It happened to me, too

He was senior to me and we had little interaction. Thus, when he entered my office, in his plaid, short sleeved shirt, I greeted him enthusiastically, “Hi Mr C.”

He grumbled something, extended his left hand and held onto my left breast. I can see it now, in slow motion as I type.
I dug the nails of my right hand into his exposed lower left arm, flung his hand away, and shouted “No.”
He looked at me, confused and hurt, then shuffled out of my office. I followed him, hot on his heels. When he ducked into his office, I continued to the CEO’s office.
I bypassed the CEO’s secretary and barged into his office. I shouted, “Your man grabbed me.”  The CEO looked up at me; he had no idea what I was talking about. I continued. “ Mr C, just grabbed my left breast. And you need to do something about it.” I turned, left his office, even more outraged.
I returned to my desk, dialed my girlfriend,who is a lawyer, and told her what happened. She commiserated and explained that while there wasn’t a sexual harassment law, there were other legal measures that could be taken. The first step was to document the event and send it to my superiors.
I emailed the CEO and my direct report and copied the cretin. The email detailed the events, indicated that I spoke to my lawyer and demanded that something be done.
No-one responded to my email, but within the week the cretin was gone. He was off the payroll and not on the vendor’s list. Life went on.
Weeks’ later two women, who reported to me, shared that Mr C. had also touched them inappropriately. I asked them why they didn’t report the event to me. Their responses were:

  • They didn’t know what to do, since there was no policy or procedure around this.
  • Mr C was the CEO’s right hand man and very powerful,
  • They thought reporting would be frowned upon
  • They feared that no one would believe them
  • They didn’t think anything would be done about it
  • They didn’t think that they had any form of recourse.

It didn’t end there. At the company’s Christmas function, the CEO was holding court, sharing war stories. In front of me, he shared the story of the time that I barged into his office. He chuckled and remarked, ” Poor Mr C, I had to let him go. He touched the wrong one.”

As I  participated in the consultation on the National Draft Policy on Sexual Harassment, that event came to mind and I shared it with my peers. After sharing, a colleague quietly and confidentially shared her story of sexual harassment with me. She confessed that she had never shared her story before (not even with her husband), and expressed her relief in getting it off her chest, some twenty plus years later.

What’s your story on sexual harassment? What did you see or experience?

If you cannot share  publicly, message me and I will share it anonymously for you.  I fully support the National Policy on Sexual Harassment.  This needs to stop.

Maxine Attong is an Organizational Development consultant and author. If you found value in the story please share with your colleagues and networks.

7 Questions from the Chamber of Commerce

Two weeks ago, I attended the Chamber of Industry and Commerce AGM and luncheon This was a sold out event and I understood why.  The occasion was an opportunity to (re)connect with persons whom I knew, to meet new people, to learn about what others were doing and to share a bit about myself.
As I listened to the presenters share about their new projects, I identified 7 questions that they asked themselves to determine their next steps and to make decisions. I thought that today I would share these questions with you:

1) What is my Vision? – This speaks to your overall vision for yourself, for your business or for your family.

2) How do I want to live? Determine the quality of life that you want for you and your loved ones. Identify what a day in your life looks like – what you are doing, where you are doing it and with whom you are doing it

3) What do I want? – Determine what you want physically, emotionally and spiritually

4) What is my core? Identify the skills, competencies and talents that you have at this time

5) How can I expand my core? Decide how you can easily build on your existing skills to increase the probability of getting what you want

6) What are my low hanging fruits? Think about what is easy for you to access right now that will take you one step closer to your vision or to what you want.

7) What am I doing now for five years in the future? Decide where all of this is leading you to. This is your pull factor that will keep you going.

Which of these questions resonated with you?  Which of these questions were the most difficult to answer?

I answered these questions myself and some of my answers were insightful, setting me on a new path and different directions.  It was good to stop and stick a pin and look at the way ahead.

If you need assistance answering these questions then feel free to give me a call.  I will be happy to assist you to answer these questions.

Starbucks – Time to do the hard thing

There was an outcry over the recent actions of Starbucks team members. In one instance the barista called the police on two men who were waiting for a friend and in the other case the barista refused to issue the bathroom key to a man. In both instances, the men were identified as black.
Starbucks immediately responded. The leadership apologised and shortly thereafter team members from 8,000 stores attended racial bias training.

From these events I conclude Starbucks leadership empowers frontline staff. They trust the staff to make decisions and to act on decisions made, without seeking permission. As a result, the baristas made decisions about who were allowed access and who were not. Why? Because that is the way that Starbucks does things. It is its culture.

