Rules, Measurements and a Tipping Point

I optimistically emerged from my post Futurama cartoon binge coma. I’m ready to write. How does this sound as a Hollywood policy and process for filing a sexual harassment claim?

The accuser must first engage in 30 days of counseling with a legal counselor in the Office of Compliance. After 30 days, they can choose to go into mediation with a representative within the office with whom they’re lodging complaint against. That mediation would last at least 30 days. When mediation is finished, the accuser must wait 30 days — but not wait longer than 90 days. It is only then, after those steps, could the accuser officially file a formal complaint and pursue a hearing either with the Office of Compliance or Federal District Court, but not both.

OK, you may or may not recognize this as the dispute resolution process for sexual harassment claims on Capital Hill for some 30,000 employees of the legislature. But wait, there is more. The settlements are paid by the US Treasury, not by the office against which the complaint is launched. The US taxpayers pay the sexual harassment settlements. There is proposed legislation underway to change this process and do regular reporting to gage if progress is being made.

This is logical, a rule is put in place and you need a measurement to determine if it’s working. The legislature has rules forbidding sexual harassment in the workplace, there needs to be a measurement to determine if it’s working.

The fair pay act passed  2009 – women should be paid the same as men for the same job. Data shows that women are still paid less than men, on the  average of 83 cents to the dollar. In 2014, President Obama enacted the fair pay and safe workplace order requiring companies to report how much they pay workers by race and gender. Obama’s executive order also barred forced arbitration of sexual harassment claims. These were known as coverup clauses. President Obama’s ban on “cover-up clauses” stopped companies with government contracts from using the forced arbitration clause to keep sex discrimination claims out of the courts and off the public record. Makes sense, there is a fair pay act, there needs to be a measurement to see if it’s working.

In April of this year, President Trump signed an executive order revoking the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order. Hence, companies (that do work for the federal government)  do not have to provide data that would help determine if women are paid less than men for the same work and forced arbitration to keep sexual harassment out of the court continues. This is reprehensible especially in light of the existing policy on Capital Hill for sexual harassment claims. Are recent events signs of a tipping point? A point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change where the norm is equal pay for women and a harassment free environment? Or is that truly Futurama, something that only exists in a cartoon parody?

The Binge

I am on a binge; a Futurama binge. It started last week and now I’m 84 episodes in with 56 left to go. I’ve calculated 20 hours left of viewing time with an estimated completion day of next Saturday. Hmmmmm, is this normal?  Am I in avoidance mode? I read that binges are a way to deal with negative emotions. Since I did spend 4 hours nightly over the last week watching an animated cartoon series that debuted in 1999 I figured a little self diagnosis was in order. Día de los Muertos! This week was the day of the dead holiday, a remembrance of friends and family members who have died.I realized the show for me is oddly nostalgic; reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid and the family would watch cartoons over a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and shoestring fries. It was the one day of the week breakfast time was not punctuated with hurry and finish, you have to go to school or church. It was the one meal of the week we could eat while watching TV. For my brother and I, Saturdays were special. Is binging on a tv show different from other binges?  This week’s binge was not avoidance or procrastination. It was break from reality, a connection with the past and a lovely indulgence of remembering my parents and cherishing the memories of them that remain.

Trick or Treat, the Bogeyman and Ordinary People

The bogeyman is a hoax; it’s some made up creature that spans multiple cultures, albeit with various other names, used to frighten children into good behavior. We’ve seen children reduced to tears, fearful of the threat of mythical bogeyman. But this trick is not just for kids. Consider the adult version of the bogeyman. It starts with concepts of good and bad, left wing and right wing, for and against. Even Halloween has a polarizing tagline of trick or treat.These are polarizing abstractions that give rise to the adult bogeyman. Categorical opposites are demonized and loathed. As adults, we’ve turned ordinary people into an army of bogeymen.Our prioritized fear against this threat has left us with an unpredictable irrationality and inability to move forward.

Crap. I had a decent hypothesis and opening for this blog post, it fits with a Halloween theme, but now what? I put the bogeyman in the story and now I see no way out of this existential crisis.   I lucked out. This week, I saw Van Jones in conversation with Alexis Madrigal at a City Arts event. Van Jones described on stage and in his book his friendship with Newt Gingrich.

