REFLECTIONS ON THE ROAD TO RESPECT is my complementary monthly e-newsletter.  I started writing these articles in 2006 to support my clients in building a respectful workplace culture. You will find all of them posted here.


I love to write and am fortunate to get many opportunities to do so. You will find lots of valuable information in articles I have written for business focused publications.

Erica Pinsky



ARTICLES from My Blog

2009    |    2010    |    2011    |    2012    |    2013 - 14

Community, Diversity and Human Connection

Feb. 19, 2009

I have been on Twitter for a little over a month and I have to say I love it.  I have to physically restrain myself from checking in to see my new followers.  If I leave Tweetdeck on I am a goner in terms of getting any work done.


I am learning a lot, getting exposure to ideas, quotes and stories from people I have never even met.  I have almost 300 followers, people who have chosen to follow me, who seem interested in what I have to say. When you live with an adolescent that can be quite refreshing. Whatever time of day or night, if I want to talk to someone, if I want to feel human connection, Twitter is there for me.


Funny how we seem reluctant to make that human connection when we are face to face.  We walk around, surrounded by other humans all day long, humans we would not hesitate to interact with on Twitter.  But for some reason, we walk by each other without making eye contact or offering any type of greeting.


I have been walking my golden retriever in my neighbourhood twice a day for years and have always been curious about this behaviour.  I make it a point to smile and say hi or good morning to anyone I pass. Almost without fail, the other person will return the greeting. However, if I don’t say anything, the other person passes me by without even looking at me.


Of course if the other person has a dog that seems to be an instant conversation starter.  It gives us permission to talk, because we believe that we share something in common.  Without that commonality, differences like gender, ethnicity and age serve to create the illusion of distinction.  The assumption is that it is easier to find commonality with others that look like us.


Twitter blows that assumption right out of the water.  On Twitter, you find community on the basis of shared interests, shared values, shared passions.  It works because genuine communication comes first.  When we meet face to face, we immediately start making assumptions based on what we see, and those assumptions influence what we say or even if we choose to say anything at all.


On Twitter assumption is replaced with curiosity.  When I get a new follower, I am immediately curious about them.  Who is this person?  What are their interests?  What might be prompting them to follow me?  What might we have in common?


I would like to see that spill out beyond the anonymity of cyberspace. Imagine if we decided to suspend the assumptions we make based on what others look like and instead became really curious and open about each other wherever and whenever we meet. How might that expand our horizons, increase our knowledge and develop relationships in our workplaces and communities?  I’m curious.  What about you?



Modeling Respectful Leadership

Mar. 2, 2009

One of the highlights of my week is tuning in to watch the Mercer report. Particularly in these days of doom and gloom, it is great to have an opportunity to laugh, and Rick never disappoints in that department.


Last week Rick’s rant focused on US President Obama’s recent visit to Canada.  His talked about how President Obama seemed to bring out the best in our politicians.  According to Rick, Prime Minister Harper “never stopped smiling. He never broke out the dead eye stare once.”  Prime Minister Harper even said that it was former US President Bush that had been preventing him from fighting climate change.  Michael Ignatieff, newly appointed leader of the Liberal party, invited his former political rival for that position, Bob Rae, to join him in his 15 minute meeting with President Obama, a move Mercer described as “classy.”


One of the main themes in my new book Road to Respect: Path to Profit is the necessity for leaders who are interested in creating a respectful workplace to walk the talk of respect in their workplaces.  What we witnessed in President Obama’s recent visit affirms why this is so critically important; it is about leading by example and modeling the behaviour we want others to adopt.


President Obama embodies respectful leadership. He models inclusion and collaboration.  He chooses candidates on the basis of their skills and experiences, not just their political or personal allegiances.  He demonstrates accountability and responsibility, publicly acknowledging when he has made an error in judgment.  He is not afraid to be honest and direct about how bad things are, yet inspires hope by offering a values based vision that appeals to a wide range of individuals “what free men and women can achieve when imagination is tied to common purpose.”


In a workplace we take our cues from our leaders. Leaders set the tone that creates the culture.  If they act in an honest, forthright and respectful way, chances are the rest of us will too. If our leaders choose to believe the best about us, we will prove them right.


What do you believe about those you work with, and those you lead? How are those beliefs influencing your behaviour?  We can all choose to follow the lead of President Obama, and act in a manner that brings out the best in ourselves and others.  Where is the downside in that?



I am Woman, Hear me Roar

Mar.16, 2009

On Friday March 13 I attended the 22nd Annual Equality Breakfast in celebration of International Women’s Day 2009.  The breakfast is hosted by West Coast LEAF –Legal Education and Action Fund.  This organization was founded in 1985, when Canada adopted section 15, the Equality section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.   The mandate of this organization is to “achieve equality by changing historic patterns of systemic discrimination against women through BC-based equality rights litigation, law reform and public legal education.”


The keynote speaker for this event was renowned Canadian actress Helen Shaver.  Ms. Shaver graciously agreed to step in at the last moment as scheduled speaker, comedienne and Order of Canada recipient Mary Walsh developed laryngitis.


Ms. Shaver began her presentation explaining the circumstances that led to her being on the podium that morning, which included her disclosing  that prior to having being contacted by the event’s organizers, she had never even heard of West Coast LEAF.   How was it, she asked us, that as a Canadian woman, who follows the news and has a residence in BC, she had never even heard about the work of West Coast LEAF?


I think I know the answer.  As women, we just don’t like to make too much of a fuss about ourselves.  Shameless self-promotion embarrasses us.  Take me, for example.  I was at the breakfast to “network,” to promote my new book Road to Respect: Path to Profit.  Like West Coast LEAF, I am doing work that is intended to benefit and empower others.  I know that to make an impact, to ensure my message gets out there; I have to connect with those that have the power to support me to make that happen.  And yet I am reluctant to do so.  Why is that?


I believe it is because the cultural norm for women is that we don’t speak up.  I see this all the time in my work. Women are victimized in 75% of all complaints of workplace bullying.  And while there are a lot of factors that contribute to this statistic, there is no doubt that our reluctance to stand up for ourselves and to accept the status quo is a huge factor.  For this reason I am developing a new keynote for female audiences about self-respect and empowerment.


We need to start speaking up. The fact is that women perform nearly two thirds of the world’s work, yet receive less than 10% of the world’s income, and own less than one percent of the world’s property.  In Canada, women are still making 66 cents for every dollar a man makes.  The United Nations confirmed that in 2008 Canada has slipped from 18th to 35th in the world in terms of promoting gender equality.


It is easy to blame “the establishment,” those in positions of power, who are, let’s face it, still overwhelmingly male for this inequality.  However, as I know from my work, the way to stop disrespectful behaviour is to stand up for ourselves and say no.  We need to believe that we are worth equality and respectful treatment, that we deserve such treatment, and that we will accept nothing less.


