Lisa Rosendahl recently asked me to participate in a series of posts that she was running on the Women of HR blog. The basic theme of the topic was the notion that there are societal expectations, or lines, in place that are much less tolerant of women.
I wound up not writing for the series but her topic got me thinking in a different direction.
Whether we like it or not, there are still societal expectations in place that tell us we should conform to certain norms and institutions. This is applicable to all of us, no matter our gender. I like it when I can find a way to successfully defy those expectations, and make something work in a way that most people would find weird. It makes me feel like I accomplished something worthwhile.
One of the things in my life that I find myself explaining over and over to people is my marriage, for a variety of reasons. It starts with my spouse’s name and goes on from there. I met Kyle on Yahoo, and proposed to Kyle via instant messenger. That was our first moment of non-conventional behavior. There have been many others.
I married Kyle in 2004. We went out of state to get married legally, and then had a ceremony here in Florida in front of our family and friends later that same year.
Kyle is 6 feet tall, has brown hair, terrific eyes, and a great smil, and she is the love of my life. Kyle loves to do home improvement projects and is much better at that kind of stuff than I am. It is really handy to have Kyle around for these types of projects.
Right now, Kyle is hard at work at our home in Georgia doing a demolition job on our fireplace. In the past two weeks, Kyle has taken down a stone wall, removed the framed wall that was behind the fireplace, re-framed a new structure, cut and hung drywall, and is now doing the masonry work necessary to build a new 8 foot by 6 foot hearth with stone walls behind it. All of this is prep work for the installation of a wood burning stove. My only contribution to the project has been to give Kyle my thoughts on the color of the stone we chose, and to provide encouragement and morale support from our other home in Florida.
That is another thing about my marriage that is unconventional. We live apart a lot. I work in a job that requires me to live in Florida. Kyle is a web designer and can live anywhere. Kyle really likes being in the mountains of Georgia, walking our dogs and doing work outdoors on our property there. Many people would question how strong our marriage can be when we live like this.
How do you stay committed when you live alone so much? It takes some creativity and, surprise, some technology. We do simple things to stay connected.
This weekend, we watched an episode of Fringe on television while using our cell phones to text back and forth about the relative merits of the plot. Last night, we both watched a documentary movie on Netflix about India, using instant messaging to point out places in the film that we had visited when we visited India together in 2007.
We find ways to be together - even when we are apart. We make it work for us and we are happy.
The HR lesson? There are a couple here.
First, take some of what I have said into account when you have people working on long term assignments away from home, or if they travel frequently. Coach them and give some help on working on staying in touch.
Second, don’t make assumptions. If you don’t know me very well on a personal basis, you may have assumed that I am married to a guy named Kyle. That would be incorrect. You can see Kyle and I above on the balcony of a restaurant in Cuzco, Peru when we visited Macchu Pichu in 2009.
Oh yeah, did I mention we love to travel as well?
Organized Labor. Not just a club for good old boys anymore.
If you are reading this, and don’t know me, then I would like to tell you something about myself today in the way guys usually do it. At work, I am a labor relations strategist on the management side of business.
This means that I assist companies in managing their relationship with labor unions. This may mean acting as a contract negotiator in collective bargaining, providing conflict resolution assistance through the grievance and arbitration process, or providing consultative services and advice related to strategic labor relations.
Whatever the actual work might involve on a given day, it typically means that I am positioned on one side of what is viewed by many as an adversarial relationship. This makes it important for me to keep up with the latest trends in organized labor, because to quote some famous dead guy:
Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster. Sun Tzu
I don’t really view labor unions as my enemy. I view them as organizations worthy of attention by human resources professionals in the future. They still wield real power in our government and in the workplace. We need to pay attention to labor unions. We need to know who their leaders are.
So, here is what the Women of HR should know about labor unions today: many of the top new labor union leaders are women.
There has been a lot of turnover in the top level leadership at many of the largest and most influential labor organizations in the United States during 2010. A new guard has moved in, in some cases unexpectedly, changing the face of organized labor, and probably changing the leadership style of these organizations in ways that we won’t fully understand for some time to come.
A new leadership took over at the AFL-CIO when John Sweeney stepped down as President earlier this year. Sweeny was replaced by Richard Trumka. He was joined by Elizabeth “Liz” Shuler and Arlene Holt Baker at the top of the AFL-CIO leadership ranks.
