Expecting Harassment: Women and Workplace

Source Picture: Amnesty International

Note: March 8, 2023 is International Women’s Day. March is International Woman’s Month.

“The only women who don’t believe that sexual harassment is a real problem in this country are women who have never been in the workplace.” – Cynthia Heimel

A few weeks back, I asked my friend Molly Hewitt to drop me some topics I should explore writing about. She wrote back several ideas:

  • What really is “work/life balance” and how does that fit in with business goals?
  • Remote work – now a thing of the present – how do you make yourself stand out amongst 100’s of candidates?
  • And from my lady friends: In this day and age, women expect to be harassed to a certain extent. What is the hardline in the sand, and how do you document for HR?

That last one smacked me across my head like a Loony Toon or Tom & Jerry cartoon. Women expect to be harassed… Let me write that again. Women EXPECT to be harassed.

I didn’t know how to process that, so I reached out to Molly to ask her if she’d be willing to expand on that comment for me. More on that in a little bit.

I consider myself a born-again feminist, meaning, it has taken me a while and a lot of learning to come to my current understanding of the world. I always thought I had respect for women, but it turns out, I probably didn’t as much as I thought. That’s OK. Sometimes, it takes people time and energy to come to a better understanding.

By the way, if someone is “triggered” by the word feminist, grow up. Feminism means advocacy of women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes. Equality doesn’t mean “same.” Men and women (and non-binary for that matter) are not the same. That’s not the argument. The argument is all people regardless of gender or sex deserve to be treated as fairly and as equitability as everyone else. The differences should not exclude opportunity, fairness, justice, or investment.

This is what I have come to understand.

My growth and education eventually took me to an understanding that the system – and in the context of this article, the workplace system – is not set up for women to succeed as easily as others. There are many powerful, successful women. It’s true, but just as Black and Brown people need to jump through extra hurdles to prove they are “worthy” (whatever that means), women must jump through similar hurdles to prove they have what it takes to be taken seriously.

Now, imagine Black and Brown women, who have TWO hurdles to jump through, not just one! More on that in a bit, as well.

In addition, my understanding also grew to acknowledge that in this male dominated system, women have been conditioned to be afraid – afraid of saying no, afraid of being unattractive, afraid of being attractive, afraid of having children (but also punished if they don’t), afraid of being fired, afraid of being stared at in the gym, afraid of being followed to their cars, afraid of being jumped in a park while jogging, afraid of being abused, afraid of being harassed, afraid of much worse.

This is not my experience, nor would it be. I’m a White male. Many White males have not had it easy. I haven’t. That’s not the point.

I have never had it worse because of my gender (or skin color for that matter). Being a White male doesn’t mean things are automatically easy, but it does mean at minimum I had a head start towards the finish line others didn’t get. Women in our workplaces are starting the race several spots behind the guys and are expected to keep up. It’s not a fair race.

Women should not expect to be harassed in the workplace. This crushes me inside, but maybe I am naïve. Again, this isn’t my experience, nor would it be.

I have learned a lot, but still have much left to learn. So, Molly’s comment was an opportunity for me to get curious and continue learning. I want to know more, so that I can help make changes. I reached out to Molly to ask her to elaborate and help me better understand her comment. I also reached out to several other women, whom I admire deeply and learn from regularly. Their collective insight has helped me better understand.

My girlfriends and I discuss this topic all the time

Molly Hewitt is a healthcare entrepreneur based in Nashville, TN. She says she learned a lot of things about how to succeed at business over her career, but a few trends kept popping up.

“I noticed along my journey that many business leaders tied their success to knowing how to tie a tie, knowing how to cut and light a cigar and, knowing how to golf. You can probably see the problem here,” Molly told me.

The lesson was that business is for men, and men alone. Stories abound of women executives expecting to know how to shoot skeet, enjoy bourbon, and smoke cigars to succeed and show they are “one of the guys.” Molly asks what if the shoe were on the other foot?

“I don’t expect most men to be comfortable going to a mani/pedi session with a group of women. Or even if they are, the expectation shouldn’t be that everyone should participate in such activities to prove themselves[MH1] .”

All this creates an air of male driven toxicity. And I don’t use that word lightly. Honestly, such words have become lightning rods for dismissive thoughts or predisposed judgment. I don’t doubt that some people who read this may think “Oh there it is, the men bashing is starting!” That’s fine, I suppose, but it doesn’t help solve anything to create Strawmen fallacies. It should be common sense logic that if men do not take into account the other sex, then how can they expect to be inclusive and accommodating for women, or create an environment where women can do their best work and succeed as much as anyone else? This isn’t men bashing. This is logical workplace construction.

This type of machismo grandstanding creates an environment where it’s OK to harass women, many times scot-free. Molly described a situation that happened to her at a past company where she worked.

“I was in a Zoom meeting, and this high level VP private messaged me ‘I like the color of your lipstick today. It looks good on you.’ I was so taken aback, like, what do you say or type to something like that?! I asked colleagues after the meeting, and they said they didn’t receive a similar message, but thought that was incredibly creepy! My girlfriends and I discuss this topic all the time – how we as women have had to adapt our beliefs, thoughts, and fears in male-driven cultures to advance our careers.”

She continued, “and this other time, someone once told me, that they didn’t add their best skill to their CV, which was giving amazing back rubs. It was the first text message I had ever received from that individual (whom I didn’t give my number to) and completely unsolicited. It literally shocks but comes as no surprise how aggressive and confident certain individuals are.”

Black Women Face Similar, Yet Different Challenges

Molly isn’t alone unfortunately, as harassment, and not just sexual harassment, is much more common that I’d think most would like to admit, and the type of harassment and its effects differ depending on one’s melanin levels.

Kimberly Bozeman currently resides in California, and she has worked in corporate America most of her career. As a Black woman, she says her experience has been different. She says that of course Black women face sexual harassment issues, but speaking for herself, she says her experience is different.

“As a Black woman in corporate America, I faced more general harassment like microaggressions than sexual harassment. That doesn’t mean Black women don’t worry about that. I saw a report that stated Black women filed almost three times as many sexual harassment claims as White or Hispanic women. It’s more systemic issues, but thankfully, I have not faced them directly.”

Kim says she consistently has to remind others that “feel good slogans” such as “be your authentic self” and “just have confidence” don’t work for Black women.

“Black women are exhausted. I just feel exhausted. I operate in a system that wasn’t made for me. I don’t need people to understand it as much as simply acknowledge it. I made a conscious effort to stop fitting myself into society’s box. My trauma is valid, but I cannot focus on it 24/7 or it will cripple me.”

I’ve spent the past several years really taking time to educate myself about the Black experience in America. Ahmaud Arbery’s and George Floyd’s murders opened my eyes and mind in a way it wasn’t open prior. It’s unfortunate, and I wish I had been more involved earlier on; but this is my reality. I needed to know more, so I did the work and learned as much as I could. I’ve never liked the term “ally.” I especially don’t like it now, as I feel it either automatically puts walls between people or is used as a marketing gimmick. I prefer to think of myself as a person who believes that human beings deserve respect, love, kindness, and opportunity regardless of their biological, personal, or societal idiosyncrasies. Maybe that’s naïve, but it’s how I want to be in this world – respectful, kind.

 Speaking with Kim reminded me of all that I had learned, and how much I need to.

“The phrase ‘be yourself’ is different for Blacks. Workplaces can be cesspools. The power dynamic is such that I always have it in the back of my mind. I’m terrified to ask someone to sponsor me because I can go from ‘pet to threat.’ Then all of a sudden, I’m in danger more so than I already feel.”

You still make money off sexual harassment claims?

In 2002, a bright eyed and bushy tailed young law student walked into her first clerkship. She was excited to begin learning and becoming the legal professional she always dreamed of.

The student was Kate Bischoff, an employment attorney from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. She has since been practicing law for 20 years, and she believes at least 80-90% of all women will face harassment in the workplace.

“I define harassment differently,” Kate told me. “Lawyers have really made it hard to understand what harassment is due to the legal thresholds that are placed on situations. To me, when you’re actually facing harassment, you struggle with it. Sexual harassment is any conduct or comment of a sexual nature in the workplace. I define it vey broadly, which is a way to hold people accountable for the ‘little comments’ that build up over time.”

Kate recalled her clerkship in 2002. She said one of her first assignments was to assist on a sexual harassment claim. Bewildered, Kate asked the team “You still make money on sexual harassment claims?” She got laughs as a reply – silly kid, go make the copies we need.

“I don’t think most women necessarily ‘expect’ to be harassed,” Kate said. “At least maybe not at first. I think the first time it happens, it comes as a surprise. Women aren’t sure what to do about it. The harassment is seemingly small, like comments about physical looks or maybe a small gift. Women don’t report because they don’t want to make waves and feel like they’re risking their jobs. Eventually, the unwanted behavior grows and adds up.”

HR is Failing Female Employees

As a male working professional, I have received two comments about my looks over my 15-year career. The first was by my supervisor when I was an intern. He commented that he was glad to see me finally wearing a belt color that matched my shoes. I was new and didn’t know that’s what I was supposed to do. The second was a comment from an anonymous employee who said that I shouldn’t wear a hoody over a Zoom chat. This was at the height of COVID Pandemic. Imagine the comment if they would have known that I was wearing PJ pants at that Zoom call.

