Monday, May 30, 2011

Changing the Way I Network

At the prompting of my manager, I attended an accounting conference last week. I was not excited to be going. I had attended this conference a couple of years ago and hadn’t been impressed. In my opinion, the majority of the presenters had been more interested in selling their products than giving a worthwhile presentation.

What was different this year?
The conference organizers had received feedback that the speaker lineup was weak and had made changes. This year there were fewer speakers who spoke more in depth on their topic. Instead of: Here is my service any questions. Next presentation.

It felt good to commiserate with others:
Recently someone stumbled upon my blog via the following search:

How to create passion for accounting
To be honest if you don’t have a passion for debits and credits that goes back to high school, a new found passion for accounting probably isn’t going to happen. If you did, and currently feel as though you are just going through the motions, an opportunity to commiserate with others may be what you need to re-energize. The conference opened with the host asking, “How many of you have spent the last year projecting sales for the next 20 years for your bank?” Everyone’s hand shot up. “If these projections are wrong whose fault will it be? Yours.” I knew I was in the right place.

I attended the after-hours social event:
Typically I skip these. Similar to the introverts who commented on this Ask a Manager post, after spending eight hours of the day “on” I like to spend the evenings in my room recharging. I met several people though out the day who strongly suggested I attend and I realized it would look bad for me and my company if I didn’t go. The social event ended up being quite enjoyable and well worth my time. I made contacts I would not have made if I had stayed in my room.

What will I do differently in the future?

Dress more professionally:
You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. Because I hadn’t been excited about this event, I was nonchalant about what I packed.  I was more interested in the book I was taking (Rebecca Rasmussen's The Bird Sisters) than what I wore. All of the women were wearing jackets. I felt frumpy in my sweaters.

Have my business cards readily available:
I wasn’t planning on meeting anyone, so I hadn’t thought about business cards. Luckily I had several haphazardly placed in my purse. In the future I will be more prepared. You never know who you are going to meet.

Follow up with new contacts:
This is the most important thing I learned. I received an email shortly after returning from a new contact describing her horrific return flight and providing follow up information to an issue we had discussed. This was an Aha moment for me. How thoughtful. I have never followed up with a new contact. How many opportunities for a genuine connection have I missed over the years?

Other networking tips I’d like to share:

Go alone or if you go with others sit with people you don’t know:
You will never meet anyone new if you socialize only with your friends and co-workers.

When you meet someone new don’t talk about you, ask questions:
One of my favorite suggestions from Megan Hustad's book How to Be Useful: A Beginner's Guide to Not Hating Work is to ask, “What project are you working on?” Ask a technical question others can participate in. Ask about the job market or the economy.

What not to talk about (I have witnessed all of these):
How smart you are.
How smart, talented and gifted your children are.
A minute by minute playback of the European vacation your family took in the 80’s.
Also, don’t direct your conversation to one person, talk to the entire table. (He or she wants to hear what everyone is talking about not your problems.)
Don’t monopolize the conversation with talk of your workplace.
Don’t describe in detail the spreadsheet you can’t get to balance.
Don’t give more than one hard luck story (you will be perceived as a train-wreck)

Don’t drink too much:
At the social event, I stuck to my one glass of wine with dinner rule and went home early. The next morning one of the event organizers filled me in on what transpired after I left: Which guests drank too much and who amongst the conference staff had to baby-sit them. And that the 20-something train-wreck from above spilled her drink on a highly respected business owner. He was not pleased. Don’t be the talk of the conference. Limit how much you drink.

Don't spend the entire conference working on your smart phone:
I know you love twitter, but it is rude to spend the entire conference tweeting your followers about how lame the speakers are. (I've witnessed this.) If you need to email or text, do so discreetly by placing your phone under the table.

Change your (my) attitude:
Since your company is paying for you to attend this event and even if they are not, why not get as much out of it as you can.

And lastly, give constructive feedback:
If there is something about the conference that didn't work for you let the organizers know. Nothing will change if they don’t know there is a problem.

