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.

Being of Service

I enthusiastically picked  up the phone because one of my favorite persons was on the other end. Uncharacteristically, she sounded hesitant. “Maxine” she started. “I need a favor. HRMATT needs a strategic session and we need a facilitator.” (Human Resources Management Association of Trinidad and Tobago)
I did not hesitate to respond, “Yes, I will do it.”
Then she said. “We cannot pay you. And the session will be held on a Saturday.”
This did not change my decision.

I have been flirting with HRMATT for a couple of years. I have said Yes to HRMATT when I edited articles for its magazine – HRMatters, or when I wrote articles for said magazine, or when I spoke at the last two biennial conferences. Now I finally had a date.

That Saturday I met with the HRMATT”S executive team and facilitated the strategic session. It was a Workshop and these leaders worked. They brainstormed. questioned, championed, resisted, discussed, disagreed and agreed until they landed on some mutually agreed points that they hammered out into strategic statements.

Six months later I attended the Annual General Meeting (AGM) and I was nominated for President. A few minutes after, I was elected to serve as President.

I had no plans of being elected to HRMATT’s executive team. In the moment when nominated I intended to serve and as I had done before, I said Yes.  I can only conclude

  • There is no big or small act of service – they are all equally weighted
  • Saying Yes is powerful and sends waves through the Universe
  • When we show up in service, we too are served.

Will you join me in service?
I cannot promise where it will take you, but I can promise that if you don’t take the first step, you will never know.

What are you not saying Yes to? Where can you be of service?

Maxine Attong is an Organizational Development Consultant and author.  If you found value in the post, please share with your colleagues and friends.

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)

Getting that Tick in the Box

I’ve been watching the events over the last week, the refusal of apologies, the claims of being right and the analyses and responses to it all and I asked myself, “What does it mean to be right?”

When I was a kid,, it was really important for me to tick the box and get it right. I genuflected to my elders and did and said the right things. I gloated as other kids got in trouble, or didn’t have the right answer or didn’t do the right thing. I was smug in my self righteousness because I lived for adult adulation.

As I grew older, I lost interest in pats and ticks. My need to explore, to make my own rules and to do my own thing were larger than the need to be right. My relationships changed as I listened less to elders, as I opened my mouth to question, challenge or answer back, and as I sought the truth behind the inconsistencies that I saw and experienced.

Being right was no longer part of the equation, in fact, it kept me back.

The challenges of adulthood and the choices that I made meant that I lived in a parallel universe to my peers. As they ticked their boxes and settled down, acquired properties, tightened their social circles and cemented their careers and social status, I took a hiatus and explored the type of life that I wanted to lead.
I was often told that I was wrong to leave my accounting career and cautioned to get back on the right track. I was admonished to do the right thing and honour myself and my intelligence by regaining my ambition of being a highly paid Executive.

I never thought that I was wrong. I understood that my path could only be wrong if I determined that another was right, I knew that my path could only be right if I considered another wrong.  I learned to exist in the neutrality of being neither.

Being right does not exist by itself, it exists because there is something else which we deem wrong. There is only a right answer because there is a wrong one, there is a right way to live because we consider some other way wrong. We can only believe that we are right because we believe that another is wrong.

As I deviated from the one right way, I discovered multiple paths, each with consequences and so I confirmed that I could not get it wrong.
I am aware that this is a personal belief, because as the world turns, people are denied human rights, cultures are deemed savage, countries are lambasted and sometimes blasted because their beliefs, their actions and what they stand for are deemed wrong – Why? Because another way is right.

This rightness also lives in our organisations. We see it in leadership that tells people what to do and how to do it, and in leaders who believe, “It’s my way or the highway.” We see it when there is conflict and both sides are not heard, when change is resisted because,“This is the way that we do things here.” It is reflected in company policy and and procedures that reflect some ancient or one off circumstance that is no longer valid.

We may not be able to change the world; but we can change the world that we live in, and our organisations are a great place to start.

Next time you are right and you think that another is wrong ask yourself, “What makes me right and the other wrong? What am I willing to give up to be right?”

If you need help exploring these questions as a leader or with your team, then drop me a line. I can help your team explore the multiple paths, where no one gets it wrong.