I don’t have hard data, but something tells me that professional working men do not often get comments about their looks, at least not in the same context as professional working women. During my conversations for this article, these women all told me the same thing: They received, or know women who received, the following comments at some point over their careers:

  • You should smile more.
  • You’re very pretty.
  • Your hair is very nice.
  • You’re having a bad hair day!
  • You look good in that outfit.
  • You look mad today.

Women get this regularly. They didn’t ask for it, and they shouldn’t have to put up with it. Unfortunately, many of them do. Probably because they perceive a system that doesn’t support them. Many feel the system isn’t built to protect them, or worse, it’s built to protect the harassers.

“Women are taught to be polite by society” Molly told me. “So often I feel, and many of my female friends who are organizational leaders feel, that our friendliness is oftentimes misinterpreted as being ‘interested’ and then it’s our fault when we need to set boundaries. I don’t report it because I don’t feel HR is a resource for these things. If I go to HR, I don’t expect to have a job, so I just let it go. Then I let another one go, and before you know it, I’m suddenly sitting on 20 inappropriate comments or advances.”

To quote Kim again: “Workplaces can be cesspools.”

Kate believes that HR isn’t necessarily equipped to handle these situations, which supports Molly’s experience.

“HR is not good at helping people know they don’t need to accept the little things before they become the big things. One reason women don’t come forward is that they don’t want to risk their careers, so they say, it’s ‘minor, so I won’t worry about it now.’”

This is complete bullshit, and HR is at least partially to blame. Women who are harassed and want justice should not worry about losing their jobs. Harassers need to worry about losing their jobs, and there is no other logical conclusion that any reasonable person should come to.

HR is failing our female employees.

Yes, it is true that harassment can be conducted by anyone. Women can harasses men (and have). Men can harass men (and have). Women can harass women (and have). But let’s be serious, harassment is in part about power and control. Who holds power in many, if not most, organizations? Men. So, this is an issue that, in my mind, can be clearly defined in broad terms as such. All three women also said as much when they repeated informed me that harassment comes many times from males in positions of power – whether it’s at a senior level or a frontline manager level.

A quick but important side note, Kim did say that the Black experience, while not a monolith, and she does not speak for all Black men, women, non-binary individuals, that harassment for Blacks comes from all different places. It’s not specifically a male driven issue for her. She said there are many instances of White women being threatened by Black professionals. Not all of it is intentional, but small comments add up over time and wear on folks.

At its worse, HR’s inability to make major influence in the arena of anti-harassment can lead to someone dying. Think that is hyperbole? It’s not. Home Depot had a very public case back in 2017 in the Chicago suburbs. Another public case involved Walgreens in Colorado in 2022.

“Sexual harassment classes are a joke,” Molly told me. “They are held to check a box.” Unfortunately, she isn’t wrong in a sense. A lot of organizations just check the box on them.

So, what is HR to do? A lot more, I’d argue. My profession has a lot of trust it must build when it comes to creating an environment that truly doesn’t tolerate sexual harassment, racial harassment, or otherwise. Here’s some ideas:

  • First, make sure the organization has an Anti-Harassment Policy (in a broad sense – sexual, bullying, discrimination, etc). If it doesn’t have one, make sure there is a good attorney on speed dial.
  • Make sure the Anti-Harassment Policy is clear, contains minimal legalese so employees can easily understand it, and ensure it contains clear instructions for employees to report harassment. As Kate Bischoff says, “once a manager knows, the organization knows.”
  • Train, train, train, and not just checking the box! Train employees in an interactive and meaningful way. Train at least once a year. Hold a training course for employees and another for supervisors. Supervisors need to know they have an active role in ensuring harassment is addressed and stopped.
  • Consider holding “bystander” training, which teaches people how to step in and help employees address harassment.
  • Hold true diversity awareness training, and bring in folks who KNOW the experience. If a White individual is speaking on specific Black experiences, this isn’t ideal, and even could be problematic. Employees need to know about specific experiences from those who experience harassment, microaggressions, etc.
  • HR needs to walk around and meet people where they are. Talk to staff, learn about them. Let them know who you are and that you are approachable. If you go to them with an open mindset of curiosity, they will come to you and open up themselves.
  • Develop an attitude of embracing ALL complaints and seek them out. Kate says this is ideal policy because it builds a workplace of psychological safety and encourages others to behave well since the workplace culture is one of holding others accountable.

Women who work in a hostile environment need to get out as fast as they can, but this isn’t always possible. Even if the environment isn’t obviously hostile, the one thing women can do to protect themselves is to document, document, document. This isn’t always done naturally, but it’s the single best way to help prevent a he said / she said situation, and build your case. When documenting, consider the following:

  • Screen shots. If you get an inappropriate comment via text, Teams chat, or whatever, take a screen shot, hopefully with a time and date stamp.
  • Specifics. Document the who, what, where, why, when. Ensure you have the time, place, and anything else that’s important, like the behavior and/or what was said.

It also might seem rudimentary, but having a clear understanding of what constitutes harassment can be one of the biggest things to help. Remember, all the following items constitute sexual harassment:

  • Vulgar jokes, sharing sexual anecdotes, or performing sexual gestures;
  • Staring in a sexually suggestive manner;
  • Making sexual comments about appearance, clothing, or body parts;
  • Inappropriate touching, including pinching, patting, rubbing, or purposefully brushing up against another person.

Any of these behaviors cannot and should not be tolerated. Knowledge is power. Read more here, here, here and here.

The Indifference of Good Men

I fear the US presidential election of 2016 will be far more consequential than we all may know. It already has been to some degree. Mostly, I will remember it for allowing sexual assault to be justified when it’s against people we don’t like.

 I know men who laughed off an infamous comment by the former president, He Who Shall Not Be Named. “Grab them by the p****.” I know men who said:

“He was joking.”

“Who cares?”

“It’s not that big a deal.”

Something makes me wonder, would these same men think it’d be a joke, or a big deal, or would they have cared if the comment was made in reference to their mother, wife, daughter???

Maybe they’re not thinking at all. Jennifer Wright is an author and media critic. She tweeted the following:

“Jackson Katz, a social researcher, asked men what they do on a daily basis to avoid being sexually assaulted. Then he asked women.”

Men, according to the study, didn’t think about it. Women on the other hand had over 30 responses ranging from “Don’t go jogging at night” to “Make sure my family knows my itinerary.” The entire list is sad… but likely has saved a few women’s lives.

During my educational journey post-George Floyd murder, I learned that it is not up to Black people to educate Whites about their experiences and history. All the information is there for Whites to learn. They must put in the work.

Similarly, I feel the same regarding women’s experiences and history. It’s not women’s jobs to educate men. It’s men’s job to educate themselves. Some are up for the challenge. Others, unfortunately, not so much.

While researching this piece, I found an article that captures what I feel to be the main reason:

Why haven’t we made more progress in the areas of equality? Heather theorized that men are afraid of receiving the same unfair treatments they have doled out for so long. But by viewing the issue through this lens, she believes they’re missing a key point: “That’s not the ‘novel’ that diversity and inclusion, or gender equity, or any of the ideas behind equity is based on. It’s based on a system that works well for everyone. Everyone.”

For some men, at least, this lack of education or dismissal of the experiences of others comes from a place of a perceived loss of power, or more directly, a loss of power that will then be used against men. This isn’t the case. It’s a false narrative. While many men deserve it, I believe ultimately, women, and all people, just want to be treated fairly and honestly. They want to live a life that isn’t full of fear and anxiety, not live a life of revenge.

Elise Michaels is a Men’s Health Coach, and she recently posted this on Instagram:

A man who refuses to own up to his mistakes or decisions is not a man, he is a coward.

He thinks he is triumphant because he has ‘won,’ but the price he pays is his manhood and loss of respect from anyone who sees him for who he really is.

Cowards are made when a man refuses to even the playing field.

He chooses lying, manipulation, and deceit to get an unfair advantage because he lacks so much confidence in his own skillset, he does not believe he can win or be ‘safe’ without trickery.

Instead of building himself up, instead of learning from his mistakes, he continues to perpetuate a lie no matter how long it’s been or how many people he hurts.

He cares only about himself and destroys everyone around him.

Cowards are the epitome of what’s making our nation crumble. Men who cannot take personal responsibility and consistently want more when they are giving less.

Unfortunately, cowardly men run many organizations, or run for public office. How do they keep getting into power? I’m not entirely sure, but the question reminds me of a line from one of my favorite movies, The Boondock Saints. A priest is giving an impassioned speech on the rise of crime and violence in a world caving in around corruption.

Monsignor: And I am reminded, on this holy day, of the sad story of Kitty Genovese. As you all may remember, a long time ago, almost thirty years ago, this poor soul cried out for help time and time again, but no person answered her calls. Though many saw, no one so much as called the police. They all just watched as Kitty was being stabbed to death in broad daylight. They watched as her assailant walked away. Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.

Moving Froward

The indifference of good men. There are still good men, but they need to be more vocal and less hidden. They cannot be afraid to ruffle feathers, start an uncomfortable conversation, or use their privilege to give away their privilege to others.

Most of all, they need to listen.

Kim believes we still live in a segregated world, and the only way to remove barriers is to engage with others.

“We must be intentional about humanizing each other. We need to break bread with one another, listen. All experiences are valuable and can teach us more than we think,” Kim said.

