Equality Is a Lie

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 11.04.06 AM (1) (1) (1).pngDo you think that people of different races are born equal? What about people of different genders?

I’m asking this because we’ve been talking a lot about equality lately, especially in the wake of the Google fiasco — you know, where that engineer was fired for writing a manifesto about gender roles. He said that women are biologically less suited for tech roles, and as a result, some of Google’s gender diversity efforts are misguided.

Except, he’s misguided. But not for the reasons you might think.

To understand why he’s wrong, it’s important to ask a larger question: What do we mean when we talk about equality? What should we mean?

Separating Wrong From Reich

To find out, everybody, hop on the bus! We’re going to take a road trip, y’all! We’re heading to Charlottesville, where I’m going to say something that only a “fine person” from Charlottesville would say: Black people are biologically dumber than white people. The most classically racist line there is, right?

Now, as a decent human being, your immediate reaction is probably to argue that there’s no real proof of this. Just like in the Google case, people reacted with the most common defense that there’s no scientific evidence to back up the guy’s gender claims.

And from a workplace perspective, you tend to refute these claims because oh-mi-god! If people think they’re valid, then what might that say about the perception or the validity of diversity programs themselves.

Stop! Don’t do any of this. Do not fall into that trap of addressing biological facts or “facts” about race and gender as a means to uphold diversity and equality. Because that doesn’t actually make sense.

What If It’s True?

To see why, pretend the claims are true. Imagine a world in which black people really are inherently dumber than white people. Imagine that women really are intrinsically less suited for certain professional roles. OK, now what?

Well, for starters, it would mean that biologically, we wouldn’t have racial or gender equality. In both cases, in some ways, one group would be superior to another. OK, and? Would this mean that hospitals should stop recruiting black people to be doctors? Would it mean that Google really should end diversity efforts to support women in tech?

After all, if groups of people are not inherently equal, then why should you or I or any company pretend otherwise? Why should there be diversity programs built upon a myth of equality?

Yeah, About That Myth…

I’m going to tell you why, and I don’t need to a hypothetical to do it. Because in reality, people are NOT born equal. We talk about equality as if it’s a fact. It’s not. Equality is a lie.

Regardless of whether groups of people are biologically equal, it is certainly true that as individuals, we are not. Our genes differentiate us. So of course we all know black people who are smarter than white people. We have the current and former U.S. Presidents to prove that!

What all this means is that there is no single quality that we all share that makes us equal. Not through nature or nurture. Not intelligence, not strength, nothing.

As my favorite philosopher Peter Singer said — and much of my views here are based on his: “The principle of equality is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans; it is a prescription of how we should treat human beings.” Pretty profound, right?

Equality Is Not a Description — It’s a Prescription

Equality is also a creed that we extend not to groups of people but to individuals. And we do this not because of our similarities but despite them. The science is irrelevant.

So when someone argues that people aren’t equal — again, by nature or nurture — you tell that person that none of that matters. The only thing that matters is equal consideration of individual interests.

And when someone uses a misperception of equality to say that diversity programs are wrong, you say, Are you kidding me? Diversity isn’t about descriptions of equality. It’s about prescriptions for equality of opportunity.

And when someone still insists on using stereotypes — accurate or otherwise — to deny individuals the right to advance personally and professionally, you say, Dude, I will vote you out of office in three years.

(Want to see me talk about this in person? Come to DisruptHR NYC on Sept. 13. Get your ticket now!)

Part of the 2 Percent

artworks-000049373797-uapeq3-t500x500 (1) (1) (1).jpgI’m part of the 2 percent. I work for the tiny fraction of U.S. companies that offer unlimited paid time off (PTO). That’s right, I get to watch The Price Is Right live as much as I want! Or something like that.

Are you jealous? Don’t be. You’re probably taking more vacation than I am — because workers under traditional use-it-or-lose-it policies usually take off more time than we 2 percenters.