If I want my message to get out there, than I have to make sure it is heard.   It is up to me.  It is not about being demure and polite.  It is about finding our voice and respectfully manifesting our true power.  If we want to make progress, we need to start roaring.


West Coast LEAF is an organization that deserves to be supported.  Please check them out at



Fostering Respectful  Dialogue

Mar. 23, 2009

Last month, US Attorney General Eric Holder described Americans as a “a nation of cowards” with respect to discussing racial issues. His comments received a lot of attention.


I am not an American. I am a Canadian and I have been working in Canada promoting respectful practices at work for over 10 years.  I have worked with hundreds of employees in a myriad of different workplaces.  As a result, I know that Attorney General Holder’s comments could be applied to Canadians.  However, while I completely agree with the meaning behind his message, I am concerned about the way Mr. Holder expressed it.


My new book, Road to Respect: Path to Profit, is a “how to” guide for building respectful and profitable workplaces.  A key component of a respectful workplace is the willingness to face up to, and talk openly about, how issues like racism, sexism, equality and power affect workplace relationships and the workplace community. This topic is so important that I have devoted an entire chapter to it.


Most people simply don’t want to talk about these uncomfortable issues, particularly with others who seem “different.”  There are many reasons that contribute to this reluctance, but fear is the most prevalent.   People don’t want to say the wrong thing, and don’t want to “offend.”  Racism, sexism, equality and power are issues that people have very strong feelings about and many don’t want to risk getting into an argument.  As a result, they often choose the path of avoidance.


Does the fact that individuals avoid such discussions make them cowards? Even if it does, will calling them cowards, like U.S. Attorney General Holder did, be helpful in fostering respectful dialogue about issues like racism?


Name calling, judging, blaming, accusing, and interrupting are all too common in everyday communication.  None of these, however, demonstrates respect to the person or people being talked to. Time and time again I have seen how good intentions go off the rails because of problematic and disrespectful communication.


In order to create a respectful workplace, employers and employees must understand what respect really means to those they work with.  People are going to have to talk to each other about their differences.  However, individuals should not be shamed or forced into those discussions. Rather, they should be encouraged and taught how talking about differences will lead to a better workplace for all.



Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Mar. 24, 2009

By now all of us have heard about the “disrespectful” comment US President Obama made when he was a guest on David Letterman on March 19.  President Obama jokingly characterized his feeble bowling skills as “his own special Olympics.”  Needless to say much has been made about the comment and the obvious disrespect it seems to suggest towards those athletes that participate in the special Olympics, and beyond that, to individuals with disabilities.


Now I am not a public figure like President Obama. I make my living speaking and writing about promoting respectful behaviour in the workplace.  But I can say that after Thursday night, I feel like I have walked in his shoes.  Last year a participant in one of my seminars came to speak to me at the break.  She started off by telling me how much she was enjoying the presentation.  Then she added, “But you might want to watch the use of the phrase: low man on the totem pole.  I’m First Nations, and while I’m ok with it, I know other people who would be really upset by your saying that.”


I was taken aback, and, quite frankly, ashamed. I had been talking about power and how it manifests in the workplace.   Did I actually say, “low man on the totem pole”?   I was shocked that I had unwittingly used a phrase that I would never consciously choose to say.  I actually found it hard to believe I had said it.  When  the break was over I took the opportunity to apologize to everyone in the room for my unfortunate comment.


President Obama had a similar reaction when he viewed the tape before it aired on Thursday.  He immediately placed a call to special Olympics chair Tim Shriver to apologize for his gaffe.  According to Shriver "He expressed his disappointment and he apologized in a way that was very moving. He expressed that he did not intend to humiliate this population."


Now maybe he was just trying to cover his tracks. But then what about the billions of dollars President Obama insisted be part of the newly adopted stimulus package that are going to support special education, or the fact that on Friday President Obama nominated internationally recognized disability-rights leader Kathy Martinez for assistant secretary for the Office of Disability Employment Policy.  Martinez, a Latina who has been blind since birth, served as executive director of the World Institute on Disability.


Sara Palin, among others, wasted no time seizing this opportunity to criticize President Obama for his comment.  Interestingly though, Governor Palin was among those that did not support the stimulus package.  In spite of her verbal support of individuals with disabilities, if she had had her way, many children with disabilities would have found themselves still waiting for the support they need to succeed.


I think this is an opportunity for us all to realize that even those of us determined to walk the talk of respect, might inadvertently make the occasional disrespectful comment.   Neither President Obama nor I intended to make the comments we did.  They just slipped out in the context of what was happening.


The fact the both President Obama and I apologized does not cancel out the behaviour.  An apology can clarify intention, demonstrate respect and serve to repair and preserve relationships. However, it is our subsequent action that will demonstrate whether that apology was genuine.



Woman’s Work

April 1, 2009

One of the best things about having the HBO Canada channel is the ability to tune in to Bill Maher. I love both Bill Maher’s humour and the interesting and informative conversations that occur with his guests each week. It provides a great perspective on things going on in the “lower 48” for me as a Canadian viewer.


On March 20, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was a guest on the show.  Possibly the most notable of her numerous accomplishments and accolades is the fact that she was the first female secretary of state in US history.


Mr. Maher remarked that Ms. Albright seemed to have started a trend of having female secretaries of state; first her, then Condoleezza Rice, and now Hillary Clinton.   Ms. Albright smiled and commented that the question now is whether or not a man can be Secretary of State.  Both Mr. Maher and the audience laughed.


Bill Maher followed up with this comment “It’s true that there are jobs a woman can do in a way that a man can’t.”  Ms. Albright took the bait and replied “Yes, a woman can flirt.” When asked if she did she replied yes, which elicited more laughs from the audience.  She went on to say that woman are less likely to be confrontational and are capable of multi-tasking, advantageous qualities for the position of Secretary of State.


As I listened to this exchange a mental red flag popped up for me.  If we accept that there are jobs that a woman can do in a way a man can’t, then that means that there are jobs that a man can do in a way a woman can’t.  It follows then that there is a rationale for gender based hiring, a concept which our human rights laws are intended to eradicate.


If we accept that Ms. Albright and the women that have succeeded her have been successful, the question to focus on is what qualities did those women bring to the job that facilitated that success.   It may be that the ability to be collaborative and to multi-task are qualities that a successful incumbent for that position should possess.  It does not follow, however, that the way to find an incumbent that possesses those abilities is to hire a woman.


While women may be more likely to posses those traits, it is also reasonable that  a man may  posses those traits.  Our behaviour is more than a product of our gender.  Men can learn to be non-confrontational and to multi-task just as women can learn to use a hacksaw and drive a forklift.


