When I Said “NO” to Multicultural Awareness Training

Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg have a piece in the New York Times this morning pointing out that:

New research suggests that if we’re not careful, making people aware of bias can backfire, leading them to discriminate more rather than less.

When people were told that women in the workplace suffer from stereotypes, these individuals continued to rate women as “significantly less career-oriented.”

Cue Time Machine!

My mind immediately went back to thirty years ago when I was seven or eight years into my career. In the 1980s, organizations were coming to grips with the “issues” of the multicultural workplace. Mandatory courses on cultural awareness were the order of the day.

These courses only really seemed to have an impact if among the attendees were representatives of minority populations who could speak truth. Through the stories of their personal experiences, they made more concrete the lessons of diversity training. The problem, however, was that many organizations in the 1980s lacked sufficient numbers of women and minorities in their workforce to attend all the courses. So I ended up taking the same course a second time just to ensure that the class had the right “diversity balance.”

And then they asked me to take the same course a third time.

“We need you in the course because you’ll speak up about your own experiences.”

Yup. That’s what I would do. I would tell my classmates about subtle and not so subtle indicators that my coworkers viewed me differently, apparently because of my ethnicity and gender. And when I did that, I felt increasingly uncomfortable. Drawing attention to myself as a Puerto Rican woman just seemed counterproductive. “Yup, there she is complaining rather than concerning herself with the mission”

And so I said no! I wasn’t going to keep making repeat appearances at these courses. Of course organizations desperately needed to foster a workplace that was fair to all, but not by creating circumstances that were unfair to me and many other women and minorities. In a weird way we were being asked to self-incriminate ourselves.

Based on the research that Grant and Sandberg document, I have a hunch that those diversity awareness courses 20 to 30 years ago may have done more harm than good. “If everyone else is biased, we don’t need to worry as much about censoring ourselves.”

Grant and Sandberg suggest one possible solution: leaders need to be explicit about their intolerance of direct and indirect discrimination.

When we communicate that a vast majority of people hold some biases, we need to make sure that we’re not legitimating prejudice. By reinforcing the idea that people want to conquer their biases and that there are benefits to doing so, we send a more effective message: Most people don’t want to discriminate, and you shouldn’t either.

Compassion is a Special Kind of Intelligence

I posted this tweet just about an hour ago. Like many of my tweets, it has a back story, and I thought I might share this one.

I’m in Puerto Rico with my mom for Thanksgiving, and that’s because we are Puerto RIMAG1055icans–my mother born and bred and me born and sort of half-bred. We don’t have much immediate family left on the island, but one of our favorites who is still there and with us is my great aunt Laura. She’s my grandmother’s youngest sister–25 years younger than Abuela. Laura is 83 now–the only one of her siblings still alive. This is a picture of her from earlier today–she’s eating so that’s why her mouth looks a little funny.

The genetic material on that side of the family is choice. My grandmother lived to be 96 and her mother topped 100 by several years–no one really knows for sure because she never was clear in her own mind. She was born, she said, a few years before some horrible hurricane hit Puerto Rico and was a young woman when the Americans landed.

Almost all of my family in Puerto Rico were poor and not well-educated, at least through World War II. My grandmother only finished the first grade and could barely read and sign her name–although her command of financial matters was astute. She never learned to speak English except for counting from 1 to 75–the Bingo numbers.

And Laura wasn’t well educated either. She is not book smart. The modern world escapes her. She only ever worked as a laborer. She never learned to drive.

And yet as we drove back to the hotel from our last visit, I reflected on my great aunt Laura’s personal kind of smarts. She has no idea how the internet works or the economic fundamentals behind her electricity bill. Instead, she feels deeply the injustice in the world. “Ave Maria” is her most common phrase which she uses to register her sympathy with your plight–or anyone else’s. Her last story was about her neighbor’s dog, who is chained in the backyard and shown no love. “I cannot tell you how much I suffer because of him.” she said.

Compassion. That’s her form of intelligence. And it has grown through a lifetime of empathy for everyone she’s ever met.

So that tweet was for my great aunt Laura. She will never see it. She does not know Twitter exists. But now Twitter will know she exists.

Explaining the Worldwide Conspiracy for the Preservation of Mediocrity

(RecoveringFed has been less than robust this past year, in large part because of the push to complete the book by Lois Kelly and me: Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within. largecoverThe good news is that it’s with the publishers–O’Reilly Media–and we’re expecting it to materialize before the end of the year–with luck perhaps even before Thanksgiving. You can pre-order from O’Reilly here and from Amazon here. And now for some new RecoveringFed content!!)

