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Remembering Where You Came From

When supermodels say they were nerds back in school I want to bash their heads in. Try 6th grade, circa 1985: glasses, braces, skipped 5th grade (& taking 8th grade classes), on the math team, getting hand-me-downs or shopping at Sears, mocked and bullied regularly by both boys and girls, eating lunch alone, and so shy I could barely speak. Something sparked inside of me a year or so after this photo was taken to get me to come out of my shell, but I’ll never forget those who were unkind, intolerant, or otherwise indifferent.

I have had such a month observing, experiencing, learning, working and just living, that too many words have just bubbled to the surface needing an attempt at articulation…

Having also grown up as a “clumsy young nerd girl” in a primarily white suburb (quoting Leslie Hawthorn’s talk that I’ve included at the end of this post), I remember keenly the systemic problems in my community, and I see the existing divides (to put it lightly) in the local tech community that I work in every day, in everything from your standard EEO categories of gender, color, age, and sexuality, to differences in personality. As (one of my most favorite women in tech I know) Selena Deckelmann most recently said in her opinion piece in the Portland Business Journal, “I struggle with whether it is right to refer women to jobs where it seems inevitable they will be made to feel so terrible that they quit an entire industry.”

And I think about my father’s era where the terms “personality fit” and “emotional intelligence” would have been laughed at.  Back in the first half of the 20th century, when computer programmers were primarily female and when you weren’t forced to evaluate your coworkers via 360 assessments or take canned personality tests to determine how to get along with your team. You just dealt with the fact that so-and-so was this way and so-and-so was that way and you got the job done and went home. You weren’t told that there was “no such thing as work/life balance” because you went home at the end of the day and you usually didn’t feel obligated to check messages while you were out.

Now duh, this isn’t a “good old days” kind of reference, it’s simply extracting the fact that there were some ways of doing business that I think have been forgotten in the touchy-feely emo world of work that we are now dogpaddling through each day.

So many memories and therefore so many reasons I often want to just ditch it to go live off the grid. Ahh, but Sheryl Sandberg says we should belly up to the executive table and imitate men's behavior…because ooh what a tasty table it is! (Those who've read my blog know I have other thoughts about Ms Sandberg). In my small piece of history, for example:

  1. I remember the company founder who walked up to me while I was talking to the President (my boss) and CEO (his ex-wife) and rubbed my belly, and another time when I was clocking in he kissed me on the cheek. (Did I mention I was the HR Manager?)

  2. I remember having a manager who at one point in his life had worked in a mental health facility, and therefore thought he had the authority to talk to me about my own emotional health and about my “mirrors”.

  3. I remember several more who would tell me that I was the best (insert job title here) but that I needed to “soften” my approach if I wanted to “get along” in their “collaborative culture” – while the men in the department could literally threaten, demean and talk out of turn with not just deaf ears around them, but admiration for their ambition/spunk/energy/etc.

  4. I remember another employer where the manager was disliked so much that people regularly quit by scheduling resignation emails after they had packed up their desk left so they never had to deal with that manager’s crazy behavior.

  5. I remember one married manager who was regularly hitting on a young female staff member trying to get her to sleep with him, and yet she was the one cast out.

  6. I remember filing a whistleblower complaint about illegal hiring practices and a week later being handed my walking papers with the reasoning in writing being that I was “asking too many questions instead of reading the hiring practices manual” even though I’d just received a special commendation bonus from him (and 11 awards in the year prior) for my performance and service. Ironically, they were in the news a few months later for many of the things I’d brought up and they tried firing another of my former colleagues, who decided to sue them – and won.

  7. I remember a place I was recruited to work there because of my experience building processes, cleaning up messes, and my expertise, being told that I was “disruptive” when I spoke up after witnessing everything from employment discrimination, sexual harassment, massive pay inequity and – my personal favorite – being loudly cursed at in front of my manager at by a manager missed an interview on his calendar. This last event my boss witnessed, said nothing, and told me afterwards that I should have told him to “fuck off”, and then even later tried to turn it around on me, attempting to set up a meeting with myself and the offending manager so we could learn to “get along better”…this, a guy who had been known to speak about, among other things, sexually explicit topics around the office.