Our human rights framework provides a foundation for challenging the status quo and igniting creativity within our workplaces. It is not about eliminating the old stereotypes so that we can adopt new ones. It is about abandoning that kind of thinking: the categorization of people on the basis of their personal characteristics.  Let’s find the right person for the job and just leave gender out of it.



Demonstrating Respectful Leadership

April 24, 2009

My recently released book Road to Respect: Path to Profit, teaches that workplace leaders interested in building a respectful workplace culture must “walk the talk” of respect. Chapter 7, entitled Respectful Leadership, highlights concrete behaviours leaders can adopt to demonstrate respect to those they lead.


Last month Paul Levy, CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston faced a problem confronting far too many leaders these days.  His organization was facing a $20 million shortfall as a result of the struggling economy. He had to take some action to cover that shortfall.


The obvious solution was to cut staff.   Six hundred positions were identified for layoff.  However, Mr. Levy had another idea.  He wanted everyone to give up a little so that more people could remain employed. He preferred to reduce the salaries and benefits of all employees rather than laying off some of them.


As CEO he had the power to impose that decision upon everyone, but he chose not to. Instead he called a meeting of all of the Medical Center employees.  He told them about the problem their organization was facing and asked for their input in resolving it.  He shared his idea and asked employees for their ideas.


But wait a minute here.  I mean, aren’t leaders supposed to be “leading” and employees “following”?   Aren’t leaders the ones that are supposed to make the decisions and tell others what to do?


That depends on how you define leadership.  Ask yourself how respectful it feels to you when someone arbitrarily makes a decision that affects you, your job or your workplace without involving you in it.  Conversely, how respectful does it seem when your leader demonstrates that you matter by consulting you and asking for your input on work related issues.


A respectful workplace is characterized by ongoing communication and dialogue among leaders and those they lead.  Rather than imposing a decision, a respectful leader empowers employees by seeking their ideas and involving them in the decision making process.  This produces a culture of connection, leadership and resilience.


Mr. Levy’s actions clearly demonstrate the principles of respectful leadership.  He chose to share the problem his organization was facing as well as the responsibility for resolving it. After the meeting he received over 600 emails from employees with ideas that have resulted in $16 million in savings, equivalent to 450 jobs.  They are continuing to work together on alternatives to layoffs. His respectful approach has resulted in a win/win outcome for everyone concerned.


How about following Mr. Levy’s example the next time you are facing an organizational challenge. Choose to walk the talk of respect.



Gender Equality – Not for Female Ski Jumpers

April 21, 2009

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms espouses the values of tolerance, fairness, justice and mutual respect.  We pride ourselves as a nation committed to equality of opportunity and outcome.


Apparently, we are not as committed as we say we are.  We stand by our values, unless the International Olympic Committee tells us otherwise, as it has with respect to the participation of women in ski jumping at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.


Ski jumping is the only Olympic winter sport which is not open to women. How come?  Well, it is certainly not because women don’t want to compete. Just ask the group of female ski jumpers that walked into a BC courtroom yesterday (April 20th) to argue that the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) has violated their rights under the Charter by agreeing to the conditions dictated by the IOC.


Surely the IOC has a good reason for keeping women out. In 2006 they argued that the sport was not developed enough to be included in the Olympics.  The first world championship in women’s ski jumping was held only last winter.


But as reported today by Rod Mickleburgh in the  Globe and Mail, Mr. Clark, the lawyer representing the female ski jumpers, offered  another reason for the IOC’s position.  “The historic exclusion of women ski jumpers from the Olympics arises from a long-standing belief by international sports figures that female bodies cannot withstand the force of landing. One official warned their uterus might burst and another worried their spines could break on impact with the ground.”


Certainly no one wants a burst uterus or a broken spine.  I just wonder how many of the women that are on national ski jumping teams throughout the world have actually suffered such ailments. Or whether any woman anywhere has ever suffered such outcomes.


I’m thinking that this could just be another example of faulty assumptions that have historically barred women from a whole host of occupations and activities. I for one really hope that the BC Court Supreme Court sets things right.  What about you?



The Courage to Commit

May 4, 2009

A client of mine recently sent me an email with the following quote which he found on a Starbucks mug.


The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love.  The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation.  To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.


One of the key messages in my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit is that culture change can only occur when there is genuine commitment from organizational leaders.  This client happens to be a leader that lives that message.


I met this man when he and one of this colleagues attended a workplace bullying workshop I presented.  Rather than take the materials away and stash them in his in-basket, he decided to share them with his union executive.  He talked about his interest in raising awareness about workplace bullying.  Within a couple of months, the employees in his organization were empowered by new workplace bullying protections that had been added to the collective agreement.  He hired me to train all of his leadership team, and launched a joint union/management training program for the employees.


In his email to me he affirmed that his decision to commit to a respectful workplace culture has produced a “win” both for himself and his organization.  His goal for this year is to ensure that his commitment to promote respect as a core value is reflected in all business relationships.


Commitment is about action. Not thinking about taking action, not just talking about taking action, but actually doing it.  Without the courage to fully commit ourselves we lose the ability to experience freedom from fear.


How often does fear, disguised as “rational hesitation” prevent you from making a commitment to something that might benefit you, or those around you?  What is preventing you from experiencing the liberation of commitment?



Variety is the Spice of Life…And the Life of a Team

May 11, 2009

Want your team to perform better?  Want to encourage more discussion and better decisions?  Follow the old adage quoted in the title of this blog post and encourage diversity within your employee group.


 Brigham Young University assistant business professor Katie Liljenquist co-authored a study which focused on the influence of new employees on a team.  The study concluded that new workers with diverse backgrounds and perspectives prompted more discussion and analysis within existing teams of employees.  The increased communication resulted in better decisions within the team.


Group-think does not encourage creativity or innovation, two qualities that are critical for businesses looking to survive the current economic climate. There are a myriad of benefits to be gained from getting a fresh perspective. The key is to create a workplace culture that allows that perspective to emerge.


Disrespectful behaviours like harassment and bullying produce a fear based culture.  It really won’t matter how much diversity exists in these workplaces because individuals will be too afraid to say anything.


There is only one way to replicate the results of this new study, and that is to ensure that your workplace embraces both respect and diversity.  To quote another old adage, the two go hand in hand.



Women Bullying Women? – Not in a Respectful Workplace

May 18, 2009

Twice in the last six months the NY Times has featured articles about women bullying other women at work.  In January 2009 it was “A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting.”  More recently, on May 10, Mother’s Day, it was “Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work.”


This last article seems to have touched a nerve.  A veritable frenzy of tweets and re-tweets about the subject appeared on Twitter.   Journalists and bloggers in both the US and Canada picked up on the story and ran subsequent features.


