Mr. Damore’s Folly

Yesterday, Google terminated a Googler who wrote a “manifesto” against “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.”  This is not surprising.  That said, the belief that Google only did so because of its “politically correct monoculture,” either fails to see the significant problems in the memo or intentionally glosses over them because of the hatred of political correctness.  Either way, we have some things to talk about.

Argh!  Stereotypes

James Damore’s memo has some jaw-dropping gender stereotypes about women (and a few about minorities).  They are more agreeable, women gravitate towards people-issues rather than coding, women don’t measure success the same way men do, women are not as ambitious, among others.  These stereotypes are woefully exaggerated.  Adam Grant, a Wharton Professor of Management and Psychology, wrote a great piece on the studies showing many of the stereotypes Mr. Damore cited and relied upon are not true.

We’ve known for a long time that stereotyping is bad.  It leads to discrimination, and discrimination leads to lawsuits and bad (sometimes really bad) PR.  Retaining Mr. Damore would have meant that Google could be on the hook for any discrimination he could have a hand in whether that discrimination occurred in the past or future.  Since Google (like many other employers) interviews in teams, this is a liability and not a small one.  (Not to mention the significant gender discrimination action Google is currently fighting with the OFCCP… but I digress.)

Argh!  Political Correctness

It is totally okay to dislike political correctness.  It is totally okay to define political correctness as someone telling a half truth or failing to speak plainly.  Political correctness is not using shortcuts – like inappropriate and untrue stereotypes – to make a point.  It is not okay to say that stereotypes are simply true and we should all just “get over it” in the name of ending political correctness.  How Mr. Damore couched his message told his co-workers that they are less than, that they will never be as good as him, that they have a place but it isn’t here.  That is never a message anyone (employee, employer, human) should send.

Everybody

Mr. Damore is right about one thing – an effective workplace has everybody.  The individuals and organizations that buy products and services incorporate everybody, so we should reflect the world around us.  That is what diversity and inclusion initiatives are designed to do, bring and keep everyone into the workplace.  Sometimes, we focus efforts on a particular group that is underrepresented because they are underrepresented.  Sometimes, we mind our own business as to what bathroom people are using.  Sometimes, we make an effort to hear the voices of others.  (Insert “rising tide floats all boats” quote.)  We try to include everybody not only because it is the right thing to do, but it is the best business decision to make.

Mr. Damore’s naiveté (and arguably something else) has gotten in the way of this.  He’s right, we have to make room for conservative, liberal, libertarian, socialist, and every other point on the political spectrum.  But we do this because it’s good for business.  Google’s own research shows that teams of different people – different thought processes, different personality types, different genders – make better teams when they work to make sure everyone feels psychologically safe.   We know that having diverse perspectives mean we make better decisions, we develop better products, we do better.

It’s what every employer should be trying to do.

Mr. Damore told Bloomberg that he was fired for advancing gender stereotypes, which he unmistakably did in his memo by stating them as truths.  The correct response was to terminate him.  Mr. Damore told a New York Times reporter that he will likely take legal action over his termination.  Nevermind the fact that there is no such thing as “free speech” in the workplace.

P.S.  I am raising two white men.  I understand the feeling that they might not get to participate in certain activities because they are white boys.  But that is nothing – nothing – compared to the decades, centuries, that women and minorities have been locked or pushed out.  My guys just have more competition.  Competition is truly a capitalist principle.  So, bring it on!

 

Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

Gratitude & Trust

I’m going to go out on a limb and make a proclamation:  Gratitude breeds trust!  (We’ll see if I survive this post.)

Gratitude encompasses two things – recognition and genuine thanks.  Lots of really good blogs out there talk about practicing gratitude for who you are, what you’ve become, and where you are in life no matter how many lemons life gave you.  This is recognition of you.  I’m talking about the kind of gratitude where you see and appreciate others.

Managers struggle with recognition beyond formalized awards and performance pay structures.  We get that Jamal’s contribution to the team justifies a bigger bonus than Jimmy’s failure to meet basic goals.  These are easy.  The recognition most managers can get better at is seeing every employee for the contribution they bring to the organization outside the confines of the job description.  Yes, we need employees to do their job, but we also need employees to be seen and appreciated so they can raise their voices without fear of being shot down or retaliated against.  We need employees to tell us about problems, possible solutions, where we could do better, and where we should be going.  Compliance has a lot to do with this.