Kate maintains that organizational leaders must embrace complaints. “Seek out complaints. Thank your employees for coming forward, and be grateful they trust you,” she told me. “Don’t squander this great responsibility.”

Ultimately, being a woman in the workplace is a weird, confusing endeavor, and it’s one I will never know, but I can do my part to make it less weird, less confusing, and (most importantly) safer.

For any woman reading this, who has been told to smile more, who has been touched inappropriately, who has been shut down when trying to provide a new perspective, who believes they are alone, Molly has a message.

“It’s important for you to know that you don’t have to put up with harassing behavior. It isn’t OK, and you can protect yourself! It’s not unprofessional to cut off a conversation or voice yourself if you feel uncomfortable. You have value and you bring worth to the table. You’re not a bitch or hard to work with for refusing to accept poor behavior.”

I am not sure how many women expect to be harassed. I am not sure if women do, in fact, expect to be harassed in the workplace. All I do know is that one harassment is one too many, whether it’s sexual harassment or discrimination, and I will continue fighting for a world where people are punished for harassing women, not rewarded.

© 2023 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Street Level Influencers: Black Leaders Who’ve Influenced Me

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou

This post is about a great many folks who’ve inspired me to change myself for the better in many ways.

A few years ago, I began exploring the concept of a “street level influencer.” You can see the original post here. Essentially, a street level influencer is a person who enacts change at the “street level” or the source – choosing to remain at the epicenter with the people and for the people.

I’ve highlighted many HR professionals over the years whom I believe to be street level influencers. However, the term isn’t limited to HR only. Anyone can be a street level influencer. One doesn’t need a major social media following, a mass amount of media coverage, or anything else we associate with influencers.

I believe those at the frontlines have a much more direct and beautiful day-to-day impact than any Kim Kardashian ever could.

I’ve hesitated to post anything about Black History Month. Unfortunately, February, in my observation, has taken on a somewhat pandering tone than an actual tone of celebration and inspiration. Of course, this isn’t ubiquitous, but I do want to craft a post that is thoughtful and respectful to the spirit of the Black experience in this world.

This is the point. I constantly remind myself that I control my own message. I write not to pander, not to flatter, not for selfishness. I write to share stories and experiences. I write to education – myself as much as others! I write to give others a chance to show their spotlight.

I feel I can best honor the true spirit of Black History Month by shining a spotlight on the Black leaders that inspire me every day. I’ve had the incredible honor of learning from and/or working with many Black leaders, and I don’t take that experience for granted.

My life is better, richer, more complete for knowing these people. I cannot do justice to these folks’ greatness other than to give them a public shoutout. Their work speaks for itself. Please reach out, connect, and learn from these street level influencers! Your life will be better for having done so!

A note: I will undoubtedly leave a name or two off the list. This is a good problem to have because it means many have influenced me! I take my inspiration from many sources and people.

Tiffany Toussaint

Mofota Sefali

Danita Sims

James Woods

Shaunta McGee

Jasmine Turner

Shenise Cook

Tessa Brown

Monique Shelton

Kevin Hubbard

Tamara Rasberry

Brandon Pendleton

Rhonda Owens

Tyrone “Tye” Taylor

Branden Delk

Ricklyn Woods

J’ai Brown

Jyron Oliver

Phyllis Wallace

Daron Roberts

Marc Perry

Kim Bozeman

Gregory Tall

Harold Rice

Latoya Butler

Dion Dawson

Wendy Kelly

Laura Knights

Charles Spearman

Melanie Felt

Baxter Hall

Osasu Arigbe

To these folks, THANK YOU, for being you, for being unabashed in speaking your voice, and for being leaders for us to model. Each of you have inspired me to change something about myself in a positive way. I appreciate you all, and I will continue to look to you for inspiration. I hope by sharing this blog, it helps others to bask in your light and grace.

© 2023 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Panel Preview: Why Discuss Mental Health?

“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.” – Glenn Close

On Tuesday February 28th, my friends and colleagues Tiffany Toussaint, Claire Stroh, Erich Kurschat, and I are putting on a FREE Pop-Up Roundtable to discuss mental health in the workplace and how HR should approach this topic. I hope you join us! It will turn a traditional roundtable on its head as we seek to make this a collaborative conversation with the audience, not at the audience.

Registration link for this free event is here. NOTE: To create an environment where all those can speak freely and without fear, if they choose, the session will not be recorded.

That’s what this blog is about.

My life has been like anyone else’s – one of self-discovery. I learn daily about myself and likely will until my last breath moves through my lungs and past my lips exiting into the world for the final time.

I don’t like to talk. The spoken word has always eluded my perfectionist tendencies. I have struggled with this side of me all my life. I’m not a particularly great storyteller. I don’t think I’m overtly eloquent when spoken. Likely, this developed since I was a wee little lad – one who stayed in the shadows, too shy to do much else than stay in his own thoughts and not engage in the thoughts of others.

I’m probably being somewhat unfair and overly critical. That’s OK. But it’s true that it has taken me a long time to get comfortable talking to others about seemingly mundane and normal things. Talking about difficult things? As a Jersey shore resident may say, fugget about it!

Mental health is a difficult thing to talk about. For many years it has been one of the last things I ever wanted to discuss, but it likely has been one of the things I most needed to discuss.

Still, I hesitated for years and years, shutting down at the mere mention of what was boiling underneath me. I’d rather the pain, the hurt, the darkness overtake me than discuss that I had pain, hurt, darkness overtaking me.

And then it did… partially. I broke, and thank God it was only partially. Had I broke completely, I likely wouldn’t be writing this now. I had to take a leave of absence, which was scary because my workplace at the time was not a safe space, so there was never a guarantee I could come back. This kept the spiral going and going and going.

Others likely asked themselves the same things:

  • Will I lose influence if I admit what I am going through?
  • Will I lose promotion opportunities?
  • Will I be ridiculed? Will I be believed?
  • Will I still have a job when all is said and done?

Unfortunately, these things are very real concerns for so many.

I eventually went back to work after a struggle with my employer, after fruitless discussions with a therapist (I was going through the motions), but I made it back. I was able to keep myself together enough to find a new job and put myself in a position to build an environment around me that supported such darkness.

I still don’t “talk” about such things easily, but I do write about them, which is a form of talking about them. I am entering the conversation and sharing my story – even if it’s pieces. And that’s OK. One doesn’t need to be 100% open if one chooses not to be. 50% open is better than 0%, which is where I was at one time.

I like to live a life that matches my stated values. I often discuss that we need to be open, honest, transparent, and if I didn’t follow up on this with action, what good are those words? Not good at all.

Lessons I learned that I hope to share with others so they can keep it together themselves:

  1. It’s OK not to be OK. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you.
  2. You are not alone. Your support system is there – just be open to them.
  3. Someone, somewhere needs you, so be here.
  4. All things do work out in the end… just allow them to work out.
  5. You will smile again and mean it.

So, this is why we discuss mental health. This is why the panel discussion with Tiffany, Claire, and moderated by Erich is so important. It’s different people with different lived experiences coming together in a very human way to discuss very human things.

I hope you join us, if not to share your story, to at least come together with others because we are stronger together. You are stronger than you know.

© 2023 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved

HR Is Art

Photo by Edward Eyer on Pexels.com

“But if your work is your art, a personal reflection of who you are, the only person who can do that better than you, is a future you.” — Bill Crawford

My wife and I love cooking shows. The other evening, we were watching Chef’s Table: Pizza on Netflix. The show is a behind the scenes look at culinary masters making waves in kitchens around the world. It’s a documentary style. The episode we watched centered around Gabriele Bonci, the Roman baker and chef known as the “Michelangelo of pizza.”

It struck me that throughout the episode Bonci discussed his craft as if it were art. Everything that went into his pizzas needed to be pure and an extension from whence it came. The dough was made only from wheat grown a certain way. The cheese was made only from sheep who were loved and cared for. The meat only came from animals who lived a great life. When he put it all together, kneading the dough, crushing the tomatoes, forming the mozzarella, and cutting the vegetables – all of this was done in a way that mimicked artistry. Bonci’s pizza was his art, and he made it only if he could put his entire being into the process.

Again, we love cooking shows, and we watch a lot of them. This is not unusual. A lot culinary masters refer to their work as art — Grant Achatz, Carla Hall, Gordon Ramsey, Masaharu Morimoto, Christina Tosi, . They treat their work differently. They seem to put a different level into what they do. It makes sense when someone says, “my craft.” To those, work is more than work. It becomes art.

Bonci relies on what he calls “agriculture as culinary art.” It means, from what I was able to gather:

  • quality without compromise,
  • use only the freshest, natural ingredients available,
  • using ingredients produced by people who share the beliefs and respect the true value of culinary and nutrition,
  • ever-changing toppings on the Roman-style crust,
  • a mix of meats, herbs, cheeses, and seasonal produce,
  • choosing the size of your slice so it’s easy to try more than one.

I wondered what would happen if I treated my work as art. I’ve always had an artistic side to me – writing, drawing, sketching – but I’ve never really thought of “work” as art. Obviously, my work is different than baking a pizza. My work is people, but I see a lot of overlaps with the principles and philosophies that Bonci uses to guide his life.