From my perspective all of this publicity is great.  It is crucial to raise awareness about the prevalence of workplace bullying. My consulting work has unfortunately afforded me numerous opportunities to witness the devastation that often results when women bully other women at work.  Both careers and personal lives can be ruined when bullying is allowed to continue unchecked.


Why do women do it?   For the same reason that men do - because they can.  Women can only bully others at work if the workplace culture condones, encourages or turns a blind eye to disrespectful behaviour like bullying and harassment.


In my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit I feature 5 “employers of choice” who embrace respect as a core organizational value.  I asked each of the individuals I spoke to from those companies whether or not they kept statistics on complaints of harassment and bullying.  Inevitably I heard a variation of this response from Val Duffey, HR Director at KPMG Canada. “What people are accountable for is respectful, tolerant, diverse behaviour, and we measure that in the environment.  They (bullying and harassment) don’t happen because they are at odds with the culture.  It just wouldn’t be tolerated.”


If a workplace culture promotes an attitude of cutthroat competition for opportunities, that encourages divisiveness and mistrust among employees.  If it focuses on bottom line at the expense of workplace relationships, that erodes collaboration and teamwork.  If it fosters the traditional command and control managerial model, that facilitates workplace bullying.  Culture shapes behaviour, and behaviour affects workplace relationships, performance and profitability.


Bullying is by definition disrespectful behaviour.  Whether it is women targeting women, or men targeting women, or women targeting men, bottom line is that it is destructive and costly behaviour that does not belong in any workplace.  In a respectful workplace culture, all workplace practices and behaviours mirror the core value of respect.  As a result, the behavioural norm for everyone, women and men alike, becomes one of respectful interactions, respectful communication, and respectful relationships.  The result is a workplace community where being respectful is just “way it is around here”.


Sounds like the kind of community most people, regardless of gender, would want to be working in.   What about you?



Is Disrespect the Root Cause of our Distress?

May 20, 2009

One of Bill Maher’s guests this week on Real Time was Elizabeth Warren, Harvard University Professor and recently appointed Chair of the TARP(Troubled Asset Relief Program) congressional oversight panel.


The topic of usury arose in the context of discussing credit card companies, whose business model Ms. Warren described as “trick and trap.” Both Ms. Warren and Mr. Maher agreed that this practice of charging excessive interest on loans has been condemned since biblical times. “Everyone in history has said this is something we shouldn’t do to each other,” said Mr. Maher.  And yet we do. Maybe, he continued, “the root cause is that we don’t treat each other well as people.  Look at any problem, it comes down to that.”


On May 10 the NY Times ran a piece about women bullying women. A plethora of blogs, tweets, news articles and features followed in quick succession.  I was interviewed for a piece that appeared in the Globe and Mail on May 18 called “Beware the Office Bully – she’s baring her claws.”


Why are women bullying other women?  Why does anyone bully, harass, abuse or take advantage of another person?  The short answer is because they can.  Ms. Warren explained that until 1979 the US had very clear laws about usury.  It was something that one just didn’t do.  Then someone decided that it might be better for them if they could start doing it, and the laws slowly disappeared, along with the idea that people should think about how they treat others, that there should be a standard based upon respect and fairness.


As someone who has spent years witnessing disrespectful behaviour in the workplace, I must reluctantly admit that I share Mr. Maher’s perspective.  We don’t treat each other well.  We have allowed disrespect, rather than respect, to become the norm, both in our workplaces, and in society at large.  And that, as is now so clearly evident, is a recipe for disaster.



Liberty, Equality, Happiness

May 26, 2009

On May 25, the NY Times ran an Op Ed piece entitled Liberated and Unhappy, sparked by “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” a new paper by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers.  It seems that in the 1960’s when the women’s liberation movement began, women were happier than men.  This despite the fact that for the most part, women were relegated to being a housewife, or limited to low paying, low status jobs.


Forty years post liberation the tables have turned.  Men are now happier than women.  Regardless of socio-economic status, ethnicity or whether they live in North America or Europe, women these days are just not as happy as they used to be?  What’s going on?


From my perspective a huge factor in the happiness equation is the false premise that now seems to underlie the notion of success that liberated women should aspire to.   When all of this liberating started, the idea was that women should be able to achieve equality relative to men. For me, growing up post liberation, that meant the ability to work outside the home, get the same jobs and earn the same salaries as men did. There was no way I was going to be a “housewife.”  I was going to have a career. Let’s face it, being a housewife has never been recognized as a career.  Women’s work in the home has traditionally been, and continues to be, undervalued. It was, and still is, unpaid work.


Today, I have a career.  In addition to my career I have those other responsibilities that housewives used to do.  It’s what most women do these days.  It has become the norm.


But what is this new norm really about?  For me it is personified by those Electrolux commercials that feature Kelly Ripa.  We all know she works outside the home, but in addition, she manages to look fabulous, and multi-task in a manner that should qualify her for an Olympic sport.  She does laundry, makes cookies, serves dinner and smiles as she pulls the dirty tablecloth out from under the dishes without breaking a sweat or a dish.  We can all do this, the ad suggests and become, as Ms. Ripa tells us, even more wonderful.


What I want to know is just how wonderful do we women have to become?  In the olden days, it was enough to be able to manage a house.  Now we need to manage our careers, our bodies, our mental attitudes, juggle our kids ever increasing activity schedules, entertain like Martha Stewart, look like Madonna, and make as much money as they do.  Being a woman is not enough.  We have to be wonderful or we are failing.


And we can’t complain about any of this.  I have scores of incredibly accomplished female friends who are juggling more balls than the performers at Cirque du Soleil.  When I ask them how things are going, whatever the challenges, the subtext is always, everything is fine and I really shouldn’t complain.   When something falls off the rails, when we lose our tempers and scream at our kids, when we forget something we were supposed to have done, rather than examine the system and wonder if we really should be doing all of this in the first place, we tend to blame ourselves.


This is exactly what I run into when I deal with victims of workplace bullying, 75% of whom happen to be women.  The Times ran an article about that phenomenon this month as well.    Why do women take it?  Why don’t they speak up?  Because taking it is what we do.  We blame ourselves for our plight.   We willingly take on more responsibility. We buy into the myth that liberation has created: we are now supposed to be svelte superwomen, doing at least 2 jobs, doing them well, and like the Seven Dwarfs, whistling happily the whole time.


But the fact is we are not happy.  And as countless studies from organizations like Catalyst and others have established, neither have we achieved equality in terms of our access to jobs and salary levels.  I think it is high time we recognize that and start talking about it.


Let me know if that’s a conversation you’d like to join.



Teachers and Tolerance Muzzled in Alberta

June 2, 2009

It has been a long time coming but gays and lesbians in Alberta now have provincial legislation that enshrines their charter rights to be free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation… sort of.   The way the whole thing went down is reminiscent of the TV game show “Let’s Make a Deal.”


