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Monthly Archives

March 2017

Uber, Sexual Harassment, and the Stanford Prison Experiment

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In February Uber Engineer Susan Fowler wrote a blog post reflecting on her year at Uber – a year rife with sexual harassment and discrimination. Unfortunately, her year was also rife with ignored complaints made to HR because offenders were high performers. Her post took the world by storm, and Uber has responded with an investigation (currently being conducted).

No doubt, Uber will eventually release some sort of diversity and inclusion (D&I) plan to show the world they are taking Susan’s claims seriously, much like celebrities check themselves into rehab after a drunken debacle.

The first question is, how does something like what Susan described even happen?

The infamous Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971 provides a good answer. Researcher Philip Zimbardo sought to understand if the situation outside of us – the institution – controls our behavior, or if our values and morality allows us to rise above a negative environment. He turned the basement of Stanford’s Psychology Department into a mock prison, and randomly selected research participants (Stanford students) to serve as prisoners or prison guards.

According to the outcome of this particular study, the situation outside of us – the institution – controls our behavior. Some of the guards became unruly and even abusive. They truly lived up to the role they had been assigned inside this institution. And the non-abusive guards went along with it; they never spoke up against the abusive guards.

Even Zimbardo himself got caught up in the institution. As he played the role of prison warden his role of researcher seemed to fade away. It took a colleague having an emotional breakdown for him to take a step back and realize the damage he was causing his research participants. He shut the experiment down early.

In the same vein, we might guess that the HR folks at Uber, who Susan reported the sexual harassment and discrimination to, were in a situation where the institution controlled their behavior. Like the prison guards who never spoke up against the abusers, Uber’s HR team was caught up in their role as it existed inside the culture of Uber.

At this point we can only hope that Uber’s D&I plan will take reasonable steps to solve Uber’s harassment and discrimination issues. But I predict it will not be enough.

The D&I report will likely list actions Uber will take to hire in more women, and new procedures for reporting and resolving harassment complaints. It may even discuss plans for training programs on the topics of harassment and discrimination, as well as diversity and inclusion.

While those steps will be steps in the right direction, unless the D&I plan includes a strategic plan for changing Uber’s culture, it won’t make much of a difference. I say that because most D&I plans focus on the D – diversity. Many do not focus on the I – Inclusion, although inclusion is truly more important.

So here’s a vocabulary lesson for Uber:

Managing diversity – which is what I suspect Uber’s report will focus on – is a compliance thing. It means an organization is taking steps to successfully “manage” diversity.  If you “manage” diversity you probably claim to be an equal opportunity employer, your anti-harassment policies are up to date, you try to avoid biases in your interviews, and you have a plan to hire in more others (in Uber’s case others will refer to women).

Inclusion, however, is a choice. It means you seek to include others in everything you do. Inclusion is a choice to create a culture of respect, professionalism, and equality. To truly solve the problem of sexual harassment at Uber, a plan to create a culture of inclusion is in order.

Tolerance is another word we see a lot in reference to diversity. Why people use this word is beyond me. I tolerate the annoying lady behind me in line at the grocery store who keeps bumping into me with her shopping cart. This isn’t a good reference point when we’re talking about diversity and inclusion.

Let’s replace tolerate with celebrate, and in order for Uber to truly fix their culture, they’ll need initiatives in place that provide the opportunity to do just that. Instead of brushing up on their sexual harassment policies and providing sexual harassment training programs, as their D&I report will no doubt require, Uber would be wise to set up programs that will bring more women into the organization. They might consider creating a women leadership program, offering scholarships to women who want to major in engineering, and offering an employer resource group for women.

The culture has to change – it has to be about inclusion and celebration of differences. When a woman has a child, for example, instead of tolerating that she’s on leave for three months, Uber should celebrate with her and ask her what her needs are. When any employee needs a day off due to a religious holiday, instead of tolerating that he’ll be absent, celebrate with him and invite him to share insight about the holiday with the rest of the office. When one employee is celebrating Pride Week, instead of tolerating the pride flag taped to her cubicle wall, celebrate with her and find out how you and the rest of the office can participate too.

Inclusion means you invite people to be themselves and that self is celebrated.

Check out my course on Diversity & Inclusion at Lynda.com (though, admittedly, it is entitled, “Managing Diversity”). If you don’t already have an account, you can get a free 10-day trial there from my webpage (and view my other Lynda.com courses).

Employee Engagement Doesn’t Have to Be a Mystery [ebook]

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Employee engagement can be difficult to measure. Have you ever asked yourself just how many of the employees in your organization are really engaged?

A 2014 Gallup Poll found that only 31% of employees are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to work and the workplace.

That’s a scary thought, considering employee engagement supercharges all aspects of company culture, finance, and customer loyalty.

So… How exactly does one increase engagement in the workplace? Fret no more, friend! My new e-book, Employee Engagement Doesn’t Have to Be A Mystery, provides 7 facets of engagement and 55 easy-to-implement action items to get started.

Download your e-book here!

Here’s to getting the most out of employee engagement. Enjoy!


Increase employee professionalism in 30 mins

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I’ve been thinking about WHY people don’t take action against workplace bullying lately, and I’ve come up with three reasons:

1. Fear. In the case of workplace bullying, taking action means standing up to the bully. It possibly means standing up to managers who aren’t willing to acknowledge it’s a problem. What happens if people don’t listen? Will the bully retaliate? What problems will taking action create? These questions are answered in the context of fear, so the answers lead people to avoid taking action.