Because the world is generally inhospitable to Rebels at Work, the Worldwide Conspiracy for the Preservation of Mediocrity continues unabated. You can see the conspiracy in operation every time individuals and organizations settle for less than they should. I think most of the members of the Worldwide Conspiracy are unwitting. Oftentimes they believe they’re doing good. They would hate to be called settlers.

Stories torn from recent headlines illustrate how the Worldwide Conspiracy gains its adherents. Like many malevolent forces, the Worldwide Conspiracy sometimes uses innocuous, even noble words to disguise its true goals. Words like Consensus and Career.

For example, the word Consensus pops up frequently in the recent reporting on former Federal Reserve bank examiner Carmen Segarra’s secret taping of workplace conversations. The tapes indicate that the desire for consensus made it difficult to express contrary opinions. Consensus is one of those noble-sounding concepts that are actually not so attractive when you try to implement them. Consensus, by its very nature, is a way to avoid making decisions–a way of settling.

Career ambition is another dynamic that the Worldwide Conspiracy uses to its advantage. Of course, you want to succeed in your career; you want to be a high performer. And we’re told all the time that success in the workplace is as much about relations and emotions as it is about substance. And that’s how the Worldwide Conspiracy begins to capture you. Your desire to remain on some important person’s good side leads you to hesitate when something difficult needs to be said. Whatever you do, you don’t want to ruffle that particular set of feathers.

Formula is another interesting tool of the Worldwide Conspiracy. For the sake of efficiency, tasks are routinized, parameters are set and formulas are established. Staff are rewarded for applying the formula effectively. But the problem with formulas is that from Day One, their alignment with reality begins to slip. As the divergence grows, organizations delay reconfiguring the formula for fear of all the lost productivity and inefficiencies such a process entails. And so the organization settles.

Finally you get Complacency. Everyone becomes comfortable with doing well enough. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” The Worldwide Conspiracy’s most popular slogan. And thus you end up sincerely believing that mediocrity is the practical solution.

I am reminded of Pogo

Five Nouns, Five Verbs for Leaders

When you haven’t posted on your blog in a while, and I haven’t posted since Christmas, it gets harder and harder to return to it, like when you haven’t called a friend in ages. It’s not like I haven’t been writing. I’ve been posting pretty regularly on RebelsatWork.com. You can check out my most recent post here. And if you know me, you know I always have opinions. I always think too much

A favorite topic for me to think about is management and leadership. Actually the more I think about both topics, the less sense they make to me. About a month ago I was at an event, which I will not specify, at which there was a presentation by a rather prominent thinker on leadership, whom I will not name. The ideas were so tired: great men (and all his examples were men) set great visions for their teams who then can singlehandedly conquer the world, or at least next year’s profit and loss statement.

I’ve long suspected the world really doesn’t work that way. Sure some individuals appear to have significant, short-term success, but usually if you wait long enough reality comes whistling along and bites them in the butt. David Petraeus comes to mind. Or an individual, such as Harry S Truman, whom his contemporaries viewed as a poor leader gets reclaimed by history. Will Marissa Mayer be Yahoo’s Savior? Does Elizabeth Warren have gravitas? In the end, how much will their individual contributions matter?

And then there’s the rather inconvenient fact that leadership is a value-free concept. You can exhibit strong leadership traits–i.e. you can influence people and you can point the arrow in a particular direction, and you make decisions quickly, and you rarely change your mind (and I have a few nits to pick with these attributes too)–but none of that necessarily means you will have a net positive impact on your group or society–however we might measure that. Vladimir Putin comes to mind. He’s a strong man on the world stage, say the pundits a little bit too admiringly.

But despite my misgivings, I sometimes get asked to serve on a panel or give a talk about leadership. Grumpy Carmen of course wants to say something along the lines of what I just wrote, but that would be bad and, most important, rather rude to the people who asked me.

The last time this happened I came up with the following list. Ten words. Five Verbs. And Five Nouns. And the more I think about them the more they say all I want to say about being a manager, a leader, an employee, a citizen, and a person.

Conversation sustains.
Empathy connects.
Authenticity reassures.
Optimism lifts.
Purpose commands.