Unlike every other province in Canada, Alberta chose not to include sexual orientation as a protected ground in it’s human rights legislation.  Even when ordered to do so by the Supreme Court in the 1998 Vriend decision, the province refused to budge, and the Court required that sexual orientation be “read into” the legislation until such time as it was specifically listed in the Act.


Well that day has finally come. Today Bill 44 has brought Alberta into line with the rest of the country, except that in doing so it appears to have redrawn the line.   While the Bill enshrines the right for gays and lesbians to be free from discrimination, it has also created a new right that does not exist anywhere else in this country -  parental rights with respect to education.  Bill 44 enshrines into law the rights of parents to pull their children out of classes that might be discussing the topics of evolution and homosexuality. Schools will be required to advise parents when there will be any discussion of religion, sexuality or sexual orientation.


As esteemed colleague, mentor and friend, Susan O’Donnell, Executive Director of the BC Human Rights Coalition told me many years ago, human rights is as much about the balancing of rights as it is about the rights themselves. In an attempt to find a balance that would work in Alberta the government has created a new disadvantaged group – parents who don’t want their children to learn respect and tolerance for those different from themselves when it comes to religion and sexual orientation.  These parents will now be able to file human rights complaints against teachers that might make a comment that they believe offends their religious beliefs.


Traditionally, this was all covered under the education act, consistent with how it is handled in the rest of the country.  Enshrining this right in Bill 44 puts it in a whole different league.  Human rights are considered quasi constitutional in this country.  Complaints are filed with adjudicative bodies with rights to legal representation.


The sad fact is that although Alberta is geographically located in Canada, it is morally situated much closer to our bible belt neighbours south of the border.  According to these folks, homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, and apparently, the Lord has more power than the law in the Province of Alberta.  As Brian Mason, Alberta NDP leader put it   'All they've done is make Alberta look like Northumberland and sound like Arkansas.'


What I want to know is what happened to the public in public education. Canada is supposed to be a democratic country promoting both tolerance and diversity of thought, and our public education system is supposed to promote those values in our children so that we will see them reflected in our society.


Many years ago Voltaire wrote  "I disapprove of what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it."  Lucky for him he didn’t live in Alberta.



Can Respect and Kindness Really Save the World?

June 10, 2009

Kristen Tillquist is a woman after my own heart.  The former Vancouver litigator, now working as Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Riverside, California believes that the key to business success in today’s marketplace is kindness.   Her 2008 book is entitled Capitalized on Kindness: Why 21st Century Professionals Need to Be Nice.


The idea that professionals need to be nice is almost as radical an idea as the one espoused in my new book Road to Respect: Path to Profit -  that a respectful workplace culture is simply a business imperative for organizations that want to succeed in today’s highly diverse business climate.


Bottom line here is that Ms. Tillquist and I are singing off the same song sheet.  We are both promoting the importance of creating workplace environments characterized by words and actions that model caring and support for others, where common courtesies like please and thank you become the norm.


Ms. Tillquist calls it kindness, I call it respect but as the old song goes, you can’t have one without the other.  If I want my actions to demonstrate that I respect you, I will be willing to listen to you, be open to who you are, and give you feedback in a constructive and supportive way.  Chances are you will feel like you are being treated with kindness.  Conversely, if I make a concerted effort to treat you with kindness, chances are you will feel like you are being treated respectfully.


Our current business model is still dominated by the idea that cutthroat competition yields business success.  To get ahead you have to put yourself first and step on whoever you must as you claw your way to the top.  This is one of the factors that contributes to the phenomenon of female to female bullying that has gotten so much recent media attention.  The dire economic circumstances we are currently facing have resulted from an orgy of greed, disrespect and lack of caring and compassion for others.


In a recent interview for Sound Authors Radio Ms. Tillquist  said that one of the reasons she wrote this book  was to give nice guys permission to come out of the closet.  That is a very hopeful image, the idea that underneath bad behaviour there can be a nice person hiding, afraid to come out because it is not currently safe to let others see that one is  really respectful and  kind.      It makes me think of something Anne Frank wrote, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.”


What is it that makes people act kindly or cruelly, respectfully or disrespectfully?  I believe it is much more our environment than our DNA.   Both in society and in the workplace we take our cues from those around us.  We model our behaviour after those in positions of power.


I’m thinking our workplaces would be a lot more respectful and kind if business leaders start taking their cue from a leader who is not afraid to come out of the closet and let us see that he likeable, respectful and kind.  President Obama springs to mind. What do you think?



Putting Humanity and Respect Back into Banking

June 17, 2009

The demise of communist regimes we witnessed in the last half of the 20th century has produced  an increase in both free market economies and poverty.  As pollution has grows, so does the gap between the rich and the poor.  Despite a pledge by world leaders to reduce poverty in half by 2015, the numbers of poor in both first world and third world nations is increasing.


The exception is the country of Bangladesh, which, thanks to the innovative ideas of native son Muhammad Yunus, is right on track to meeting its target.  Mr. Yunus, the third in a family of nine children, founded the Grameen Bank in 1983 to provide credit to those who would never qualify for credit at traditional banks.


Mr. Yunus has a radical idea – that access to credit is a fundamental human right.  He demonstrated his commitment to that concept when he loaned $27.00 US of his own money to 42 women in a very poor village.  In addition to having every cent repaid with interest, this action was the first step in freeing these women from a cycle of poverty and enslavement to the usurious practices of the local money lenders.


The idea of microcredit started by Mr. Yunus has now spread to over 100 countries in both the developing and developed world, including the U.S.  At the recent opening of the inaugural New York branch,  Mr. Yunus stated that his hope was that Grameen bank would soon be as much a part of American culture as fast food.


Interestingly, Grameen bank has not suffered during the recent economic debacle.  its loan recipients are 94% women and its repayment rate is 98%.  The bank’s practices are completely transparent, diligent and relationship based.


Last year Mr. Yunus released a new book entitled A World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism.  He argues that we need to adopt a new model of business which flows from a foundation of respect for all human beings. Social business is based on the notion that the proper deployment of private capital is to generate enterprise and wealth for all.  Capitalism should not be an exploitative privilege of the rich; rather an enabling prerequisite for the poor.


When Mr. Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 the presenters made the following comment.  “Muhammad Yunus has shown himself to be a leader who has managed to translate visions into practical action for the benefit of millions of people, not only in Bangladesh, but also in many other countries.”


A leader who translates vision into actions that benefit others is the kind of leader we need in our banks, our workplaces and our governments.   Here’s hoping that Mr. Yunus inspires enough of us so that together we can achieve his dream of making poverty history.


A Rose by Any Other Name

June 22, 2009

Creating a respectful workplace is not about having nice slogans or values statements about respect posted up on the wall.  It is about creating a culture where business practices are fundamentally respectful.