2. Spotlight. Many people don’t want to be in the spotlight. Why would someone volunteer to be in the spotlight if it meant they will be punished by the bully? Or worse, by the organization?

3. Apathy. Some people just don’t care enough to take action. Maybe the bullying doesn’t bother them personally. Or maybe they think it’s normal to be treated that way, so they don’t feel compelled to take action against normalcy.

Maybe one of these reasons is why you haven’t taken action, or maybe it’s something else. But one thing is for sure, if you’re not taking action it’s because you haven’t made the decision to take action.

If you want something to be different, you have to take action to get it. Whatever it is, do it today.
To make taking action easy for you, I took the liberty of stealing from my own training materials and put this job aid together. This is an exercise I run for clients in my training programs, and I’m sharing it with you so that you can run it with your team.

The job aid provides step-by-step guidance to facilitate a 30-45 minute conversation about professionalism. Feel free to use it yourself or email it on to your managers to use in their staff meetings.

Go get ‘em tiger!


5 Things You Can Do to Inspire Feminism in Your Male Workforce

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Feminism has become a popular term these days, especially within the last couple of years. Some women despise the word while others live by it. And where are men in all of this? Do they agree in equality? Do those that do have implicit bias harboring inside of them despite their outward beliefs?

At its core, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Let me repeat that: Feminism the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.

Equal work deserves equal pay – it’s that simple.

Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy said he agreed with that statement and signed the Equal Pay Act. Unfortunately for women, it seems this doesn’t really matter as the World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be alive to see it happen. I’d hate to think only my grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren will be the first to see equal pay.

How do we push equal pay into our lifetime? We have to get men on board. We need to convince them we deserve it.

Until men break those stereotypes they have of vulnerable women who aren’t as capable as men, there is no room for feminism. Men must open their eyes to a world where men can cry and women can be bosses without being called bossy. Misogyny is a trap for everyone. Letting it go will set us all free.

Below are 5 tips for breaking barriers to equal pay:

Raise awareness about feminism

Ignorance is the enemy. Many people, specifically men, have a false perception of feminism. Perhaps the ol’ image of the bra burners is still stuck in their head. Feminism is truly about making things equal, not about making women more like men.

Rotate responsibilities

Not all men are fond of physical work, and not at all women want to document meeting minutes. Alternate responsibilities for common tasks to ensure that tasks aren’t handed out based on gender.

When I worked for a start up tech firm, I was the only woman in the office. I was hired to interview and hire new employees (and create an HR Dept) as the company expected to grow with its recent $5M investment. Of course I was tasked with answering the phones, I  can only assume because I was the only woman, and I refused. I pointed out that it made more sense for the guy serving as executive assistant to do it, based on his job title. And I won that battle.

Encourage fathers to take time off for their family.

Women are often encouraged to take time off or work less hours after they have a baby, but shouldn’t men be too? After all, the law provides for both men and women to take paternity and maternity leave, respectively. Yet it’s taboo for a man to take his full paternity leave, and that’s just silly. It’s equally important for a man to bond with his child.

Be aware of your implicit bias

According to Sheryl Sandberg, the creator of the LeanIn movement, “Women are still underrepresented at every corporate level and hold less than 30% of roles in senior management. And women hit the glass ceiling early: They are far less likely than men to be promoted from entry level to manager, and they continue to lose ground incrementally the more senior they become.”

And there are so, so many articles just like this one highlighting the discrepancies between men and women. You have to be aware of your own bias, and even if you are a woman, know that you likely have them too. You might say to yourself that you believe women deserve equal pay, but the nature of implicit bias is that it is implicit – you don’t know it’s there. Admit to yourself that it could be, and start being a part of the solution.

Also encourage everyone to talk openly about gender stereotypes and bias. The more you talk about it the less it’s the elephant in the room.

Set goals

Take a look around your workplace. How many men versus women are in leadership positions? Do the women in those leadership positions make the same as their male counterparts?

If you have less women than men in leadership roles, it’s time to set some goals for yourself to even it out. If the women in leadership roles make less than men, it’s time to even the score. Unless the men have vastly more experience (we’re talking 10 years or more), they shouldn’t make more, period.



#BeBoldForChange #IWD17 

HRWest Handouts

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If you attended the HRWest Conference in March 2017, here are the handouts I showed in my presentation and a few extras:

Want more free stuff? Sign up for my e-newsletter and get a free-ebook with 10 steps for eradicating workplace bullying (and monthly tips, scripts, tools, videos, job aids and more).


Workplace Violence vs Bullying Webinar – Mark Your Calendar!

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Last call for spots in my upcoming webinar on workplace violence!

This webinar appears to be one of my most popular – with the second highest registration rate ever. Pretty cool.

Join me and another colleague, workplace violence expert Sue Hoffman, from Workplace Guardians, this Friday, March 3, at 10 am PST/1 pm EST.

We will discuss the similarities and differences in workplace violence and bullying, define behaviors that “count” as workplace violence, and provide a wealth of tips for preventing both violence and bullying in your workplace.

Click here to get your spot.

I look forward to seeing you there!