issues if and only if the CEO values the people. They don’t have to necessarily love and buy into what we do in HR. If they have a talent first mentality, they will urge HR to do whatever is necessary to attract and retain talent. Under these circumstances, HR has advocacy at the top as well as the license to create programs and initiatives that favor both the business and employees .

As an HR practitioner, I have had the experience of working  in many different environments. Despite our best efforts to make a change or address a concern in our organizations, there were many instances where no changes were made (or the changes were completely different from our initial recommendation). This happens because; ultimately we are not the final authority. A lot of what we do is in consultation to our internal partners. We can argue that the quality and substance of our consultation are the contributing factors to the success of any workforce change or initiative. Still, owners, founders and figureheads need to shoulder some of the responsibility for workforce related issues. I’m not blind or ignorant to the unnecessary complexity and toxicity HR is capable of creating in an organization separate and apart from the CEO’s vision; but it doesn’t come from nowhere.

There was a time that CEO’s could say they “didn’t know” or “they weren’t aware” of the systemic issues in their companies. With social media being the go-to platform to expose companies for everything from fraudulent practices to unfair and discriminatory workplace conditions, you better know what’s going on in your company and be vigilant about addressing any issues. HR can do a lot, but we can only do as much as executive leadership will allow. If the organization is driven by greed and lining the pockets of board members and leadership, HR will be directed to aid and abet that approach.

The question then becomes an ethical and moral one for HR. If you are working in a company that is not doing right by the employees (including HR), do you continue to fight beyond your obvious lack of power settling for marginal wins or do you keep your head down and do as you are told?

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