Zappos ( an electronic commerce company and online retailer specializing in footwear is such a company.   Their goal is to offer the best customer service in the industry.  CEO Tony Hsieh knows that the way to achieve that objective is to focus on core values and company culture.   Clearly he is on to something. Zappos grossed $1 billion in 2008, up from $1.6 million in 2000, the year Hsieh became CEO.


Zappos has 10 stated core values.  The word respect does not appear in any of them. From my perspective that is not what is important. What matters is whether or not their business practices demonstrate respect and there is no doubt in my mind that they do.


Tony Hsieh describes Zappos as a culture that is “driven by the employees, not by me”.   Their core philosophy is summed up by a simple phrase that flows from a respectful perspective.  “People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”   The desired outcome is happy customers and happy employees, and there is no doubt that disrespectful behaviour will not produce that outcome.


The culture at Zappos is designed to build empowerment and trust.  Employees decide what will make them happy at work, and can do whatever it takes to make their customers happy as well.  They are trained to show customers that they genuinely care about them and are empowered to do whatever it takes to ensure that happens. If an employee decides that to make a customer happy, he or she should send them flowers, they can go ahead and do that.


Trust develops through business practices that model transparency and  openness.   Hsieh works in a cubicle.  His thinking was that if he truly wanted employees to know that he embraced the idea of an open door policy, it would be simpler to just get rid of the doors and work among the employees and be part of the conversations on a daily basis.  His yearly salary is $36,000.


Each year the company puts out a culture book intended to give employees the opportunity to express what the corporate culture means to them.  Other than spelling mistakes, the book is completely unedited.  It is a public document.  Anyone that wants a copy of the book can simply ask for one.  Prospective employees receive a copy so that they can decide if the culture will be a good fit for them.


While Zappos has a very distinct corporate culture, their philosophy and business  practices are consistent with those embraced by companies like Four Seasons Hotels, one of the employers of choice featured in my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit.  Four Seasons is a company whose culture is based on the Golden Rule – treat others as you would like to be treated.  Founder Issy Sharp embraced respect as a core value to create a culture where employees would feel as valued as the guests they served.


As the old saying goes, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  At Zappos they don’t talk about respect but they sure act respectfully.  And that is all that matters in my book.



Legal Aid, Family Law and Women’s Equality Rights

June 24, 2009

Thanks to information from West Coast Leaf, I have recently become aware of some disturbing trends here is beautiful BC.  Once again this is a story about power, who has it, and how those that have it choose to use it.


BC’s legal aid system was established in the 70s.  The process involved extensive public consultation.  According to recent surveys in BC, as well as Alberta and Ontario, most of us believe that everyone should have access to the justice system.  What most of us don’t know, however, is that our legal aid systems are shrinking, not growing.  That means that less and less of us, particularly those of us without economic power, will have a hard time getting access to justice.


The reason we don’t know about this is that all this is happening without the public consultation that characterized the adoption of the system in the first place.  You know the old saying, what you don’t know won’t hurt you.  Well, from my perspective this does hurt us, all of us who are living in a country  founded on the principles of tolerance, fairness, justice and mutual respect.  As Shelagh Day, Director of the Poverty and Human Rights Centre and former Human Rights officer in BC has said  “ We can’t have a society of equality without a system of legal aid.  With diminished legal aid – we are accepting inequality.”


To make matters worse, even though family law complaints make up the majority of complaints received by the Law society, the number of family lawyers are also shrinking.  Family law is referred to as the ‘female ghetto’ of law practice.  Should we be surprised that a survey by found that family lawyers make the least amount of money while corporate, business, criminal and insurance lawyers make the most?


Recently I have been writing about the corporate culture at Zappos, the online shoe retailer. Zappos is a values based company and Tony Hsieh, CEO has said that it isn’t even really that important what values you choose.  What is important is to  choose values to which you can truly commit,  and then really demonstrate that commitment in your business practices.


Where is the commitment of our government to our values?  Our government seems to be more like some of the companies I discuss in my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit, the ones who adopt respect as a value  but do nothing to translate that value  so that employees really experience a respectful corporate culture.


As it states in the Access to Justice petition initiated by West Coast Leaf  “The true measure of any society is the treatment of the most vulnerable members. Access to justice is a right, not a privilege, and must not be determined by level of income nor social status.  Let’s get our priorities straight.”


What are your priorities?  If they include a society that really lives its values of equality for all, please visit and add your voice.



One Woman’s Courage

July 3, 2009

On Wednesday this week we celebrated Canada Day.  It is the day to celebrate who we are as a nation – one committed to our charter values of tolerance, fairness, justice and mutual respect.


As I argue in my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit, the only way to ensure that values are more than words on a paper is to take action, to really live those values.  Doreen Carton, who passed away on June 19, 2009 at the age of 91, was someone that understood that.  Although she didn’t celebrate Canada Day with us this year, she is a Canadian whose life is a cause for celebration.


On January 18, 1983 Mrs. Craton, who had started teaching at the age of 50 after having raised 4 children,  turned 65.  She received a letter from her employer advising her that she was required by law to stop teaching.  Mrs. Craton refused to do so.  “I wish to continue teaching for as long as I am physically and mentally able” was her response to her employer.


While mandatory retirement was legal everywhere in Canada at the time, Mrs. Craton  believed that that the School Board’s mandatory retirement policy violated her rights under the Manitoba Human Rights Act.  She filed a complaint of age discrimination and the rest, as they say, is history.


The 1985 Supreme Court decision which supported Mrs. Craton’s claim of age discrimination, paved the way for the abolition of mandatory retirement in this country.   Her decision to stand up for what she believed was right, to challenge the status quo makes her a modern day hero.  Would you agree?



Discrimination, Power and the IOC

July 17, 2009

In April I blogged about the court case filed by female ski jumpers who claimed the IOC’s decision to keep them out of the 2010 games was discriminatory.


Well, it appears that they were right.  On July 10, 2009 Justice Laurie Ann Fenlon of the BC Supreme Court confirmed that the women have been discriminated against.


Discrimination is about disadvantage relative to equality of outcome.  The outcome that the women are after in this case is the ability to compete in the Olympics.  They argued that the only reason they are being kept out of the Olympics is because they are women and Justice Fenlon agreed with them.


That doesn’t mean you should be buying tickets for the women’s ski jumping event.  Justice Fenlon also agreed with the Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) that the court had no jurisdiction over the IOC, because it is an independent body which is not covered by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in particular Section 15, the Equality section.


So even though the games are being held in Canada, and even though VANOC has an obligation to uphold the Charter, VANOC is, to put it simply, not the boss of the IOC according to the courts. The IOC holds all the power.  If the IOC wants to discriminate, it can.  And, we now know, it does.


