Getting Harassment Training Right

Over the last year, I’ve done hundreds of respectful workplace (a/k/a harassment) trainings.  I love this training.  It is my favorite.  This is training is so vital to every organization that I will move vacations to do it.  Seriously.

I speak publicly on harassment training.  Just this year, I’ve done a DisruptHR talk, the North Dakota’s Workforce Development Conference, Minnesota SHRM, and soon the Minnesota Association of Legal Administrators conference on this topic.

I’ve even written a lot on harassment training.  (See here and here for training specifically, and here and here for more general training references.)  The writing has helped me focus my own trainings, making them better for my clients.

After this year (and the years before that), I’ve come up with my own philosophy on harassment training – what makes it good, what can we do better, what should employers consider, etc.  Ultimate Software has been kind enough to include my diatribe on the subject in their collection of white papers.  You can find it here.   Please, if you’re considering putting harassment training on your list of to-dos for 2019, read it.

Getting Stuck on Reliance

The end of this week was a doozy.  I headed to NYC to conduct an investigation with a week’s notice and because of other work, could not squeeze in a moment of NYC-related fun.  (I did get some of my favorite Uncle Paul’s Pizza.)  And, then it snowed.  Big, sloppy snowflakes.

I got into my Lyft at 4:10 pm with Gurwinder and his trusty Toyota Corolla.  Gurwinder is new to winter.  He had never driven in snow before.  While he thoroughly enjoyed my conversations with friends while he drove, he was anxious about the drive.  By the time we got on the Roosevelt Bridge, half of the bridge was closed.  The other half was littered with vehicles that couldn’t move because the bridge was too slick.  Gurwinder took my advice to stay steady on the gas and don’t touch the break.  He was calm – getting encouragement from me and a family member on the phone.  In a trip that should take 35 minutes, we got to LGA in 2.5 hours.  I relied on Gurwinder, and we made it.

Once at the hellscape that is LGA, I was the only person in precheck.  I was definitely not the only person once I got past the friendly (not sarcastic) TSA folk.  The restaurants were filled.  Half of the flights were cancelled, and several other LGA-refugees had already claimed spots on the floor anticipating a long night.  At D10, Delta clerks Deborah and Jennifer were optimistic.  We were only delayed, and it had stopped snowing.

I found a group of friendly travelers with different destinations:  two to Fort Lauderdale, one for Atlanta, another for Dallas, and then my soon-to-be partner-in-early-morning-Uber-rides for Minneapolis.  We joked about my plethora of Peanut M&Ms, we cheered when planes were boarding, and shared iPads to order food, and kept each other updated on flight status.  We had the best server who so friendly and concerned about our welfare.  We were compatriots in surviving LGA.

My friend, Laurie, was also waiting with bated breath to see if she was going to get out.  She ended up planing, then de-planing, and finally finding a hotel room before midnight.  I am so lucky that she kept me in the loop in case I needed a spot to crash.  However, I was confident I was going to make it home.

Once our gate changed, my new Minneapolis-based friend and I made the trek to the other side of LGA to wait with a new group of folk.  There was the guy dedicated to fake wood-panel stickers on his phone and computer, the consultant ladies so dedicated to their work they entered their time into their software at 12:15 am, and the fancy lady with the velvet jacket and yoga pants.

Then our plane arrived at the gate complete with older woman in green velour track suit, matching green baseball hat, and fanny pack.  She needed a wheel chair, but she embodied my life goals.  With a fresh crew, we were ready to board.  I cheered.  One consultant lady commented on my energy, and I responded that Student of the Month was in a few hours and I needed to make it home.  I was convinced we were going to make it.

Everyone got on the plane.  People from a cancelled Chicago flight joined us.  I sat behind a group of Delta employees – three who had worked from the airline since 1997.  They kept me updated on what was happening, and it was not good.  After 90 minutes on the plane, the bad news was announced – we were not going to take off.  Someone had broken the lower cargo door.  We had to get off the plane.

Then, even worse news hit.  We were not going to take off until 9 am.  Then not until noon.  Then, we were cancelled all together.  It was now 2:30 am.  No hotel rooms left.  (I didn’t want to wake Laurie.)  No places to sit.  No restaurants or bars open.  Hundreds of travelers stranded with skimpy blankets and tiny bottles of water.

When Delta started sharing what flights we could get on, I wasn’t going to get home until 5 pm.  I’d miss Student of the Month and afterschool hugs.  I’d miss all of the work for the day.  I’d be missing too much.  So, my new friend and I devised a plan, where could we go to get on a plane home?  JFK?  No, in the same boat LGA was in.  DC?  No, too far.  Philly?  YES!  She’d order an Uber, we’d drive through the rain for 2.5 hours, and get on an American Airlines flight to MSP.  We’d be home by 10:30.  I’d still miss Student of the Month, but I could still get hugs.  A plan was made.

