Black History Lessons: Why HR Needs to Study the Past

“You must unlearn what you have learned.” – Yoda

“Truth is powerful and it prevails.” – Sojourner Truth

“History is philosophy teaching by example.” – Thucydides

Some of my earliest memories of my Grandpa Bob are of me sitting with him watching the History Channel – back when it actually showed history. We would watch any World War II documentary we could. As we watched, he told me about his experiences as a young boy in Chicago during WWII. His brother, my great uncle Pete, moved to Portland, Oregon, to help build ships for the war effort. My grandpa, being far too young to enlist or build war machines, stayed home to endure food rationing, citywide raid blackouts, and news of family and friends perishing in faraway lands fighting fascism, imperialism, and racism.

My love of history grew from these earliest memories. So did my love affair with American history and all the traits that came with it. Exceptionalism, manifest destiny, rugged individualism, self-made millionaires, patriotism. As all American schoolchildren are taught from day one of kindergarten – America is the greatest country in the history of mankind with liberty ad justice for all. We’re better because of these aforementioned traits. Wear the red, white, and blue proudly for nothing can be better.

Except, those traits, while indeed making America what is is today, are certainly a type of baggage, and they are at best an exaggeration and at worst outright lies.

History is a funny thing. It is written by the winners, as the saying goes, and who are the ultimate winners of American history? Anglo-Saxons from England. The same Anglo-Saxons who simultaneously fought fascism, imperialism, and racism while committing the same crimes behind the very thin veil of feigned superiority – sometimes ironic, always ignored.

Perfection is a double-edged sword. It is negative, yet it adds value in a world that is not perfect. Nothing is perfect, and yet perfectionism is a standard we have to keep in front of us to let us know what we could be if we aspire to be better – if only little by little every day. (Yes, I know it’s more complicated than that).

However, this is America. An imperfect model of perfectionism. Fascism? Not in America! That’s Italy! Imperialism? Not in America! That’s Japan! Racism? Not in America! That’s Germany!

Never mind that many of FDR’s policies were the pure definition of fascism – much more Zeitgeist in the 1930s than we care to admit. Don’t pay attention to Manifest Destiny! That’s not the same thing as imperialism. Ignore Slavery, Jim Crowe, and Separate but Equal – oh and while we’re at it, ignore the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment Camps, and the Indian Removal Act.

I’ve been trying to find words that are meaningful in a small attempt to honor Black History Month and how it can influence the HR profession in a reflective way. I’ve stated on social media platforms multiple times that Black History is American history. There is no “White” history without “Black” history in these United States, and most certainly vice versa. They are linked, and the textbooks and classrooms have done their best to hide that from students.

As part of my history library, I have a book called Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen. It’s a classic originally published in 1995 with several reedits in 2008 and 2019. This past week I scoured over two chapters in particular to remind myself of history that was kept from almost every American school child.

“Gone With the Wind:” The Invisibility of Racism in American History Textbooks and John Brown and Abraham Lincoln: The Invisibility of Antiracism in American History Textbooks were incredibly powerful chapters detailing how American history is mostly unknown to Americans – Whites and Blacks alike and everyone in between.

This next passage in particular jolted me. I believe the times we are currently living in helped grant me better context and understanding I otherwise never could have seen. Loewen recalls a story when he was presenting Reconstruction to his mostly Black students at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. He was amazed at how many students thought Blacks failed in local government after slavery was abolished because they were Black, not because of the interference from racist former Confederates (and complicit northerners tired of Reconstruction policy).

“For young African Americans to believe such a hurtful myth about their past seemed tragic. It invited them to doubt their own capability, since their race had ‘messed up’ in its one appearance on American history’s center stage. It also invited them to conclude that it is only right that whites be always in control. Yet my students had merely learned what their textbooks had taught them. Like almost all Americans who finished high school before the 1970s, they had encountered the Confederate myth of Reconstruction in their American history classes.” (pg. 157, 2008 edition)

Loewen continues by explaining the “Nadir of American Race Relations,” the period between roughly 1890 and 1940 when Blacks were re-relegated to second class citizenship and American race relations were at an all time low. Racism was not hidden or veiled. Racism was unabashedly open for all to see.

And the world did seeAmerican racism influenced Hitler, and apartheid was influenced by segregation. These facts are not as well-known as they should be in America, or if they are, Americans pretend to not know.

The nadir, in part, came about once White northerners abandoned Reconstruction efforts in the decades following the Civil War. Whether they were tired of the fight, worried about other things like economic struggles, or caved to racism, matters not. Whites in the north had an opportunity to do the right thing, and ultimately, their inability to do so caused one of the great shames in American history that continues to negatively affect society today.

“The nadir left African Americans in a dilemma,” Loewen writes. “An ‘exodus’ to form new black communities in the West did not lead to real reform. Migration north led only to segregated urban ghettoes. … Many African Americans lost hope; family instability and crime increased. This period of American life, not slavery, marked the beginning of what some social scientists have called the ‘tangle of pathology’ in African American society.” (pg. 161-167)

Tangle of Pathology” is a phrase from the famed Moynihan Report that helped launch many of the War on Poverty Initiatives during the Johnson Administration in the 1960s. The report remains controversial to this day, but it’s well worth a read.

Low Black morale, low self-worth, family structures damaged, no hope, high crime – Loewen was talking about these things that came about during the nadir, but if you read that today, wouldn’t you think it was written about contemporary America in some way?

This is one reason why modern day “Black Pride” posts on social media are so powerful and in many ways necessary. For years, Blacks have been taught in American classrooms that their race had nothing to be prideful about – no accomplishments worth celebrating. Blacks had no special skills, were not as smart as Whites, and needed Whites to protect and guide them. As we continue down our own national reckoning, many are learning this isn’t the case and never has been the case. Blacks have contributed positively to this Country in so many ways in spite of the racism that hung over their head like Damocles’ sword.

What does this have to do with HR? Everything. The latest trend in HR is to recognize (finally?) that HR is people work. Workplaces are a direct reflection of society. They mirror one another. That’s why it’s so important to see posts about Black doctors, Black inventors, Black CEOs, and Black superheroes. For our entire history, Americans have been taught that Blacks couldn’t be any of those things! HR can be the voice in the room that helps push workplace systems towards equity and belonging. HR is an ally that can push cultural and policy initiatives to allow structures for Black success – not to be a reason for their success because many Blacks don’t need that help, per say. They just need what everyone else needs – structural support. HR needs to fight to create the workplace structures necessary for success, ensure that all have access to those structures, and then get out of the way. Many Black professionals have succeeded in the past and present despite overwhelming systemic roadblocks. HR has a sacred duty to help remove those roadblocks and move aside.

If society and work reflect one another, then the Black experience in every day American life is part of the Black experience in everyday work. Loewen discusses how racism kept Blacks out of unions, stripped them of their federal jobs (like post deliverers or patent office workers), and relegated many to the fringes of employability. While today is undeniably better, this doesn’t mean Black Americans have it great at work.

A simple Google search for “black americans bias at work” yields about 72,900,000 results in 0.49 seconds. Workplace biasdiscrimination, and hostility are all very real and happen daily despite White denial of such acts. While Black slaves were emancipated 158 years ago, their lives were daily battles for life, liberty, and happiness. Many were forcefully kept from those basic tenants of the American ideal. Today, the Black community STILL deals with this daily battle, even if the terms and conditions look somewhat different. It’s no wonder that Black self-esteem and self-worth have been eroded for decades upon decades. It is why Blacks showcase Black success with so much pride and zeal. Blacks have been told for generations by their history textbooks that their race is too stupid, too backwards to become doctors, or engineers, or successful. That myth continues to be devastating, yet it’s being chipped away piece by piece. Follow any Black professional on LinkedIn, and you’ll see how wrong that lie has been.

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius once thanked his teacher, Rusticus, for instilling in him the notion that reading to “get the gist” of something isn’t enough. It’s lazy and patronizing. We must read carefully, deeply, and attentively to truly understand. This is why a deeper reading of American history is so important – not just for HR practitioners – but for all Americans.

HR practitioners NEED to know history to be better at our jobs. Until I began to dive into the Mariana Trench of lost racist American history, it didn’t click. HR pros NEED to understand why Title VII exists, why the EEOC exists, why ERGs exist, why DEI principles exist. Not a high-level understanding to get the gist that “diversity is good and leads to better numbers!” That’s true but shallow. These policies and programs exist because throughout American history policies and programs existed for the exact opposite reasons – to keep Blacks OUT of American life – specifically White American life.