They do not need explanation, but just a few words on the last one. So many significant things are outside of a manager’s or leader’s ability to command. You can’t command people to trust you. You can’t command them to believe in your goals. And you cannot order them to give you their discretionary energy.

But a common purpose can.

 

 

Merry Humanity to You!!

Today my mom and I engaged in what is becoming a Christmas Eve ritual for us: noshing on burgers and fries at Gott’s Roadside diner in the Napa wine region of California. We’ve spent Christmas week in Napa for the past four years, gently sipping and eating and wondering what it would be like to spend the other 360 days of the year doing the same. During previous visits I had noticed the custom at Gott’s to use pseudos for your pickup name: “Fang, your order is ready, Fang!” I’d been anticipating all year what I might call myself the next time I visited Gott’s. I settled on a category: Greek philosophers.

I’ll let my tweets record what happens next:

How did Aristotle become Eristonald, I wonder? The person taking my order didn’t flinch when I said Aristotle. Didn’t ask how to spell it; in fact just confidently keyed my chosen name into the computer. Now, as is the case in fast-food jobs, this person was quite young and it is entirely conceivable and understandable that Aristotle had yet to enter her consciousness. But why ERISTONALD?

Does she know an ERISTONALD?

How could she so confidently type in a name she was clearly only guessing at?

There’s something lovely about her phonetics (or quirky about my pronounciation.). The ERIST syllables seem to suggest another language.

Is correct spelling just an eccentricity these days? or  Is correct spelling not a core Gott’s competency?

The poor person who had to announce to the world: “Eristonald, your order is ready, Eristonald” looked at me for an explanation. When I told her it was supposed to be Aristotle, she was relieved but only shrugged.

And then it all struck me as charming. Just another lovely example of sweet human imperfection. And how silly it is for us to get caught up in conceits, however small.

Which gets me to Christmas and religion. This time of year some of us think more about religious and spiritual matters than we normally do. And the pleasure I got from the sweetness of “the mistake” made me think about one of my main problems with most religions–the insistence that the goal of existence is human perfection.

I can’t help but think how silly this idea is. Human perfection seems perfectly pointless. Our charm lies in our clumsiness. Our grace is that we forgive each other our mistakes–or at least we should. And our passion comes from the desire to improve. Without the desire to improve, I just don’t understand how we can be very human.

There’s nothing profound here, I’m sure; it’s just one of the ways that the emotional logic of mainstream religions escapes me.

Like the promise of eternal life. First, I REALLY hate being bribed into religious belief. Sure, just play upon my fears. Second, I can’t think of a worst fate for humanity than eternal life. And if it’s eternal, perfect life, I’m really trying to understand what could possibly be the point of that.

I’m much happier just trying to be a productive member of the human team, making sweet mistakes that in time others may learn from.

Merry Humanity to All.

Being Open to the Serendipity of Sharing

A good friend (almost 40 years younger than I am) asked me last week what I thought of the message in this vide0.

I wrote my friend back yesterday and what I’ve posted below is my response unedited.

“So as someone who has essentially lived by herself her entire adult life–I have absolutely no problem with being alone. At the same time there is nothing I value more than having good conversations with people I know well–and also with new people who bring some interesting new dimension to the way I think.

I have personally found social networks very enriching because I learn so much more about people, both the ones i know in real life–though truth be told most of them hardly use social networks–and the ones I have met NIRL. I don’t think I’m confused about the difference between conversation and connection; that said I think some of my on-line relationships are quite substantial. These individuals appreciate the way I think and I appreciate the way they think and we bring interesting ideas to each others’ attention. If I post something unusually negative for me, they notice and ask me if something is wrong. This is not something that replaces IRL friendship but is an interesting and developing complement to it. (It is very helpful when I’m sitting in an airport waiting for my flights, for example. I always have the best on-line conversations in that hour at the gate.) I’ve often heard the 150 number and while I generally think there is a limit to whom we can know, the 150 number is based I think on experiments done before the advent of these new technologies. I’d like to see research done about the conditions we find ourselves in now.

The video doesn’t talk about what I think is one of the great new phenomena today–how near or complete strangers can delight each other through things they share online. I share a slice of my inner dialogue on-line. I see something interesting that makes me think; now I post many of those in case someone else might find it interesting as well. Some great exchanges happen as a result of being open to the serendipity of sharing.

What I actually think has been much more corrosive to the quality of people’s lives, much more so than sharing and the online life, is the culture of entertainment, which long predates Facebook and Twitter. I’m really troubled when I see people seemingly living their lives through the entertainment they consume. It drives me nuts really. Living your life as if the purpose of it is to be entertained is my definition of hell on earth.