At 3:00 am, we got in MD’s RAV4 and started the long drive to Philly in the rain.  We saw the desolate-ness of New Jersey at night.  We contacted Delta to cancel flights.  We snoozed on and off – not enough to get rest.  I played a ton of Words with Friends with my law school friend.  (He lives on the East Coast and wakes up super early.)  Those games were a great distraction.  (Thank you, Bill!)

At 5:30 am, we arrived at Philly.  We stopped at Starbucks for an iced chai and hot chocolate.  I snickered at the Xfinity employee who couldn’t get her TVs to work.  Then, the plan finally came together – we got on a plane bound for Minneapolis.

When we got to MSP, my new friend waited for me to get off so we could celebrate making it and give each other a hug.  We had made it.  After being awake for 30+ hours, we were going to see our kids and take a nap.

While I was stranded, my friends stepped in.  My great friend, Tammy, slept on my couch, held down my fort, and hoped that I’d make it home.  When I didn’t, she woke up Ozzi, helped him with homework, and then got him to school.  My friends, Karl and Katie, made plans to make it to Student of the Month so Ozzi would have a cheering section and people to snag him extra cookies.  While he was upset I wasn’t there, he appreciated their embarrassing hugs.  I appreciated the videos, pictures, and knowledge that my village really will help me.

And, this is why I’m recounting this story here.  In work as in life, we rely on each other.  My new friend and I relied on each other to get into a stranger’s car in hopes to make it through New Jersey in the middle of the night so we could get on another plane.  We also relied on each other to keep our spirits high even if I cried through the documentary Quincy.  My friends stepped in to keep my home fires burning and show my kids they are loved by many.  We succeed through hard times by relying on the kindness of strangers, D10 servers, our friends and family.  This reliance makes our workplaces better too.  Be thankful for those around who you can count on.

 

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

If Amazon’s Tool Could Discriminate, Could Yours?

Yesterday, Reuters reported that Amazon created a recruiting engine using artificial intelligence.  This isn’t news.  Amazon is a leader in automation, so it makes sense that the retail giant would try automation in their own recruiting processes to try to quickly find the “best” candidates.  Yet, Amazon’s tool had a big problem – it didn’t like women.

As the article describes, “Everyone wanted this holy grail,” one of the people said. “They literally wanted it to be an engine where I’m going to give you 100 resumes, it will spit out the top five, and we’ll hire those.”  Who doesn’t want this?  To make hiring faster and easier?  Currently, there are hundreds of AI tools available to human resources – many of them in the recruiting space – that promise to do these things for you.  But if Amazon found problems, what about those tools?

Amazon’s tool used a 10-year look back of existing employees (largely male-dominated).  The tool then could rank applicants based on what it learned makes a good Amazonian.  Based on its own analysis, the tool learned that male candidates were preferred over female candidates in a mixture of words that appear on applications, like “women’s,” experience, job requirements, and potentially proxies for gender.  While Amazon tried to solve for this problem – making “women’s” a neutral word so the tool did not reduce the applicant’s rank – the results of the tool still had a negative impact on women.  So, in 2015, Amazon abandoned the tool.  Good for Amazon.  This is the right thing to do.  But again, there are hundreds of other AI tools out there.

At this year’s HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas, my friend Heather Bussing and I presented on this very topic.  We spoke about how AI can both amplify and reduce bias. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • We know that AI is biased because people are biased.
  • We know the sources of the bias include the data we use to teach the AI, the programming itself, the design of the tool, and people who create the tool.
  • Employers have to be vigilant with their tools.  We have to test for bias and retest and retest (and retest) for bias in our tools.
  • Employers – not the AI – are ultimately responsible for the results of the tool, because even if we follow the output of the tool, the employer is making the ultimate employment decision.

It is very possible, even probable, that the tools out there on the market have bias in them.  Employers can’t simply rely on a vendor’s salesperson’s enthusiastic declarations that the tool eliminates bias.  Instead, employers should assume bias plays a factor and look at their tool with a critical eye and try to solve for the problem ourselves.

I applaud Amazon for doing the right thing here, including testing its tool, reviewing the results, and abandoning the tool when it became clear that its bias played a part the results.  This isn’t easy for every employer.  And, not every employer is going to have the resources to do this.  This is why employers have to be vigilant and hold their vendors accountable for helping us make sure bias isn’t affecting our decisions even when using an AI tool.  Because ultimately, the employer could be liable for the discrimination that the tools aid.