This is why Black History Month exists. To celebrate the incredible contributions Blacks have made to this country and our society. It also exists to remind us that many Whites did all they could to keep them from contributing. Separate but equal was NEVER about the latter and always about the former.

The overall point of this post is to present a different perspective to HR professionals (and hopefully anyone else curious enough to read it) about how history can make use better at our jobs, more understanding of our roles. It wasn’t to necessarily present a “how-to.” I am not necessarily the expert on that. I can tell you what I do and have done over my years as an HR professional, but Google is a powerful tool. Typing “psychological safety for blacks at work” yielded over 4 million hits. If anything, Google, learn, implement. Do what is right NOW because so many before us did not.

So, HR professionals, pick up a book and read deeply about true American history. It will make you better, and just as importantly it will make work better for so many, especially Black colleagues, if you implement the wisdom gained into tangible action.

I want to finish this by saying we have a long way to go unfortunately. Racism is so deeply engrained in the American psyche, and Lies My Teacher Told Me only reinforced that with me.

In a prior professional life, part of my job was designing bus routes. Public transit is vital to low income, elderly, and disabled persons. After designing a new route that would lead to better access for disadvantaged groups, the “bus stop” signs began going up. A few days later an official called me to discuss a complaint they received. A woman called to complain that a bus stop was placed in front of her house. She expressed her displeasure about the usual public transit complaint nonsense – property taxes, noise, traffic, etc. None of this is true. But what made her complaint anger me the most was when she told the official that she didn’t want “those people” getting on and off in front of her house near her children. “Those people?” We both knew what that meant. “Those people” only meant one thing – “criminal” Blacks that lived on the undesirable part of town. In this racist’s mind, the public transit system was only used by “those people” so they could get to the good parts of town to cause trouble. “Those people” certainly didn’t need access to jobs or the supermarket. They needed to remain on their side of town, which, not coincidentally, had no employment centers or food centers. I asked the official if they called her out on that comment, and regrettably, but predictably, they said “no” claiming it wouldn’t have helped the situation. I was disappointed in that response, but not surprised.

The lesson of this story is deep – the official didn’t call out racism so racism was allowed to proceed unchecked. I personally learned a hard lesson, that silence is acceptance, but it changed me. It might not be outright transparent racist policy anymore, like making undesirables ride the back of the bus, but it’s still racism when someone fights to ensure opportunities exist for some and not all.

I love my Grandpa Bob. He’s a funny, smart, well rounded Southside Chicagoan at heart. (Quick aside, Chicago – a northern city – is one of the most segregated cities in all the US). He taught me many things, one of the most important being that history is important. It’s just not treated as such. Learn history, become uncomfortable. Learning the true history of America doesn’t negate the inspiration that America has been. It helps us better move towards embodying those ideals laid out in the Grand Experiment that we’ve failed to embody up to this point. The only way to become what we can be is to let go of what we truly are.

It’s long past time that White America acknowledges and accepts our racist history. Only then can we adapt. Acknowledging doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us good people. In America, the sins of the Father or Mother aren’t passed down to the Son or the Daughter – with the caveat that the Children recognizes those sins and takes steps to correct them. We may not have caused the Great Sins of the past, but we MUST take action to correct their long term outcomes. We must continue to aspire – everyday. Even if it’s little by little. Eventually, America can realize the promise it set out to achieve – life, liberty, happiness for all people.

HR professionals can be leaders in this space by doing the right thing. Acknowledge. Accept. And act.

Panel Preview: Why Discuss The Obstacle Is the Way?

“The only reason to study philosophy is to become a better person.” – Ryan Holiday

On Thursday February 25th, my friends and colleagues Olga Piehler, Carlos Escobar, Erich Kurschat, and I are putting on a FREE Pop-Up Roundtable to discuss the book The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday. I hope you join us! It will turn a traditional roundtable on its head!

We are all GEEKED about this event, and we know it will be valuable to those who read and have not read the book! Registration link is at the end of this blog post.

That’s what this blog is about.

In the 6th grade, I had a teacher named Mr. Brabbits. He was a purposeful man, who enjoyed teaching. He had a habit of giving his students nicknames – mine being “Professor.” At the time I liked it but had no idea how consequential that name would be on my life!

Isn’t that usually the case? How we are treated and talked to by those around us has a profound impact on our futures far beyond what we see and what those who talk to us see. A young Black boy, for example, is told that he’s incredible talented at biology, and is nicknamed Doc. And so he decides he CAN be a doctor! But I digress….

Professor. It’s something that has stuck with me, at least internally, since the 6th grade. That name to me meant I was smart. It meant I was academic. It meant I could learn, and that people wanted to learn from me! Professors have something to say and something to teach. It meant someone else saw those things in me.

That’s a lot of positivity coming from one little word. Other people believing in you can be a catalyst for believing in yourself.

Briefly, I did ultimately get the title of “Professor” when I was an adjunct at a local community college, but other than that, I never became a “professor” in the traditional sense. I do believe; however, I achieved a more important title due to my continued interest in learning and growing, which was sparked by that nickname. I believe that title is Philosopher!

Why is that important? Because unlike a professor, anyone can be a philosopher. Philosophy is about becoming a better person, not just a smarter one. Studying wisdom is an action. Philosophers take words from pages and put them into practice in their daily lives for the goal of changing oneself – and by extension, the world – for the better.

So, in essence, any time someone tries to be a better person, they are a philosopher. You reading this now are likely trying to find some sense of new information, a sense of new wisdom, or idea. YOU are a philosopher, whether you know it or not.

Wisdom isn’t always lofty, complicated, or extravagant. Wisdom is often times simple – deceptively simple.

This is The Obstacle Is the Way. The title comes from a passage in Marcus Aurelius’ private journal, which is known to posterity as The Meditations – a cornerstone of Stoic philosophical study.

“That which is an impediment to action is turned to advance the action. The obstacle on the path becomes the way.”

The theory is that every obstacle contains the necessary components for us to ultimately overcome and triumph. Our greatest challenges can be turned into our greatest successes!

Here are my five favorite passages form the book.

  • Practice Objectivity. “It’s so much better to see things as they truly, actually are, not as we’ve made them in our minds.” – page 34
  • Live in the Present Moment. “Remember that this moment is not your life; it’s just a moment in your life.” – page 48
  • Do Your Job, Do It Right. “Everything we do matters…. How you do anything is how you can do everything.” – Page 97
  • Love Everything That Happens: Amor Fati. “To do great things, we need to be able to endure tragedy and setbacks. We’ve got to love what we do and all that it entails, good and bad. We have to learn to find joy in every single thing that happens.” – page 151
  • Postscript: You’re Now a Philosopher. Congratulations! “You may not see yourself as a philosopher… [but] you are a person of action…. The essence of philosophy is action – in making good on the ability to turn the obstacle upside down with our minds. Understanding our problems for what’s within them and the greater context. To see things philosophically and act accordingly.” – page 184

The philosophy – wisdom – presented within is timeless, borderless, and profound. It is so profound that it deeply affects millions of people who read the book, including Olga, Carlos, and Erich. In fact, it affected us so much, we’ve often discussed this book one on one, but then thought, why not bring it to our wider network, who may or may not have read the book and want to discuss more!

So, we decided to grow our small discussions into a larger interactive one for an audience. We bring to life the spirit of the Plaka and Stoa Poikile of Ancient Athens, the Forum of Ancient Rome, or the philosophical discussions during the Hundred Schools of Thought period!

Know that YOU are a philosopher. Battle whatever preconceived biases you have about what it means to be a philosopher. Philosophy is NOT about being a gray bearded man sitting in a classroom pondering the greatest mysteries known to man.

Being a philosopher is about becoming a better person. It’s studying wisdom in ALL its forms from ALL its sources and turning those words into action. Are you working to be a better person? You are a philosopher.

So, please, join us to hear and discuss new ideas, old ideas – the key being ideas.

Register for FREE at: bit.ly/obstaclepanel

Not Good Enough

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black community deserve more than posting the occasional quote.

“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I sit to write this piece on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US, and predictably, a lot of MLK quotes are popping up all over social media – roughly two weeks after White Supremacists stormed Capitol Hill in an attempt to overthrow the results of our recent election.