  • Quality without compromise – All too often we accept mediocrity for whatever the reason. Being great requires more. Accepting mediocrity is allowing your art to be less than it SHOULD be. People we work with deserve the best, and YOU deserve the best. Settling helps no one.
  • Use only the freshest, natural ingredients available – Often times, we don’t have the best support to work with! Maybe we don’t have HRIS. Maybe we don’t have the right knowledge. Over time, we need to make changes to GET the best ingredients, or in the case of HR, supporting systems. Much like growing the best tomatoes or onions, we need to plant seeds and cultivate them, so they sprout the ingredients we need! Do the work, and the plant grows.
  • Using ingredients produced by people who share the beliefs and respect the true value of culinary and nutrition – Surround yourself with a supporting cast that sees what you see and helps get you there! As the famous philosopher Seneca stated: “Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those who you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.” Echoed by Epictetus, “The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” Professionally, if the organization doesn’t share your values, then find one that does. It may take a while, but the effort will be worth it.
  • Ever-changing toppings on the Roman-style crust – The only constant is change. The best way to deal with it is to act as water and flow with it, or be carried away by it. Change can be an incredible time to lean into creativity! Change presents an opportunity to dust off old skills, develop new ones, work with colleagues you don’t see often, or become something altogether different. This takes vision and inner strength. Much like chisel to marble, embrace the inside of the block and see what comes out.
  • A mix of meats, herbs, cheeses, and seasonal produce – Diversity is the spice of life, so it is said. I don’t need to restate all the amazing statistics to prove the value of diversity in the workplace when it comes to people. It’s true. Different lived experiences coming together in a crescendo produce better results. Period. Art has a multitude of color strokes, techniques, attempts. Taken separately, and it means nothing. Put it all together to make the masterpiece!
  • Choosing the size of your slice so it’s easy to try more than one – Similar to diversity, having more than one experience is key to living an artistic life. But don’t stop there. Get diversity of experiences, diversity of skills, diversity of jobs. All of these can produce different outcomes and solutions no one saw coming. Apply experiences from one field to strengthen another! I’ve seen this work so many times. It’s worth finding the answers in places others don’t see them.

Most of all, being an artist is seeing the image in the unknown and being able to extract it for the world to see and benefit from. Being an artist is knowing something exists that no one else can see and bringing it into the world. Whether that is pizza, or whether that is a new culture that can provide greater results for your organization.

The key to being an HR artist is the same as being a culinary artist, or regular artist – it is putting all your skills, thoughts, passion, and logic into proving that something is more than it appears.

By the way, Bonci has only two restaurants worldwide. One in Rome. The other in Chicago. Luckily, being a Chicagoan, I know pizza. I’ve had Bonci’s art, and I can say, it is beautiful!

My visit to Bonci’s Chicago November 2022.

In whatever it is you do in life, Buon appetito!!

© 2023 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved

Paul’s Top Five Reads in 2022

“…a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone. That’s why I read so much, Jon Snow.” – Tyrion Lannister

Reading is a gateway to wisdom. Harry Truman was quoted as saying, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

Whether you’re leading a multiunit HR team, or leading an HR department of one, reading is a must for every HR professional. Without reading and thinking, the mind – much like the body without exercise – becomes withered and useless. I encourage everyone seeking to be a leader, or a better version of themselves (often the two are not mutually exclusive), that reading opens the pathway to many abilities some consider to be marketable!

But HR professionals should not stick to HR books only. We can find wisdom, encouragement, solutions, and so much more in books that expand beyond our normal horizonal interests. Be open to different sources. Challenge yourself and grow.

So, in that spirit, I wanted to share my top five favorite reads of 2022!

Discipline Is Destiny: The Power of Self-Control by Ryan Holiday

Long time readers of this blog know that Stoicism has influenced who I am as a person. When Ryan Holiday announced that he was releasing a series of books on the four key virtues of ancient philosophy. In the second book of his series, he tackles temperance, moderation, self-discipline. Today we live in a world of extremes. There seems to be no room in the middle for balance. Without balance there is no discipline, and without discipline work isn’t accomplished as well as it can be or should be.

Key take away: Discipline is the ability to keep oneself in line. It’s the ability to ensure that we stay on course, our course. That takes courage (the virtue from Holiday’s first book). Cultivating self-discipline takes time, commitment, and determination. Eventually, results follow.

Key passage: “This is what you find when you study the true masters of any profession. They don’t care about winning, about money, about fame, about most of the things that have come their way as a result of their success. Their journey has always been toward something bigger. They aren’t running a race against the competition. They are in a battle with themselves.” (pg. 283)

The World According to Star Wars by Cass Sunstein

I am a Star Wars nerd. Not just original trilogy nerd. I am a nerd for so much more! I love the Disney+ TV series, I love the Clone Wars series, and many of the comics. I dig into the philosophy of what made Star War, well, Star Wars. Cass Sunstein is a foremost expert on human behavior and how it relates to economics and public policy. As a fellow nerd, you could feel his passionate take on the legend of George Lucas and how his vision shaped society, families, public policy, economics, and political uprisings. There’s so much for HR pros in this book!

Key take away: Everything boils down to choice. Our outside environment does have influence over our internal environment, but ultimately, we can only control one. In fact, choice is a key theme in Star Wars philosophy and canon. The biggest storylines in the Star Wars world center around choice – Anikan Skywalker turning to the dark side, Luke Skywalker leaving his home planet of Tatooine and join the rebellion, Han Solo sacrificing himself for Leia and Chewbacca, and Darth Vader turning back to the light. There are so many more, but according to Sunstein, the freedom of choice is the deepest lesson from George Lucas.

Key passage: “Star Wars pays due tribute to the importance of distance and serene detachment. But its rebel heart embraces intense attachments to particular people, even in the face of lightning bolts from the Emperor himself. At the decisive moment, children save their parents. They are grown. They announce their choice: ‘I am a Jedi, like my father before me.’” (pg. 184)

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

From one book discussing the power of choice to THE ultimate statement that codifies how powerful choice is. In 2001 I toured Dachau Concentration Camp in Bavaria, Germany. It was one of the most haunting feelings I ever experienced. Seeing the showers, the ovens. Arbeit macht frei. I cannot quite explain how I felt. The silence of the visitors was deafening. It was as if the ghosts of the fallen were with us as a warning of man’s malevolence. Viktor Frankl survived the camp. His entire family did not. He codified his experience and the psychology around it in this masterpiece. It should be mandatory reading for all students in every country. I’m somewhat ashamed it took me this long to read it.

Key take away: Mankind can be evil. Mankind can be unimaginably cruel. I’m not sure if the Holocaust is the worst thing humanity has done to itself, but I’m hard pressed to think of something worse. Yet, through all of it, humanity retains a beautiful kindness, a wonderful sense of purpose and selflessness. Ultimately, we retain the choice to be good, even in the presence of unmitigated malevolence. Not to degrade or downplay the real struggles we all face, but if someone doesn’t lose themselves in the pit of Auschwitz, what excuse do the rest of us have?

Key passage: “…everything can be taken from a man except one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (pg. 66)

How to Have Difficult Conversations About Race: Practical Tools for Necessary Change in the Workplace and Beyond by Kwame Christian

Earlier in my career, a company leader made a racist remark in front of me. I regret to this day not confronting them about it then and there. It’s not an excuse, but at the time, I wasn’t equipped or prepared. I froze because I lacked the courage to say SOMETHING. Since that moment, I never wanted to be caught off guard again. So, I dedicated myself to education – to learn how to handle this situation if it ever happened again. I dedicated myself to justice, so I dove in and read whatever I could, talked to Black colleague, shut up and learned! I call on all WHITE professionals to do the same. Thankfully, Kwame Christian’s book has been released as an amazing primer for building the knowledge and courage to do what NEEDS to be done. Folks have no excuse and cannot look to others to solve this problem. White folks have to be active, steadfast, and act accordingly. Christian’s book is an amazing starting point.

Key take away: Talking about race is hard for everyone. However, it’s not only necessary, but it’s the only way through the problems we face to get better on the other side. Being scared isn’t an excuse. Being ignorant isn’t acceptable. Being avoidant doesn’t solve anything. The only thing that works is getting uncomfortable and doing the work.

Key passage: “There’s no easy way around it. The best way to begin to reclaim your power in these conversations is by leaning in and having them. Every conversation is a practice opportunity.”  (pg. 35)

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink

I’m not so certain of the old adage, “timing is everything.” I don’t think it’s everything, but it’s certainly a HUGE part of the equation. Sometime, timing is out of our control. Sometimes, it’s the right project but the wrong time. Much of the time, however, timing can be within our control. When do we do our best work? When do we make better decisions? When can we focus best? These things can be controlled, argues Daniel Pink, and not only can we control them, but the BEST leaders learn WHEN to control them!

Key take away: The best part about this book is two fold. First, Pink uses really powerful scientific studies and data to define his arguments, and he does it in a way that distills it down into easy to understand talking points. Second, he takes these talking points and builds a “how to guide” at the end of each chapter. He melds science with actionable tips to help the reader take the next step. It’s done quite brilliantly!

