Category Archives: workplace

The Ladies Room

7 Unexpected Business Lessons I’ve Learned From Millennial WomenScreen Shot 2017-03-22 at 11.22.25 AM

I am a VP and editorial director at a large media company. Now 56 years old, I follow with interest debates about whether women at my level do enough to mentor millennial women — a heated and sometimes fractious discourse that covers why they do or don’t, if they should or shouldn’t and so much more… Read more on Tue/Night >

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car hop

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My first job was as what was called a car hop at an A&W in Iowa. I was just 14 — you’re legally allowed to work young in farm states — and I used my babysitting money to buy the uniform I needed from a medical apparel shop: a white polyester nurse’s tunic, zip front with big patch pockets, and matching trousers. This A&W was located along a stretch of Highway 6, a straight flat road lined with cornfields on either side. Looking back, the whole enterprise seems dubious. The iffy ROI of paying $20 for that uniform, for a job with an hourly wage of $1.25. Biking along the highway to get there wearing that scratchy white get-up, trucks barreling alongside my Schwinn. Biking home under the muggy night sky, my tips jingling in the patch pockets—dimes, sticky with root beer. But especially dubious was delivering the orders that got called in from the motel next door to the A&W. Now mostly, I’d carry food on trays that I’d hook onto the customers’ car windows. But a couple times a night, I’d be asked to carry a tray across the parking lot to the back of the motel, knock on a door and wait for the man—it was always a man—to answer.

One such scene: a man wearing underpants standing at the door with a woman lying in bed, her bare back turned toward me, just visible in the flickering light of the motel TV. When she turned toward me, a white breast flashed in the darkness.

The man noticed me noticing her. He winked, opened the door wider as if to invite me in.

“Thanks, darlin’” He said, laughing, paying for his burgers, slipping a dollar tip into one of those patch pockets.

I backed away then ran across the weedy motel parking lot to the safety of my A&W.

“Gosh,” I remember thinking, feeling shaky and a little thrilled, although I’m not sure I knew why. At the time, I probably chalked it up to that dollar tip. A whole dollar!

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The Ladies Room: 8 Things I’ve Learned From Working With Millennial Women

I am a VP and editorial director at a large media company. Now 56 years old, I follow with interest debates about whether women at my level do enough to help millennial women climb the corporate ladder — a heated and sometimes fractious discourse that covers why they do or don’t, if they should or shouldn’t and so much more. Famously, there’s Madeleine Albright’s “special place in hell” arguing from the “should” camp (although she’d later characterize the statement as “undiplomatic”). There’s Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s supposition that women feel obligated to not show a gender bias leading the “why they don’t” discussion.

And then there’s the less discussed but pervasive—and patronizing—attitude of a certain kind of senior leader toward her younger female colleagues. The sentiments shared with me, because I am old and it is assumed I will feel the same way: They are entitled, brash, not deferential enough toward leadership, look at their phones when I’m talking in meetings and let’s not even get into what they wear to work. As a theme, the objections are mostly about ignoring social queues and not adhering to “normative” workplace behavior.

It should (but doesn’t) go without saying: what’s “normative” changes constantly. I try to remember this when I find myself rolling my eyes at generational differences in the workplace. It’s also worth knowing they’re rolling their eyes back. I’m thinking of the time I referenced “the ladies room” only to overhear one female employee grousing to another: “why the f***k is a grown-ass woman talking about a ‘ladies room?’” The truth is, adapting to a changing world is how any of us survive— in the workplace and on the planet. And I don’t intend to stop adapting now, even if the change agents are women 35 years younger than I am. A partial list of what I’ve learned: 

  1. Casual references to calories, dieting and “I feel so fat” are not OK

When I was the rising generation, a certain kind of striving-to-be-inclusive female boss would attempt to cozy up with “just us gals” chat like this. Fifty-something leaders, myself included, need to celebrate body positivism as a great leap forward.

