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Hindsight is 2021: Revelations on Culture, Remote Work, and Looking at 2022 in a new way

At the end of 2020, my partner and I did an exercise found in the pages of Magnolia (yep, the Joanna Gaines magazine which has become a favorite of mine, not only for the content but for the gorgeous layouts and photography) entitled Hindsight is 2020. Designed to be a way of looking back at the year and extracting both lessons and inspiration, I tucked it inside a binder and rediscovered it recently.

Of the questions they asked, these four were the ones that really stood out:

  • Did the change in pace and routine this past year reveal new priorities to you? If so, which would you like to take forward?

  • When you are standing in December of next year, what do you want to look back and remember about your year, your growth, or yourself?

  • Acknowledging what drains you doesn’t have to be negative. Recognizing those moments can help you redirect them. What circumstances in the past year took away your energy. How could you balance those draining parts of the day?

  • Taking time to recognize the things that give you energy makes a way for them to be intentionally woven into the rhythms of the days ahead. What moments or circumstances from this past year energized you in new ways? How can you consciously build these components into your everyday as you move forward?

So rather than resolutions, it's taking that time to inhale, exhale, and talk about what just happened, what we learned from it, and how to channel the lessons and inspiration into the coming year. And for both of us, this was BIG. We tackled the questions again for 2021, and it was a good chance to examine both our personal and professional priorities.

My husband became primary breadwinner for the first time as I retired from recruiting and took a much needed sabbatical. We sold our farm in order to become debt-free and move to a town with diversity, and for him, a union job that finally gave him the living wage and affordable (if not quality) medical benefits he'd been denied by his past two grocery employers.

For many of us in the workforce last year, it wasn't as simple as being able to just start working from home, as the media focuses on the most. Many (like my husband) just had to strap on a mask and keep slogging away, many lost their jobs, many saw their businesses tank, many lost people they loved to the virus...and many, from all of this, saw their priorities change while going through all of the changes heaped upon us.

I know it did for me. I realized that the love of recruiting was tempered by the environments that the industries we serve create, and because of that, I fell out of love. I didn't like what I saw, and was done trying to influence that change. I knew that the career I stumbled into at the young age of 24 was not the one that I wanted to be in as I prepare to turn 48 in - yikes! - six weeks. But the year gave me time to figure out some things, and the sacrifices we made to allow me to take time away have been worth it, as it really distilled what possibilities lie ahead after a chapter that brought me emotionally to my knees.

An episode of my favorite show on NPR, It's Been a Minute, then hosted by the great Sam Sanders, reminded me of my career. First, Sam had started talking about how working remotely had allowed him more freedom to get things done how and at the times that best suited him mentally and physically, rather than a set 9-5 schedule, and it reminded me of when I first went to work for myself back in 2012.

"I've realized now that, like, I do my best with meetings and interviews in mid- to late morning and early afternoon, and I do my best interview prep and research and reading and writing at night, like after 6 p.m. And so what I've gotten in the habit of doing, even with y'all's book, I read the books at night. I write at night. And I used to feel guilty for doing that, but now I'm like, that's my workflow and I like it. And I've just kind of become more attuned to my body's and my mind's rhythms. And I would have never had that freedom in the office, and I would have felt guilty for literally just trusting my body."

You see, when people start their own businesses, there is a massive assumption / stereotype that it means you will be working 24/7. But if you're doing the same type of work, just in a different way, and not owned by a corporation, it's actually the opposite. Ever since I left the corporate grind - both startup and big company environments - I've worked considerably LESS hours. My work-life balance became SO much better. I could do what I was great at professionally, and build my personal life exponentially...which in turn kept me committed to my business. And as my husband knows, working remotely was the ONLY way I ever could have married him, seeing that he was just some cute blogger in Australia when we first connected online in 2011, which evolved to a "wait I could actually meet this guy" possibility the next year when I was no longer constricted to working in an office which, ironically, was primarily about talking to people on the phone or sourcing for candidates online. By 2013, he'd been to America and I'd been to Australia, twice, and because down there you have real PTO (he had 8 weeks), he was able to take 2 full months off so we could practice living together before we got engaged and he immigrated here in 2014. If I hadn't had that flexibility in my work, it literally never would have happened.

Talk about a Sliding Doors moment.