Key passage: “Calls held first thing in the morning turned out to be reasonably upbeat and positive. But as the day progressed, the ‘tone grew more negative and less resolute.’ … In other words, even when the  researchers factored in economic news or firm fundamentals, afternoon calls ‘were more negative, irritable, and combative’ than morning calls.” (pg. 18)

HR’s Karma: Legacy HR Must Pass

Photo by Jacub Gomez on Pexels.com

“Karma means your life is your making. Karmic accumulation can either be a Boost or Burden – that is your choice.” — Sadhguru

I just finished the article “What Will HR Look Like in 2030?” I’m strategic. I want to know that I am three moves ahead. So, I read up to see where I stood according to industry experts. What I read instead gave me pause.

Overall, HR is not situating their organizations for future needs, and therefore, success. At least that’s the message I got from reading the article. It made me wonder if I am in the right profession. I am in human resources for people. I want people to succeed, to grow, and to become something more. According to the article, the professional I associate with is none of those things.

When it comes to technology and working with employees, “HR leaders are stuck in yesterday’s world,” said Suneet Dua, products and technology chief revenue and growth officer at PwC.

Regarding the employee experience, Keahn Gary, a senior manager and innovation and disruption strategist at Cognizant, a global IT services and consulting firm in Los Angeles, says this isn’t a job for HR. Why is that? She states that “HR, in its current state, is there to protect the company. Their purview is more along the lines of ‘How do we get employment to happen?’ rather than ‘How do we get work to happen?’ ”

To be fair, HR had over 100 years to focus on the employee experience in some form or another and neglected to do so. Gary continued by saying organizations are “way too focused on shareholder return. We have to stop looking at employees as cost centers and look at them as an investment.”

The story continues. Florian Pollner, a partner with McKinsey & Co. who is based in Zurich, believes that HR is adverse to data. “HR needs to make a mindset shift from ‘data automation is evil.’ If you don’t see data as our best friend … you’re not doing your job.”

Ultimately, what is going on here? HR shouldn’t be thought of as a monolithic body. It is a profession that takes on diverse roles across diverse organizations across a diverse world. However, there is a central theme all HR professionals need to spend time studying.

I’ve shared at least a dozen times the importance of the book Redefining HR: Transforming People Teams to Drive Business Performance by Lars Schmidt.

This book is a game changer. It NEEDS to be on the mantel of EVERY HR practitioner. It’s that important and groundbreaking, in my opinion. Schmidt’s main theme is that HR is changing (or needs to change), and HR professionals must take ownership in this change – be active in it, not simply be passengers in the revolution.

Schmidt’s emphasis is on changing “legacy HR” to “modern HR.” For any HR system to thrive, he argues, it needs to shift and embrace Modern HR, as outlined below:

Legacy HR: 

  • Elaborate programs with them as gatekeeper of corporate decisions 
  • Needlessly complex processes, forms, policies 
  • Go to HR when you’re in trouble 
  • “That’s the policy.”  
  • “You need to file this form before we can process.” 

Modern HR: 

  • Refocus on the “people” 
  • Common sense programs supporting an environment where employees can do their best work 
  • Go to HR when you need strategic support and guidance – strategic thought partners 
  • Solutions based ideas – get to “yes” unless it’s illegal or stupid 
  • Analytics – DATA driven 

Growing up, my mom always told me “What goes around comes around.” She tried to impart wisdom unto me that how I treated others would come back on me. Treat people like garbage, and I will be treated like garbage. Treat people well, and I will be treated well. Not necessarily by those people from whom received my actions, but in the largest sense, the Universe.

Ultimately, this was my mom’s way of saying the Universe (or God) is watching and will dish out what I deserved. Said another way, karma’s a bitch. Or sometimes it’s a sweetheart!

Legacy HR has prompted the Universe to rain upon my profession an acidic rain. I seek restorative justice for people, but decades of Legacy HR has left us vulnerable and our people suffering. HR has much to overcome – a majority of it done to itself.

It’s more complicated, I’d argue, of course. Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. Good and bad are just concepts that humans attach to neutral events and situations, so even there, good and bad are just reflections of the owner.

But I can’t help but notice that ultimately in my experience, there does seem to be a mystical karmic spirit in the Universe. Maybe the Universe truly is watching. Or maybe the Universe is largely indifferent and uncaring. Ultimately, we are what we think, and those who put good vibes in the world tend to see good vibes return to them. The same can be said of those who put out negative vibes.

According to Hindu philosophy, Karma is any action. Every action or intention, whether physical or mental, creates an energy that is sent into the universe, which comes back to you in the future. Some consider it a spiritual equivalent of Newton’s law. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

I recently read an Instagram post about the “12 Laws of Karma.” This article from wellandgood.com here, on which I base much from this article, is a great primer. If what we put out into the Universe is returned to us, what does this mean for those HR pros who want to move on from Legacy HR and to usher in Modern HR? Well, maybe the 12 Laws affect us in these ways…

1. The Great Law: Whatever we put into the universe will come back to us.

HR Implications: This one seems easy enough. Be kind, and you will have kindness. Work hard, and others will work hard for you. Respect, and you will be respected. The beautiful thing is that each of these beginnings are within our sphere of control – we can choose to be kind, work hard, and be respectful. What we get in this life is under our direct influence (mostly). If you want HR to be seen as impactful, do impactful things. If you want HR to be respected, do respectful things. Knock down old barriers to success within the organization. Craft and implement policies that enhance others, add value to their experiences, and build them up. Work for others, and you will have this returned to you.

2. The Law of Creation: Life doesn’t happen by itself. We must actively go out there and make it happen.

HR Implications: Legacy HR is something we need to actively challenge! When someone says “Uh oh, HR is here. Who’s fired?” This is Legacy HR. When a team is talking about the water cooler and then goes silent when HR walks in. That’s Legacy HR. When someone needs to turn in their mother’s obituary to get Bereavement Leave approved, that’s Legacy HR. The world is changing. HR practitioners must change with it, and actively! We cannot sit on the sidelines and let the world dictate what HR is. We know it better than anyone else, and we must show up with humanistic, people-focused solutions. Otherwise, our world will be dictated to us, and Legacy remains reality.

3. The Law of Humility: In order to change something in your life, you first have to accept it as it currently exists.

HR Implications: We need to do a self-audit. Anyone who clings to Legacy HR needs to retire, change professions, or change their minds. And anyone with modern tendencies need to help them with this journey! Nothing will change without an honest look at what we do and how we do it. We must acknowledge that Legacy HR is real, and we need to do away with it! If it doesn’t add value to the journey onto Modern HR, then it needs to go. There is no movement without friction, and honest self-acceptance bridges the gap between friction and progress.

4. The Law of Growth: When we change ourselves, our lives follow suit and change, as well.

HR Implications: Once we accept that HR as it has been (and in some instances is) practiced is a big part of the issue, then we can open up the doors towards true change. The only people who can advocate and change themselves are themselves. Continue to be better. Continue advocating and making changes for the betterment of our people, and overtime, we will see growth and change in the profession and our professionals.

5. The Law of Responsibility: We must take ownership for what is in our lives.

HR Implications: This is related to the Law of Humility. We must humble ourselves and take radical ownership in changing the profession. Radical ownership requires humility and is a consequence of humility. Jenn Kennedy states it perfectly when she writes that radical ownership is “when you put that radical responsibility into action. You have a plan, and you own the hell out of it. You take the initiative, and you realize that you and only you are responsible for executing your plan. You are the one that’s accountable for it all.”

6. The Law of Connection: The law of connection states that everything (including nature, people, time) is connected in some way, including the past, the present, and the future.

HR Implications: This is one of the hardest things for many to conceptualize – especially in the west where individualization takes such a priority. Individualism is important, yes, but it cannot be at the expense of balance. All living an non-living things are part of one existence – one being. Time as well is an illusion. The past is connected to now. It’s the reason that we are struggling as a profession with lasting impact and being taken seriously. However, the future is connected to the now. We cannot change the past, but we can change tomorrow if we actively work towards our plan. Similarly, HR is connected to every part of the organization, so we are prime to fight the stigma that Legacy HR has bogged down our profession.

7. The Law of Force (or Focus): The law of force states that you cannot put your energy toward two things simultaneously. One cannot think of two things at the same time.

HR Implications: Many people claim to be excellent at multitasking, but the research continues to show this is not the case. People cannot split their attention without splitting their results. We get distracted, less effective when we try focusing on too many initiatives at once. Like the old saying goes, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. Focus on changing HR with one thing at a time, and we will accomplish much more, and with better results.

8. The Law of Giving and Hospitality: Our behaviors should match our thoughts. Think selflessness, being giving to others, and practicing what you preach.

HR Implications: Many folks talk about being people centric, but policies say the opposite. To create true change requires dismantling those parts of the system that create distress, distrust, and disgust. It will take courage, justice, patience, but it is important to walk the walk. Talking is meaningless at best, and detrimental at worst, without accompanying action.

9. The Law of Here and Now: One cannot be present if one is looking to the past or to the future.

HR Implications: Mindfulness is something of a misunderstood term, if not an annoying buzzword. The concept has been around for millennium in religions and philosophies both eastern and western. Modern science confirms what ancient mystics knew. Mindful practice boosts mood, gratitude, and health. The only moment that truly exists is this one. The past doesn’t exist. The future doesn’t exist. Only the here and now matters toward ultimate change and positivity. Focus on what needs to be done today and do the work.

10. The Law of Change: To make change, we must acknowledge and learn the lesson.

HR Implications: Pema Chödrön wrote in When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” Learning is part of growing. This is why failure is the greatest teacher. But it is only a great teacher if we are good students. We must listen to the lesson. We need to pay attention to what the Universe is trying to show us. This requires humility, reflection, and acknowledgement.