Did I miss anything?  Do you have any conference etiquette or networking tips to share?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Going Gray

Motivation for reading: I decided to read Anne Kreamer's book  Going Gray: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters after Gretchen Rubin mentioned she was a big fan of it on her blog The Happiness Project. Gretchen wrote:
Not dying her hair any more was a sort of happiness-project for Anne that caught my attention.
What is this book about?
Anne who had been coloring her gray hair black for several years realized she wasn’t fooling anyone after viewing a photo of herself:
There she was - behind carefully chosen clothes, meticulously dyed hair, and several rounds of botox - looking exactly forty-nine.
She decides to go gray and wrote this book to document her experience. She explores our perceptions of gray hair. She interviews family and friends asking them if they think grey hair will make her appear older. She posts photos of herself on an on-line dating site, one with grey hair and one with black, to gauge which photo will receive the greatest response. (The grey-haired Anne is more popular) She explores whether those with grey hair are less employable? (In most cases they are). She looks at those who have gone grey in the entertainment and political arenas. She seeks advice from Mireille Giuliano, author of French Women Don't Get Fat, who explains that French men value women of any age who are “bien dans sa peau” (comfortable in their skins). It gives them a quiet confidence and serenity, that seductive je ne sais quoi.

My Thoughts:
Initially, I thought Anne seemed narcissistic. It didn’t help that I’d read a review shortly after bringing the book home that said "Who Cares?" But as much as I wanted to stop reading the book, I couldn't seem to put it down. The more I read the more I liked it and Anne no longer seemed self-absorbed at all. She was just exploring the social and advertising pressures women encounter to look “young.”
Today, three and four decades after the baby boomers’ countercultural transformation of the culture, we have held on to the hedonistic, forever-young part of our Woodstock dreams much more tenaciously than the open-and-honest-and –authentic part. Yes, women really have come a long way toward equality of opportunity and social empowerment. Yet at the same time there has been a narrowing of the range of acceptable looks for women. Women may now be CEOs and TV news anchors, and openly indulge their sexual appetites-but only if they appear eternally youthful. And a main requirement is a hair color other than grey or white. (Pg. 38)
And what a business boom hair color is for the beauty industry:
Some hair-color marketers estimate, hopefully, that as many as three-quarters of women color their hair, although some research puts the number closer to half that, including women in their teens, twenties, and thirties. (Pg. 44)
Anne calculates she spent over $65,000 coloring her hair during the 25 years she did so. She went to the hairdresser on average every three weeks to touch up her grey roots.

I love Anne’s opinion of low-lights:
A friend Betsy was wrestling with the whole low-lights concept of reverse coloring, adding dark streaks to her grey hair. If you search “grey hair” on the internet, a lot of information you’ll discover covers how women can add ‘dimension” to their hair by introducing a wide variety of colors. I personally think this is simply one more way the beauty industry tries to keep us on their regimens. But “low lights” might effectively change the subject from age-versus-youth truthfulness to plain-versus-stylish aesthetics. (Pg. 23)

Anne, now grey, meets with three image consultants. Surprisingly, none of them think she should color her hair, but all feel she needs to update her wardrobe. This gave me another push to clean out my own closet (I, like Anne, still own suits from the 90’s that no longer fit).

Anne realizes every decade of our life is important and that if we spend our time, money and energy trying to look perpetually twenty we will miss out on what is important in each of those decades - but we also care about how we look.

She closes with:
One's character is the result of hundreds of ordinary, mundane daily choices.  And social and cultural progress are the cumulative result of a billion tiny choices.  If each of us tries to tell more of the plain truth in small ways, then maybe we as a society and culture will find it easier to start to recognize and reward the truth in bigger ways. And hair, as ridiculous as our obsession with it may be, is a very real, visible, emotionally central sign of what each of us is trying to be- a sort of personal flag.  To dye or not to dye, that is a question. (Pg. 202)

What about me - do I or don’t I dye?
At 48 soon to be 49, I’ve yet to see a grey hair, but that could be somewhat deceiving since I've been professionally highlighting my mousy, dish-water blond hair since the early 90’s and don’t have plans to stop anytime soon. My hairstylist agrees my hair color hasn't turned grey it is just duller and in my opinion uglier. Other than an occasional teeth-whitening and nightly dose of anti-aging cream when I remember which isn't often I don't partake in any youth preserving beauty regimens. I have friends who have gone grey. They grew tired of the four-week maintenance appointments and their hair is gorgeous. We all do what we works for us. Moderation most likely is the key. 