At every organization, regardless of PTO policy, people feel reluctant to take days off. One study showed that 41 percent of Americans don’t take any vacation days at all. At. All.

Is that you? Are you someone who thinks your company is overpaying you so you choose to reject part of your compensation? (That’s what PTO is, after all.) Or do you fear that work will build up? (Don’t worry. Your plate will be full no matter what you can’t accomplish today, tomorrow, and many tomorrows after.) Or maybe you think your department will collapse if you’re not there for a few weeks? (The whole company, probably. Maybe even the country. The planet.) Or do you simply agonize over the optics of potentially taking off too many days? (Whatever “too many” means.)

The last concern is especially relevant under an unlimited PTO plan. At my company, I’m told that, really, no really, no but for real, really, people may take PTO as they wish. That’s why, after starting my job this past June, I’ll be taking the next six months off.  Continue reading

What If That Google Guy Were a Woman?

quiet-29763_960_720 (1).pngAs if you haven’t read enough opinions about the fiasco that a Google software engineer sparked with his memo about diversity, I’m about to offer viewpoint #67,945 on the matter. Here goes:

It was not what the guy said that offended people. It was that he had the balls to say it. I mean that literally. It was because he was a man.

Before I explain what I mean, here’s a brief recap of what went down. Googler James Damore recently penned an internal memo, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” in which he posited biology’s role in explaining why women are underrepresented in tech.

“We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” Damore wrote, citing numerous stereotypes, assumptions, and opinions explaining that chicks don’t want jobs they aren’t inherently good at. (Just stick to nursing and teaching kindergarten, ladies.)

People got offended by what they perceived as sexist remarks. Not offended enough to vote for Damore for President of the United States, but just enough for Google to fire him. The company’s diversity chief, Danielle Brown, explained that Damore’s opinion is “not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.”

Or even discusses, apparently.  Continue reading

The Lion, The Witch, and My Wardrobe

apple watchWhat’s the best part about being out of work?

When you’re no longer out of work. Obviously, getting hired was the highpoint of my recent job search. That aside, throughout my journey from unemployment to becoming Texas’ newest cowboy, I went through a range of experiences, some great, most mediocre, some far from great, and one that shocked me so much—and really, almost nothing surprises me since Nov. 8, 2016—that I can barely talk about it to this day.

Who am I kidding? I love talking about it! 

I love talking about a whole bunch of things that happened to me as I zigzagged through a process that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. (Who am I kidding? Of course I would!)

I could go on and on about the highs and the lows of my unemployment escapade, but instead, let me tell you about a couple of incidents at both extremes.  Continue reading

You Should Be So Lucky!

luck-152048_1280 (1) (1).pngNow this is the story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute. Just sit right there. I’ll tell you how I got a job, with a bit of flair.

But before I begin, I recognize that it’s been seven hours and fifteen days since I blogged last (sorry, couldn’t resist another song reference). I hate myself even more than usual for neglecting my tens of fans for so long, so I promise to try to inform, provoke, and entertain more regularly.

With that half-apology out of the way, you guys, omigod, I got a new job!

Of course, lots of people write about how they landed a new role to encourage job-seekers brag: “Look at me, everybody! My dreams came true! And yours will, too…if you do exactly as I did.”

All this Oprah-fied pseudo-inspirational babble rarely cites the most important skill to score a job—because it isn’t a skill at all. And since it isn’t an actual ability, then everything else this slew of swaggerers spews resembles nothing more than gloating for clicks.

So, what is this essential non-skill skill that you need to win a new job?  Continue reading

A Reneged Job Offer

handshake-2056023__340(1)I have a friend who’s looking for a job. For real, a friend. Not a “friend.” While I’m also currently searching for new work, this isn’t an after-school special in which we all know the real identity of the “friend.” But like the moral tales you sometimes watched when you got home from class, this story also offers a valuable lesson.

