The Mother’s Day Paradox

Did you ever notice that the official spelling of this commemorative holiday is the singular possessive “Mother’s Day” and not the plural “Mothers’ Day” as it is usually celebrated? When you hear proclamations that we are participating in a day celebrating motherhood, please join me in a resounding chorus of “Nope! It’s all about MY mother!” Researching the topic online didn’t have to go any further than Wikipedia to learn that although it is celebrated in some form in almost every country it is not really a global holiday. The occasion as practiced in the US is not tied to any worldwide tradition, but it is far from being just another “Hallmark Holiday.” In 1912, Anna Jarvis trademarked the phrase “Mother’s Day” and was very specific about the location of the apostrophe. It was intended for each family to honor their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world. I love this quote attributed to her: “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. “ She spent much of the later years of her life campaigning against the very holiday she created because it had become so commercial.

So what does all this have to do with HR? My mother was a negotiator, mediator, peacemaker and prophet. She didn’t work in HR and chances are that yours probably didn’t either. Since our attitudes in the workplace and beyond are influenced by our innermost personal feelings, the fact that we all had a mother gives us all something in common. While specific memories may be different, we share the common concept that our life began with our mother. I guess it should also be noted that when women attain the honor of being called “Mom” they don’t automatically gain sainthood. In fact, some mothers fail miserably, yet somehow there is still a mother-child bond that lies much deeper than any actions could erase. Civilized society recognizes the special status of motherhood which possibly comes from this collective emotion of people with mothers. The culture of the workplace is a mirror of the society which surrounds it and that places everybody’s mother at the focal point of company policies, such as those for maternity benefits and nursing mothers. In the US, forty-four states have laws specifically allowing women to breastfeed in any public or private place. Twenty-four have laws regarding breastfeeding in the workplace. [1]

Well, our deference to mother is a good theory, but proving that to be fact is a little difficult to do. Research suggests that actual attitudes tend to differ. A recent article [2] in the Wall Street Journal highlighted a study conducted at Montana State University [3] in which several experiments tested the attitudes toward breastfeeding with 60 undergraduate students. Their opinions were totally subjective based on interviewing women in four different groupings. Surprisingly, based on perception alone, the students rated the “breastfeeding” woman lowest of the four groups on overall competence, workplace capabilities, math ability, and also whether they would hire her. This is not a new phenomenon. In 2005 Ohio State researchers conducted a study [4] in which young adults held mothers to stricter employment standards than childless women. While parents in general were judged as less committed to the job, fathers were held to lower standards than both women in general and childless men. While these results may be shocking and contrary to our cultural intuition, they do point out that in the workplace HR has an important job to be an advocate for the rights of mothers and not allow even the most benign unconscious bias have an influence over pay, training or promotion. Such disparate treatment is not just a woman’s issue it impacts all of us who have had a mother.

Maude W. Bolt - A great mother is like a great wine getting better with time.

My mother would have been a great HR leader. I owe my ability to work in HR or in any other capacity to my parents: Mom shared with me her positive attitude about life and the faith that “everything always works out for the best” if you will just make it happen; Dad was an example of ultimate work ethic, constant learning and family values. While it probably isn’t genetic, I was given gifts that are priceless. Thanks, Mom! I miss you every Mother’s Day but you are truly with me every day. And I’m sorry I didn’t write or call more often.

References:

[1]National Conference of State Legislatures, “Breastfeeding Laws” September 2010 http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=14389

[2]The Wall Street Journal, “Breastfeeding Mothers Viewed as Incompetent” April 21, 2011 http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/04/21/breastfeeding-women-viewed-as-incompetent/

[3]Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, “Spoiled Milk: An Experimental Examination of Bias Against Mothers Who Breastfeed” March 18, 2011  http://psp.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/03/18/0146167211401629.abstract

[4]Ohio State Research News, “Mothers In the Workplace Held to Stricter Standards” 1/4/2005, http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/genster.htm

 

When the Experts Disagree

Ford vs. Chevy

My father and his brother had a disagreement which began from my earliest recollection as a child and continued throughout their lives. They were as close as brothers living in two different cities could be, but when they got together this topic always came up: Which is better, a Ford or a Chevrolet? They had other differences: Dad was an under-the-hood kind of guy and I remember that my uncle adorned his car with gadgets. I especially liked the swivel “suicide knob” on his steering wheel which I thought was pretty cool, but never dared to say it out loud. Both had a great sense of humor and joked about it a lot, but Dad was an avid Ford guy. My uncle argued that any Chevy ever made could beat any Ford any day of the week. We were lucky that the conversation never really left the kitchen table or they would have been out looking for a straight stretch of road to prove their point. Thankfully, Mom and my aunt never had to go bail them out.