Recognizing an employee means seeing them for who they are, what they contribute to the organization, and genuinely listening to them, good and bad.  It is hard to give constructive feedback when you’re a manager.  It’s even harder when you’re an employee fearful that if you speak up, you could get unwanted attention or worse, lose your job.  But when we recognize employees as their whole selves and not use cogs in an industrial wheel, they are empowered to talk to us.  This kind of recognition doesn’t mean we can’t hold employees to tough standards – we can and in many cases, should – but when we recognize the whole person, that person is more likely to trust us.

Gratitude also involves thanks.  Genuine thanks for the individual’s contribution to a situation or a task.  There are lots of blogs out there that go over what is genuine and what really is a contribution, so I don’t need to delve headlong into that discussion.  What I will say is that genuine thanks is more than a paycheck.  Employees get paid for their work, and their contributions can be recognized, and they feel comfortable in being themselves at work. Authentic expression of thanks will get employers more than a set of employees.  Employers will get dedicated, hardworking partners in the organization’s success (for the most part).

I’m currently working on a couple of different projects that all come down to this principle of recognition and gratitude.  What these employers are doing is building communication practices that draw upon these ideas to make a better workplace for everyone.  (Before you ask, yes, these are employment law related (diversity+inclusion and manager trainings) and not just the “soft” stuff of HR.)  It’s inspiring to see employers trying their darndest to do the right thing and build an employee community based on recognition, genuine thanks, and therefore, trust.

 

Image by Mathieu Barrette available at unsplash.com

I ❤ Handbooks

Employee handbooks are my jam.  Call me crazy all you want, but they are one of the most important documents in the employment relationship.  In nearly all of the 500+ disputes I’ve dealt with, the handbook has been one of the first documents reviewed and is often one of the most referenced during litigation.  Handbooks are the first step to compliance, and they don’t need to be daunting.

Handbooks Set Expectations

Handbooks set out the expectations of the employer.  Discrimination and harassment policies specify what conduct an employer will not tolerate and how to report that conduct.  Confidentiality and trade secret policies are in there to protect company data.  Some handbooks have detailed discipline policies.  Describing the conduct that could get an employee in trouble is meaningful and important when an employer finds itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit.

Handbooks are often an employee’s first stop when they have questions.  Often the handbook has the answer, including the answers to such important questions like “If I have a baby, can I take time off?” “Was that comment inappropriate?” and “Can I see what’s in my personnel file?”  By providing answers, the handbook equips employees to better prepare and maybe even reach out and ask more questions. A good thing!

Handbooks are a Creature of Culture

A handbook can set the tone of an employer.  It can be very welcoming and encouraging or it can be harsh and punishing. One handbook I’ve revised included a warning that the employer will search employee handbags.  While employees probably have a legitimate expectation of privacy to their handbags, telling an employee in a handbook that their bosses will search their purses at any time certainly sets a tone of distrust and gives an indication of the employer’s culture.  Other handbooks describe a very different atmosphere, focusing on getting the work done no matter where and when an employee works.  Employers need to be mindful of the tone set by their handbook.

Policies Should Be Understood

Legalese, schmegalese.  The more complicated the language in a handbook, the less likely employees will understand it.  If the policies are complicated, employees won’t know what is expected of them or what they can expect from their employer.  Policy language should be easily understood and accessible to employees.  Confusion breeds complaints and lawsuits.

Don’t Have Policies Unless You Mean Them

In the past few months, I’ve read and revised a bunch of handbooks.  In almost all situations, we threw out policies the employers didn’t even know they had.  A policy shouldn’t exist simply to have the policy.  The policy needs to have meaning, be followed by management and employees, and be enforced.  If extraneous policies exist in a handbook, the whole handbook loses some of its value.

Review Handbooks Often

Employment laws change almost daily these days.  We can predict the return of respectful workplace policies or changes to discrimination laws on the state and local levels.  With all the changes, handbook policies can get outdated quickly.  Spend the dollars to have an attorney read your handbook every year and make changes as necessary.  This compliance step shouldn’t break the bank and in a cost-benefit analysis, it’s well worth the cost.