I could go on. So could most women I know who’ve been in the workplace for more than a few years. Both inside and outside of tech, it happens – and my experiences are tame in comparison to the stories I’ve heard.

Over the past 8+ years, I've consulted with 30+ startups and small businesses in not just filling positions, but overhauling their recruiting processes, challenging their philosophies and ideas to improve hiring and therefore better serve the customers that are both candidates and employees, creating a culture around recruiting that understood that how you treat your applicants reflects on who you are as a company. I’ve also made the decision to not work with companies whose leadership or boards include individuals that have reputations for driving companies into the ground, abandoning employees during crucial times, and involved in any way in situations involving the degradation and/or violence towards women.

Many of my clients truly get it, making the adjustments to how they hire that have helped them secure the best and brightest, and ultimately grow to a point where they no longer needed my services (my ultimate goal as a consultant is empowering teams). But unfortunately, a few pretended at the onset to be interested in what I had to offer, yet ultimately chose to stay in the slow lane where it was okay to do things like give lowball offers, take weeks and weeks to make hiring decisions (and thereby lose valuable candidates), refuse to try new techniques to assist in finding good people a whole lot faster, ignore female candidates submitted, and even talk trash about applicants’ external features, to put it delicately. One even lied to my face about how they were hiring. But hey, karma is out there and thanks to the amazing people in my professional circles, and the good clients who I’ve been blessed to work with, the frustrating experiences have made me a stronger businesswoman and more confident in my approach as I kick off this, my third year in business.

Along with recruitment consulting, I’m also a career coach, working to help people (200+ clients) contemplating a career change to put together a strategy to getting where they want to go. While I don’t profess or claim to be a counselor, listening is always a primary part of the work I do so I can partner with them and empower them to go after their professional goals more effectively – and with greater confidence. I’m always learning from these amazing people with their incredibly interesting stories and finding inspiration (and yes, your story IS worth telling!). And yes, I’ve heard from many of the women how they’ve been treated, at best and at worst, in their past jobs. Kick-ass women, every single one of them.

These two sides of my work, along with 13 years before going solo working in twelve diverse human resources and corporate & agency recruiting roles, have provided me a fairly unique perspective on the experiences of employees, managers, and candidates. I have gotten to participate on career panels, speak at events, and guest blog on a number of websites. And I have had the opportunity to hear so many stories from women, both bad and good, who have helped me understand the unique situations we all face in the workplace.

With that, I’ve also learned how to make some hard decisions and am still practicing the fine arts of learning, forgiving, questioning, and seeing and hearing more deeply in order to be my best self, both personally and professionally. From letting go of things that no longer serve me to remembering the lessons, I'm using it all to be more effective – and happy! – at what I do every day, both personally and professionally.

I will never forget where I came from. I will never forget the girl in me who went from brave and carefree and confident and joyful to, upon moving into the next chapter of school, insecure and self-loathing because of the way people treated myself and others due to my brains, shyness, and younger age. And while I rebuilt, and protect the inner girl inside of me who I thought at one time was lost forever, I won’t forget how, whether it be in middle school or the workplace, people in this world can devastate the hearts and minds of its people when differences are devalued rather than honored.

Below is an incredibly worthwhile video of the awesome Leslie Hawthorn’s keynote speech, Checking Your Privilege: A How-To for Hard Things, at the Open Source Conference (OSCON) . It is a reminder – but I wonder, will everyone listen? Because we can all do better.

I would love to hear your stories – small or big, whether you’ve healed or not – and I would love to hear what’s working in your community, workplace, home, school, whatever…it all touches one another.

We all, like it or not, are interconnected, and choosing to do the hard work can reward us in so many ways.

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