There has been a lot of chatter in blogs and on Twitter lately about disagreements and the value of the “expert” advice offered in the various job seeker chat sessions. If you haven’t participated in a chat session on Twitter, you should try it or at least lurk and watch. It is like speed dating on steroids! As a co-moderator of several of these chats** I can tell you that it is a little like herding cats to keep the conversation on topic and moving forward. There is a wealth of information spewed into the internet in such a very short period of time. The downside is that it can also be difficult to keep up with all the comments, especially when there are clearly opposing points of view at times. I have heard several job seekers musing: I should worry AND not worry about keywords in my resume; I should use PDF formatted resumes AND avoid PDF resumes; I should follow up before AND after the interview; I should write for ATS screening AND for a human recruiter. So what is the job seeker supposed to do? You are looking for advice and are getting mixed signals. Does this mean that the advice is not worth the effort? I think not.

I suggest that it is best to consider where the advice originates and the thinking of the person giving the advice…all without calling the psychic hotline if possible. Like any other form of communication it is best to consider the source of the data before implementing or modifying a plan. For the purpose of this discussion I have divided the reasons for the disagreements into four categories which may be overly simplistic to some and a revelation to others. Start with this idea and move forward: In most cases, there is never one best answer!

  1. Different opinions: Advice is often unfounded and not based on evidence – We all know that there are opinionated people who will never accept an opposing viewpoint and adamantly defend their beliefs. Actually, while on the surface this may sound like a bad thing, it really is not. It is very much an important part of the process of getting and giving advice. It is a fact that the lack of proof does not mean that the advice is wrong. There are established practices in every field of endeavor, especially in recruiting. When these are challenged, it often results in no empirical evidence being provided to support the theory. Advice to job seekers based on generally accepted principals is useful if there is a consensus of believers who support the idea even though some may disagree. There may be as many theories about cover letters, resume formats and follow up as there are people who are offering advice. Unfortunately it may take acting on a gut feeling, the reputation of the advice giver and trial and error to decide on your personal choice. Logically applying the advice to different situations may not be easy, but recognizing that there are differences is critically important.
  2. Different experiences: All answers are relative – One of the clearest differences of opinions can sometimes be seen between agency recruiters and in-house corporate recruiters. They will both call themselves “recruiter” but may disagree on what they believe that term to mean. It is important to listen to them with the knowledge that these people are not the enemy. Most are extremely caring people who want to help. Why else would they take the time to participate in job seeker forums when there is no pay for this service? As if this were not already too dynamic to follow, to further complicate things all agencies don’t work under the same model and all companies have different rules for their recruiters. A lot of these experts have worked in both areas, understand and respect the other side’s viewpoint, but the prevailing attitude and basis for advice will be from their current perspective. Probably the true, text-book model of a recruiter is one who manages candidates, client relationships and just about everything else from initial contact through hire. But I have seen agencies pervert the system by arbitrarily shifting quota numbers, the recruiter’s report card, and in-house recruiters who are forced to react artificially to time-to-hire metrics. While not true in all cases, both of these practices do contribute to devaluing the candidate experience despite the best efforts of the recruiter. I could go on, but the reason I say that there is “no right answer” is because there are too many variables for anyone to declare one solution as “the” right way for all situations. Most advice is well-meaning and will add value in the right situation.
  3. Different crystal ball: Future thinkers are looking beyond today – Because these experienced professionals are looking to create tomorrow’s systems and procedures they are speaking authoritatively from a path that leads to their own personal future conclusion. Obviously, if the end point is different then the steps along that path will be different. There will be disagreements. I have seen respected leaders debate an issue and end up as polar opposites in their conclusions. As professional as these people are, and with the sincerest respect for each other, it is not uncommon to hear one of them comment, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.” I love this dialog! By definition, if it is in the future it can’t be disproved…it is a THEORY. The value I take from this disagreement is not so much where they think we are going, but where they have been, getting inside their brains and analyzing why they think this way. Since this is discussing something that hasn’t happened yet, the advice given can only be as good as the path it opens up for you. I would consider advice from any of these people and in fact have adopted some of them as my personal mentors even though they may not even know me.
  4. Different motivation: Challenging the status quo improves processes – On a macro level, newspaper ads gave way to job boards. Job boards are finding the need to evolve in order to remain a viable force today. Social media is a powerful recent phenomenon and yet there is still disagreement on how it is supposed to work for recruiting and job searching. Strong advocates of all of these media are likely to take metrics and successes to justify their particular point of view. Newspapers still serve as a useful tool, although though I do it online and have not subscribed to a print version of this medium since the parakeet died and I no longer need cage liners. I love the job boards and continue to use them on both the seeker and recruiter side. I have embraced social media, but find that many people are skeptical and scared of this unknown thing. On a more micro, individual level, motivations spring from the occupation of the adviser. Ask a recruiter if you should get professional assistance in preparing your resume and you may get a different answer than when you ask that question to a career counselor or resume writer. You should study the pros and cons of all of the alternatives yourself and pick a side because the disagreements are not going away. The advice from all of these sources is relevant as long as you form a balanced approach and keep a controlled record of progress to capture the personal metrics for the use of each tool.

In summary, everybody answers questions based on their total life experiences and will offer advice based on those answers. The needs of each job seeker will be different as well, so some advice fits and some advice does not. Experts may disagree in their approach, however there is value in studying opposing viewpoints and tailoring a plan for your job search. It would be nice if there were only one way, but there isn’t. It will not be easy to sort out all the differences of opinions, but understanding that this is one situation where both sides of a disagreement can be right can help. Or maybe neither side is right…my father’s last car was a Buick.