Not since the Civil War has our Country faced such peril from within. Is that hyperbole? I don’t think so. Even during the Civil War, the Confederate Army never waived their flags inside the halls of the Capitol. On January 6th, a date which will live in infamy, White supremacists were able to do just that.

In a gesture of pure hatred and contempt, these self-described patriots chanting “USA! USA!” made it clear that racism is their religion and Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, and anyone else who thinks differently be damned.

THIS IS ‘MERICA, DAMN IT!

Horrified. This is what I felt. Also, incredible sadness.

I believe posting quotes is powerful. I love quotes. I start every HR Philosopher post with a quote. They inspire. They challenge. They help perspective. They can drive powerful change.

Yet, they can only do these things if the people reading them act upon them in a way that brings about justice. This takes wisdom, courage, temperance.

It is clear that watching the Capitol insurrectionists, our Country lacks a lot of these virtues – or, to be more clear – White America lacks a lot of these virtues.

Posting a quote by Dr. King, smiling, and then going on one’s merry way isn’t good enough. If it were, would White Supremacists have stormed the Capitol? Would George Floyd have been murdered? Would Dr. King still be alive today? People conveniently leave out that he was murdered for being peaceful and speaking truth to power. He was also arrested by White Supremacists, as well as put on the FBIs watch list… but White America continues to purposefully forget this.

Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested 29 times for his civil rights work. Doing the right thing is hard, but necessary. Sacrifices will be made.

Those searching for the perfect King quote to post on social media, but then stay silent when someone made a racist quip? That’s not good enough.

Business leaders liking all the Dr. King quotes and commenting on how inspirational he was, but then not doing the work to ensure your workplace has a meaningful and impactful DEI + Belonging program? That’s not good enough.

Watching the “I Have a Dream” speech but then not calling out your neighbor who is waiving the Confederate flag? That’s not good enough.

Staying silent when it’s NOT Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

NOT. GOOD. ENOUGH.

Don’t give me any of that bullshit that the Black Lives Matter protestors also lack those virtues because they looted and pillaged. I’m not absolving the wrongs, but here’s a Dr. King quote to ponder:

 Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. … But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?

More specifically, what are we not hearing, White America?

The following statistics come from a Business Insider report on systemic racism in the US. Here’s some select stats, but the entire article is well worth the read.

  • The wage gap between Blacks and Whites has gone up since 1967 – from 59% to 62%.
  • Poverty rates among Blacks are around 20.7% while 8.1% for Whites.
  • Upward mobility for Blacks remains elusive, meaning poverty is generational.
  • Blacks are still more likely to get denied mortgages from banks, thus home ownership – the key factor for families to create and pass on generational wealth – remains lower for Black families.
  • Nearly 10% of Blacks – twice as many as their White counterparts – do not have healthcare coverage, thus the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the Black community especially hard – higher rates of Blacks have died due to the pandemic than other races or ethnicities.
  •  Despite being 12% of the population, Blacks make up 33% of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
  • Blacks make up 32.9% of the prison population despite being 12% of the population.
  •  Black men are roughly five times more likely to be imprisoned than their white counterparts — and nearly 13 times as likely in the 18-19 age group.

Not. Good. Enough.

We are very far away from the dream of little Black boys and Black girls being able to join hands with little White boys and White girls as sisters and brothers.

Maybe other White Americans watched as I did in horror the attack on the Capitol, and they are beginning to listen. I hope so. It sucks it took that to make people listen, but coming to the party late is better than not coming at all – or worse, ignoring it or pretending one doesn’t exist.

Fighting evil take courage. It takes blood, sweat, and tears. It takes more than posting quotes.

Black folks have given plenty of that over the course of the Civil Rights Movement(s). And honestly, they’ve given much more. Meanwhile, a majority of Whites have stayed silent, ignored the issues, pretend racism is a fallacy – something “libtards” made up to push some false narrative. A majority of Whites stay silent except on the third Monday in January.

Not good enough.

Until the day that marches aren’t needed, until the day that Black people stop being harassed for their higher melanin content, until the day Whites stop staying silent in the face of racism, it’s not good enough.

We’ve come a long way, but we’re not there. We have much further to march. So until that time comes, post the MLK quotes, but don’t believe anything tangible has been done to improve society. Whites need to stand up and enter the realm of the uncomfortable. I’ve said this before: There is no movement without friction. And White America KNOWS what to do.

It’s time to get the courage to do it.

But if much of White America isn’t there yet, here’s some MLK quotes (that likely won’t get much airplay) to help them start getting uncomfortable, and making REAL movement towards justice, courage, wisdom. To do anything less is not good enough.

“Why is equality so assiduously avoided? Why does white America delude itself, and how does it rationalize the evil it retains? The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.”

—  Where Do We Go From Here

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

—  Revolution of Values, 1967

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

— Beyond Vietnam, 1967

“The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.”

— The Three Evils of Society, 1967

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

— Letter From a Birmingham Jail, 1963

Street Level Influencer – Meet Dr. Rhonda Owens

Dr. Rhonda Owens, a State Line Crew member and amazing human being!

“Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it.” — Anais Nin

Welcome to the new year. It seems a lot like the last year. Wasn’t there a song about that? Well, never mind.

Happy new year! The Street Level Influencer is back for 2021, and I can’t wait to continue sharing a closer look at my network with you all! Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, insurrections, hatred from all sides. All these things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan
  8. James Woods
  9. Anthony Eaton
  10. Jane Murtaugh

This next individual is incredibly special. Rhonda Owens is a proud #StateLineCrew member, who helped start it all! The State Line Crew is a group of IL and WI HR pros (and more importantly, friends) who meet once every other month or so on the IL-WI state border. We meet, talk, laugh, and grow. Well, we used to until COVID put us all on hiatus… but we’ve soldiered on by meeting occasionally via Zoom. I believe another one should be on the horizon!

I’ll never forget first meeting Rhonda. It was at our first State Line Crew meeting all the way back in September of 2018. As the entrenched introvert I am, I was nervous. I hadn’t officially met ANY of those who RSVP’ed in person, other than Jeff Palkowski. So, this was outside my confront zone for sure!

But as Rhonda introduced herself to me at Lakefront Brewing in Milwaukee, I was instantly put at ease! She was so kind, approachable, and funny! As it turned out, both of us have South Side Chicago roots, and we hit it off! She told me all about her husband’s home renovation projects, her degrees in education, and her love of craft beer and history – something that we both bonded over.

The very first State Line Crew Picture from September 2018, Milwaukee, WI. From left to right Alyssa Hernandez, Mary Williams, Rhonda Owens, Jeff Palkowski, yours truly.

In fact, one of the most impressive things about Rhonda is her humility. She’s technically Dr. Owens since she’s earned a Doctorate of Education, Organizational Leadership; but unless you checked her LinkedIn account, you may never have known! She remains humble. She remains hungry, and she’s always open to learning from others before she speaks. I feel those are true measure of an amazing person and leader.

Rhonda has a unique perspective as an HR/administration professional, as a Black woman with so many professional and personal accomplishments, and as an amazing human being. Without further ado, it is my pleasure to bring you Rhonda’s story!

Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I currently work as a Director of Administrative Operations for Rush University Medical Center in the College of Nursing.

How would you define being a “good HR leader?”

I would define a good HR leader as someone with compassion, empathy; someone who aligns with the goals of the business but doesn’t forget the “human” in human resources

What was your biggest HR success? Why was it important to you?

Earning my PHR and SHRM-CP!! Earning my credentials was a personal goal and gave me a sense of professional knowledge that was worth the number of times I sat for the exams.

What was your biggest HR setback? What did it teach you?

My biggest HR set back is that with all of my experience in HR, it has proven to be a difficult profession to navigate mid-career. The set-back teaches me that I should be patient with myself.

Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

I would say Erich Kurschat! Erich has been the guru for connecting me to others in the HR community and his HRHotSeat event is good information with GREAT people.

As a Black woman in the HR profession, what do you feel HR professionals can do better to promote BIPOC professionals in the workplace?

I believe HR professionals should be promoting BIPOC professionals in the workplace through opportunities. So many times, we have slow access to the HR industry because of educational or professional paths that are not directly associated with HR. In my own case, my path has been indirect, and now that I am in an HR associated role, I do my best to mentor any interested employee. 