How about you do you or don’t you?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Should employee report sexual harassment?

An acquaintance confided:

My manager, who I will call Mr. Bully, belittles, intimidates and harasses one of my employees on a regular basis. Yesterday he threatened to write her up for no apparent reason and made her cry. We are both afraid of him and fear retaliation if I speak up or report him to HR. I’ve tried talking to his manager, but he says Mr. Bully is a friend of our company’s President and there is nothing he can do. When I try to discuss his treatment of my employee or other problems in our department directly with Mr. Bully he yells at me. Then he says we are good right and asks for a hug.

Oh and another thing, he touches and gropes both myself and my employee. I know his manager has seen him do this, but he pretends he has not. This manager then told me to tell him to never touch me again. My employee does not want me to go to HR about the touching because she doesn’t want Mr. Bully to find out we reported him. Both of us really need our jobs and are certain our company’s President will not allow him to be reprimanded.

Mr. Bully is from another country and we understand his behavior towards us (we are women) may be influenced by his culture, but we don’t like it. What should I do?

To start with Mr. Bully’s manager is a spineless weasel. The minute you reported the touching to him regardless of whether he witnessed it himself, he was required to take reasonable care to correct the harassment. In saying that, you also have an obligation to protect your employee from sexual harassment. It is your responsibility as a manager to thoroughly investigate a sexual harassment charge even if you are asked not to. If it comes out later you were aware of sexual harassment and did nothing your job could be in jeopardy.

I recommend you go home and write down every harassment incident you recall. Include dates, times, locations, who was present and what occurred. Include the “asking for a hug” incidents. Stick to the facts. Don’t write: he’s a creep and everyone I talk to thinks he’s a creep too. Don’t give excuses like he is not from our country and doesn’t understand our culture. Don’t say: Mr. Bully’s boss witnessed the incident, but refuses to admit it. Just write Mr. B’s boss was in the room.

First thing tomorrow morning pull out your employee manual and determine how to report a harassment incident. Follow the procedures indicated and file your report. Your company, most likely the HR department, will begin an investigation. They are required to make every effort to keep your identity confidential during and after the investigation. However, you or your employee’s identity may be obvious from the facts of the complaint.

It doesn’t matter that Mr. Bully is a friend of your company’s President. There is nothing he can or should do to prevent Mr. Bully from being investigated, but if you think your employer didn't fulfill its obligation under the law, or you experience retaliation consider contacting the EEOC.

In the interim if Mr. Bully touches you or your employee again tell him his behavior is not acceptable and must stop immediately. He is trying to bully and intimidate you as well as your employee and has created a hostile work environment.

It was hard for me to hear blatant sexual harassment such as this is still occurring in my back yard and that managers remain unwilling and afraid to report it. When this acquaintance initially came to me I was reminded of Penelope Trunk’s post Don’t report sexual harassment (in most cases). Penelope states:

After you've filed a report, human resources will protect the company, not you. The law is set up to encourage a company to take proscribed steps to protect itself from liability rather than to protect your emotional stability, or, for that matter, your career.
She suggests employees have a frank talk with their harasser prior to going to HR and to negotiate with him/her themselves. She recommends asking to be transferred to another department and if that doesn’t work to begin looking for a new job.

I am sure Mr. Bully has harassed women who have worked for him in the past and will do so again if he is not stopped. The thought of this manager getting away with this sickens me. I hope Penelope is wrong and HR will be successful in changing his behavior.

What do you think? Should employees report sexual harassment?