By extension, I conclude that if two separate employees can authoritatively discriminate against two different black males, with no fear of recourse, in two distinct circumstances, then at Starbucks, this is the way that black males are treated. It is its culture.

Company culture is reflected in what is done and deemed acceptable at the very lowest levels of an organisation. Culture is demonstrated by the actions of the persons whom are away from the mikes, away from the glitz and glamour and who will never grace the cover of the Forbes and Fortune 500. These are the people who tell the world exactly what your company stands for and its core values.

A well written apology in sincere tones and  racial bias training sessions are great first steps for the leaders to say to staff that this is not whom we are. Yet we know that words have no meaning without context, and that if leaders do not reinforce the training then it goes to naught.

Starbucks’ leaders have done the right thing, now Starbucks’ leaders need to do the hard thing. Leaders at all levels of the organisation need to self reflect, to be honest in admitting the current culture and to determine how the company should move forward. Whatever the decision, leaders need to ensure that the operations are realigned to actively support what is espoused.

I offer Starbucks leaders the following questions to begin the process:

  • Where are black males In Starbucks?
  • How do we treat with black males in the Starbucks?
  • What are the things that are said about black males in Starbucks?
  • What are the things that are not said about black males in Starbucks?
  • What sort of jokes are made about black males ?
  • What is the our policy and procedure for reporting discrimination?
  • What does the data from these policies indicate to us?
  • Are we satisfied that the policies work or are easy to use or are being used?
  • How do we discourage micro-aggression?
  • How do we educate non- POC (people of color) about micro-aggression?
  • What are the black voices within Starbucks saying on this matter?
  • What conversations do we have on race?

For the rest of us leaders, the the lesson is clear – Culture is what our staff does. What  our staff does tells the world what our culture is..

What is your company’s culture? What does your staff do that isn’t aligned to your culture? What are you going to do about it?
If you want to change your company culture and ensure that staff behaviours are aligned to your core values then drop me a line. I can help.

(photo credits :Trinichow)

Words have Meaning

I love words. I doodle with them. I take them apart – shredding bigger words into smaller pieces. I appreciate the art of double entendre and I get a kick out of homophones. Words are a load of fun.
Last week I held my breath as two creative minds dabbled in word play over my blog post. I thoroughly  enjoyed their arguments and marveled at their wit.
It’s not with any stretch of the imagination that this week I am thinking about words and how we make meaning of them.

We communicate with words in organizations. They share our Vision and Mission. We hang them as core values on our office walls and they become performance yardsticks ( or big sticks) as we evaluate behaviors.

Organizations spend a lot of time and money crafting these words, yet, when I work with leaders and teams and ask, “What do these words  mean?” The responses are never loud, the answers are never certain.

The meaning of words is constructed daily, deconstructed and reconstructed to bring new meaning and nuance. Words are also contextual, they shift shape and take their forms from us.  Think about it – in the 1960’s the word gay expanded its meaning to include sexual orientation and bling was entered into the Oxford dictionary in 2002.

While dictionaries provide definitions they often do not indicate how words play out in our everyday life. It is you, it is I, it is we, who through our interactions, our experiences and the tapestry of our lives who give words life.

When I think of the word share, I understand how organizations get words wrong. Share is defined as inter alia “have a portion of (something) with another or others” Oxford Dictionary.

Families A and B both agree with this definition and have decided that they want their families to share. They believe that it is a value that will lead to a Happy Household and make the Living Easy.
As a member of Family A if I want to borrow my sister’s dress, then I can use it. If I see a piece of chocolate, and I want it, then I can have it.
As a member of Family B If I want to borrow my sister’s dress, then I ask her permission. She can grant or deny permission, and  I will abide. If I see a piece of chocolate and I want it, then I find the owner, and ask  permission. The owner can grant or deny permission, and I will abide.
Both families have successfully instilled the virtue of sharing within their households and both families are happy with the outcome – Happy Household and Easy Living.
Both families share and each shares differently.
In Family A sharing is based on the need of the commons. Once the resource exists within the family you are free to share in it.
In family B, sharing is permission based. If you are not the owner of the resource  then you need to be granted permission to share in it.
Neither family is right or wrong, each has constructed a contextual meaning of sharing, that serves the family well.

It’s not a problem for the rest of us either, until the day that members from  both families work in an organization that espouses Sharing as a core value.

Then what?

I love words. I know their power. I know how important it is to establish one shared meaning of the words that we use in our organizations.

What do the words in your organization mean? Are you certain that the meaning is shared by each and every one?

If your organization needs help defining its core values, and establishing shared meaning among team members, then  contact me. I know words and I can help.