Have you seen progress towards this end over career, last several years, last several months? How much further is left to go in your mind for HR professionals to be true advocates for workplace equality?

Progress is slow, but it is still progress. I believe in order to go further, senior HR professionals should reach back and mentor – and mentor those who would not have access to senior leadership.

How would you encourage HR professionals who are wanting to speak out more when they see injustices and wrongs in the workspace, but are struggling to find their voice?

Good question!  I would advise my fellow BIPOC professionals to use your experience to give an understanding on systemic and historical injustices; sometimes people don’t know what you feel because they’ve never heard it before. And I would advise my non-BIPOC professionals to use your influence to bring attention to injustices in the workspace. The Civil Rights Movement was not led by Blacks alone. Partner for CHANGE!

Who is one person — historic, famous, or personal — who inspires you to be better?

I would say my daughter. However, I have two, and so it could be either one at any time.  One inspires me to be kind and the other inspires me to be great.

What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

Creating space for belonging. The hot topic now is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I challenge my HR colleagues to broaden this concept to Belonging – having someone feel as if their contribution matters and is welcomed. This is BELONGING.

As one of the original members of the State Line Crew, I want to say I miss you and the other members of our Crew dearly! What is your favorite thing about being a part of the State Line Crew?

BEER!! And having the opportunity to move outside of my circle and meet new people. I have developed an affinity toward this Crew and miss you all tremendously. You all helped me to like great beer, good beer, and bad beer.

How can people connect with you?

The way to reach me is through my LinkedIn account at www.linkedin.com/in/rhonda-owens. I also have twitter. My handle is @dreamweaver3167.

Lastly, what’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

That I love British history!  I have watched the Crown at least 50 times (every episode) and binge-watched Downton Abbey in two weekends. There is also a series on CNN about First Ladies that has captured my attention – I can’t wait to get all the episodes at once. Anytime something is on that is historic I go down a rabbit hole.

#HRMixedTape – 2020 #HRMetal Edition

“Music is medicine.” –  Unknown

I lied in my last post. It was NOT my final blog spot for 2020.

As I’ve done numerous times in prior posts, I took Steve Browne’s call and made an #HRMixedTape. By this point it’s somewhat blasé to say 2020 was a horrid year. However, it was an amazing year for heavy metal music releases. Being well-documented that I am a metalhead, I couldn’t resist writing about how heavy metal helped give me strength and inspiration in an otherwise challenging year – and connect it to HR in a larger context!

Enjoy!

The Narrative from Guardians by August Burns Red

Dig a little deeper

Change what we inherited

Power to the people, or power to the narrative?

This album is an absolute monster! It came out JUST as the world was entering lockdown. I was jamming it on my back porch with a cool beer thinking… “this will be over by end of summer.” Well, about that… anyways…

Like many things in life, the narrative – or how stories are shared or interpreted – rules the day! It’s so important as HR professionals to temper our perceptions, wrangle our unconscious (and conscious) biases, and ensure we do what is right at the end of the day. Right needs to rule in all instances. That seems rather lofty, no? But if we don’t shoot for the highest standards, we settle for less.

The Black Hand Reaches Out from Weapons of Tomorrow by Warbringer

The grasping black hand reaches out

Out for your mind

Out for your soul

Its icy talons close

Taking control

The black hand reaches

Out for blood

Out of time

And now it sunk its claws

Into your mind

Reaching out for you

Thrash! Fast, political, uncompromising. My favorite music! 😊

The Black Hand was a secret terrorist group aimed at political independence of Serbia from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Their actions lead to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the beginning of World War I.

While I don’t need to get into all that, the lyrics I quoted reminded me of the poisonous effects social media can have, and has had, on many who use it. The #HRCommunity is not immune. I’ve seen many interactions from people I respect devolve into toxicity. I wonder what purpose it serves to attack one another so viciously behind a blue screen. Differences of opinion, culture, perspective, should ALWAYS be respected. It’s one thing to speak out against pure wrong and evil, but it’s another to attack others for the way they see the world. The moment someone becomes a “stupid libtard” or “a Trumpster asshole,” we lose our humanity. The Black Hand of ego and internet persona takes control, and that trip is NEVER a good one.

Memento Mori from Lamb of God by Lamb of God

The hardest hour, the cruelest sign

I’m waking up from this wretched lie

I fight it the same, don’t waste this day

Wake up, wake up, wake up

Memento mori

Memento mori – the Latin phrase meaning “remember your mortality” – has been my theme for 2020. It’s not morbidity so much as a reminder, a call to meditate on life’s ephemeral nature. Life is short. It’s brutally short. How often do you hear someone say “in a blink of an eye” when referring to their children growing up, their lives moving forward, their memories? If 2020 has taught us ANYTHING, and it should have taught us a great many things, it is that life is precious. Don’t waste it thinking about things that don’t matter. A difficult coworker? So be it. A bad presentation? It’s over – get the next one. Easier said than done, but don’t waste this day…

On a side note, this album SLLLLAAAAAAAAAYYYYSSSS!!! Lamb of God are like fine wine. Just keep getting better as they age.

Don’t Do It from V by Havok

I feel all alone

An empty shell of what used to be

Feel like a ghost

Psyche imposed by a mental cacophony

Falling falling falling down

Stalling stalling the urge to just let myself drown

Let myself drown

Earlier this year, I wrote the most personal, raw blog post. It was therapeutic, but more importantly, it was meant to be a sign for others. If you are struggling with your mental health – regardless of the form it takes – you are NOT alone. Others are always there for you if you look.

This song is a thrash version with the same message. “Don’t do it!” is yelled with such veracity and passion. Mental health should be top among HR professionals’ minds, especially in 2020 and going into 2021. Find a great EAP and push it. Partner with them to make discussing mental health in the workplace common. Train managers in Mental Health First Aid, and try to build a culture where mental health is not something to be ostracized over.

Guardian from Redneck Vikings from Hell by Æther Realm

When the road is long

And the night has come

I will stay with you

We will see this through

When your flame burns low

That’s a place I know

Place your hand in mine

We all need some help sometimes

See: Don’t Do It from V by Havok. Same message, just presented in a less aggressive ballot kinda way! Beautiful song. Beautiful message.

House of the Rising Sun from Helping Hands: Live at Metallica HQ by Metallica

Oh mother, tell your children

Not to do what I have done

Spend your lives in sin and misery

In the House of the Rising Sun

Metallica is a nonnegotiable when I am creating an HR Mixed Tape! While the band didn’t put together any new music in 2020, they did perform a live (semi) acoustic set for their charity “All Within My Hands.” Of course, I ordered it and jammed out. The surprise of the night was their cover of the classic House of the Rising Sun. A great song played true by a great band!

The lyrics above remind me, again, that life is too short to not enjoy what you do! We spend so much of our lives working. Do you want to be miserable doing it? I am lucky. I am good at human resources, so I have developed a passion for it. Not everyone in the profession is that lucky. I recall a phrase I heard my friend and mentor Steve Browne say once. Effectively, if you don’t like HR, get out! It’s a tough gig, and we need people who can endure it, help change it for the better. If that’s not you, then go find yours.

A Stroke of Red from Weight of the False Self by Hatebreed

Now there’s no wrong done (Wrong done)

No wrong is done

Unless the wrong is done to me

There’s no wrong done (Wrong done)

If I’m in the wrong, then there was wrong done to me

Hatebreed is the ultimate in don’t judge a book by the cover. I’ve been a fan for 20 years, and they (like Lamb of God) get better with age. Hatebreed is all about positivity. Not toxic positivity where you ignore your troubles and just put on a fake smile. They are about facing what consumes you, because only through action can you free yourself of your burdens. Nothing goes away until it teaches you want you need to know.

This song, A Stroke of Red, is rather Stoic in its message. At first it seems that Jamey Jasta (vocalist) is singing about selfishness. No harm done until the harm is done to me? That’s pretty evil sounding! You can do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt you! But, no, that’s not the point… Jamey finishes by saying that if one does wrong, then they, in essence, have done wrong to themselves. It’s a reminder that you are what you do. The sins return to the originator. So, always strive to be good – be better than you were yesterday in all facets of life.

Hidden Track:

Stop the Bleeding (Single) by Machine Head

The endless scroll of human tragedy

I swipe along as the days go by

Another brother murdered out in the streets

I connect to the shame, we don’t know what it’s like

Born lucky ’cause the color of skin

America, your heart is caving in

Somehow I thought this was the land of the free

Where is our humanity?

