Category Archives: Career

‘Overserved’? Certainly, and workplace sobriety underrated

By this point in the news cycle, even the most blasé sports fan in the Upper Midwest knows that Norwood Teague has problems — legal, psychological and, likely, alcohol-abuse problems.

The former athletics director at the University of Minnesota was said to have been drunk at a president’s retreat in mid-July when he sexually harassed two senior-level women. He resigned August 7.

Amid the media firestorm that has ensued — with more women coming forward to say Teague harassed them and the U of M president backing away from his original claim that his golden boy had merely been “overserved” — one question has yet to be asked.

Was it appropriate, or advisable, for alcohol to be served at this work-related function at all?

Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse, a recovering alcoholic, was the first to say that Teague’s alcohol consumption at the retreat was “no excuse” for his boorish and illegal behavior. True enough. But can the U of M be held accountable? Who was minding the bar at the taxpayer-supported leadership retreat? How was Teague allowed to get this drunk?

Attorney, women’s advocate and human resources consultant Gina Franklin counsels employers to “turn around” the assumption that alcohol is a bonding agent and a necessary source of creative inspiration at work.Gina_Franklin

“That’s the ‘Mad Men’ philosophy of life,” says Franklin, a senior associate at W.J. Flynn and Associates in Eagan, Minnesota. “We think it’s seriously dated.”

Franklin, like me, is an old-school feminist who would never blame women for harassment or assault. But we share the perhaps prudish and politically incorrect opinion that sobriety in professional settings is a protective tool.

As an HR coach, what would you say to Norwood Teague?

Now that he’s resigned, he needs to think about: “How do I address this so I can be employed again?” If I were his coach, I would say: “Go get an alcohol assessment and really learn if there is abuse or addiction. Put together a plan for how you’re going to better understand this. Have this be part of a life-changing event.” I think an employer would give some credit to the proactive nature of that.

Employers that cater to younger workers, especially, promote alcohol at workplace functions or after long days at the office as a well-deserved stress reliever.

If our clients have an occasion to provide alcohol at an event, we work with them not just around policy but the whole culture of consumption:

  • You can serve alcohol in limited amounts, such as two drink tickets per person.
  • Remind everybody of the organization’s harassment policies and code of conduct.
  • Provide food at the event. Stop any access to alcohol after dinner. Instead have a speaker or entertainment — and then provide cab rides home.Drinking at work

What role does alcohol play in sexual harassment?

Alcohol is a factor in the majority of these crimes. It goes almost hand in hand. Alcohol removes inhibitions, and it compromises judgment.

While I was in law school in the early 1980s, I had a public debate with my law professor: Is alcohol a mitigating factor when sentencing a sex crime? My response was: “No, it’s not a mitigating factor. The individual made a choice to consume to excess and his judgment was impaired.” I was unequivocal about it. If you use alcohol as a mitigation in sex crimes, then you’re always going to mitigate. Always.

Your daughters are 18 and 21. How do you caution these young women about mixing alcohol and work, without missing out on the networking and relationship-building that often happens at work-related events?

I have to think about that as a woman every day in my world, and both my daughters and my stepdaughters, who range from 28 to 38, ask me how I do it. I talk about compromise. If consumption of alcohol would compromise your thinking and decision-making and put you at risk, that’s not a good plan. There are men who would take advantage of that.

Since I quit drinking five years ago, I’ve noticed how often workplace socializing is tied to alcohol — and I’m increasingly ill at ease with the assumption that everybody drinks. How can employers support people who don’t drink, whether they’re recovering alcoholics or abstain for other reasons?

We advise employers to have non-alcoholic choices for employees, just as you’d have non-meat choices for meals. If I were the HR person, I would meet with any employee whom I knew was in recovery and develop strategies for how to navigate those events. I’d give that person advice and support.

The U of M incident — or multiple incidents — has helped many of us recognize the prevalence of sexual harassment, despite women’s gains in all sectors of society. Or is harassment tied more broadly to the prevalence of rape and domestic violence?

Sexual harassment was not a subject when I started in the workplace. I’m 62. I’m literally a grandmother in terms of the women’s movement and the subject of the relationship between the sexes. I founded a rape-crisis center in the 1970s as an undergraduate in Nebraska. It still serves victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse and child abuse.

For years now women have been coming forward to say: “No, we’re not going to tolerate sexual assault.” Prevention of sexual harassment — and recognition of harassment — evolved from that.