The women are appealing their case to the BC Court of Appeals.  In the interim, maybe it would help if some of us let the IOC know how we feel about their discriminatory practices.



Embrace Respect for Innovation and Business Success

July 20, 2009

KPMG is one of the Employers of Choice featured in my book  Road to Respect: Path to Profit.   I became interested in respect at KPMG after hearing  Beth Wilson, Canadian managing partner,  speak  on diversity in business at the Vancouver Board of Trade in November 2006.  I knew that Ms. Wilson and I were singing off the same song sheet when I heard her say that while there is, of course, a clear social reason for business to embrace  diversity, there is also a clear business reason.


Two of the issues Ms. Wilson cited were for talent and the war for clients. The current  recessionary climate offers an additional reason to embrace respect in the workplace – the need for innovation and creativity.  The relationship between innovation, culture and profitability is examined in a new book by Kimberly Davis entitled The Firefly Effect: Build Teams That Capture Creativity and Catapult Results.  Ms. Davis argues that innovation is a necessary cultural characteristic for companies seeking success in today’s challenging economic reality.


How does one build a culture of innovation? One critical factor, according to Ms. Davis, is a respectful environment. When employees feel safe and respected, creativity flourishes.


In a respectful workplace, employees are not afraid to speak up, or to engage in constructive conflict. On the other hand, disrespectful behaviours like harassment and bullying produce fear based cultures.  Fear causes a cone of silence to descend upon employees and is the kiss of death for both innovation and profitability.


When employees are afraid to speak up, when they are afraid to give feedback and challenge  the status quo, it is impossible for either creativity or innovation to flourish.  As Bob Dylan sang so many years ago, the times they are a changing.  We are in a new business reality, one that demands a new business model, based on respect, empowerment and collaboration.   Those businesses that don’t adapt will, in the words of that famous song, sink like a stone.


Creating a respectful workplace culture will unleash a wealth of creativity and innovation within your employee group.  It will attract the best and brightest to your business, and ensure superior ongoing performance and profitability. It is the ultimate win/win for business.


So…what’s keeping you from starting your journey on the Road to Respect?


The Firefly Effect: Build Teams That Capture Creativity and Catapult Results, Kimberly  Douglas, Wiley, 2009




Will Zappos Culture Survive in the Amazon

July 24, 2009

Last month I featured online shoe retailer Zappos unique corporate culture in my monthly blog post for as well as in Reflections on Respect, my monthly e-newsletter.


I wrote about Zappos because it is a company that  illustrates one of the key lessons in my book, Road to Respect: Path to Profit, which is that creating a respectful workplace is not about having nice slogans or values statements about respect posted up on the wall. It is about creating a culture where business practices are fundamentally respectful.  It was clear to me after learning about Zappos that in spite of the fact that the word respect does not appear in their core values, their practices are fundamentally respectful as is their workplace culture.


The day the blog came out I got an email from Derek Flores a member of “Tony’s Team” (Tony Hsieh  is Zappos CEO).  The email read as follows “


I just finished reading your blog and I am happy that you consider Zappos a respectful company on the same level with Four Seasons Hotels. Although we don't display respect within our core values or display the word around the office, respect is definitely an underlying message.  We are all respectful to our co workers and our customers and we do it in a fun customer service driven way!

You mentioned our culture book in your blog and I was wondering if you would like a copy of it, if you already do not have one. If you would like one feel free to respond to this email with your shipping address and we will send one out right away!

Thanks again for your kind words about Zappos, and for recognizing us as a respectful company.


After receiving that email I knew that this was a company that really walked the talk.  I responded to Derek that I would love a copy of their culture book, and true to his word, he did ship one out right away.  After 12 years of consulting dealing with effects of disrespectful behaviours like harassment and bullying, reading that book practically brought me to tears.  Here is a sample of what you will find, regardless of which page in this book you turn to


For me, Zappos Culture simply means looking forward to work each day.  It’s impossible to define all the things that contribute to this feeling.  But I mostly appreciate how everyone’s ideas and suggestions are welcomed and taken seriously, everyone’s work is considered valuable and of equal importance and everyone is encouraged to learn from mistakes instead of being afraid to make them.  I’ve never experience any of that at my previous jobs.  And being surrounded by great friends every day isn’t bad either.!


Employees who look forward to coming to work, employees who love being at work.  Employees who feel respected, empowered and have fun at their jobs. It is a bit of a no brainer why Zappos is such a profitable company and it completely confirms the core message of Road to Respect – culture and profitability and intricately connected.


So I have to say I was concerned when I learned about the acquisition of Zappos by Amazon.  Oh, and I didn’t read it in the newspaper, I found out on Twitter, no surprise. The tweet contained a link to the letter that CEO Tony Hsieh sent out to his employees the day the deal was signed, Wednesday July 22.  (


After reading the letter I became even more of a fan of Tony Hsieh and the Zappos culture: the fact that the letter went out when it did, with the information that it contained, completely confirmed my conclusion about the respectful nature of Zappos culture.  The letter provided all of the information employees would want to know, and included the 3 “burning questions” – will I still have a job, will the culture change, and are any of the 3 senior leaders leaving.


It is the second question that I am most concerned with. Tony advised his employees that their culture was a big part of the reason that Amazon was interested in Zappos, and that it would remain up to them, the employees, to continue to shape the culture. It was even possible that the Zappos culture would “rub off” on Amazon.


I for one, am really hoping that is how it turns out, and not the other way around.  What about you?



Professor Henry Gates and the Reality of Racial Profiling

July 30, 2009

As a Canadian I have the luxury of watching what takes place in the lower 48 with an air of detachment.  However, after learning that broadcaster Glenn Beck called Obama a racist that air of detachment quickly evaporated.  The danger of this comment has implications far beyond the borders of the US.


Why are Beck and others calling Obama a racist?  Because he called the actions of a Cambridge police officer stupid after hearing that noted scholar and Harvard Professor Henry Gates had been arrested in his home.


Professor Gates arrived home after a trip in the middle of the day.  He was standing on his porch with his suitcases struggling to open his front door as his lock was sticking.  Apparently a neighbour called the police about a possible break in.


I cannot help but wonder how that neighbour did not recognize Professor Gates.  I can only conclude that for whatever reasons, Professor Gates does not have much of a relationship with his neighbours.  In light of this story, I cannot help but wonder if race might have something to do with that.


Professor Gates was already in his home when the police arrived.  In spite of showing the officer his driver’s license and Harvard ID, he was arrested for exhibiting “loud and tumultuous behaviour” and taken in to police custody for several hours.


Professor Gates told the police officer that he was being targeted because he was a black man in America.  Another way to frame this is that he was a victim of racial profiling, like his African American colleague, Professor S. Allen Counter, who was stopped by police in 2004 as he was crossing Harvard yard.