     The former Speaker once told me something profound, as we discussed ways to think about bipartisanship: “Your ‘ninety percent enemy’ can still be your ‘ten percent friend’ – on every point where you agree.” Newt and I still passionately disagree on 90 or more the issues. But in those places where our views align, we look for ways to work together. When i comes to topics like fixing the justice system or ending the opioid epidemic, we owe it to ordinary people to try.¹

The concept that your enemy can be your friend on every point you agree is a way to turn that army of bogeymen turn back into ordinary people. Turning on the “proverbial light” to banish the monsters requires us not to act as if everyone is a trick or a treat, but an opportunity to find common ground to solve common problems. A version of insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Fear,  loathing and demonizing the “other side” does not work. The choice is yours, keep your boogeyman or consider the possibility of working with 10% friends. Maybe this new trick will give ordinary people a treat.


¹ Jones, Van Beyond the Messy Truth, Ballantine Books, 2017, p128

² Forum Radio Interview:


They Did a Bad Bad Thing; Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The crash and burn of Harvey Weinstein produced shock, rage and a hashtag. But, this is just an event. An event without action remains an event, not a movement and not a change. While many question how Mr. Weinstein’s behavior continued for decades, the better question is, will this continue? History shows it will. The culture of sexual harassment in the workplace has some parallels with the civil rights struggle that can provide lessons learned and a path forward.

In 1863, the emancipation proclamation by Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. In 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery. In July of 1868 and the 14th amendment, gave African Americans due process and equal protection under the law. In February of 1870, the 15th Amendment granted African American us the right to vote. But, what followed is a lawless, shameful, embarrassing and uncomfortable history.

The southern democrats began enacting “Jim Crow” laws in 1877 to separate the black and white races, “separate but equal.” From a historical perspective, this was a backlash against laws granting rights and citizenship. Fast forward to 1957, the Little Rock Nine were 9 black students who were blocked from entering Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas by orders of Arkansas Governor Orval Fabus to prevent integration. President Eisenhower sent federal troops and the National Guard to intervene on behalf of the students. This was an open defiance of laws by government officials and a heinous event where 9 children waiting to enter a school who were spat on by angry protesters. Would anyone want that for their child?

Today we’d like to think we’re done with this. There are times when racist comments are discounted, “well, you know, that generation,” or “that’s the way it used to be.” Slavery ended over 150 years ago people. “That generation” is no longer alive. Treating people with a lack of humanity is wrong and if that is how people were taught and raised, it’s wrong. Reality and civil rights have been tenuous at best which lead to the civil rights act of 1964 which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Sixteen years later the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the civil rights act of 1964.

More than 100 U.S. Navy and United States Marine Corps aviation officers were alleged to have sexually assaulted 83 women and 7 men, at the Las Vegas Hilton in Las Vegas, Nevada took place at the 35th Annual Tailhook Association Symposium from September 8 to 12, 1991. Shannon Faulkner, the first girl to enter the Citadel on August 15, 1995, was met with anger, death threats and protests. She started her first day with the escort of United States Marshals. The home of her parents was sprayed repeatedly with graffiti and her parents also received death threats. She voluntarily resigned, citing emotional and psychological abuse and physical exhaustion at the end of the first week. The male cadets celebrated her departure. This behavior was atrocious and it was in 1995. Again, we’re talking about a kid going to school with threats of death.

The early accusations of Harvey Weinstein start in 1984. Behind closed doors, it has been said, that was time, or that’s what happens in “that” industry? Does that feel more comfortable to put that behavior at a distance and is it some consultation that those women chose to be in that business? Like Those 9 children chose to go to that school, so they should have expected it? Treating people with a lack of humanity is wrong. If that is how people were taught and raised, it’s wrong.

There are laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace. Companies have detailed policies of how this behavior is not tolerated; they can show the process for reporting sexual harassment and produce metrics on incidences. But companies are not asking the right questions. Is this an environment where people are comfortable reporting? Have people had an incident that they don’t report? Why don’t people report? Who are the executives that speak openly and supportively of a harassment free workplace. In terms of change management, who is the executive sponsor, those in leadership who champion a harassment free environment? Who are the advocates of change, those workers at large, who are not the targets of sexual harassments but vocal supporters of a harassment free environment?

In the timeline of civil rights, Jim Crow laws served to undermine the intent of the US constitution. Many companies have a non – disparagement agreement or ask workers to waive their right to go to court over employment issues — including sexual harassment — instead steering them into private arbitration where the claims and their outcome may never be made public. Whether it was the intent or not, these agreements are now a way for companies to avoid public disclosures of misconduct. Harvey Weinstein is an abomination, but not an anomaly. Cases of gross misconduct from Uber, Tesla, Amazon, Fidelity, Fox and others this year alone highlight there are issues. In the timeline of civil rights, Jim Crow laws served to undermine the intent of the US constitution. Many companies have a non – disparagement agreement or ask workers to waive their right to go to court over employment issues — including sexual harassment — instead steering them into private arbitration where the claims and their outcome may never be made public. Whether it was the intent or not, these agreements are now a way for companies to avoid public disclosures of misconduct.