** Disclaimer: I am a participant in multiple online chat groups and former co-moderator of #HFChat, so obviously I drank the Kool-Aid.

 

HR, Pop Culture and Bin Laden

Yesterday as I looked over my outline of blog topics and worked on some unfinished drafts, I had no idea that I would be motivated to write about a hot news story this morning. A last minute change in plan will be guaranteed NOT to be an in-depth analysis of anything, but a short blurb about my thoughts at the moment. Please bear with me on these ramblings as they flow:

Today is a major landmark in the war against terrorism. As I look back to my memories of 9/11 and the ways it changed my life, I have to pause to join those who are thanking the brave forces who have worked so hard to bring justice for those who died that day. Knowing personally some heroes of 9/11 who guided others to safety has given me undying respect for the survivors. Being a military veteran myself gives me no privileged insight to current strategy, but I do maintain a profound respect for those who risk their lives for freedom despite living in a culture that depicts them as bloodthirsty animals in movies or as cartoon-like characters on television. It isn’t popular to be heroic and those who rise to the challenge deserve our gratitude.

But tomorrow all will be forgotten and the spin begins.

We live in a society with the attention span of a gnat. Pop culture, instant communications and mass media drives our thinking rather than logic and reasoning. We have two body functions that can drive our lives and more often than not it is emotion or a rush of hormones rather than controlled use of brainpower. In the workplace, the break-room chatter this week will be about the death of Bin Laden. Last week it was about an overblown wedding ceremony costing millions in a country with high unemployment (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10604117). Next week it will be about who was voted out of American Idol. Am I being cynical or is there an inconsistency in how we view the life around us? Some would say that there is a need for diversion from daily life to maintain our sanity. How close are we to declaring the insanity of pop culture to be the norm?

As HR professionals we should somehow develop a sense of what makes people tick. To do otherwise would be to court anarchy and unprofitability. Not our only goal, but a key mission to keep things on track is to place value on the human beings in the organization and allow them to become the best they can be. The organization benefits from listening to people, not as in a democratic forum, but in an understanding of what motivates workers in order to produce the best mutual results. Sorry to be a nay-sayer, but fluff created merely to rally around the company flag is not much more mature than a high school pep rally. We all are guilty of letting emotion rule our decisions and that is not management’s finest moment.

The pep rally mentality is in full force today. While I cheer the demise of an evil leader along with others around the world, there is something beneath the surface which is very troubling to me personally about celebrating someone’s death. Somehow it seems that the primary difference between the cheering Palestinians ten years ago that the World Trade Center had been destroyed and the cheering crowds last night after the news about the death of Bin Laden is that this time our team won.

Sunrise of a Blog

To me the sunrise symbolizes a new beginning. The header to my blog is a photograph I snapped of the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean from a hotel room in Cronulla, NSW Australia. It was quite inspiring to watch each morning as the sun gave birth to a new day by burning off the lazy haze left over from the night before.

Actually the term “beginning” means only a moment in time. What happens next may not follow the planned course or have the expected outcome. The gift of another sunrise each day gives us encouragement, optimism and hope. Benjamin Franklin used these sentiments when he referenced the sunrise design carved into the chair used by George Washington in the 1779 Federal Convention in Philadelphia, commenting that it was a rising, not a setting sun.

Picture courtesy of ushistory.org

This is the rebirth of my blog. Previous incarnations died painlessly because of a lack of any purpose on my part that was greater than everything else in my busy life. But this is a new day. I have been encouraged to write again by several mentors, associates, family members and friends, but the real reason is that there are things that are important to me, my passions, which I feel obligated to say out loud. The purpose of this blog will be to comment on debates on critical topics in my field and hopefully add something meaningful from time to time.

My field? Human resources or whatever it will be called tomorrow. Studying for the SPHR certification exam pointed out to me that some topics come more easily than others…a clue! It is true that if you live long enough you are bound to learn something. I have worked in all areas of HR during my career, but when I wake up in the morning I am thinking like a recruiter. If I feel the urge, any topic in this domain is fair game, but my sourcing and staffing experiences will probably dominate. This leads to another passion of mine which is as a candidate advocate. I refuse to subscribe to the notion that applicants for a job are just meat to feed to the grinder for profit. In the raging debate about the “candidate experience,” I tend to support the view that people want to be treated fairly, don’t know what they don’t know, and need to be educated about the other side of the interview desk.

In November, 2009 at the Socialrecruiting Summit in New York, John Sumser asked the room about one of his main concerns, “Everybody follow a bunch of blogs? Anybody learn anything from them recently? Yeah, it’s mostly a bunch of crap” (http://socialrecruitingsummit.com/2009fall/post-event/johnsumser_masterburnett/). Few but John could say this and get away with it to a room full of bloggers. So following his advice, I’m attempting to add something that is relatively crapless. The relative crapiness of my blog posts will be moderated by your comments and suggestions, which are not only allowed they are necessary. I suspect that my views will not be shared by all and I encourage that dialog. Hopefully, I will make a difference somehow and I know that I will learn from you.