What I’m about to describe is every candidate’s worst nightmare. It’s something that lots of people wonder: Does this actually happen? It happens. Sometimes like this:

My friend Steve* (of course there’s an asterisk) was recently offered a job at America’s Most Disorganized Employer* (there it is again!). He was eager to accept it, except the offer letter lacked enough details. Beyond salary, it mentioned little else. Clearly, a red flag demonstrating a sloppy hiring process or total ignorance about what candidates value, or both.

So Steve did what every candidate should in such situations. He contacted the hiring manager for more information. That’s when he learned that America’s Most Disorganized Employer allows only 10 days for PTO, including sick days. But who cares. Is there free soda? A ping-pong table?

Nothing like companies offering stupid, meaningless perks to try to hide an unwillingness to recognize that people have lives outside the workplace, right? The best talent such firms can hope to lure are job-seekers desperate for work.

Steve was one of those people. He was planning to ultimately accept any offer, but again, he did what every candidate should. He negotiated for more money and more time off, to which the hiring manager replied, “There’s wiggle room.”

No there wasn’t.  Continue reading

Why You Don’t Deserve Recognition for Your Results

stars-303203__340(1)(1)(1)(1)Beware of people who say things like, “I’m the sort of person who likes to get things done.” They almost always make this remark when trying to impress an interviewer, colleague, or manager. The implication is that while all the losers around them are busy being losers, these are the stars of your organization. Often, though, they’re just jerks, or walking clichés at the very least.

The reality is that all of us like to accomplish things. That’s why I hate the term results-oriented to describe anyone.

Know what else I hate? Best practices. So you can imagine how I feel when I hear pundits, executives, and everyone else preach that a best practice for building a results-oriented workplace is to recognize employees who produce…results.

It’s a line that so many people repeat so many times that it’s easy to mistake it for a fact.

It’s actually an alternative fact, an opinion disfigured into a recommendation because it makes intuitive sense. If this seems intuitive to you, too, your intuition is fooling you.

Rewarded for Luck

A while back, I spoke to Michael Mauboussin, Credit Suisse’s head of global financial strategies and author of The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing. He explained something that you probably already feel in your gut but might be too panicky, egotistical, or deluded to admit: Many of your achievements—the same ones that earn you praise (or punishment)—are largely beyond your control. Mauboussin explained:

There’s a continuum of things that are pure luck on one end and pure skill on the other. When your outcomes are truly a reflection of the work that you’re doing, a results-oriented evaluation is not unreasonable, like in manufacturing, which is very skills-oriented. But things like launching a successful R&D project are inherently probabilistic, with a lot of randomness and luck to them. There are profound influences that are hard to anticipate.

And get this: The higher you are on the ladder, the greater the role that luck plays in your work. You know what else grows with each rung? Compensation. All of which means that a four-leaf clover increasingly determines what you earn in cash and recognition as you move up a hierarchy. Continue reading

This Is Gay

Scan 6-2-2Does this photo make me look gay? Do I make this photo look gay? And what’s with the hair? It looks very Presidential, only fuller, don’t you think?

This was me around the time I realized that I liked boys and the power of Sun-In and a hairdryer. I’ve been thinking about the person in this picture as I recently watched a TV show that you probably did not. ABC’s When We Rise condensed the sweeping arc of gay-rights over the past 50 years into a four-night, eight-hour miniseries. A big commitment, I know—and I don’t just mean from viewers. That a major TV network devoted a week of prime time to telling queer stories is a major sign of progress.

Yet this was no Roots. Ratings sucked, which some might say also signifies progress. Today, the notion that gay people are, you know, people isn’t as wackadoo as it used to be. And so a history lesson depicting the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of the gay movement can’t capture attention the way that the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills can these days.

Still, I liked the show. It spoke to me, maybe because I was born in 1976 and pushed open the closet door when I was 13. Not many middle-school boys back then openly proclaimed their love for Madonna or knew the entire “Vogue” routine. Even fewer kids supported those who did; gay-straight-student alliances were not yet a thing.