11. The Law of Patience and Reward Consistent work pays off.

HR Implications: Show up and do the work, and rewards follow. Keep moving forward. Don’t stop. We can slow down as needed – it’s a must at times, especially when our health is at risk. But we must never stop moving forward. The journey commands it. The future of our profession truly needs those who consistently battle against the Legacy HR that still plagues our people. Do the work for them, and we all see the rewards.

12. The Law of Significance and Inspiration: We all have value due to our unique gifts.

HR Implications: This journey will take many amazing HR folks, folks with different skills, experiences, and ideas. We all have amazing talents, unique abilities, and gifts. Our role is to share our gifts with the world and make a meaningful impact. It will happen. Not immediately but slowly over time – little by little, brick by brick until a new foundation is created for a brilliant city! This new city will be one where people are valued. Just remember, you are not small nor unimportant. Your contribution to the world is needed. It is important – we are all connected, and your connection is as vital as anyone else’s.

HR pros, our karma was sent into the Universe over the past decades. We are seeing the outcome from this inattentiveness to people. We get back what we put forth. Those professionals who succeed us deserve better, and they will get what we put forth. What we do affects our lives, their lives, and the lives of our people in a major ways, whether we’re aware of it or not.

Karma helps provide us a compass towards a better environment. It helps us understand that what we do affects us and the world around us. The more good we can collectively put out into the Universe helps provide us all a better place to live. But it starts with our selves.

Do good. Be good. Good returns.

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved

#WISHRM22: A Recap of Conferencing Exploits!

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

The restorative power of conferences is well known or should be. We go to conferences for many reasons – learning and development, the primary one, but these events can be so much more if one decides for them to be.

This past week, I took part in the Wisconsin State SHRM Conference. This was my second time attending the event, and it was phenomenal in every sense of the word. This was without a doubt in my mind the best HR conference I have been to in a long while – for many reasons.

New principles, new ideas, old friends and new friends, powerful presenters and speakers, books and vendor halls… I made memories that will last for a lifetime. It was incredibly well organized, and the Conference Committee, every single volunteer, and the entire WISHRM group should be lauded and celebrated. Truly, a fantastic effort.

WISHRM 2022 reminded me why I got into the people profession, and it helped give me refocused purpose. Here are my top takeaways and memories from WISHRM 2022.

1. My Community

There is a fantastic Vox article titled: Why community matters so much — and how to find yours. “A community can serve as a social safety net, but finding one and becoming a part of it is different from simply making friends,” the article’s tagline states, and I couldn’t agree more!

This event is a reminder that I have found a community in the human resources and people ops space. I have found friends, colleagues, and mentors. Though, I feel, I have found so much more. The #HRCommunity is special. Whether it’s the empathy that pulls people towards the profession, or the kindness, I have found an amazing bunch of folks to lean on and learn from. There can be bad apples in any profession or group, and many times there are, but this event cemented to me that the best of the best rise to the top and overshadow negative influences.

Thank you:

Kyra Matkovich

Tina Marie Wohlfield

Mary Williams

Jeff Palkowski

Christie Engler

Tom Daniels

Cheri Brenton

Taylor Forshee

Emily Smith

Andrew Marcotte

Matthew Stollak

Jay Stephany

And SO MANY OTHERS who couldn’t be there in person but were there in spirit. It’s impossible to name everyone who has contributed to this wonderful community of friendship, respect, and perseverance.

2. Greg Hawks and the Rapids of Change

I had the pleasure of seeing Greg Hawks at Illinois State SHRM Conference in 2017. It was my first HR conference, and I was blow away. Greg, particularly, was inspiring, so seeing him again was something I was looking forward to, and he didn’t disappoint!

I noticed that a lot of his “Rapids of Change” keynote, whether intentionally or not, reminded me of the Stoicism I so value.

  • #ILoveObstacles (The obstacle is the way…)
  • Control what you can, navigate the rest (the Dichotomy of Control)
  • Take time to build relationships and community (Sympatheia)
  • Time isn’t our issue, it’s how we use it (Memento Mori)
  • Own you “suckage” and use it to overcome insecurity (Ego is the enemy)
  • Make a decision! It’s a gift. You’re in leadership! (The duty and privilege to do what is necessary)
  • Terrain change – lean in, grab hold, and hang on! (Nothing is permanent, and everything is change)
  • Misaligned values at an organization will lead to friction for the individual (The Cardinal Virtues)

I think it goes to show that if we study ancient wisdom, again whether knowingly or not, we have unlimited chances to address modern challenges/opportunities. What is happening, has happened before, and will happen again. We just need to make connections with the past to the present for a better future – and ACT accordingly!

#HRSocialHour Half Hour Podcast, for life.

3. Shawn Gulyas and the “Force” of Your Culture

The theme of this year’s conference was Star Wars inspired, so I was geeked – literally! A huge Star Wars fan and a culture nerd, I had to go to an event about the Force and organizational culture!

Shawn Gulyas was inspirational with his realistic approach to ELEVATING workplace culture. He was engaging, and I quickly connected with him on LinkedIn, so I could continue learning from him. There were so many key take aways form this session, but here are my favorite (which were admittedly hard to narrow down):

  • Endurance – it doesn’t have to be pretty! Just move.
  • The Three Minds – There is the cognitive mind (IQ), affective mind (EQ), and the conative mind, connecting IQ and EQ to behavior. Shawn asks, “how would you do it your way if there were no rules?”
  • New Leadership Model for 2023 – What do you expect from people leaders? Set CLEAR expectations and then hold folks to them. (It’s not really “new” but for many folks, it might be!)
  • “Batteries Included” – All reviews should be simple and easy for ownership. People own their performance, not managers! Managers are facilitators who provide feedback and resources and accountability.
  • Gratitude – All meeting should have the following: BIG, RIG, FIG… Begin in gratitude, respond in gratitude, and finish in gratitude.
  • The Eight

Also, Shawn had a cool lightsaber from Star Wars land in Disney. I told him about my Darth Vader model, and he said he needed the Yoda model. To each their own! 😊

#ThumbKyra made several appearances at the conference!

4. Tina Marie Wohlfield and HR’s Value Chain

I have been in the nonprofit sector my entire career. Value chains are something I am aware of but unfamiliar with at large. I’ve never needed to know about them outside of theory in college. So, I was very curious to see Tina Marie’s presentation to see how I could (1) learn something new (or refamiliarize myself with value chains) and (2) figure out how to adapt this idea to the nonprofit sector.

Tina Marie DID NOT disappoint. She had one of my favorite slides of the event (see below). Porter’s Value Chain model was adapted by Tina Marie for HR. As an academic nerd, this floored me!

If Tina Marie’s model doesn’t clearly outline the integrated nature of HR at most organizations, then I’m not sure what can! This isn’t the end all be all, however. HR pros need to put value and metrics to this model – translated as dollars and cents. This is the language of most businesses, and yes, even nonprofit organizations. Without money, how can they achieve their mission?

HR is not a necessary evil that functions as a compliance arm only. HR is a DRIVER of value, expansion, culture, and innovation. It needs to be treated as such for any organization to succeed in the 21st century landscape.

HR’s Role in the Value Chain by Tina Marie Wohfield

5. Dima Ghawi and DEI+B

Dima Ghawi is an inspiring individual. She shared how she immigrated to America, got out of an abusive marriage, and received a chance opportunity at a bank, which helped launch her career. DEI+B is more than a catchphrase or trend for Dima. It is about all of us. Aside form her personal stories, the one thing that will stick with me the most is her story about bamboo.

She explained that bamboo grows roots for five years. It works to get completely grounded until it shoots up and up and up! Progress is slow. Change is resisted. Sometimes it doesn’t look like you’re making progress, but your roots are getting stable and deep. Just keep moving, and you will grow and blossom!

Dima’s slide on bamboo.

6. The Ripple Guy

WISHRM 2022 saved one of the best for last. I love when a conference can close on a really strong note! Paul Wesselmann is known as the Ripple Guy. He started a weekly email that sent a quote to those who signed up as a way to inspire people. What began as an organic way of bringing joy blossomed into a massive community. As Paul said, a tiny pebble can cause massive waves! Some of the key take aways from his session include:

  • You are worth getting nervous for! You have value!
  • Our jobs in this world isn’t necessarily to become someone or something different, but to find out who we already are and become them!
  • There is no perfect version of yourself. Keep swimming, give yourself grace. Growth is not linear!
  • There is no mental health. There is no physical health. There is only health.
  • Find the greatness in your smallness!
  • What is it time to let go of?

7. My First HR Conference Session

I’ve had the honor of speaking at conferences before – mostly on HR topics such as trends, best principles, etc. Until this week, I never spoke at an HR conference. (I did speak at Disrupt HR St. Louis, but that was for five minutes 😊).

Social Media and the HR Professional! My first HR Conference session!

WISHRM 2022 changed all that! I got to speak in front of a room of 100 HR professionals. I got to speak on my own life stories. I got to provide a different point of view to a room of eager listeners. It was awesome, validating, transformative! My story was about the power of social media for HR professionals. I got to share how social media changed me as a person for the better, opened doors I never knew existed, and provided me confidence in ways I never expected. I am so grateful and thankful for all my peeps who supported and encouraged me along the way. I won’t forget my first HR conference as a speaker, and I am excited to take on Illinois SHRM Conference in a week! Who knows what is next, and it doesn’t matter. I’m enjoying the ride now!

