Before sexual harassment makes it to the workplace

Before we experienced sexual harassment at work, we experienced it somewhere else.

July 8th my friend Chris posted a piece on Performance I Create that I can’t get out of my head. I immediately shared that post with every friend of mine with daughters, not because daughters are the only ones impacted by this, but because I’m a daughter and I have a daughter. The post made me cringe. I cringed because I’ve been in his nieces shoes, I cringed because I’m a certified HR Professional and that behavior is unacceptable, I cringed because out of all the things my parents prepared me for we didn’t really discuss this one, and as much as I’ve tried to prepare our teenage daughter for the real world I hadn’t talked with her directly about the possibility of her being sexually harassed at work. That’s not to say my parents didn’t protect me. All I had to do was ask my dad one time to stand at the bus stop with me in the mornings when I was in elementary school to scare the boys away and he stayed the whole time every morning the rest of the time I rode the bus. My parents let me take gymnastics when I was in 3rd grade and almost burned the place down when one of the boys in class would come over and blatantly try to look up my shorts when we were doing donkey kicks. They looked out for me, they didn’t put me in harm’s way, they just didn’t think to have this specific conversation with me.

I mulled over the words in the post and his nieces’ story and I thought about my 14-year-old. I’m often given a hard time by my friends because I try to shelter her from a lot and I like to joke with her that she can just live with us forever, but really there are so many things I hope she never has to experience and this is one of those things. She’s going into high school this year so it’s not necessarily time for me to prepare her fully for what could happen in the workforce, but it’s time to prepare her for what could happen in high school. Maybe if she can find her confidence in high school, she can use it in the workplace one day.

As I reread the post and thought about how my husband and I could prepare her for high school I thought about some of my own experiences. When I was 14, I vividly remember a group of guys who would lean up against the brick wall right outside the doors into the school that we all walked through when the morning bell would ring. They would say things to me like “oooh you look like a porn star” … I remember trying to avoid eye contact while also trying not to be rude. I thought to myself “what does that even mean? Am I supposed to look like a porn star?” It was a confusing time… If I wasn’t what they thought I was, what did that mean? If I was what they thought I was, what did that mean? I grew accustom to guys trying to see down my shirt or grab my ass (Did I ever tell you the story about my 27 stitches in my hand from someone grabbing my ass? That reminds me, I should tell the littlest Minyard that story).

I was a freshman on the dance team and one of the senior girls would comment on how I dressed. I basically developed over night and I remember one time she said to me “I wouldn’t wear those jeans anymore; your butt is very noticeable in them.” I had two pairs of jeans, the ones I was wearing and a dark colored pair that were the exact same size and style. I immediately became self-conscious. We weren’t in a position where I could ask my parents to just buy me new clothes for the school year. Then another time she and another senior were talking about my lips. I remember her making a really big deal out of the fact that she thought my natural lip color was actually lipstick and something about the conversation made me uncomfortable, but she was another girl so what was I supposed to say? It wasn’t long after this that my wardrobe became blue jeans, sneakers, and white t-shirts (hoodies when it got cold outside). Maybe if I dressed really basic, I wouldn’t call attention to my body.

Another year in high school, I must’ve been a senior so this was well into the “dress down” approach I had, a bunch of us went to an out of town football game to cheer our school on. After the game we went to McDonalds to eat. While I was ordering food at the counter some guy behind me from the other school was acting like he was “hitting it from behind” and my friends told me after I walked to the table. I kindly went back to the counter where he was now ordering his food and told him that I didn’t appreciate that and he needed to be more respectful of others. We argued. His sister jumped in the argument. Before I knew it there were 30 people at that McDonalds waiting for me outside. Nothing happened (and Lord knows I didn’t back down), but that was the response to me standing up for myself? Almost getting jumped?

Turns out, high school was an excellent predictor of what I could expect in the workforce.
I worked at a restaurant when I turned 16 and older men would tell me I looked like Angelina Jolie. Why? Because I was skinny, blonde, and have big lips not because I really look like her. It was a way to tell me they noticed my features without commenting specifically on my features. These weren’t co-workers, these were customers. Could I tell a customer when they were being inappropriate?

I worked at a wholesale distributor when I was 17 where I was lucky enough to work with one of my grandmas best friends sons so at the very least he didn’t let the guys at work say derogatory things about me in front of him, but I heard some of the comments anyway.

When I moved off to college and worked at another restaurant every guy in the kitchen basically hit on all the female servers. Some were respectful, but most were not. Could I tell them they made me uncomfortable? Or that time one of the grown managers invited my 18 year old self to his apartment under the guise that everyone was coming over for a party. I was smart enough to bring a friend with me, thank goodness, and when I got there to see NO ONE ELSE FROM WORK there I left the front door open while I made small talk and found a reason to leave. Here’s the thing, when that same friend of mine got wasted our first weekend away to college at a fraternity party I knew exactly what to do to keep us both safe, but I had no idea what to do when I had a sleeze ball manager that thought it appropriate to trick me into coming to his home.