As I watched When We Rise, I obviously reflected on how today so many people take for granted the reality of being gay now vs then. In the early ’90s:

  • I remember being taken to a psychologist not to change my orientation but to confirm that I might be passing through a phase. (Confirmed! I’m still going through it!)
  • I remember stealing gay books from Waldenbooks because I was too scared to be seen buying them.
  • I remember being called a faggot one day in high school. I remember being called a faggot the next day, too. And many days after that.
  • I remember a guidance counselor who stood in the hallway like a deer in headlights after hearing such barbs hurled at me.
  • I remember a theater of moviegoers reacting in (likely feigned) disgust when two male dancers kissed in Madonna’s Truth or Dare. I also remember being one of them, pretending to be grossed out since I wasn’t fully out.
  • I remember wearing kooky clothes to school and feeling relieved that people were making fun of me for something other than being gay.
  • I remember wishing that I were fat, because I thought one F-word wasn’t as insulting as the other.
  • I remember another student coming out and admonishing me for being a disgrace to all gay people (it was either the bathrobe or phone cords I wore to school).
  • I remember a friend telling me to walk in front of her because she didn’t want to be seen with me. A friend.
  • I remember being fired from a summer job as a supermarket cashier seemingly for being gay, and letting them get away with it because I didn’t want to be that guy who played the minority card. (You can read about it here.)
  • I remember deciding to pursue a career in fashion design (my eventual college major), because gay people belong in the arts. I’m gay. I liked clothes. See the logic? A glamorous job in HR never occurred to me. To this day, I’m frustrated that I made a major life decision based on the wrong reasons, or the right reasons at the time, or without much reasoning to begin with.

I remember a lot more, and probably forgot even more. And though I enjoyed the TV show, it made me queasy to relive such memories. I bet the show unnerved lots of homosexuals. Homosexuals! To even hear that word used on TV was weird. Like I’ve always said: Never trust anyone who refers to gays as homosexuals.  Continue reading

How Not to Hate Change (Part 3)

change-948016__340When change-management efforts fail, it’s worth pondering if it was really a lack of efforts that ruined everything. That is, maybe it’s less about what leaders did and more about what they didn’t do.

This week, I’ve been sharing a series of posts featuring what 25 senior executives at leading organizations told me about how they manage change. Their insights come from an article I wrote some years back, but they are just as relevant now.

Communicating Change

Today, in the series’ third and final post, I want to highlight the role that leadership and communication play when managing change.

Read below what execs from Verizon, MassMutual, Novartis, and other big companies have to say about leading and communicating change. (Note that companies and titles reflect people’s roles at the time the article was published. In fact, today almost none of the 25 executives interviewed work for the same corporation and even fewer hold the same job. You know, things change. To view their full comments, and those of other executives, check out the original article, “Will Your People Be Ready?”.) Continue reading

How Not to Hate Change (Part 2)

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Is it better for a company to develop a sea of generalists or specialists?

The ideal answer is probably yes—in the sense that you want to have a mix of both types of workers. But given limited resources, which would yield a better workforce?

This week, I’m sharing a series of posts featuring what 25 senior executives at leading organizations told me about how they manage change, including answers to the question above. Their insights come from an article I wrote some years back, but they are just as relevant now.

Change’s Impact on L&D

Today, in the series’ second installment, I want to focus on how change influences learning and development efforts, and vice versa.

Read below what execs from Caterpillar, Shell, General Mills, Deloitte, and other big companies have to say about how L&D and change management intersect. (Note that companies and titles reflect people’s roles at the time the article was published. In fact, almost none of the 25 executives interviewed work for the same corporation and even fewer hold the same job today. You know, things change. To view their full comments, and those of other executives, check out the original article, “Will Your People Be Ready?”.) Continue reading