Anyhow, in this episode, Sanders is talking to Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen about working from home, and, like me, they already knew what it was like to work from home before the pandemic, and all the possibilities of that. In addition - and this is what really stood out to me - Charlie had some BIG a-ha moments about workplace culture as a straight white man working in tech, stuff that Anne was fully aware of as a woman in the workplace, and that I too had to deal with for so many years.

Charlie explained, which many white tech dudes I'm sure relate to, "I loved the office because I could walk around feeling super comfortable in every single scenario - workplace dynamic. I was, you know, just naturally near the sort of top of the food chain. But it felt to me like that was culture that everyone had, and obviously, that's not the case."

Then Sam chimed in about culture and talked about NPR's, acknowledging practices were not always healthy, asking "How do I push back against this part of the culture that we think is nice but is actually stifling?"

And immediately, before Charlie could respond, I was thinking about my decade in tech, both in-house and as a consultant, and the rampant hypocrisy of leadership and HR when it came to culture, and who "is a good fit" as it's so often stated. I thought about presenting BIPOC candidates, anyone over 40, women, or of a non-typical personality type who might help shake things up from the norm, and how so many of those hiring managers swatted them away for reasons unrelated to qualifications! It was the era of "they should be lucky to work with us," or as a beer-guzzling dipshit bro in HR at an environmental consulting firm I once worked at said, "they need to be someone we'd want to go out to lunch with." I thought about how the tech industry mirrors the old boys club of old where managers had to learn to play golf in order to know what was really going on, except it was swapped with lots, and LOTS, of alcohol thinly veiled as conferences and networking events. And I thought about the wildly pervasive hypocrisy in so many companies that loudly proclaimed their culture - particularly when it came to diversity and inclusivity - yet never, ever truly walked the talk. Charlie then summarized all the stuff brimming up in my mind so very well:

"You see it a lot in tech actually where the - it's the other way around - right? - where it's like a radical candor culture, where it's like, you say whatever - you're supposed to say whatever you want. And actually in truth, only, like, 15 people in the company can say whatever they want, and the rest of the people are fearful to step up and say that. But then - because that sort of radical candor culture, like, gives executives a shield to hide behind, right? And so it's like, well, why didn't you step up? Why didn't you say it?"

The massive number of men in tech (and the frequent number of cheerleader-type women in HR who chirp around them trying desperately to be 'one of the guys') refuse to acknowledge that in reality, HR does not dictate culture. The executives and their managers do. Hiring decisions made by MANAGERS - and how those hires are managed - dictates culture.

As HR / Recruiting, I could make suggestions and present extensively screened, diverse candidates on a platter who are both qualified AND play well with others. But if a manager decides they want to hire their friend and bypass the recruiting process? Recruiters have no say. I literally had to take legal action against an early client whose VP literally held meetings with me to discuss the candidate interfview process while he had already been hand-selecting new hires behind my back for those roles. Yanking my chain then trying to get away with not paying me. And in my public sector days before that, I witnessed a VP repeatedly decline the top three candidates presented, close the recruitment, then rewrite the requirements in an attempt to ensure his guy made the top 3 as per agency policy. Many months went by with his time wasting - and my boss knew about it, but did nothing.

If the HR professional's manager refuses to take up a sexual harassment complaint and buries it because "it would upset (CEO name here) too much to know that (Harasser) did that"? (and yeah, that scenario came from my last corporate job). All I can do is provide undercover emotional support to the victim who has decided to leave the company because of that, and quietly refer them to another company where I'm praying that won't happen to them again. I've got no power. Culture is not free breakfast on Fridays and bean bag chairs. Culture is how you treat ALL people in your organization, how you walk the talk when it comes to abiding by established policies and practices, and how accountable you are to these two concepts.

HR leader Joanne Lee on calls out the importance of culture being a top-down, rather than being dumped on HR to "champion". As she said, "I find it interesting that human resources is responsible for training all employees on sexual and other forms of harassment, and yet executives generally excuse themselves from this instruction. That’s unfortunate, because if the headlines are any indication, those in powerful top roles may need the guidance the most...Executives should not say one thing and do another. I have worked for leaders who embrace and value the expertise of HR. But there are also those who don’t want to cede any control. They cling to their power and feel they don’t need anyone else’s advice… until it is too late. Once relationships are damaged, trust is not so easy to win back." No kidding. I've seen too much, having worked in so many industries, states, company sizes, and more...and that's why I'm not going back. It's just too rare to find people you can trust to lead an organization who isn't purely in it for the money, power, and/or ego boost. You can find phenomenal partners along the way - which is what kept me hanging on for so long - but ultimately they were unable to influence those same frustrating personalities, and moved on as well.

When it comes to walking the talk, tech is exemplifying hypocrisy when it comes to monoculture.

As Rachel Thomas said in her 2016 piece on Medium, "Women frequently experience being excluded from more creative and innovative roles and instead channeled into less fulfilling execution roles, not receiving high visibility “stretch” assignments, having to prove themselves again and again, and having their ideas ignored until a man makes the same suggestion later." And I love how she reminded us that mentorship is NOT the all-encompassing solution. Just like how women are frequently told that what they are doing is wrong (think Sheryl Sandberg's 'lean in' garbage, pushing them to give up work/life balance and cozy up to the boys' club and change who they are to fit in with the boys), Rachel goes on to discuss,"when women receive mentorship, it’s advice on how they should change and gain more self-knowledge. When men receive mentorship, it’s public endorsement of their authority and concrete steps to take charge and make career moves. Guess which one is more helpful? Men who received mentorship were statistically more likely to be promoted, but that was not true for women who were mentored."

"Tech companies can do a hell of a lot more about it than they are doing now. The problem is, they don’t want to. Their PR departments will spout a lot of guff about how concerned they are about user safety, but they never put their money where their mouth is. Their business models, after all, depend on engagement: that is the only thing they prioritise. Tech bros have spent years feeding the trolls and that toxicity has seeped into every part of society. We shouldn’t normalise this nastiness."

So here we are, midway through 2022. Tech companies continue to wokewash, pretending they care while selling your private information and contributing to the campaigns of those who have actively worked to take away the rights of women, LGBTQ, and BIPOC, and the economically disenfranchised. They threaten, they union-bust, they do whatever they can to make billions and not pay their fair share in taxes, while helping millionaires get elected to congress. And half of the masses have fallen for their game, not showing up to vote (or sending their postage-paid ballot in), getting their frustrations out via social media instead of doing anything actually constructive.

I get the anxiety about the future, the depression about , and I get the want to just hide from it all. I've struggled with depression for years following the inability to become a parent and the physical side effects of it, and know what it means to feel stuck, and paralyzed to the point where you just want to stream shows all day. But one thing I learned? Inaction gives away your power. And your action? It doesn't have to look the same for you as it does for others. Reach out to those in your neighborhood - let them know they are not forgotten. Make sure you are ALWAYS voting - every election matters, and the fact that less than 50% do not vote in non-Presidential elections is deeply disturbing to me (in particular, the less than 35% in my neighborhood, even though we have postage-paid ballots mailed to us)...and why we have such a crappy set of choices when it does get to the federal level. Get educated on the issues - don't trust what someone on social media tells you. Understand how things got to how they are, and how your voice (or lack of using one's voice) impacts who is in office. Vote with your wallet and know what companies have the power and how you can take steps to influence positive change. Don't like Amazon and their union-busting, greenwashing and tax evasion? Stop shopping through them. Stop subscribing to Prime. And encourage others to do the same. Know whose campaigns you can contribute to, both in your area and around the country, by checking out Ballotpedia.

My action today? Along with the strong, smart women representing my own state in the House and Senate, I've chosen to make a donation to Mandela Barnes' campaign in Wisconsin to unseat the narcissist, racist and misogynist Senator Ron Johnson. I've also researched the smaller districts in my own state and made donations to a number of their campaigns as well to help unseat incumbents that are particularly dangerous.

So while I continue on this post-retirement sabbatical or whatever one might call it, I'm trying to focus on topics that give me energy, that drive me the most (oh y'all there are so many things I could go after...), and narrow in on how I can get involved in ways that fit what I bring to the table. It's a new path for me, away from a career that I was so securely enmeshed in for over two decades, but if I don't take action, I'm not exactly following my own lead. I need to more deeply walk the talk.

Guess this is how it is the closer you get to 50, eh?

This week finishes off the first half of the year. Like many, my stomach is rumbling at all that is going on. But in other ways I have hope that I didn't have a year ago. Today, we have neighbors who are kind. Today, my husband is getting paid more equitably in his job than in the rural town where managers made exponentially more while line staff took the brunt of the pandemic's dangers. Today, we are seeing what our elected officials are - and aren't - made of. And today, I am taking one more step, on a path yet to be revealed.

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