Our humanity

Other than “COVID-19,” no other phrase dominated America, and reminded us our true illness, more than “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd’s murder ushered in a cascade of relentless emotions – some healthy, some not, all of it revealing and necessary.

My most viewed and shared article of 2020 was a call to White HR professionals to stand up and recognize the Black experience in America. It was about how HR’s duty was to be an ACTIVE ally to Black family, friends, and coworkers. HR cannot be silent. It is our duty to do the right thing for our fellow men, women, children, and everyone!

Reflections on 2020, Perspective, and Hope

“Rebellions are built on hope.” Jyn Erso, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

As I write my final blog post for 2020, I wanted it to be a reflection on this past year. I assumed I’d write how horrible this year has been, and make no mistake, it has been a very challenging year.

For the first time in 100 years, the world is crippled by a pandemic. Millions have died needlessly. People’s worst impulses have been on display. This has all been exasperated by a political year like one we haven’t seen in over a generation, or several generations. The US presidential election was a display of politics at its worst. There is a classic essay by famed economist F.A. Hayak called “Why the Worst Get on Top.” I recently reread it, and I was starkly reminded that America has been flirting with Fascism and will continue to do so if we as a people do not actively take a stand against would-be Il Duce rhetoric.

While we continue to fight the plague of COVID-19 and political dissonance, 2020 was also a reckoning for the history of America’s racism plague. This plague has been on this land since at least 1619 when the first 19 Africans set foot in New World Virginia. America is STILL dealing with the North Atlantic Slave Trade, which ended not that long ago… then again, the world is still dealing with the Fall of the Roman Empire, which ended 1,600 years ago.

What makes us so arrogant to believe we won’t be dealing with the fallout of slavery for generations to come?

Yet, we should be doing much better, but our racist past has been ignored by White America for too many generations. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many more Black men, women, children should be alive today. Their lives cut short by the Racist Plague that has taken early many lives as COVID-19 has.

Yes, 2020 has been a fucked-up year. Pandemics, economic destruction, selfishness and arrogance, political hatred, racist hatred. Yet, I don’t feel as defeated or down as I thought I would be. I feel hopeful, like I haven’t felt in many years.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized what I already stated: How arrogant to believe this year is the worst year ever. It is conceit that blinds many – a false sense of being special or different from those who came before us. Is anything really as “unprecedented” as we believe? Word of the year, no?

I don’t think so. None of this is new. In his Meditations, Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius reminded himself:

“To bear in mind constantly that all of this has happened before. And will happen again—the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging.”

That was written almost 2,000 years ago. And it continues to play out the same! Same stage, different actors. This is what gives me hope.

Pandemics? The Spanish Influenza of 1918-1919 claimed an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. However, there was no vaccine created and distributed within 11 months of its onset.

Political conflict? Child please. The American Civil War period was far worse than anything we’re going through today. Yes, Trump is a monster, but at least he’s incompetent. Imagine if he were even half as capable as Mussolini or Franco.* I think it’s a testament to our Country, however fragile it appears, that Trump was soundly defeated and all his attempts to maintain power have failed. (It’s another conversation as to why he received so many votes in the first place, but that’s for another blog).

*While Trump is a wannabe dictator, and there can be little doubt of that, I refuse to liken him to Adolf Hitler as so many others have. In keeping with the spirit of this post – remembering the past – until someone systemically and industrially murders 6 million+ people and starts the deadliest conflict in human history, they are NOT on Hitler’s level. Keep it in perspective, folks.

Racism in America is another story. It takes generations for change to become institutionalized. We cannot, nor will we, change hundreds of years of institutionalized hatred and bigotry. We can, however, continue to chip away at it. And I believe more White Americans have been acknowledging the evil history and present of their homeland, unlike in years past. That’s the difference we need. Black America needs the allyship. White America needs that allyship, too, for our souls.

Whether it’s calling out someone at work for making a horrid comment, actively listening to one another about experiences, making concerted efforts at learning, or making a commitment every day at doing the right thing. All these actions are “little” but important and necessary. It’s the little things done consistently over time that build infrastructure. We need these items to build our foundation for greater, longer lasting change. And the road is long… but we’re finally walking it in greater numbers, or it feels that way. I hope I am not wrong.

The classic line “perspective is everything” has never been more meaningful.

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I never used to be one for “hope.” I guess to me, “hope” is a focus on the uncontrollable. Hope is about the expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. We have zero control over if that thing will or will not happen in a majority of instances. I see that as a waste of energy.

Or at least I used to. I’ve grown to believe that hope is important – when tempered and realistic. I use the past to stay grounded. We’ve been here before. We’ve made it through many times prior, and there’s no reason to believe we can’t do it again.

One of the few things we can control is our actions, our thoughts, our beliefs. I have seen firsthand how study, experience, and conversation have changed mine. I can control the foundation I built within myself in hopes of changing the foundation of others. I cannot control if my actions will change one person’s mind, but I continue to build my own, and that’s important. Just keep swimming. Eventually, the hope is, others will jump in the pool.

If we are to solve issues, whether at our workplace, in our neighborhoods, or in our society, we need to have a rebellious attitude. We need to think differently, challenge convention, and stay strong in the face of weakness. In short, we need hope, because rebellions are built on it.

2020 was a challenging year. It was not the worst year. Even if it were, we’re entering 2021. If you’re reading this, you made it through, and there’s a lot to be hopeful for going forward. Just continue forward. It’s the only place we have to go.

Networking as an Introverted HR Professional: How Stoicism Helped Me Overcome Distance

“You’ve been made by nature for the purpose of working with others.” Marcus Aurelius

I’ve mentioned it many times in the past. I am an introvert. This does not mean, as many erroneously believe, that I dislike people. As a dedicated HR professional, I don’t believe I’d have gotten very far if I didn’t like people!

No, being an introvert is more complicated. It means that my energy is drained as I interact with people. This isn’t a negative. People don’t suck the energy from me – not always anyway! No, it’s how my body naturally reacts to human interaction. I use energy to interact. And it takes a lot of “me” time to recharge. Conversely, extroverts tend to gain energy from interactions with people.

This background is important. As a natural introvert, I spend a lot of time in self-introspection (crazy, I know). I became aware a long time ago that if I were to succeed at HR, I needed to find a way to be comfortable being uncomfortable and interact more often with folks. Success in this industry requires meaningful connections.

How did I do this? Many ways, including this EXCELLENT presentation by Erich Kurschat, who challenged me to think differently about what it means to be a successful introverted professional.

But like most things in life, I turned to philosophy when I got in ruts, and it has proved invaluable.

I’ve written before that philosophy is for everyone, and HR pros can find much wisdom and answers by perusing the art and study of wisdom.

Stoicism in particular is important to me. Its platitudes are timeless. Its creeds applicable for a modern audience and modern problems. I’ve argued this. Others have argued this.

A central element of Stoicism is how the world is interconnected. The great Stoic teachers consistently communicated the idea of “Sympathiea,”meaning “all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other.”

Marcus Aurelius wrote in his private journal, later becoming the famous Meditations, that we ought to “Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe.” He also wrote, “Human beings have been made for the sake of one another. Teach them or endure them.”

Seneca, in his Letters from a Stoic, On Clemency, wrote that Stoicism was unique in philosophies due to its teaching on sympathiea.

“No school has more goodness and gentleness; none has more love for human beings, nor more attention to the common good. The goal which it assigns to us is to be useful, to help others, and to take care, not only of ourselves, but of everyone in general and of each one in particular.”

The Stoic idea of sympathiea is a reminder that we were made to work with other people. We were made to interact with one another, to teach one another, to learn from one another. HR practitioners, specifically, need to remember this.

So, when I contemplate the implications of sympathiea and networking, it leads me to remember that networking is built on the premise of helping one another – not for others to help me, necessarily, for when networking is done right, the self will benefit. However, the purpose of networking is to help others! It’s to make meaningful connections, gain ideas, and become a better person through helping others.

“One who seeks friendship for favorable occasions, strips it of all its nobility.” – Seneca

So, when I’m looking to network as an HR professional, what do I do?