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved

Change Only Thyself

Photo by S Migaj on Pexels.com

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” — Leo Tolstoy

Note: I wrote this as a random scattering of thoughts following a tumultuous June. Mass shootings, the end of Roe v. Wade, January 6th Hearings – a United States in crisis. It was therapeutic to write… I’m not projecting any solutions other than continuing to work on myself. I can change nothing but myself. If you want to change the world, change yourself. I learned this from a very intelligent source.

I had a whole bunch of new blog post ideas that I was working on. I was reaching out to folks to discuss their ideas, work on some collaborations, and tease out some really cool posts.

All that just seems… I am unsure… pointless? That isn’t the right word. It’s too strong. I will eventually write about the ideas I had. But for now, there seems to be bigger things going on in the world, and I lack motivation… that’s a me issue, though.

I am an amateur historian. I majored in it in college; and though I didn’t pursue it in grad school, history has always remained with me in spirit. If one studies it intently and purposefully, they will realize there is nothing new under the sun.

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.”

As far as American History is concerned, we never were one country. The divide we now see has been with us since 1776 – probably longer. It’s just been masked at different times, subdued during different eras, magnified in others.

South of the Mason-Dixon Line, this territory has always been what it is today – conservative, slow going, religious. Racism has existed here since the advent of chaining Black folks into Constitutionally sanctioned bondage simply because they were Black.

North of the Mason-Dixon Line isn’t “pure,” however. Slavery existed there, too, sometimes well past the time it was abolished. Chicago, for example, is considered one of the most segregated cities in the US, north or south. One of the worst race riots in history happened in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1917.

If you look at the political lines today, they almost mirror the political lines from the Civil War. America was never a country of E Pluribus Unum. Likely, E Pluribus Divisa makes more sense, or turbat societatem – “uneasy alliance.” Like Aurelius had wrote, more eloquently, America today is the same shit, just different century. Our tumultuous time isn’t new. It isn’t a changing America. This is and always has been America.

This recent article by the Atlantic does a superbly better job than I could at outlining this Country’s complex (and sometimes overlooked) history.

Our world continues to appear shattered at the seams, but I am not so certain it was ever tightly woven to begin with. I don’t have answers. All I have is my actions, how I behave. I’m not perfect, but I continue to try as hard as I can to behave with compassion, courage, kindness towards our fellow communities.

Ultimately, I circle back to myself. Where am I? How am I? What am I doing to make myself better, and thus the world around me better? I try to have a micro-focus as anything I do will not change the world. Anything I do will not end racism. Anything I do will not end hatred. Anything I do is ultimately nothing but dust in a universe that is large, unforgiving, and careless.

However, I focus on the micro because I may not end racism, but I can end my contributions to racism – around my world. I don’t have to tolerate it, and thus it becomes weakened in my presence. The same for hatred.

“I am convinced that people are much better off when their whole city is flourishing than when certain citizens prosper but the community has gone off course. When a man is doing well for himself but his country is falling to pieces he goes to pieces along with it, but a struggling individual has much better hopes if his country is thriving.” — Pericles, Athens 431 BC.

I believe in this quote by Pericles now more than ever. It seems like this is where we are now, and it’s a place many of us have forgotten. I want only “me me me me,” and I want it at the expense of everyone else. When the bee suffers, the hive suffers. When the hive suffers, so does the bee. Humanity has seemingly lost sight of this fact, if they ever believed it. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

I cannot change the world, but I can change myself. I can’t stop the world from burning, but I don’t have to spread the flames. And sometimes, maybe through my actions, I can help put out a little bit of the fire.

Maybe I can start by pushing through and writing those other collaborative pieces I discussed earlier on.

Be good to one another. We’re all we really have, or ever will.

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved

Street Level Influencer – Meet Aly McKinster

Aly McKinster.

“The business of business is relationships; the business of life is human connection.” — Robin Sharma

For the first time in almost 10 months, I bring you the Street Level Influencer series! It’s been a minute, that’s for sure! 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 seemingly all over. 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 shared stories from:

  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
  11. Rhonda Owens
  12. Dan Huber
  13. Shenise Cook
  14. Scott McCullough
  15. Kim Bozeman

One of the most consequential lessons I learned in workplace life (or just life in general) is the importance of relationships. Relationships guide and direct all we do, especially in an HR context. If the relationship sucks, chances are the experience will suck. If the relationship is awesome, chances are the experience will be awesome.

The next Street Level Influencer is a MASTER of the relationship! Aly McKinster is a Client Manager at Wipfli, Inc., and her expertise is in the Predictive Index (PI) behavioral assessment.

I first met Aly in 2021 when we were bringing PI into my workplace. The main reason we wanted PI was that it offered a comprehensive tool to strengthen relationships, communication, and development of our staff.

I could not be happier to have Aly by my side as I took on the massive undertaking of introducing PI to the organization! Aly was kind, patient, understanding, and pretty much an amazing human being the entire time! Since I first met her, I can honestly say that she’s now a good friend. She has challenged me to think differently, and she has been an advocate in my corner – propping me up when I want to slump! She is simply, awesome.

So, without further ado, here is my interview with Aly! ENJOY!

So, tell us about Predictive Index. What is it about PI that you find so valuable?

I am a scrappy human that likes creative solutions that solve problems quickly, without a ton of pain. I also like anything in life that helps bring people closer to their authentic self. PI’s tools support this from multiple facets.

I’m also an artist so a lot of business things are challenging for me, so I like to remove as much friction as possible and then teach other teams how we achieved this.

I HATED team sports growing up. I am a perfectionist; I over think literally everything (including all parts of human behavior) so the chance that I could perform in a way that would ever affect others negatively is really tough for me. I have never found a tool that works as quick and well as PI as it relates to understanding teams.

My Why is to help as many people not feel the way that I have in multiple dynamics in my life. I like to remove any friction I can between people, systems, and technology. PI empowers humans to have better relationships and team dynamics where open communication is encouraged.

The tool also encourages diversity of thought which is so so important in today’s world. If we come at a problem only viewing it from a few degrees, we are missing the totality of the issue. We therefore cannot create the best solution and outcome.

I care a lot about mental health, more on this in a later question… but poor mental health is either enflamed by or originates from stress. When you stop making people work in a way that drains them, they can have more energy for their work, families, and communities. These tools help identify the things that really drain and stress each person out. When you’re working with your gifts you feel valued.

Do you have any stories you’re willing to share of you using PI to improve a workplace relationship?

PI has improved all of my workplace relationships. We use the tools internally at Wipfli when we have any discussions around people. Often, when two people are very similar, or completely opposite, they can have the most dissonance. It’s human nature to form connections between data (people’s actions) and then assume things based on previous experiences. These tools break down the barrier of communication and allow people to objectively describe themselves so that they feel more comfy discussing the more subjective topics with their colleagues.

PI doesn’t solve all things in relationships, but it does pull back the curtain so that deeper topics that need to be discussed can be discussed.

I have too many stories with my clients to share here, maybe that could be another blog!

We’ve discussed before the importance that mental health advocacy has played in our worlds. Why do you feel mental health conversations need to happen more frequently?

This is a topic I am deeply passionate about! I believe every situation is an opportunity to find strength and use our gifts in unique ways.

If we’re talking from a pure business standpoint, mental health issues critically affect team dynamics and the way we engage in peer relationships and client engagements. But it doesn’t need to be a negative.

For example, one employee may have had challenging family dynamics. These folks may often turn to people facing roles with lots of collaboration. They can have gifts in assembling teams and noticing literally everything no one else sees as they often had to find creative ways to get their needs met in their family dynamic. They will also bring that strength to their clients, no one will care about clients more than these people.

Business is about relationships. Relationships between people, processes, and technology. When a product is broken, it’s noticed and fixed. When a process is broken, it’s noticed and fixed. And hopefully, the pain points are minimized due to addressing the needs.

When a person is broken, though, a lot of times no one sees it. Ultimately, when someone can’t get help or get an opportunity to get a fix (like a process or product), the organization has unattended, unseen pain points.

People need time, space, and opportunity to heal. Some of the smartest people you have ever worked with in business have been through some very complicated things mentally.

Being open and talking about mental health is the only way to address the pain points – it’s not only the human thing to do, but it’s good for business as it allows people to address and hopefully fix their pain points. They can then get back to sharing their gifts with the company and world.

Something that is also close to my heart is the connection between neurodiversity and mental health. It is so important to talk about neurodiversity from a mental health context in the workplace. Neurodiverse people have special gifts and special challenges. For example, I have ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and OCD, which leads me to overthinking.  I need quiet to best focus and reset, but the gifts I’ve been granted are hyper-creativity and the ability to quickly connect and share stories with people. I’ve been able to build communities and teams rapidly. The blind spots, well there is a lot of them, so thank goodness for PI tools and great mentors!

You mention that Wipfli has been such a great company to work for. What makes them a great place to work?

I truthfully never thought I could sustain working in the business world as the creative that I am, until I met Wipfli. Wipfli is the first company I have worked with that’s truly seen my gifts and allowed me to use them without putting me down when I fail. Wipfli lets us use our gifts to best serve our clients. They support growth in a nurturing way like something I haven’t experienced before.