Handbooks are one of the most valuable tools in an employer’s tool box and should be used accordingly.  When a handbook has more than 30 pages, my heart hurts.  When a handbook is over-policied, I know employees are not reading them or using the handbook as the valuable resource it is designed to be.

 

Image from vectezzy.com

Post-Election Knowledge & Action

So it’s over.  While employment lawyers are spit-balling what President-Elect Trump will do, here’s what I know:

  • As a candidate, his tweets would render him ineligible for employment according to recruiters.

Regardless of how you voted, this matters. Discrimination and harassment are against the law even if the makeup of the EEOC changes.  (If Commissioner Lipnic is appointed Labor Secretary, President-Elect Trump will be able to fill three vacancies in the next two years).  Employers must combat discrimination or face costly investigations, litigation, and the PR nightmares that accompany them.

During the election, employers struggled with how to handle political conversations in the workplace given the negative rhetoric.  After the election, the struggle continues.  Respect, tolerance, and the work should and will continue to be the focus.

This focus is important, but finding the right messaging is hard.  Tim Cook’s letter to Apple employees following the election embraced all of the tech giant’s employees and encouraged unity.  Grubhub’s CEO asked employees who believed in the discriminatory rhetoric of Trump’s campaign to resign after first being criticized for what appeared to be a request that all Trump voters resign.   Each employer must find, and then strike, the right tone for its own culture.

I’ve spent the last three days struggling to understand why the friends and family I love and admire could look past the racism, sexism, bigotry, and cruelty to vote for Donald Trump.  Their votes struck a deep and sincere fear in so many, including me.  I have found solace in two things: (1) my little men know how to treat everyone with respect and embrace our differences, and (2) many employers know to do the same things.

Now, all of us, including those voters who looked past the nastiness even though it doesn’t fit their own beliefs, need speak out against the racism, the sexism, and the bigotry to have a constructive, empathetic conversation about what this election means for our workplaces and our country.

 

 

 

 

LGBTQ Issues in the Workplace

LGBTQ issues have dominated headlines from the Obergefell decision to bathroom legislation and federal guidance.  With the EEOC taking a stance that the term “sex” in Title VII includes same-sex discrimination, there’s a change in the workplace too.  So what should an employer do with this sensitive?  Here are some tips.

  1. Foster respect in the workplace. Yes, the National Labor Relations Board takes an interesting approach to workplace civility and respect rules.  But, this does not mean that you can’t tell employees to be respectful.   You can and should.  Build respect into your values, talk about respect in harassment training, model respectful behavior.  Respect goes a long way to treating all employees well.
  1. Focus not on what other employees will think, but what you should really care about. Way back when, the first African American employee was hired.  Some employees may not have liked it, been vocal about it, and maybe even complained or quit over it.  As a country, we’re working to get beyond that now.  We wouldn’t tolerate that behavior from employees now directed at African Americans, so we shouldn’t tolerate similar behavior towards the LGBTQ community.  Instead, focus on the work.
  1. Yes, religious beliefs matter, but they shouldn’t play a part in employment decisions. If an employee objects to working with someone because of a religious belief, remind them that they are not at church (unless you really work for a church).  Employers have certain goals that, for the most part, are not tied to a religion.  I’m confident that the EEOC will not support a religious accommodation for an employee to not work with an LGBTQ employee. Title VII’s religious accommodation is designed to allow an employee to practice her religion, not force her beliefs on others or use it as the way to not work with certain people.
  1. Respect the process. I don’t know anyone who thinks that being transgender is a walk in the park.  For many transgender employees, they already feel uncomfortable in their body, so providing a comfortable workplace is essential.  Learn the name and pronoun they want to be used.  Change ID badges, door nameplates, log-ins, and business cards.  Understand that they want privacy and don’t want to worry about what bathroom to use.
  1. Change is hard. Change in a workplace is hard.  When we lose an employee, there is a grieving process that can affect other employees more harshly than others.  But this does not mean that we should try to control the pace of change.  We shouldn’t.  We want competent employees who do their jobs well, treat each other well, and help make work less like work.

If you’d like to speak more about this, join me for a webinar on December 20 when we’ll go through the evolution of the law in this area and more.