Hope you have a great weekend and thanks for asking me what I thought about the video.

Your IRL friend,

Carmen”

The Glass Edge: First 8 Weeks

I had meant to do more frequent updates on my experiences with #GoogleGlass, but my plans to download regularly pictures and videos from a vacation to southern Africa in August were compromised when the Chromebook I brought along failed to talk nicely to #GoogleGlass. In fact, the Chromebook and Glass were not on speaking terms at all. Admittedly, my Chromebook is one of the less expensive models but still I was befuddled by the Chrome operating system’s failure to recognize a cousin of sorts. Oh well…

Google definitely has established worldwide buzz for Glass. My favorite encounter was in Kasane, Botswana.Image When I landed at the little-more-than-an-airstrip, a German national approached me cautiously. “Is that Google….Glass?” but his expression said this is the last place in the world I expected to see one. In return for getting his selfie with Glass, I asked him my standard two questions. You can see his answers here.

I asked everyone who tried Glass the same two questions. I always got the same answers. But far from a scientific sample. (Apologies for the poor audio quality.)

My friend in Botswana:

My Israeli friend working in South Africa.

I liked using Glass best to take videos in places where it was otherwise awkward to take a video. Like at Sunday mass in Regina Mundi, the legendary Catholic church in Soweto. We attended the mass where the congregation sang all the prayers…in Zulu. It lasted two and a half hours, at least half of it in song. I don’t know any more details about the special group of women dressed in purple accompanying the Presentation of the Gifts, but they were truly beyond awesome. (The framing of this video leaves much to be desired I know. Some of it is me; some the limitations of #GoogleGlass.)

On my last day in South Africa, my friend Nate took my mom to Alexandra township near Johannesburg, once a hot spot and no-go area of Johannesburg. He’s working there to introduce mobile banking. Many South African blacks spend hours in line just to send money to relatives and pay bills. They can’t use regular banks because of the fee structure.

Here’s a video of us driving through Alexandra.

South Africa remains one of the most complicated countries in the world. But it’s important to see it clearly for what it is. From there we can proceed.

The Glass Edge: Lots of Pictures

My First Week with Glass

Positive Impressions

  • Many serendipitous conversations.

This employee at Bed, Bath, and Beyond who turns out to have a very interesting background. I almost got it on my first guess.

The shoppers at the local HEB in Texas

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Two charming young girls, and their cool Dad, at the local steakhouse in Texas

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A collage of pictures I’ve taken. You can’t zoom with GoogleGlass yet, and that means some people don’t even know they are in the frame. I also like the non-posed quality of some of the shots.

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Overall, there is a more honest quality to many of the pictures.

  • People are comfortable speaking to me when I’m wearing GoogleGlass

Huge surprise here. People of all ages have been very relaxed. We talk for many minutes and it’s clear they’ve forgotten about them or at least processed their presence. Kids of course are no problem. Texans (I’ve been here this weekend) are quite enthusiastic. Even my 78-year-old mom was happy to try GoogleGlass and ended up reading a text on it wishing her a happy birthday yesterday.

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Of course many people pretend not to notice them.

  • Even if you have imperfect vision, you can make them work.

I wasn’t sure how GoogleGlass was going to work for me as I wear glasses and have a particularly weak right eye, and at least as of now the prism screen sits only over your right eye. But I’m happy to report I don’t have any problems using it or reading simple text (which is all you’ll ever see really) and I’m actually hopeful the new exercise for my right eye will finally get it to pull it’s weight.

Downsides

  1. They get warm, perhaps even hot. You tend to forget that GoogleGlass is a small computer and when you ramp it up to do harder things—like recording a video, it heats up. Just a bit uncomfortable but I have thick curly hair so I’m padded.
  2. I really wish they bent in the middle like regular glasses. You can’t easily tuck them in the V of your shirt. As I said I need to wear regular glasses in many situations so I’m constantly trading them with my GoogleGlass. Unless I’m going to put them away in their nifty carrying case (size of a quality paperback), I’m left to put them on the top of my head. Because the right arm of Glass is heavy, the slight pressure on my head tends to give me a little headache. The exact same kind that I would get in my youth when I tried to wear headbands.
  3. Short and mysterious battery life. Not always clear what’s drawing the power or why the power level can drop precipitously at certain moments.
  4. Touchpad and voice controls are both uncertain. I’m much better at it than I was a week ago, but both are still quite buggy. Of course voice controls can’t seem to distinguish nuances among words so there are just some things you can’t make it understand.