 

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

Two Questions

There are two questions that can change how well our people perform, how we work as a team, how we manage, and how we keep compliant.  Here they are:

  1. How are things going?
  2. What can I do to help you?

Definitely not rocket science, but think about these.  If you manager came to you, and genuinely asked, “how are things going?” how would you respond?  Would you respond with some of your concerns or roadblocks, would you say “my mom has been really sick” or “I’m having a hard time getting through to my Assistant,” or would you say “I completed this project!” More likely than not, if you believed your manager really wanted to know, you’d share information about your or your team’s work performance.  You might also share information that affects that work performance.

If your manager asked what she could do to help you, would you give an honest response?  “Janelle in Accounting is holding this up, could you please chat with the CFO?”  “I would like to go to this conference so I can learn more about XYZ.”  “I might need your help filling in for me while I get my mom to the doctor.”  Or, “James has been saying weird things to me, could you help me figure out how to handle the situation?” If you know your manager is willing to help, would you ask for it?  Wouldn’t this help you?

The Harvard Business Review published an important article about questions and how they build emotional intelligence and most importantly, trust.  If all the research is correct that when employees trust their manager, their performance and engagement increase, why wouldn’t we ask managers to ask questions to build trust?  These questions are business related by identifying successes and concerns while offering to help.

So, how does this tie to compliance?  Well, that’s an easy connection – when would people trust us, they tell us when something isn’t going quite right.  They tell us when someone said something he shouldn’t have, when they need a reasonable accommodation, or when they fear a co-worker might be breaking the law. If we want to foster communication from employees on these issues, we need them to trust us.  So, let’s ask them the two questions more often.

One other thing – it’s easy to train managers to lead with these questions.  The hard part is getting those managers to live these questions, to turn them into real information-seeking questions.  Look for those managers who do it well, keep them, train them, promote them.

 

Photo by William Stitt on Unsplash

Is HR Two-Faced? You Betcha.

HR has two faces.  This is not necessarily a bad thing – it’s by design.  To employees, we are the face of management.  To management, we are the face of employees.  This is what makes our job so darn hard.

Employees need us to be their advocate to management.  We beg, borrow, and steal for increased benefits, argue that people should be disciplined, we ask for more training and opportunity for employees, we pass tissues when someone is upset, we help get them leave when a grandma is sick or a baby is on the way, etc.

Management expects us to keep them safe.  We create policies that govern employee behavior, we find people so the widgets get made, we draft severance agreements when a manager screws up, we coach managers how to have tough conversations, we try to reduce liability by implementing safety programs, etc.

Some of us really like one side over the other, but both are expected and important.  Problems arise when we show the wrong face.  When we brag to employees just how hard we’ve been working on their behalf, management hears of it and loses trust in us.  When we gossip with employees about management strategy, employees learn they can’t trust us either.  When we stop advocating for employees with management, the employees know we’ve stopped.  Then, they know they can’t come to us with problems – we’ll just can’t be bothered by them.

These two faces are really hard to maintain.  We can’t have deep friendships with the people we work with for fear of the time when we have a tough conversation with our friend that ends in her termination. But we want to know enough about people so they feel comfortable coming to us with concerns even if we don’t partake in the party after the company party.  This professional distance is important for us to do our jobs, so we’re trusted enough to do our jobs.

Sometimes, we can’t show either face until we have facts.  When we hear about harassment is one of those times.  We are empathetic and appreciative to the person who brought us the complaint, but we can’t make admissions like “I’m so sorry” or “We’ll make this right.”  This could show the employee that we’re on her side, undermining our investigation.  OR – perhaps more destructively – we show the employee our management face that’s cold and “just the fact’s ma’am” ensuring that no employee ever tells us about harassment again because we appeared to immediately take the side of the harasser.  Once we have completed the investigation, we advocate to management about what should be done, even if it’s nothing.  When we advocate for the ultimate penalty (termination), we put our credibility and relationship with management on the line.  Then, if we lose, we have to make tough decisions for ourselves.

We don’t always win.  We advocate and lose on both sides, employees and management.  But even when we lose, our job is to build relationships strong enough to get past the loss so we can be ready for the next round. OR, if this loss affects our integrity, we have even tougher decisions to make.  We must think about the possibility of making that decision someday.  It takes guts.

We may have two faces, two jobs that sometimes conflict, but that’s the great thing of HR.  We get to do both.

 

Photo by Soroush Karimi on Unsplash