Leaders in this organization saw things in me that I had yet to discover about myself. Example, aligning me to the nonprofit industry. Employees in nonprofits have a level of empathy that a lot people cannot understand. They often serve people that are just like them growing up. This means, they really, really get it. Sometimes too much. There is no lack of passion, people all care so much about others that they sometimes need someone to remind them to care about themselves. Back to my why, I love to help empower others to be the best version of themselves and this includes a ton of self-care (communication tools are self-care).

Lastly, and probably most importantly, I get to be myself. I feel seen. I feel heard. I could not sing better praises about Wipfli, and I plan to retire here if they will let me. 😊

What is one simple thing that HR leaders can do today to make their place of employment a better place to work?

Bring tools to the workplace that can help people feel seen and heard – tools that highlight individual strengths. These tools allow us to bring the human to the forefront. When people feel seen and heard, they feel safer, they form better relationships, and they do better work. Period. We are all humans that ultimately seek connection, love, and acceptance. Start with figuring out how everyone in the org can have the opportunity to feel these things if they so choose.

What is one book you’ve read that has influenced your leadership style? Why?

Start with Why by Simon Sinek. I have always been an incredibly curious person. I have found if you can discover what motivates everyone at their core (their why), you can connect with that person much quicker and discover what they actually need and what can help them. Life is so complicated at times.

Oddly enough, Co-Dependent No More by Melody Beattie is another one. I have always struggled with being in an environment where others are upset because I am a “people feeler” myself (naturally inclined to respect feelings).  Especially in the workplace because I know how hard it is to get things done when people are feeling disconnected and/or are in a space where they are not open. This book allowed me to realize that I cannot change others’ feelings. All I can do is become the best version of myself. Don’t adapt to the room – influence the room!

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

I have to pick 2, and this is hard as I have been blessed with more mentors than I could have ever hoped for at Wipfli.

First, Marcie Bomberg. She is my mentor at Wipfli, and my life has been completely transformed by her brilliance, kindness, generosity, and time. Marcie leads strategy for our organizational performance sector. If you have a business or organizational strategy, just call Marcie. Marcie is a master in helping people and businesses/organizations reframe the way they think so that they can become the best versions of themselves. She has helped me change the way I view myself as a professional and has empowered me to bring my gifts to the world. She taught me that being myself is my power, what I’ve been through is my power, and that I do not have to dim my light to uplift others. She has helped me reframe the way that I view myself in business, which was needed for a hippie like me! 😊

Second, Kathleen Dubois. She is the leader of our Non-Profit sector at Wipfli. She cares about people in a way that is incredibly rare to find in business these days. If you have an issue, Kathleen is the guide you need to find the solution because she just simply gets it, and cares. Everyone feels better after being in a room with Kathleen.

I know some people say that work should not be family, but for me it is. Being around energy like what Kathleen and Marcie bring to work helps me in all areas of my development and life.

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

People are burnt the F out. Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally. Many studies have shown that our brains are literally short-circuiting short-term memory situations as our brain is trying to the pandemic from our memories as a defense mechanism. The pandemic changed the way that people look at the world, how they relate, and fit into it.  Business changed; relationships changed.

Not everyone fills their cup and regains energy the same way which is also why I love the PI tool set. It helps you understand, quickly, what motivates, demotivates, and drains a person. It also shares what will help people gain their energy back (for me it’s getting in with a team, helping them all figure out their best and highest use and how to make work easier so there’s more energy for them outside of work).

How can people connect with you?

Message me at Alyson.Mckinster@Wipfli.com! I would love to hear from you. I am also on LinkedIn.

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

I’ve been writing music since I was 4! I play 8 instruments and have written over 1,000 songs. I try to use my knowledge for song writing in the way that I engage with business. I also love to create food without recipes as part of my neurodiversity. I literally cannot read directions! 😊

Oh, and I’ve sang at Carnegie Hall, and also fell asleep singing for Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. It was a long flight over there. 😊

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved

It’s Not About the Tattoos

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“When you dominate other people’s emotions, the time has to come when you have to pay, and heavily, for that privilege.” – Ethel Waters

“Force can overcome force, but a free society cannot long steel itself to dominate another people by sheer force.” – Dean Acheson

I got my first tattoo when I was 18. My father wasn’t too keen on the idea. I had made up my mind when I was 16 or 17, so it didn’t matter. It’s an Irish cross on my left shoulder. The ink, it has held up well over the years. I am lucky that my skin takes well to tattoos. One never knows, right?

I’ve gotten many more since. I like them all. No regrets. I have two half sleeves. They can all be covered up if I wanted to. And that was by design. I didn’t want them to interfere with my professional advancement. Tattoos were (and still are in many circles) seen as unprofessional.

Originally, this blog post was meant to discuss why tattoos shouldn’t factor in any definition of professionalism. However, a recent conversation on Twitter made me rethink the meaning and reasoning behind what I was writing, and why.

It’s not about the tattoos.

Laurie Ruettimann recently posted an unprovoked message she received from Brad, who disapproved of her tattoos. Apparently, Laurie needed to work in a gas station, and not in HR.

As an admirer of Laurie’s, and fellow tattooed professional, I jumped to her defense. “Tattoos are OK for the workplace, yada yada yada,” was essentially my response. Laurie kindly pointed out that this isn’t about tattoos. It’s about policing women’s bodies, in her words.

Wendy Daily piggybacked:

The light bulb went off.

I used to be obsessed with finding the meaning of the word “professionalism.” The more I dig, the more I’m beginning to believe it’s a made-up word used by power mongers to get people to act the way they want them to, not by any true means that deliver impact in a community or organization.

Professionalism, in these folks’ definition, is about power over others. I mean, think of these sayings:

  • Working certain hours isn’t professional.
  • Working remote or from home isn’t professional.
  • Wearing hoodies isn’t professional.
  • Tattoos aren’t professional.
  • Black hair styles are not professional.
  • Short skirts aren’t professional.
  • Colored hair isn’t professional.
  • Piercings aren’t professional.
  • African-American Vernacular English (AAVE, Ebonics, whatever) isn’t professional.
  • Men acting feminine and women acting manly isn’t professional.

None of these things has ANYTHING to do with the actual WORK that is being accomplished. The output, the results are what I thought mattered, not how it got done, much less the physical appearances of the folks DOING the work.

Shame on me.

Also, notice to whom most of these unprofessional attributes are directed towards… Women and persons of colors. Those demographics bear the brunt of these unwarranted and ruthless attacks because they had the audacity of being born different from the traditional powerholders.

It’s not about the tattoos.

Franz Oppenheimer was a German Jewish sociologist and political economist. His main works centered on the area of the fundamental sociology of “the state” – specifically, how states, or governments, are formed.

In his seminal work, The State (1908), Oppenheimer rejected the idea of the “social contract” (as put forth by John Locke) and espouses the “conquest theory of the state.”

“The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad.”

Essentially, governments come to be because on group dominates and conquers another group. One group of people dominate another and force their views, their customs, their ideas on the vanquished.

Take this idea to the microlevel, say the workplace, and one can see clear parallels. The victorious group of people, namely White males, dictate the rules of the game, most of the time at the expense of other player, which is the point of power. Power ensures a clear winner to determine what works and what doesn’t, or what is and isn’t professional, even when there is evidence to the contrary.

Flexible work arrangements? Nope. You need to be in the office.

Dress for your work “dress codes.” Nope. You need to look a certain way.

Expressing your culture and heritage. Nope. Not on my watch!

It’s not about the tattoos.

All these overused and annoying buzzwords – the Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting, or whatever the next “it” thing will be – have a foundational cause. It comes from people being treated like garbage at work. People being treated like garbage in society. People are sick and tired, and they won’t want to take it anymore.

I hope the following quote from another famous Oppenheimer isn’t true, but I’m not so sure anymore. The creator of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, said:

“The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.”

So, what should be done? Well, it depends on what organizational leaders want. Do they want results, growth, innovation, respect, kindness? Then they will build an organization that lends itself to these ideals. This means using privilege to give up privilege. Put another way, those leaders will let go of power. Thy will allow others to be themselves, and they will hold those accountable who want to police other folks’ bodies, ideas, attitudes, experiences.

Easier said than done because ego is the enemy. And ego wants power.

If organizational leaders want a harder time hiring folks, a bad employment reputation, harassment and EEOC lawsuits, unhappy workers, and lower profits overall, then they will keep the historical infrastructures in place. They will enforce dress codes. They will enforce work at the office mandates. They will enforce no tattoo policies, no piercing policies, no diversity policies. They will allow Brad to call out women online for having tattoos – despite never having met the woman, knowing what she’s about, or how much good she’s done for the world.

They will give into their egos, and allow the world to be the “best of all possible worlds” despite it being able to be much better.

So, after all my years of looking for the perfect definition of professional, I believe I have found my definition.

Professionalism, to me, is about allowing other people to be themselves. It is about non-judgment. Being a professional is about treating other people the way they want to be treated, so long as they get the work assigned to them done at the appropriate and agreed upon quality. Professionalism has nothing to do with dress, or hair, or gender, or tattoos. Professionalism is about anything but superficial garbage.

It’s not about the tattoos.