  1. Connect others with similar interests. I love to make connections. Like Rush the band? I know several HR pros you should get to know! Love Baby Yoda? Do I know some folks! Want to make a career transition into HR? Well, let me introduce you to… “Friendship is given us by nature, not to favor vice, but to aid virtue.” – Cicero
  2. Learn from others. I’ve had a fairly unique career trajectory in HR industry. Honestly, everyone has, but I know what I know and what I don’t know. And I don’t know A LOT! Reaching out to thought leaders and subject matter experts in other areas helps me continuously learn and hone my craft. It’s intentional. It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows. – Epictetus
  3. Try to teach others. Learning is a two-way street. My hope is to pass on knowledge and understanding, or at least expose others to a different perspective they otherwise would not have considered or been exposed to, through my actions. Do what you say, or don’t do it! “Nothing will ever please me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the knowledge of it to myself. And if wisdom were given to me under the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it.” — Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

Notice that I didn’t say I network to find a job. Honestly, networking has helped me find new jobs. However, I didn’t go into those relationships looking to find a job. At the end of the day, what’s good for the hive is good for the bee, as Marcus Aurelius reminded himself. If I live my life in service to others, I should eventually see rewards. It doesn’t mean I will necessarily get a new job, or make new friends, or be thanked. But those things are not the point. They’re nice to have, but it’s better to have the knowledge that I controlled what I could and don’t worry about the rest!

More importantly, networking has afforded me amazing opportunities I otherwise would never have found if I stayed in my comfortable little introvert bubble. Due to networking, I’ve:

  • Been a guest on several podcasts
  • Been invited to speak at several conferences
  • Conducted several online trainings for organizations
  • Started this blog and shared many stories
  • Began a side hustle as an HR consultant due to people ASKING me for help
  • And, most importantly, I’ve made many new friends – real life friends – whom I otherwise would have never known or interacted with

The results don’t lie, at least to me. I think this is why it still shocks me to talk with other HR pros who don’t network, at least not consistently! I sense some hesitancy for whatever reason from many folks. Listen, I felt it, too! Whether it’s anxiety leaving your comfort zone, or healthy skepticism, I challenge those who don’t network to just give it a try. Why not?

The aforementioned actions have worked for me, but I encourage you to find what works for you! My strategies may help. Maybe others will help you. Either way, remember that Aristotle said humans are social creatures. Find the best way to translate that social nature into a good life for you and for others through the power of networks, which is just a fancy business term for sympathiea, a.k.a “meaningful connections.”

Street Level Influencer: Meet Jane Murtaugh and Her Passion for HR Education

Profile photo of Jane Murtaugh, SHRM-CP
Jane Murtaugh, Professor at College of DuPage, and founder of the HR Management Certification program.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

It’s been a while, but the Street Level Influencer is back! Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, political division, hatred from all sides. All these things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan
  8. James Woods
  9. Anthony Eaton

The first professional job I had out of college was not in HR, or even a typical post-graduate job. I graduated during the Great Recession when starting a career was difficult to say the least. However, I didn’t give up on finding some semblance of income, so I turned to an unlikely source!

I reached out to an old professor I had at Joliet Jr. College, the community college I went to after high school. Dr. Buck helped vouched for me, and I was hired as an adjunct professor in the Social Sciences Department. I taught Political Science 101.

Being an adjunct professor was one of my favorite experiences I’ve ever had. I am passionate about education, helping develop minds, and brining a love of learning out of even the most skeptical students’ minds! I was proud of what I accomplished during my tenure at JJC.

I’ve always had a connection to community colleges. In all facets of what I’ve done professionally over the years, I tried to support local community colleges. They’re a foundation of learning, and a necessary bridge for some or a lifeline for others.

So, about a year ago, I was thrilled when Jane Murtaugh of College of DuPage reached out to me with a proposal. Jane started the Human Resource Certificate Program at COD a few years prior, and she wanted me to be on their advisory council! I met Jane through social media, and I knew her passion for HR and higher education, so I was honored and geeked to join their advisory council.

Aside from our connection through community colleges, the human resource community, and living in the western Chicago suburbs, her and I both are proud alumni from Northern Illinois University. Go Huskies!

So, without further ado, here is Jane’s story!

1. Tell me about the organization you currently work at and what your role is.

For the past 20 years, I have worked at College of DuPage (COD) as a full-time professor of Business & Management. COD is a community college located in DuPage County, about 30 miles west of Chicago. My area of focus and expertise is in HR Management from my former corporate days; and as the developer and chair of our HR Management Certificate program since Fall 2017, I am now enjoying helping both advise and instruct our HR students as they work to either launch or advance their careers. I enjoy every minute being able to work with and mentor our HRM Certificate students and watching them reach their career goals! Plus, I get to work with great HR professionals such as yourself in a variety of roles as you all support these students as either members of our HR Advisory Board, as mentors, as career advisors, as guest speakers, as presentation reviewers, and as employers. The current education environment is challenging right now, but I am most grateful for the opportunity I have been given to work with students.

2. What is the number one misconception about HR you see your students come in believing?

I chuckle a bit at this question – I see many non-HR students put off taking the one required HRM course for our Associate of Applied Science in Management degree students. HR has a negative perception to many of them as the Department who says “no” or obstructs them from doing what they want to be doing. Others see HR as merely those people in boring payroll jobs or those who like to discipline. I spend a lot of time talking about and selling the value of HR and how each of us are better managers, better supervisors, and better employees the more we learn and understand about HR. Understanding how jobs are designed, how jobs are paid, how benefit offerings are determined, how training is created and implemented, how employees are retained, etc. all adds value to our organizations and ourselves. The two areas of study all seem to be very interested is in employment law and discrimination AND terminations and discipline.

I don’t have to really sell the value of studying HR to our HRM Certificate students – they already have an interest in HR and are eager to learn more so they can become HR professionals themselves.

3. Why was it important to you to push an HR Management Certificate program at the community college level?

Interesting question – the reality is I was frequently being asked why COD only offered one HR course and why we didn’t offer a degree in HR. It was honestly a question I had asked myself many times as well.  At the community college level, we need to be able to demonstrate employability for each of our offered certificate programs. As I began investigating growth in HR careers and job openings back in 2016, I saw double-ditch growth projections. So, I began working on developing our HR certificate, created three advanced HRM courses, and launched them in the Fall 2017 semester. We now have approximately 150 alums!!

Community colleges are known primarily as two-year colleges offering a way to begin the pursuit of a four-year degree by completing general education coursework at a lower tuition cost, but we are also so much more than that. Career and workforce development through Career & Technical Education programs is a huge part of our mission and one that employers are asking us for more and more of these days. Our Human Resource Management Certificate is an example of just that.

As you know, many individuals can end up in an HR career without having completed any college coursework in HR. Or others are looking to begin or advance their HR career without needing to complete a four-year program. And others are looking to advance their careers through certification exams. Our HRM Certificate fits that need. It is truly an example of career and workforce development! Our students come to us for this two-semester program and head out into the workplace ready to meet employer needs.

We’ve seen great success of students completing the program and obtaining employment upon earning their HRM Certificate. Others have achieved their HRCI or SHRM certification upon completion, others have moved into HR internships.

My personal goal continues to be for SHRM National to acknowledge there are many emerging HR professionals looking to certify and be recognized as HR professionals without need of a Bachelor degree and that community colleges can also offer credible HR coursework and certificate programs. HRCI has done that through their aPHR exam, and I have many students who move in that direction upon completing our HRM Certificate. HRCI sees our coursework as being aPHR prep, and we are listed on their website as such. Today’s students aren’t always just the traditional 18-23 year old students.

4. That’s an important point! As much as I am a lover of continued education, I believe the bachelor’s degree has been overvalued over the past several decades. There are SO MANY amazing HR pros who don’t have a bachelor’s nor need one, per se! How would you define being a “good HR professional?”

Ethical – Honest – HUMBLE

Proactive communicator

Respectful

Empathetic

Continuous learner

Enjoys people

Enjoys HR

Knowledgeable

Willing to learn new things

Passionate about working in HR

Eager to share what they know with others across all levels of stakeholders

5. With the HR management certificate program, what types of students do you see come through your classes? Why do you think that is?

This is changing – we began offering our advanced HRM courses in Fall 2017. That semester we primarily had students who completed our advanced HR courses as electives for their Management degrees. Now though we primarily see students coming to us from the local community who are not traditional college students but are those seeking to launch or advance their HR careers. Again, the value of offering a career development certificate such as this. It’s something I am very proud of as it helps educate not only the students, but the DuPage County workforce as well.