What’s next? With recent events in the news, it is an excellent time for companies to examine their policies. For people in his workplace, it is a time to think about how to handle harassment. ¹ Most of all, understand what you hear in the news are not isolated instances but everyday life and it’s wrong. It’s time for a substantial conversation with actionable results. The facts show sexual harassment is a problem in the workplace. History shows a pattern this can continue for decades. Now is the time for a movement to embrace a change for an inclusive, harassment free environment.


¹Sexual Harassment, Collateral Prey and the Myth of the Bystander


Life Happens: Survivor’s Guilt, Phantom Grief and the Pursuit of Happiness

We’re under a collective fatigue. A lot has happened the past few months and this is the breaking point. Between the hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, an earthquake, events now called by cities, Charlottesville, Las Vegas, followed by trial by Northern California Fires and Hollywood Harvey and a time line of taking the knee.I felt guilty that I spent two minutes debating the merits of lavender scent laundry detergent versus fresh air scent. It reminded me as kids when we were told, finish eating there are starving children in the world. Here I am picking a laundry scent when there are people without a place to live. Sure, there are relief efforts for the natural disasters, there is social discourse on events, but that seems to do little to reign in the gamut of emotion from the anxiety, doom, empathy, compassion and survivor’s guilt. With information, pictures, videos and stories so available today, there is a new thing to add to the list, something that is becoming more prevalent, phantom grief.

There was a mass shooting in Louisville, Kentucky over 25 years ago. I drove to work, I knew there was something wrong because there were so many ambulances. By the time I got to  the office, I learned there was an active shooter at Standard Gravure, one of the guys in the office was on the phone with his wife. The next day, I couldn’t speak, I had no voice. No, this wasn’t shocking or grief, a group of us went to Cincinnati that night for a Rolling Stones concert. I lose my voice during the opening act, Living Color, my guitar hero Vernon Reid was on stage, singing Open Letter to a Landlord. Three days later, I was a greeter at the Cathedral of the Assumption for a memorial service. Something almost unbelievable had happened and yet life went on. Five friends went on a road trip to River Front Stadium and watch the Rolling Stones perform Gimme Shelter from row 11, floor seats.

Now, in a world of political correctness and optics, I feel the need to stress, oh yes I was impacted and felt deeply. I was horrified at the media presence at the memorial service and tried to protect a few grievers from photo ops and sound bites. I am thankful a few days before, I was with good friends on a once in a lifetime adventure. The desire to show compassion and empathy can lapse into the dark side of fantom grief. It requires us to stay in a hyper-vigilant state of mourning, any good time is guilt ridden. The grief cycle is denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As we process grief and we may spiral back and forth between the stages before we emerge to acceptance. With phantom grief, nothing is really a loss. We will stay in anger, bargaining and depression because there is nothing to process. We are left with primarily anger and depression that plays out in all kinds of crazy.

If you find yourself or those around you anxious, overwhelmed and slipping to the dark-side. Consider it could be phantom grief; you are not in immediate danger, you do not have a loss, it’s ok to be happy.  I once heard a response to eat all your food, there are starving people in the world. This kid responded, I am thankful we have food, I will trick or treat for UNICEFF, but  my eating or not eating isn’t going to stop people from starving. Use kid logic now as inoculation against phantom grief. Have gratitude for what you have and compassion for those in need. Go spend time with friends and family and enjoy life.

Down Dog, Reflections on Barks in a World of Bytes

Ace in Action

Ace does not like me. This is a fact. Ace is a dog and every time he sees me, a barking frenzy ensues. He is not afraid of me. His tail is wagging, but his demeanor is more, let me get off the leash and see watch what happens. Ace has spoken barked.  Someone mentioned to me, what if people were more like dogs? There is an honesty about dogs. Dogs don’t lie to you,dogs hang their heads in shame when they have done something wrong. You know when they like you and when they don’t. My immediate thought,  It’d be great not to have to try to figure people out.

I work virtually, with limited time on the phone and emails,  there are challenges.  I wonder, how engaged are people in a project, is there support for change, is there enthusiasm for innovation? The worldwide virtual environment is  in its infancy;  there isn’t a strong organizational culture around how things work.The trouble is, we act like there is. While one team adheres to strict plans and schedules with check points, other teams feel this is just a suggestion. Frustration and mayhem ensue.