The Upside of Anger? I Rarely Find One Anymore

I work with the public and am a clearinghouse for complaints, so I deal with a lot of angry people. Sometimes I’m the target, other times I’m paid to listen. More often I’m the go-between or messenger, charged with trying to broker or influence a solution.

Whatever my role, and however legitimate the frustrations, I have learned to muster a special brand of fortitude, humor and patience to hold my own amid the heat.

Personally, I am less angry as I age and less enthralled with the personal power that I thought my temper gave me. I am quicker to make amends when I am wrong and more willing to step aside in a disagreement, to speak my piece and then yield the last word. I once judged that behavior as passive.

And so, in the course of re-examining my relationship with this misunderstood emotion, I talked with anger expert and mediator Jeanne Zimmer, executive director of the Dispute Resolution Center in St. Paul.

Jeanne Zimmer

Jeanne Zimmer

How do you engage with angry people without becoming angry yourself?

“You have to be empathetic without taking on their emotions. Just to pick up the phone in our office, you have to have the 30-hour training. The person on the other end of that phone is angry. You need to listen both for what they’re saying and the emotions underneath it.

“People can’t move to logical problem-solving till those emotions are addressed. Mediators will say: ‘It sounds like you’re really hurt. This must be hard.’ Then the angry person can move forward.”

Years ago I was stunned to hear anger described as the flip side of fear. What have you learned about anger?

Anger is a secondary emotion. Shame or fear is often underlying anger. Think of primary and secondary colors. What is really going on?

“Somebody comes in and says: ‘Your dog is barking all the time. I want you to move.’ What’s underneath that? The interest may be my sleep, or fear of dogs.”

What is difficult about this work?

“As a mediator your job is to listen and absorb. Self-care is important. You don’t want to take that emotion with you. If you can’t be fully present to the person on the other end of the line, let it go to voicemail and take a walk.”

A handful of the angry people I encounter strike me as mean-spirited. They’re “beside themselves,” to use a phrase that I am only now coming to understand.

“People behave in conflict as they saw growing up. Many of us weren’t taught good conflict-resolution skills. How did the family of origin deal with anger? Did they scream and yell? Give you the silent treatment? Send you to bed and everything was magically OK in the morning? You tend to do what you know.

“If you learn sarcasm, for example, how do you change it? The response is not hard-wired; it takes intention to change it, and that’s harder than it looks. It’s much easier to call 911 or sue somebody than it is to sit down and work things out.”

I used to love the rush that self-righteousness gave me. So what is the motivation to change?

“Unresolved conflict affects your health. It can take a mental and physical toll. Conflict distorts who people are. It takes us out of our place of homeostasis, our place of balance.

“Also we’re not at our best when we’re in conflict. You don’t see people as they are or how they see themselves. If you told this handful of so-called difficult people what your perceptions are — that they seem unfair or unkind — they’d be surprised.”

What is the science — or art — of mediation?

“People come in and don’t talk to each other. They talk to the mediator. When you summarize what someone else is saying, you’re helping them to be heard in a neutral voice. People need to be acknowledged, recognized and heard. That anger is: ‘You’re missing something!’ And they will go back to that again and again till they feel heard.”

How has this work helped you deal with anger personally?

“I am angry about something in my life right now. I’m hurt and I’m frustrated. How do I articulate that? And, I can’t change what’s going on. There’s a powerlessness.

“It helps to describe what the anger is like, how it feels. Then, how do you take care of yourself when you’re angry? Do you like to be left alone or to talk about it? It’s that meta-communication: How do we help each other? Then, you have to be brave enough to confront it.”

Various men over the years have called me strident, emotional and, my favorite, overly sensitive. Does our culture allow women to be angry?

“I’m 55. Women my age were taught in our professional lives that we had to be like men, wear the blue suits. We tried to become mini-men. But a man who gets angry is manly; a woman who gets angry is a bitch. Those stereotypes are out there.

“So at work, especially, how can you articulate how you’re actually feeling and be heard? Because women, again, are dubbed ‘too emotional.’ We’re seen as weak and not in control.Hillary Clinton_2

“People are afraid of angry women, so that’s the fear of Hillary [Rodham Clinton]. People expect men to be angry, and a woman who is angry loses the pretty. Your face gets red, you’re not Minnesota nice.”

In my 50s I’ve been working to respond more than react. Has your relationship with anger changed with age?

“Most people become mellower with age. You learn to pick your battles, you learn to let things go. Self-reflection makes a difference. Are you willing to be vulnerable?”

Is anger ever justified?

“Part of our work at the Dispute Resolution Center is learning to diagnose the conflict. If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. You need to know what the appropriate response is.

“If you’re Rosa Parks, you don’t mediate. If there’s an injustice, you need to get out there and stand up and effect change. There are reasons why we have the legal and criminal-justice systems. But way too many issues are being treated as though they’re about ‘rights,’ and they could be solved in an inter-personal way.”

Women and Money: Earn, Save and Spend (in that order)

St. Paul–based financial educator Ruth Hayden has been giving women the same advice about money for 25 years.

And it’s not because she’s out of touch with the persistent problems of the gender pay gap or the glass ceiling. Far from it. No, Hayden — who literally wrote the book about women and money back in 1992 — is discouraged about how little has changed for female wage-earners in the past quarter century.Ruth Hayden

“I get more sophisticated questions than I got 20 years ago,” says Hayden, whose “Women and Money” classes are consistently sold out and whose four books include one on couples and money. “Women know the language. They know they have to make money. But they’re still deferring too long on investing, and they’re not earning enough.”

Advice may be cheap, but a conversation with the ever-quotable Hayden — a regular with Kerri Miller on Minnesota Public Radio — is like striking gold.

On financial education: “To my toes, I am a teacher. And there are three areas of money I work in:

“One, how do I earn money? Is it enough? Is the income stream sustainable? Because I’ll likely work a lot longer than I thought I would. Two, how do I consume or spend my money? Am I in charge of it? Three, how much do I accumulate? Am I in charge of my savings and investments?

“Without the first one in place — a solid income stream — the other two don’t hold.”

On saving as a necessary discipline: “The biggest risk for women is that we don’t get enough money put away fast enough. Two factors are at work: We don’t earn enough in a job that is sustainable, and we are uneducated about where to put that money. Because we feel incompetent about investing, we ignore it.”

On learning to invest: “Financial advisors tell women to pay off their house. And women like that. They like the concept of home, and they can touch it. But that’s why so many women are living in a paid-off house but don’t have enough money coming in to have a decent life inside of that house.

“Instead of telling women what they want to hear — ‘pay off your house’ — we need to encourage women to come into a field they’re uncomfortable with, and that’s the stock market. It is the only game in town to create money over time that grows ahead of inflation and taxes. All the stock market is, is other people’s businesses.”

On how to have money when you’re old: “I can start a business that I later will be able to sell. Second, I can invest in other people’s businesses, and that’s the stock market. Third, I can invest in real estate, including my own house.

“Men prefer the first one. They assume they will build a business and someone else will highly value it. I like a mixture of the three.”Women invest

On why women resent work: “If you lined up 10 women and asked them this question, they’d say, ‘Oh, no, I don’t resent my job. I have to earn money.’ Then you let the conversation go informal, and it may come out. It’s the resentment at having to do it.

“The women who are always exhausted or resentful about work have an issue with work. Somehow, they expect to be taken care of — and it used to be by a man. It’s not politically correct to say that now. But when I push on this in the women’s class, the room gets very quiet.”

On the ambiguity inherent in making choices: “Very few decisions are either right or wrong. There’s always a downside. That’s how you make a decision: ‘I want this upside, and I can manage and live with the downside.’

“This is where couples get fussed up. They look for a right and wrong. Instead of getting tangled in who’s right and who’s wrong, ask the question this way: What is the upside and what is the downside? Find a process to work through it. Make it a brainstorming session.”

On career vs. job: “When women are really overstressed, they say they’ll work in a flower shop or bookstore. No, those don’t pay well. That’s a job, and a job is temporary. A job is something I wish I didn’t have to do.

“Women need to get more engaged in the way we make money. It’s about learning to develop a career: A career is part of me. A career grows with me. Emotionally and intellectually, I own a career. And then we have to find a way to make the career more sustainable long term, because most of us will be earning money a lot longer than we thought we would be.”

On discomfort with age: “A Twin Cities–based corporation brought me in because their younger employees weren’t enrolling in the 401(k) plan. They showed me a digitized photo of me aged to 80. My brain did not recognize me. If I can’t recognize myself, why would I put money toward that person? Why would I invest money for retirement?

“I recently had a client, at 56, take $18,000 out of her retirement funds to pay for plastic surgery. And she is so happy! But she’s not examining the back end of that choice. Three decades from now, that $18,000 could go a long way toward making her comfortable.”

On women and power: “Women still feel powerless in their lives. When we pull out the credit card and get what we want: In that moment, we feel powerful.”