Stay tuned for more reports from the Glass Edge.

RecoveringFed is a #GlassExplorer

Friday I was in NYC to pick up my Google Glass at the Glass Basecamp. Google did a good job making it fun; the mimosas helped for sure! I chose the tangerine color. I talked to people who advised choosing a color that blended in, but thinking to myself that “blending in” while wearing Glass was not an option, I opted for “Standing Out”.005

Glass Basecamp is a loft/warehouse space in Chelsea Market. Not too many people were there at one time so it had a comfortable feel. My Glass Guide, Kirsten (sp?) said she handled 2-3 people a day.

She reviewed all the essential starting out and survival skills for Glass, but of course within an hour after leaving I had forgotten most of them. I’m beginning to consolidate my skills now on my third day.

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My impressions in less than 48 hours:

  • Still buggy and/or I’m still on a learning curve. Almost all of the control over the device is through voice commands and swiping across the touchpad (the right spectacle arm) with your finger. Both of these are sensitive and sometimes even crotchety.
  • I think #GoogleGlass has a much broader range of uses than I imagined.
  • Very few people know what the heck you’re wearing so they leave you alone. The ones who do recognize Glass are eager to know what you think about them.

I asked a friend of mine to tell me what it was like to talk to me while I was wearing Glass.

I intend to use RecoveringFed to document my #Glass adventures. My Glass Guide asked me what my tweet had been to qualify and I told her, a little more than slightly embarrassed, that my tweet had been very kumbaya. To which she charmingly said that the world would be a better place if more of us were kumbaya. So here is how I intend to use Glass going forward:

#ifihadglass I would help us see a future full of potential, joy, trust, and the New Wisdom we can find together when we look more clearly.

Kumbaya to the Max!! (As an inveterate editor, I would now change that “look” to see. It is more grammatically correct.)

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(PS: I know I haven’t posted to RecoveringFed in almost 2 months. But I have been posting elsewhere. Check out my essay over on Deloitte University Press on why Decisionmaking is Overrated . If you have a comment, or better yet, disagree with me, please do post a comment. We can really only reach clarity when we embrace disagreement. And of course check out RebelsatWork.com where Lois Kelly and I post pretty frequently.)

More on Germany, less on luggage

Driving hundreds of miles on German autobahns you notice things.  Like, if the highway has three lanes in one direction, the far right lane is for slow-moving traffic, the middle lane requires you to be going at least 80 mph, and the far left lane is only for the BMW’s and Audi’s that cruise comfortably at 100+mph.

But I bet you knew that already. The most interesting thing I noticed, by far, was a truck I passed that had, proudly displayed on its side, a large banner reading:

Young European Truck Driver of the Year 2007

Well that caught my attention. Unfortunately as I was passing him in the middle lane, which meant I was doing at least 80 mph, I couldn’t take a picture. But here’s a link to the story about the 2013 young European truck driver competition.

A quick Google search didn’t reveal anything like that in the US, just this competition that seems centered mostly around a particular trucking company. And there’s no comparison in terms of prizes: a new $100K + truck for the European truck champion; $5K for the US winner.

So the banner and the explicit pride of the person still flying it got me to thinking. (Actually I found out that the 2007 winner was from Poland not Germany, but still the thinking occurred.) Germany, which by US standards must definitely be thought of as a socialist state, seems to have a significantly different attitude toward work than we do in America. From waiters, who don’t expect much of a tip because they are actually paid a real living wage, to truck drivers, who are proud of their work as a profession, not a job, individuals appear to consider the jobs they are holding as important in and of themselves, not just as stepping stones to the day they become rich. Which is the feeling you get in the US. People are doing manual labor or service jobs as a transition to something else or out of some sense of desperation/frustration.

There’s many reasons, I guess, for this difference. There does appear to be a German temperament; and German business and labor unions have more adult relations than labor and business do in the US. The German education system also contributes with a dual system that considers whether individuals are better suited for university or for apprenticeship in a profession.

Whatever the reason, you get the sense Germany is better positioned to weather the secular employment problem that is beginning to hit the West and will vex us for many years, if not decades to come. For Germany, gainful employment of its citizens is a priority and a matter of national policy; it’s a social responsibility.