6. I’ve been pretty vocal about the need for HR to embrace being uncomfortable as it relates to the social injustices plaguing the Black Community – especially in the workplace. How would you advise an HR professional who is intimidated or hesitant to speak up themselves – as I once was – about wrongs they’ve seen in the workplace for whatever reason?

I absolutely encourage speaking up!! In HR our responsibility to and focus on the people in our organizations, our internal stakeholders. I realize in my current role I have the security of tenure and that may make it seem easier for me to speak up, but I have always led with ethics, convictions, and values. If HR is truly the department that is meant to drive and foster culture and organizational values, we have to speak up – we have to guide – we have to use ethical practice. This isn’t always easy. Followers enable leadership, and I would encourage HR professionals to work to ensure we aren’t enabling a toxic culture or unethical leadership. By speaking up when we see wrong helps to ensure that toxicity doesn’t get the leverage it seeks. We need to be building relationships and credibility with management across all levels of the firm, and my hope is that by doing that we can also work towards fostering a mutual trust and respect and a willingness to listen to each other when discussing those positives and potential wrongs in our organizations. So, start by building those relationships, seek input from a mentor either within or external to your organization, bring a proposed solution to what is wrong, listen, but at all times remain loyal to your values and professional standards. 

7. How do you feel the HR profession can bring about real, lasting change for Black workers, and other marginalized people in the workplace?

My hope is we, as HR professionals, truly are able to bring about cultural change within our organizations. I have worked in organizations where HR is valued to help bring about that change and in others where it is the exact opposite because HR had no voice or input. For many of us, we have much work to do in this area for HR to truly be seen as the drivers of cultural change. 

We all know there is also much work to do in addressing the inequities within our organizations and institutions in general, and there is a need for us to be courageous in our listening, a need for us to be willing to have the tough conversations about race and social justice, a need for us to actually observe the realities of our behaviors and their impact on Black workers and other marginalized people in our workplaces. It’s the “how” of doing that that is tough in helping to bring about the real, lasting changes needed.

I have spent many hours since early June being courageous in my listening and reading the tremendous work that has been posted and distributed from the many books, webinars, and podcasts our HR colleagues across the country have either authored or recommended. I’ve created new assignments that require students to read articles on racism and inequities in workplaces and led discussions on what they are seeing in their places of employment and our role in HR in addressing these issues. I follow many HR professionals on Twitter and saw a post a couple weeks ago that made me stop and think about how many of these conversations have now stopped. The post said something along the lines of “in June you said you would take steps to correct the inequities in your organization…have you?” For me that’s the challenge right there. Are we still listening? Are we still conversing? We have to move forward from social justice and inequities being the current issue and challenge discussed in HR circles to the realities of it’s now time to put actions behind the “how” of bringing lasting change. Personally, I’m still working on figuring out my “how”. 

8. It sounds like you’re doing your “how” by incorporating such discussions into your course work at COD. I do not think that is insignificant. Thank you for doing this. This next question is lighter. Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

Paul, just ONE??!!

Claire Petrie – a tireless, HR professional who welcomes anyone into her network, and we are all better for it. She also shares my love for helping students advance – she gives back to her alma mater, and she inspires us to do the very same. When I have a student questioning how to advance in their HR career, she’s on my list of recommendations to contact. When I have a question on LinkedIn, she’s there to help. When I give my students a list of HR professionals to connect with, she, like you, is on that list. Her spirit and energy are contagious, and she inspires me to keep moving forward!! She is very active on both LinkedIn and on Twitter, and her weekly email newsletters are always very worthy of your time to read.

9. I truly mean this when I say it, that Claire is one of my most favorite people in the world. No other way to say it, other than, she’s amazing! Who is one person — historic, famous, or personal — who inspires you to be better?

This is personal for me – my oldest sister, Deb. Sadly she lost her battle with colon cancer back in 2009, but I am a better person overall due to her. We shared our love of education and bettering student lives, and we shared new approaches to meeting students’ needs and concerns we were facing. I miss her every single day.

10. What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

This has to be handling the changes the pandemic thrust upon us. Our workforces have changed in size, location, and work habits. Will we be back together next June? Will we want to be? Should we be?

HR also needs to accept the reality our employees have personally changed. Are we ready to accept what that really means? As a mom of an RN whose patients include those with COVID-19, I think about this often as I’ve watched her from a distance and prayed for all healthcare workers over these past 8 months. Are we now ready to meet both the current effects and aftereffects of the stress this pandemic has brought? There has been a tremendous loss in this country, in our communities, and in our families. Our employees’ well-being needs to be considered and addressed today and tomorrow. The impact of that loss and stress will be felt for years.

11. That is an incredibly insightful and important point. We are focusing on the now, as we should. Yet, we should prep for what’s next. How will people have changed when the pandemic ends? It will end, but the effects will remain with us for a lifetime. I know people will want to connect with you if they haven’t, so how can people best reach out to you?

I’m pretty much online unless I’m asleep – it’s something the pandemic has shown me I need to work on. But please reach out to me via email at murtaugh@cod.edu or follow me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/janemurtaugh, or on Twitter at @murtaughj (I’m a better follower than leader on Twitter).

12. Finally, what’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

I have learned I am not at all good at Twitter Chats! I try to engage with the #HRSocialHour chat on Sundays and am in awe of everyone’s continuous postings – and then I see Wendy and Jon (hosts of the HR Social Hour Twitter chat) consolidate everyone’s comments and release it a few days later and how they do that is beyond me when I can’t even remember to add the #HRSocialHour hash tag into my posts. I’m exhausted for a week after that one hour of trying to stay caught up with all you Twitter chat pros. Maybe you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks! Ha!!

(For the record, I don’t think that’s true! 😊 I think Claire would help you with that if you asked!)

Street Level Influencer: Meet Anthony Eaton and His Passion for Leadership

Anthony Eaton, PHR, SHRM-CP
AUTHOR | WRITER | HR PROFESSIONAL

“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.” — Oprah

It’s been a while, but the Street Level Influencer is back! Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, political division, hatred from all sides. All these things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan
  8. James Woods

Now, I want to introduce you to Anthony Eaton, an HR professional from Dallas-Fort Worth area with a passion for leadership.

Leadership is challenging. Leaders must often forego their own challenges and take on the challenges of others. They must forsake themselves at times so that others can prosper. However, in doing so, the leader then prospers.

Like so many of my network, I met Anthony on LinkedIn. I can’t recall exactly what article we connected through, but Anthony said he wanted to connect because we had an HR background and made posting about what we thought it took to be great leaders.

Since then, I’ve admired Anthony’s thought-provoking posts. He asks questions to try to get people to think differently. Many folks often try to figure out what it means to be a leader. It’s different for everyone. And Anthony asks and observes:

  • Can great leadership be taught and learned?
  • As a leader do you accept that mistakes will happen or do you expect perfection?
  • If the only tool you have in your leadership toolbox is a hammer, then everything will be a nail.
  • What does bringing your authentic self to work mean to you?
  • What makes a leader great?

Clearly, Anthony is a philosopher whether he realizes it or not!

I was drawn to Anthony’s inquisitive disposition, and his willingness to engage to get to the right answer. Leadership is something we’re both clearly passionate about, and it’s something EVERY HR professional needs to focus on.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to Anthony! You’ll definitely want to connect with him and get to know him better.

Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I work for AmerisourceBergen a pharma company as an HR Advisor. In my role I work with leaders to address employee relations and performance management situations, do investigations and provide guidance and interpretation of policies making sure our approach aligns with our purpose of putting people first.

How would you define being a “good HR professional?”

I would say do no harm. The best HR professionals really care about people and strive to strike that fine balance between doing what is best for employees and the business. Employees are not just resources, and the business is not just a bottom line and paycheck. While it is not rocket science, the things we do in HR have a direct effect on people and the business.

What was your biggest HR success? Why was it important to you?

There have been a couple, first was obtaining my PHR certification on the first try. I had been encouraged by peers to do it and I am very proud that I studied for it on my own and passed. Second would be my first management role in a similar position. While I did not have any direct reports my then to be manager could see my potential and sought me out for the role.

What was your biggest HR setback? What did it teach you?

I believe that everything happens for a reason and there is a lesson to be learned from each experience, so I don’t really look at things in terms of setbacks. We make decisions and choices based on what we know at the time. My career found me and it has certainly ebbed and flowed but I have looked at each experience for the lesson and growth it offers both personally and professionally. In both my professional and personal life I have learned to listen to that little voice inside and if a situation does not feel right trust that. Don’t let other people control your career and don’t take an opportunity just for the money. If you are doing what you are supposed to do opportunity will come but you also must be able to recognize it when it does.

Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

Oh my, that is hard because I have been blessed to connect with so many great people. Right now, I would say Keith Mason who I am writing a piece on. His story is amazing and inspiring, people should look him up and read about him. He’s a former professional rugby player with such an diverse background.

You mentioned you’re writing a book on leadership! This is incredibly exciting. How is that going, and what is the title and theme?

It is going slowly, but that is ok because what you create is more important than how fast you create it. The title is 52 Thought Provoking Questions on Leadership. The book will be an eclectic mix of questions with space for the reader to write their own answers along with answers to select questions from a wide range and diverse group of people.

I like to know what other people think because it enables me to look at things from different points of view and consider perspectives I may not have thought about. The more we share the better we are and I want to share more than just my view and opinion; I want to get people to think.

Who is one person — historic, famous, or personal — who inspires you to be better?

That one is easy, Oprah. If you look at her life and career it has been a journey of growth and self-discovery. I could listen to her talk for hours and I admire her for what she has done and who she is as a human being. With that said, I don’t put her on a pedestal because she is “Oprah.” I know she is human and not infallible, but she puts that out there and shares.

What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

That is easy too, getting through this pandemic and past all the social and political strife that has been going on. I am thankful to work for such a great organization that really cares about people knowing that this is not the case for everyone. As HR professionals we need to be empathetic to what our employees are going through and the tough choices they may be faced with while at the same time not letting these things become an excuse. As human beings we need to remember that we are all different, but we are also very much the same in our needs and wants.

How can people connect with you?

Through LinkedIn, Twitter (@ateaton), and my website www.leadershipandmore.com.

What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

Oh gosh, if I can only give you one it is that I am a kid at heart and have tried to hold onto that. My sense of wonder of the world, joy of just being and creativity. I like to be silly.

HR Professionals Need Philosophy

Diversidad Pura -Mirta Toledo 1993

“An important place to begin in philosophy is this: a clear perception of one’s own ruling principle.” – Epictetus

My good friend and mentor, Erich Kurschat, recently forwarded me this article:

6 Lessons From Stoic Philosophy That Can Make Your Life Better Today

Erich knows I am a big-time fan of Ryan Holiday, who has influenced my life, and so many others, immeasurably. Holiday is the founder of the Daily Stoic, and the bestselling author of The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. He is a proponent for people studying philosophy, particularly Stoicism.

According to Holiday the only reason a person should study philosophy – the study of wisdom – is to become a better person. That’s it. And someone becomes a philosopher “when they begin to exercise their guiding reason and start to question the emotions and beliefs and even language that others take for granted” (The Daily Stoic, pg. 71). This is a deeply personal practice, but I have been arguing since the founding of this blog that there are professional applications to philosophy. The modern workplace requires philosophers to function, grown, and thrive!

Thankfully, I am not alone in this belief. Philosophy as a professional application has seen something of a jolt in the work landscape over the past decade. More and more professionals are arguing the importance that philosophy plays in the workplace.

Including Holiday, who wrote how Stoicism can help people navigate the modern workplace, publisher Stephen Hanselman has written about how philosophy helps develop leadership, and Mark Manson – bestselling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** – wrote an entire treatise called Why We All Need Philosophy.

A slew of articles arguing the merits of philosophy in the workplace include: “I work therefore I am: why businesses are hiring philosophers, “ “Why Future Business Leaders Need Philosophy,” “Four Reasons Why Philosophy Is As Relevant As Ever,” “What is the relevance of philosophy in the modern business world?,” “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Why Engineers Should Learn Philosophy” and so it goes…

Why philosophy? Isn’t that a discipline for stuffy old bearded men in ivory towers? Well, not really, unless you’re doing it wrong!

I wrote in a prior article “What is an HR Philosopher” that philosophy is meant for everyone! Philosophy is about living one’s best life and acting on what is right. So, in essence, I take that to heart. Doing HR right is an act of philosophy to me. It is always important to create space to think, put things into perspective, and act on what is right.

As Ryan Holiday said, the only reason to study philosophy is to become a better person, and that includes your profession. Become a better HR professional by incorporating philosophy in what you do.

When done right, philosophy develops critical and innovative thinking, and it helps people develop emotional stability and an empathetic attitude, both required for success in the complex and ever-changing modern organization. Philosophy helps us develop ethics and core values to keep us grounded and rooted in those core values. Hence, successful business without philosophy is unthinkable!!!

This can be AND SHOULD BE done by everyone and taken with them wherever they go – home, work, the bank, the restaurant, their child’s play, their partner’s parent’s house, business meetings, job interviews, EVERYWHERE!

As HR professionals, we are preached to ad nauseum that we need to be ahead of the curve, we need to be more progressive than others in our organization, and we need to do MORE to prove our worth.

I challenge ALL HR professionals to develop their own philosophy. Study the classics. Study the new school. Just pick up a book and read! It’s daunting Where should you begin?

If you are a regular reader, it’s fairly obvious which philosophical school I belong to. If you’re not, I am a Stoic, with a capital S.

I do believe, however, that philosophical value can be found elsewhere. In fact, Stoicism was heavily influenced by other philosophical schools, and studying opposing thoughts and differing views can only strengthen our own understanding of ourselves, how we work, and the world in which we live.

You do you! Just start somewhere. Some places to begin include some of the following philosophers. I took one of their main ideas that has influenced me and how it can be applied to the HR workplace.

Philosopher: Plato – “Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.”

HR Implication: Employee Development – Help managers find the best in their staff. Coach them up to coach their staff up!

Philosopher: Aristotle – “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit.”

HR Implication: Professional & Career Development – Continue to grow as an HR professional. Don’t rest on your laurels.

Philosopher: W.E.B. Du Bois – “The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame.”

HR Implication: Benefits – Remember that people are motivated by money, yes, but many studies show that better motivators are sincere recognition, autonomy, and kindness. The biggest reason people leave jobs are bad bosses. They ruin lives, as the saying goes.

Philosopher: Friedrich Nietzsche – “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

HR Implication: DEI – Do not forget that diversity of thought has led to many amazing breakthroughs and strong organizational cultures!

Philosopher: Héloïse d’Argenteuil – “We tarnish the luster of our most beautiful actions when we applaud them ourselves.”

HR Implication: Performance (Self) Management – Ego is a most disastrous enemy. No matter how impactful or disastrous your work has been, remember to have a short memory. Forget it and move on, or else you risk no longer being relevant.

Philosopher: Hypatia of Alexandria – “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.”

HR Implication: HRIS – No matter what system you have, love, hate, don’t have, always remember, it’s there to make your life easier – not replace the HR pro.

Philosopher: Lao Tzu – “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

HR Implication: Work Life Balance – The work will always be there tomorrow morning. 😊

Philosopher: Marcus Aurelius – “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

HR Implication: Investigations – Remember to get the facts. Never jump to conclusions. Check your biases constantly. Make sure you’re getting the right information.

I could go on, and I’d love to, but I will leave that to others wanting to explore on their own. One other “starting point” is provided by Mark Manson. His “where to start” list is pretty good and inclusive. Give it a try!

Lastly, philosophy is mistakenly thought of as an old White Man’s game. Any American going through the USA’s educational system (or presidential election) could mistakenly believe that. Do one simple Google search, however, and you will discover MANY women, Black, and Eastern philosophers who have important things to add to our greater discussion.

Ultimately, I try to make my own philosophy one of balance. Stoicism helps me with this more so than others, but it doesn’t mean I ignore wisdom form other places. I seek to understand, so that I can help others understand. I can only do this by studying differing philosophies. In the context of human resources, this is imperative. Ours is a complicated profession. We must balance the needs of so many, and in doing so risk not fulfilling the needs of ourselves. Philosophy keeps me grounded and reminds me that I need to also take care of myself in my pursuit of taking care of others.

What do you think? Will you begin to incorporate philosophy into your daily life? DO you want to be a better version of yourself? Do you want to be a better person, a better professional? Give philosophy a try.