  1. Pronouns matter

I got into a ridiculously heated discussion over using they/them when referring to an individual, so as to honor their not choosing to use he/she/him/her. My wrongheaded objection was based grammatical — an individual can’t use plural pronouns, I said. I was so, so wrong. The argument ends here: yes, they can, whatever Chicago Manual of Style might think.

  1. (Office) Clothing, optional

Women miss the point when they judge each other on clothing choices: bared midriffs, ripped jeans, lacy bralettes worn over tops. Too long, we’ve had men characterize us by how we dress. Let’s not do that too each other, OK?

  1. Don’t use prissy punctuation on Slack

I’m an editor. I like a well-placed semi-colon and the proper use of a one-m dash. But Slack (or a text) is not the place for them.

  1. Stop all that ‘splaining

Sometimes, when you’re the boss of people in the room or simply when you happen to be the one talking, you talk over people about something you know less about than they do. This is a kind of abuse of power, at worst, and borderline offensive, at best. And by “you” I mean “me.”

  1. Girl, not interrupted

I’ve been stunned—in a good way—at my younger female colleagues easy deflection of manterrupters. It’s not harder than this, as it turns out: “Give me another sec, I haven’t finished my point, Andrew.”

  1. I am not her mother

There’s slightly icky workplace type called the Office Mom, who helps the young’uns personally and professionally (whether they want her help or not). It’s all too easy to see your daughter or son in like-aged colleagues, but they’re not actually your children, let us remind ourselves to remind ourselves.

  1. It never was a dress

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Put another way, it’s best to steer clear of anachronisms like “the ladies room.”

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A postcard to myself

postacrd-front

taking the good with the bad

This is what came in the mail last week. A postcard made at a reunion with my college roommates, aka, the Rapture Sisters (why that name is a story for another time). Linda had the good idea to make postcards to mail to each other at some unspecified day in the future. She brought all the supplies: blank postcards of a very nice stock, pictures and stickers and such for decoration, stamps. Other than that, no rules and I approached it as I do any blank sheet of paper: get started and hope that something will occur to me.

postcard-back

What confuses me, a little bit, is that I recall making postcards for the four other women. I don’t recall making one for myself. But this is very clearly my handwriting, except for the Happy New Year note at the top.

Whatever, it tracks nicely with a mood I wrote about going back to work last week. Feeling like I needed an external force for motivation and inspiration. Even a postcard from another (or me in another mood, if that’s what this is). Feeling unambitious, unconnected, restless. Feeling like a fraud at work which, I have since learned, has a name: Imposter Syndrome. From Wikipedia:

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. The term was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women. 

That’s me! I thought when I read this, feeling vindicated, as one does when one receives a name for a condition, however spurious (sorry, Restless Leg Syndrome Sufferers).

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copyright CARL RICHARDS, the Sketch Guy

Carl Richards, the Sketch Guy, captures perfectly the feeling in one of his napkin sketches, above. Which is a kind of postcard to himself, I suppose.

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A Girl’s Guide to Office Brocabulary

men at work

men at work

“Adorable” is the word Jennifer Lawrence uses to describe how women in business strive to sound. Wise beyond her years, the actress shared a story on Lenny Letter about how she was chided for speaking plainly to a male colleague. Her essay, a few weeks ago, kicked off a conversation about how “Woman in a Meeting” is a language all its own. Examples from The Washington Post, all of which I am guilty of: “This may be all wrong but…” and “Maybe? I don’t know? How does the room feel?”

Lawrence’s story:

I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit way …

Read more, right this way —>

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while you were out

The Time & Life building was purpose-built for Henry Luce’s shop in 1959, one of several 45-floor monoliths along 6th Avenue.

Time Inc. has started moving downtown and will be completely out of the building before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve (some 8 blocks away).

Offices are being abandoned with lots of flotsom and jetsom left behind, including these While You Were Out pads I recall with some wistfulness. The choices are charming really — Someone (say who) did/said something (“telephoned” “wants to see you”). Especially outdated is the notion that this Someone “called to see you,” perhaps with some urgency, if so please check.

I filled out a few of these in my day. Never thought I’d be nostalgic about them.

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