What Are You Going to Do?

If you walked past a fight on the street, what would you do?  Call the police?  Try to break it up?  Walk away?  Watch?   Not many people would do something if they inadvertently stumbled across a fight.  Would they intervene if something happened in the workplace?  Would you?

We live and work in a fascinating time.  We’re being forced (some are being dragged kicking and screaming) to look at our workplaces, see the inequities, evaluate the poor management, and do better.  This is hard.  Like really, really hard.  Citigroup recently published its finding that on the aggregate, it pays women nearly a third less than men.  When the numbers were adjusted to reflect pay at comparable positions, the difference was significantly less, placing the organization in a defensible position.  Yet, the aggregate numbers are a wake-up call.  Citigroup vowed to change, adding more women in high level positions across the globe, and I applaud both their transparency and their efforts to improve.

What Citigroup did was look and do something.  While Citigroup was pushed to look by a new UK law and an activist shareholder, the looking was an important step.  Because once we look, we can’t simply walk away.

In the past two years, we’ve been forced to look at harassment.  #MeToo has riveted our world. The headlines have opened our eyes to what has been happening in plain sight for decades.  We’ve found that it is the rare occurrence of harassment that no one in the company knows about.  Someone overheard a conversation, witnessed an odd touch, or saw an inappropriate text message.  Yet, we have looked away, justified our willful ignorance as “it’s 20XX, that can’t possibly be happening now.”  It’s this shrugging of our shoulders that has allowed harassment continue and worsen.

The same is true for other forms of harassment and discrimination.  Racial and religious epithets and symbols, putting the only black sales executive in a closet, offensive costumes that have a direct impact on students are all news items from the past eight weeks.  In the last eight weeks!  We see so much more now with more and more avenues for targets of discrimination and harassment to share their stories.  It is as if we are walking past this fight and are being asked “what would you do?”

For me, staying silent is not an option.  I avoid conflict as much as the next Midwesterner, yet, we are at a time – just like so many other times in our history – where staying silent makes the situation worse.  Today, we stop and think about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.  “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”  Elie Wiesel once said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”  Looking at what’s happening in our workplaces and work, these two leaders ask us, what are you going to do?

I encourage you to look.  You can start by following #BlackBlogsMatter.  This group of amazing individuals have put together a movement designed to raise their voice, speak their truth, and teach us all how we can be better allies and simply do better.


Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

CEOs & Boards Need Training Too

“Do CEOs get trained on harassment?”  That was the question from a lovely individual who recently went through the wringer of having to let a C-suite-level leader go in her organization.  My answer was “they should.”

Based on media reports over the past year, it doesn’t appear that CEOs, anyone in the C-suite actually get harassment training.  They may pay for training for their own staff and even for managers, but requiring the attendance of CEOs and even boards of directors appears to be few and far between.  In just the past year, CEOs at the following companies have either stepped down in the midst of scandal or were fired:

These are prominent companies.  Companies with significant public profiles.  Leaders who should have known better.  Leaders who did not receive training, who did receive training and didn’t comprehend the consequences, or who simply didn’t care.  It’s quite possible that’s where we are – some leaders may believe the rules do not apply to them.

The law has a different view.  The law says that CEOs ARE your organization.  When they engage in harassment, the organization is automatically liable.  (Yes, you read that correctly.  Automatically.  Look at Section VI in the link.)  Because CEOs – no matter the size of your organization – are your public face, they are the “alter ego” of the organization.  What they do binds the organization in business and in harassment.  For this reason, CEOs need to understand the gravity that comes with their bad decisions and actions.  They must understand that sending an inappropriate text, making a sexual request, or touching an employee improperly has significant consequences.  That it can even force the closure or bankruptcy of the organization.  It could be the end of the road.

So, I’m issuing you a challenge HR friends.  As you get ready for 2019 and you organize your training schedule for the year, include your leaders in harassment training.  Involve your board of directors.  Make sure that they attend.  Go over what happens if they engage in harassment.  Explain the investigative process –their technology will be reviewed, including texts and emails.  If you do this, you’ll help protect your organization and hopefully prevent harassment.

Quick story – I once did two trainings for a company.  On the first day, I trained all the managers and leadership, including the CEO.  The second day, I trained employees.  To show how important the training was to the company, the CEO introduced me.  He started with the expected “we take this very seriously” and then said, “I think you’ll like Kate, she’s loose.”  Now, he meant that I was not a stuffy attorney, but nevertheless, that was lesson number one of the training.  He turned all sorts of red, apologized immediately, and we all had a laugh.  I promise you, no one in that organization who was there will forget that and everyone learned something.

If you need help planning your training, take a look here.


Photo by Tyler B on Unsplash

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