Imagine two groups of dogs are playing . One group is trained to heel and sit and the other is taught to sit. If you say heel, half of them will obey and the other half will keep playing. This is only a problem if the expectation is all dogs would heel. At that moment, telling the playing dogs what “heel” means is not going to change help.¹ Agreed to behaviors, definitions and goals are the way forward for projects. Yet, often, little attention is given to this and we end up with “they” are behind schedule versus “they” have set unrealistic dates.  There may be a year long effort kicking off and time isn’t spent up front understanding work style preferences. Little time is spent on discussion and agreements on goals. Projects have more of an “assumptive” launch. Everyone “assumes” they know what things means and how it is expected things will go. Consider dedicating a little more time up front. Look, if everyone is in agreement, it’s short meeting. If not, it’s time well spent.

I should not say, Ace doesn’t like me. Ace barks in my presence. He could be a wonder dog who barks to indicate disease, mental anxiety,maybe I’ve disrupted his puppy world, or you know, he just doesn’t like me. We don’t know and can’t know because we can’t have a conversation with Ace the dog. But with teams and people, we have the gift of words. You can ask. So instead of wondering why something is not what you expected, ask. Yes, there is a chance you may not get a workable answer, but there is a good chance you can. That’s a lot easier than the mystery of the barking dog.



¹This example is for illustrative purposes only and by no means insinuates people must be trained as animals. 

² The yoga pose in the featured image is commonly called down dog.

Somebody’s Watching You? The Virtual Reality

Assumed you’re always being watched. I know there are those bristling at the thought. From my 7th floor balcony I can see people in a parking garage 3 blocks away, see housekeeping enter and exit rooms at a hotel a block away and see inside which restaurants have a line before I go out to eat. Yes, I was still a little surprised when my neighbor said she sees me walking to yoga from the window in the gym, but it reenforced, assume you’re being watched. I wondered if she noted the times I crossed the street to avoid the sketchier side of the underpass on the my half mile walk. The real concern is avoiding the“harmful” watch. Those who are watching to potentially do us harm, or exploit us. That’s the creepy, icky, criminal watcher we want to be mindful of. Consider there is another “watcher” that’s just a click away.

Have you experienced getting online and somehow, 90 minutes have gone by? You’ve probably slipped into the darkness of algorithmically delivered content based on your likes, dislikes, previous searches, subscriptions, online shopping patterns, etc. The content is customized to fit your world view. I heard Jeff Bezos speak at a commonwealth club event in the Silicon Valley three years after the launch of Amazon. He talked about overcoming the difficulties of a start up, from the first name, a take on abracadabra which sounded too much like cadaver, to the necessity of kneepads in packing boxes. But it was his vision that sold me. He perfectly articulated my feeling after reading a great book. The exhilaration, the need to tell someone and the desire to find another book as good. The challenge was using data to make this happen. Revolutionary! As an avid reader,the possibility of buying and reading a book I absolutely love sounded like reader nirvana.

Fast forward and we’re in the era of big data. Technology today makes it possible to gather, analyze and predict behaviors based on data. This is collecting our clicks, the amount of time we spend on sites, what triggers a tweet, a text, an email, a social media post to determine patterns and predict our behavior. We listen to podcasts and similar ones are recommended.We read a post and there are 5 related links that follow. This is stealthily customized content, readily evident with a simple Google. Two people can put in the same search in Google and get different search results. You can delete cookies, clear history and it’s not going to change this. We’re being watched and we’re in an echo chamber. ¹ What we see and hear on-line reflects our world view. Here is the danger.

In the real world analogy, you’re looking for a place to park. There is a big event, you’ve circled the block slowly three times and it’s clear people are trying to find places to park. A stranger knocks on your window and says, I’ll park your car for you, just give me $20 and your keys. This seems like to perfect solution to meet your needs, right? In this scenario, would you even roll down your window, let alone pay $20.00 and hand over your keys?  Is it time to bring more discernment to your online experience? In an echo chamber there this is the absence of competing views, those get censored out, are ridiculed, discounted or underrepresented. Your beliefs now have point of views, masquerading as facts, to prove your intellectual superiority in being right. This cycle circumvents the questioning the validity of the source, there is no fact checking. Delusional is characterized by or holding idiosyncratic beliefs or impressions that are contradicted by reality or rational argument. Your echo chamber has the potential to render you virtually delusional.

You’re always virtually watched. Your content feed can be informative and entertaining, but, needs to be balanced with reality to avoid the malady of virtual delusion. This week, what happens if you approach online as unfamiliar? Question each link as you would a new neighborhood at night, who told me to go here and why am I going here. As you review content, consider, is the source reliable, is this fact or opinion, what might the competing view be. You’re not necessarily changing what you do; you’re just bringing a new awareness of where you are. I haven’t changed my route to yoga in the last 6 months, but I have an awareness of when I need to be more alert. Be virtually aware, Big Data is watching you.


¹An echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system.

%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this: