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Posts Tagged ‘workplace discrimination’

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

“You really don’t need to be eating that,” a volunteer admonished Opal* at her desk.  “You’re too fat already.”

Opal works at a very busy nonprofit for the mentally handicapped, and it’s common for staff to work through lunch, eating at their desks.

“The first few times, I simply ignored it,” Opal recounted, “But it didn’t go away. I simply could not eat my lunch – or anything – without this woman lecturing me on my diet, weight, etc. – and very loudly, for all to hear, since everyone’s workspace is in cubicles in our office.”

“Finally,” Opal recalls, “I had had it. I declared to her firmly that what I ate was my business, not hers, and I didn’t want to hear another word about it, period. This angered her, and she began writing me notes and leaving them on my desk, in broken spelling and grammar, explaining how my bad diet and weight would eventually kill me, and so forth.”

With documentation now in hand, and feeling she had no other recourse, Opal took the notes to her supervisor . . . and was gravely disappointed at the response.

Her supervisor, also a woman, appeared to empathize, yet encouraged Opal to see that this woman was mentally handicapped, after all. (Then, she reminded Opal that this particular volunteer was also related to a major donor.) Opal was encouraged to take longer lunch hours . . . out of the office instead, and nothing was ever said to the volunteer on the topic.

A couple of weeks later, as Opal was departing for the Thanksgiving holiday and simultaneously waved goodbye to the volunteer and her supervisor, the volunteer yelled out her parting words for all to hear:  Don’t eat too much!

That led Opal to decide to Forget It! and she contacted me to begin her job search immediately after the holiday weekend. It was clear that her workplace would never be interested in providing a harassment free environment for her.

Peter* worked in fundraising and was relatively new to his organization. He made it clear upon being hired a couple of years ago that he wanted to get experience in major gifts, and his director had told him that she would mentor him in that area, taking him on occasional calls, since she needed help boosting that segment – and couldn’t possibly visit all the prospects, anyway.

What he realized after his first year review, however, was that this particular goal had gone nowhere. There were always other details that kept him busy, in the office, or otherwise occupied. His director had made plenty of calls, yet she had never managed to take him along. In fact, he noticed that there was no mentoring of any kind happening between them. They only met for status reports, or for him to receive assignments from her.

Peter consulted with me on whether or not he should look for another position so he could get the major gifts experience he sought.

As we weighed the pros and cons of his current position, Peter realized that there really were more prospects in the database than his director could possibly visit, but he would most likely have to approach the less important ones, so as not to step on his director’s toes. He would also have to reevaluate how he was currently spending his time on his other duties: Which tasks would take a back seat, or could be delegated?

When Peter looked at it from this perspective, he decided that he could Fix It! and make the time in his schedule to add a few major donor calls and visits each week. He was still disappointed that he would have to learn it all on his own, rather than be coached, as promised, but there would be no guarantee that a new supervisor would be any better a mentor, either. I also recommended that he sign up for the mentoring program through his local AFP chapter, which has helped many people. It’s also a good source of general networking.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Molly* and Nina* handle networking challenges outside the office

Trudy* and Velma* recognize warning signs at work

Patrick* and Ramona* find ways to seek professional development


Fix It Or Forget It?

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Back in the 70’s, women entered the workplace at a cost.  They didn’t dare acknowledge that they had spouses, children or any personal life, period.  Today, many companies “permit” a personal life, but has the price simply been adjusted to current times?

Thankfully, legislation has been passed so that various accommodations can be made to allow for personal circumstances, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, Maternity and Paternity Leave, and so on.  It’s also now illegal for an employer to ask questions regarding one’s age, marital, parental, pregnancy or other medical status during a job interview.  This wasn’t always the case.

This doesn’t mean that discrimination regarding such factors has been eliminated, however. Many instances can be seen as having gone underground or simply operating at a more covert, understated level.