As an adult I worked for a company that had maybe 3 men on the payroll at any given time. One time, one of the men was wasted and tried to get me to sleep with him. I shut him down easily and then he freaked thinking we couldn’t work together anymore. I made it a point to let it go so he wouldn’t feel weird around me. So HE. WOULDNT. FEEL. WEIRD. AROUND. ME.!?

At that same job I was constantly accused of closing deals because of how I looked. No one even gave a second thought to the fact that I might actually know the ins and outs of what I was selling. These accusations came from women at work, not the men, much like the critique of my looks in high school.

In my current job I had a male sit across the table from me and tell me he sees “cute girls sell things that the consumer really does not need, but they buy it because a cute girl is the one selling it all the time.” Cute. girls… sigh.

As you can see, my friends post had me rehashing a lot of events. Where did it start? How did I respond? How did I want to respond? How do I want my daughter to respond? These aren’t even the half of it and there is no telling what the other girls in high school were also putting up with, or my other female coworkers. I wouldn’t know because we didn’t talk about it.

What I want her to know is that she’s allowed to tell someone when they make her uncomfortable. If she wants to say no, she can say no and I’ll always back her up. If she wants to tell someone they cannot touch her body, I’ll always back her up. If she feels unsafe, call one of us-no questions! No one has a right to comment on her body, her looks, her clothes and she’s always welcome to use her voice to shut that down. I want her to know where her worth comes from because when someone says you look like someone/something it doesn’t make it true. I want her to know that you don’t have to give in and act a certain way because of what people say about your body.

The thing is, we need to address the behavior and the perception and stop pretending that people willingly put themselves in situations to be abused, criticized, or taken advantage of. This is the kind of parenting that takes a village, a village of honest conversations and accountability for how our children treat others. Until we get there, I’ll be continuing this conversation with my young girl so at the very least she finds the confidence to speak out against unwelcome behavior directed towards her and if she ever needs it, the confidence and bravery to call it out at work.

The reality is that all of those experiences we have shape how we behave in the workplace. Sometimes that means someone who got away with harassing people all through school will do it at work. Sometimes it means your HR person was silenced every time she was harassed so now she doesn’t know how to help you when it happens to you. Sometimes it turns us into loud social justice advocates who can be off putting. Sometimes we turn out just fine. How early are you going to start the conversation to change the workplace?

*There is stuff in this post that I never talk about. There is stuff in this post that doesn’t seem very HR Related, but its my blog and I get to bring my whole self to the blog if I want (check the recently updated about me). This is something that has been weighing on me since I read Chris’ post and it’s worth sharing with my readers who are also parents. If we can’t talk about it with each other, can our kids? 

 

 

Who do you really support?

The most important career lesson I ever learned was to understand the business.

There seems to be a lot of back and forth about HR being business professionals/or not being business professionals. In my opinion the easiest way to win this discussion is to make sure you understand the business you support-not just the people portion, but the whole picture.

How does your company make money? What are the products/services your company provides? How do they provide it? Like really, how? What other areas do your HR policies or actions impact and how.

From where I sit, you can make better decisions about the HR support you provide when you understand the business. Looking beyond your schedule and how quickly (or slowly) you choose to respond or how much information you decide you want to share can move your department forward.

People (managers especially) choose to not value HR when you choose to ignore the bigger business picture and only do things the way you want to do things. When HR isn’t valued it’s hard to see them as business professionals.

In 2019 don’t just try to teach the business HR, let HR learn the business.

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Only HR during the day

It’s important that us HR professionals maintain our knowledge when we are fulfilling our volunteer roles.

In my 10 years of volunteering with groups related to my professional day job I have seen a lot of issues that could have been avoided if we applied our strategic HR thinking to our volunteer problems.

It baffles me that we get in a group with a bunch of HR professionals and then forget that we have critical skills to defuse communication problems and apply strategic business thinking to road blocks.

The most baffling is when we slip up and say things out of line that would get our organizations in trouble if someone at work tried to do the same. For instance, thinking that someone has to be a certain age to do a job:

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My way

Be your most productive self by learning that there is more than one way to do things.

I order what I know I like from restaurants, I usually take the same route to places I frequent, I have specific routines, and I don’t want you kids on my lawn. I like things done a certain way, mostly my way.

thank you but i prefer it my way

Sometimes my way holds the team back though. My way isn’t the only way. My way works for me, but may not work for everyone else.

To keep from letting my way get in THE way, I focus on the outcome. The end goal can get me to overlook someone else’s way that maybe isn’t as fast as my way would be, or as efficient, or as thorough…

You’ll be a better team player and co-worker if you let yourself learn more than one way to do things.

 

HR doesn’t make the rules

This one deserves more attention than I’m giving the short 33 career lessons, but this one is important so don’t let the brief summary fool you.

HR friends, you don’t make the rules. You may get to make some decisions, but you don’t make the rules.

If HR is sitting in their office making rules from afar that impact managers and employees we are doing business wrong. Our primary business service to the organization is to help facilitate solutions. Yes, we have to take into consideration all the data that helps us do a reasonable risk analysis, present solutions, and partner with folks for the right answer-but we don’t make the rules.

rules

We may offer guidance on what the safest solution is, but we don’t make the rules. We may even recite case-law and updated state and federal  laws, but we do not make the rules…

If you get defensive when a manager has an idea or suggestion and have to flex on them so they know you are in control, you are in the wrong field my friend. You’ll be miserable at work and you’ll hold your organization back.

If you hold up a process so you can remind people HR is an important function for getting work done, they are going to think less and less of HR and start working around you.

Don’t flex on folks and embarrass HR in 2019. Be useful, collaborate, build solutions and take your organization to the next level. Otherwise, you may be building the case for your company to not value HR at all.

 

What’s really going on here?

blogposts

I’ve had this blog for many years now, but every year I write less and less on it. I still write for other people (some under my name and some ghost writing), but I’ve neglected little ol’ hrpockets.

I’ve been thinking about ways to reunite with my blog and get back to putting out regular content. So many times I think of this great idea for a post, start my notes, say I’m going to finish it (lets not talk about how many draft posts I have) and push it further and further down my to-do list.

The truth is I enjoy putting out the occasional blog. I find it helpful to connect with readers and engage via email or social media to learn other folks perspectives, I just haven’t made myself sacrifice other things to focus on writing here.

I remember Sarah Morgan talking about how she was advised to find a 30 day writing challenge to reconnect with her writing and I finally decided maybe I could do that to re-engage here. FYI, Sarah created the #BlackBlogsMatter movement from her writing challenge and its about to start for 2019 so please bookmark her page and follow the hashtag and twitter account, she (and many others) are going to be bringing the content!

My writing challenge is just for me, it’s sort of a new years resolution, I guess? A stab at building a habit of showing some attention to where my writing started. 33 days of career lessons in honor of turning 33 (today).

Today makes lesson 10. We will all find out together if I make it through all 33. No writing ahead, no set time to post by, no word count, or ultimate goal other than the 33 lessons I made a list of back in December.

Lesson 10 is do what you want to do. Sure you have to get some experience, but don’t do something you don’t want to do for too long-you may get stuck there.

You have to figure out for yourself what you want and you have to learn to articulate that to your managers and mentors. If you can’t articulate it, you’re losing out on resources you need. Being able to articulate your goals and what you really enjoy working on will help you facilitate conversations where you get the most useful feedback from others and have the opportunity to ask valuable questions. Rarely do things just fall in your lap and work out exactly the way you had hoped, you have to use your voice.

This also means you are allowed to leave good opportunities without guilt. You can have a great job and enjoy your co-workers, but need to leave for your own career path and professional development. That is OKAY! You shouldn’t feel bad for leaving a good company if the new opportunity is right.

The easiest way to navigate how to get to where you want to be is honesty and transparency. If you’re working for someone who doesn’t value your honesty and transparency, you’re probably not where you ultimately want to be anyway.

In 2019 I hope you find yourself doing what you want to do.

You can’t do everything

One of the hardest lessons of my life, let alone my career, has been that I can’t do everything.

I’m that employee who is always willing to do whatever needs to be done. You tell me where you need me and I’m there. Recruit for these other positions? Sure! Order lunch for a meeting? I can give it a go! Clean the toilets? No problem!

Sometimes I should say no when I say yes.

Recently I had scheduled at least a day to handle a task for work and a teammate kept telling me she could do it. I was like no way, I’ll figure it out. She said it was no big deal. I said my poor planning shouldn’t cause more work for her. She said, really its no big deal. I handed over the project and what was going to take me at least a day took her a couple of hours.

I was floored. I’m also excited to get some pointers from her because if I was going to make that task last a minimum of a whole day I was looking at it all wrong.

I could have given her this part of the project a couple of weeks ago, but I kept telling myself I would get to it. I sure wish I would’ve given it to her then instead of trying to fit it into my schedule.

The thing is, I was holding up progress. I was hanging onto something to keep from creating more work for someone else, but someone else was better suited for this task (obviously). I should have used my resources better.

As you navigate 2019 just know that not every ‘Yes’ is necessary. Sometimes you aren’t the best person for the task. Sometimes you need to let someone else take the opportunity to be great. Sometimes the task won’t be worth your time. Make wise decisions this year. Own your time and be a great teammate.

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