Shuler is the first woman ever elected Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO when she was voted into office by acclamation at the Federation’s 26th convention on September 16, 2009. Ms. Shuler is a rising star in the labor union movement, becoming the youngest officer ever elected, after rising swiftly up through the ranks from her first union position in Local 125 of the IBEW in Portland, Oregon.
In her new role, Shuler will be directly responsible for leading an AFL-CIO outreach to workers under the age of 35. This is a big strategic initiative for organized labor and reflects the growing level of attention being focused on the under-35 age demographic by organized labor.
Baker was previously appointed to replace retired AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez Thompson. Baker was rewarded with election by acclamation to serve a full term in the office by delegates to the AFL-CIO’s 26th convention on September 16, 2009.
Mary Kay Henry in charge at SEIU
When Andy Stern stepped down as the head of SEIU, the largest union in America, it was widely expected that he would be succeeded by Anna Berger, his second in command. Most labor experts were stunned when it was announced that Mary Kay Henry had won a stiff political battle to replace Stern.
According to her biography, Henry began working with SEIU in 1979 and rose to become a leader and chief health care strategist and was elected to the International Executive Board in 1996. In June 2004, she was elected to serve as an International Executive Vice President of SEIU, leading the union’s efforts to build a stronger voice for health care workers.
Recognizing that today’s global economy demands a new and different model of labor-management relationships, Mary Kay is leading a national effort by SEIU to build new kinds of partnerships with hospital employers-partnerships that will improve the quality of patient care, strengthen the hospital’s competitive performance, and give workers a voice in decisions that affect care and working conditions. Mary Kay is also active in the fight for immigration reform and gay and lesbian rights. She is a founding member of SEIU’s gay and lesbian Lavender Caucus.
The new face of union leadership is feminine.
It will be interesting to watch how this changes the approach of organized labor over the next few years.
Check out the the video below to hear how Liz Shuler speaks. She is compelling and does a great job of outlining what unions are thinking about today.
Image by SEIU Internationalvia Flickr
I am very excited to be taking part in the “Women of HR” effort. When I told Trish McFarlane that I wanted to be a part of this project, I was both excited and perplexed. I knew I wanted to try to write in this venue. I wasn’t sure exactly what I would have to say.
For this initial piece, I did what I always do when I am unsure of what direction a topic should take - I decided to write about myself and my own experience. Not as a woman, of course, but the experience of working in a field that has become increasingly female dominated over the course of my career. Recently, I was listening to HR Happy Hour and China Gorman shared that 72% of SHRM members are female.
The Gender of Leadership
Over the years, the gender of managers I have worked for has been almost equal, about 50% male and 50% female. The odd factor here is that I didn’t work for a woman for the first ten years of my career. This means that over the last 15 years, most of the people I reported to were women.
I haven’t experienced much difference in working for a woman versus working for a man. At a high level, it has always been about the work and the results. Probably the most noticeable differences in styles would be in the area of communication. Generally, my female supervisors have been more accessible and open in their approach. There was also a discernible difference in the approach to investigating and reviewing harassment complaints of any sort. The men were all about getting it done, discipline, and legal mitigation. The women were all about looking at the personal aspects of the case – how the parties felt, identifying the root cause, and what was being done systemically to prevent recurrences as we moved forward. I think this is a better approach and may be a simple way of illustrating some of the gender differences of leadership. Your personal experiences and perspectives shape your leadership style, right?
My Personal Leadership Gender
Over the course of my own career, I have been told some version of this statement at least a half dozen times:
“You approach HR and the way you manage like a woman.“
At first, I didn’t know how to take it. Early in my career, it would have been a personal dig. Today, I take it as a very high compliment. Many of the best HR professionals I have worked with have been women and I like to think that I learn something from everyone I work with.
Here is what that statement means to me today:
- Not all problems are nails and you don’t have to bring a hammer to fix them.
- Taking the time to listen and then consider is an essential part of effective leadership.
- Try to look at all sides of the problem, including the underside, where the roots of the issue may still be buried, waiting to grow back, and deal with them.
- Business is teamwork. Teams require cooperation and support more than they do cut-throat competitors.
- Just because you are soft in demeanor doesn’t mean you are soft in getting results.
See you next month!
Photo credit iStock Photo