Some employers now take various personal circumstances of their employees into account and/or allow employees to telecommute if their positions don’t require a constant office presence.  They may also offer flexible time to parents to attend their children’s various school functions, or make some other physical or medical accommodations as well.

Too often, however, the implication from the employer ends up being, “Do you know how lucky you are to be here?”  Regardless of the quality of the employee’s performance – or amount of hours worked – feedback can create an environment that makes employees feel that they have essentially opted out of a career if they choose to pursue anything that gives them personal pleasure or medical relief.

Omar* discovered soon after starting a new job that he needed surgery, and would be out of the office for at least a month afterward.  He hated to begin on such terms, but there really was no other choice.  To make matters worse, his six month probationary period wasn’t done, and he hadn’t yet accumulated enough vacation days to cover his absence – or to earn medical leave.  Technically, he was required to take a month off without pay, which would be financially devastating.

He was pleased to discover that his new CEO was willing to let him earn a negative balance of sick leave instead, and pay him his salary while he was out, and felt that this was generous.  Omar was determined to return earlier than the estimated month and begin immediately making up the time.

Although he did need the full month’s recovery after all, Omar began working diligently to make up the time.  The CEO decided that merely “additional hours” weren’t enough to make up the balance, but segments of additional four hour time blocks would be allowed as payback.  This meant that Omar either had to work twelve hour days or weekends – which he did . . . for nearly a year, and paid it all back.

Later, at a staff retreat, when each person was encouraged to share what accomplishment they were most proud of, Omar was shocked when his director cited “enduring” his absence, and realized that, apparently, he would never be able to compensate in the eyes of management.

Phyllis* enjoyed coaching a team, and her director allowed her to leave a couple of hours early during the season she was coaching. In her marketing position, she often managed events during evenings and weekends, and there was no question that she did her job and worked at least as many hours as any other staff member each week.

After a couple of years of successfully managing her events and other duties in her position, however, she brought up the topics of her title, salary, etc. during her annual review.  Phyllis felt that further recognition and compensation was due, given her excellent track record.

Her director’s response began with implying that she should be grateful for the perks she enjoyed – such as being allowed to have a schedule that accommodates her coaching – and suggested that she would never get such an arrangement any place else.

Phyllis resented his changing the subject from her performance and the implied blackmail of her losing something important to her, and returned to the topic at hand, reminding him how long it had been since she had gotten a raise or promotion, repeating details of her accomplishments.

Her director then informed her that the budget wouldn’t allow for increases at the current time . . . unless she could bring him a competing job offer!  Then, he told her, he would have grounds to offer her a salary increase in order to keep her on board.

“I was so stunned,” Phyllis told me, “I couldn’t believe it!  Why would a company encourage workers to look elsewhere?  And why would I then accept their minor increase if I have another, better offer?!”

Events turned quickly after that, and the team that Phyllis volunteered for was losing its coach, who was relocating.  The departing coach was happy to recommend Phyllis for the position.  She was able to Fix It! by leaving the environment that tried to hold her hostage and follow her passion instead.

Roxanne* was a single mom without a college degree who got hired with an organization that let her use her sick days when her child was sick, and was pretty liberal about her time off for school events.  She felt lucky to have gotten the position.

After a couple of years of successful performance with the company, a position in Roxanne’s department opened up one level higher.  She was very qualified for the job, since she had worked with the outgoing staff member on various projects and was already familiar with the company, its mission, etc.

She was taken aback at the department head’s response when she mentioned her intention of applying for the position: “Oh, you wouldn’t want that job,” he told her.  When she pressed him for the reasons why not, he went on to explain: “You need to decide what you want, what your career goals are.”

“I took that to mean that I should decide between my job and my child,” Roxanne said, “And that even if I did apply, he had no intention of hiring me!”

Roxanne decided to Forget It! with regard to applying for the position . . . and ended up providing most of the training for the person that was hired in the position above hers.

“Although the situation makes me angry,” she says, “This is what I need to do for my circumstances at this time.”

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share? Send it to me, and it might help others. Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown

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