Racial profiling is a form of discrimination.  It is about unequal, unfair treatment that happens to someone due to a personal characteristic like race, ethnicity, or gender.  To pretend that racial profiling does not exist is, to borrow a word from President Obama, stupid.  It is a fact of life and a reality for anyone whose ethnicity is obvious.  Statistics on both sides of the border clearly support the fact that non white males are routinely targeted and stopped by police for no reason than other than the fact of their race and gender.


I am quite certain that if Professor Gates was white, this whole incident would never  have happened.  As to his disorderly conduct, ask yourself how you might react if the police came into your home and asked to see your ID for no apparent reason other than the fact that you had been standing on your own porch fumbling with your keys.


I agree that President Obama should not have used the word stupid, but only because of his position and the fallout such a choice will inevitably have.  I completely agree with his perspective on the incident.  Once Professor Gates established his identity, the police officer should have apologized and left.  That would have been the smart thing to do.



Sonia Sotomayor – The Realization of Equality and the Triumph of  Hope

August 12, 2009

On Thursday, August 6, Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed as the 111th Justice of the US Supreme Court. As an individual passionate about promoting respectful workplaces, and by extension, respectful societies,  I cannot help but celebrate this historic occasion, and applaud President Obama’s choice in nominating Ms. Sotomayor.


She is the first Hispanic justice and the third woman to serve.  Those that opposed her nomination argued that she would bring her personal biases and a liberal agenda to the bench.  Due to some of her comments, she has been accused of allowing empathy as well as her life experience as a Latina woman to interfere with her ability to be impartial.


The sub-text of course is that white men somehow manage to get through life without having the fact that they are both white and male affect the lens through which they interpret events.  They are somehow able to be more impartial, to interpret the law with less bias because they are white men.


This idea is so patently absurd as to defy logic.  Each of us is affected by our personal characteristics, by our personal history.  The bias of white men was obviously apparent in the type of questioning that Justice Sotomayor had to endure prior to being confirmed.


To prove discrimination, a complainant must only show that the behaviour which he or she is complaining of is directly related to a personal characteristic which he or she possesses that is protected in law.  There is no doubt that the kinds of accusations that were made, the questions that she was asked, were directly related to the fact that she is a woman, and a member of a visible minority.


In this case, as she was confirmed, Justice Sotomayor did not suffer any disadvantage so there is no case of discrimination to be made.  However, I think this very public process highlights the kinds of challenges that anyone other than a white male can face in the employment process.


I celebrate the fact that the system has allowed Justice Sotomayor to realize her full potential in American society.  That is the intention of human rights laws.  But let’s not pretend that things really work out that way in the thousands of less public hiring processes where the candidates are members of traditionally disadvantaged groups.  One African American President and a Latina on the US Supreme Court does not mean that equality has been achieved.  Not by a long shot.


It is, however, a sign of hope and a cause for celebration.  It marks another step of the journey on the Road to Respect.



Big Girls Don’t Cry – Respectful Management of Difference at Work

August 17, 2009

Have you ever had something happen to you at work that made you so upset you burst into tears?


The likelihood of you answering yes to that question is directly related to whether you check the male or female box on a census form. Without getting too caught up in the whole Women Are from Venus and Men are from Mars debate, past the age of 12, before which crying is still a gender neutral activity, women tend to cry more than men.  While both men and women get angry, discouraged and frustrated, they tend to express those emotions differently.  Men may yell, and scream or punch the wall.  Women cry.


According to Martha Stewart, crying at work is a career limiting move. As she told one of the women on the losing team on The Apprentice some years back “Cry and you are out of here. Women in business don’t cry, my dear.”


Why not?  Well the simple answer is because men don’t.  Crying is a behaviour associated with women.  It has come to represent stereotypical feminine traits like weakness. If you cry, it means that you are weak.  Weakness is not generally a desirable character trait in the corporate world.


The problem with the idea expressed by Ms. Stewart is that is flows from a discriminatory and disrespectful paradigm. The sub text is that it is ok to be a woman in business, as long as you act like a man. It propagates the idea that there is one model, one ideal, one way for individuals in business to be, and that way is tied to the historical habits and behaviours of one particular group.


This is antithetical to the idea of workplace diversity.  Diversity is not about having individuals that look different but feel pressured to suppress their individuality to conform to the behaviour of a dominant group.  It is about creating a workplace culture that encourages and supports individual differences within an employee group.   It is about the respectful management of difference, and that implies that we are curious about our differences and willing to risk talking about them openly.


We humans are emotional creatures.  It is neither realistic nor desirable for us to try and disengage that aspect of our humanity in the workplace.   No matter where we work, or what type of work we do, chances are we will get emotional at some point in our working life. When this happens some of us may yell, scream, punch the wall or cry.


Which of those behaviours are appropriate in a working environment?  Possibly none.  However, the criteria upon which we decide which are or aren’t should be based upon what is professional and respectful in a workplace, irrespective of gender associations.


If we are interested in building truly respectful workplaces, which by definition embrace diversity, or what I refer to as the respectful management of difference; we have to talk about our emotions in the context of our workplaces.  We should talk about the different ways our emotions may manifest at work, and clarify the appropriate ways to express them.  We should be supported and coached so that when we do experience stressful and/or emotional situations at work, we know how to deal with them in a professional and respectful manner.


At the end of the day, depending on the reality of our particular workplaces, we may decide that it is ok to cry at work, on occasion.  We may conclude that, contrary to what some people think, big girls, and sometimes even big boys at work do cry, and that is ok.


How about we replace assumptions with curiosity?  I say it’s time to get the conversation started.   What do you think?



Descent into Disrespect: The Demise of Obama’s vision of Equality in Health Care

August 21, 2009

This morning I received an email from an advocacy group I support, asking me to sign a petition about the truth of health care in Canada.  The intention is for the petition to be released in the US media and given to US Senators before they cast their votes on President Obama’s health care reform bill.


Of course I signed the petition.  I have, in fact, been watching the circus that this health care debate has become with growing incredulity.  President Obama being compared with Hitler?  Individuals coming to town hall meetings carrying semi-automatic weapons slung over their shoulders?  The distortion of the facts around this issue is beyond staggering.


From where I sit, I can’t see why anyone, other than the corporations who profit from the status quo, would oppose an initiative that proposes to improve a medical system  that is the most costly in the world, while 40 million Americans have no health care and overall the system is  ranked 37th,  behind countries that Americans consider to be part of the third world.


On numerous occasions, President Obama talked about the importance of America returning to its values.  This is the country founded on the principal of equality.  How is the value of equality reflected in the current medical system?     The value I see reflected is profit and only for a select few.


The values espoused in the Canadian constitution are tolerance, fairness, justice and mutual respect.   While we certainly have a way to go to really achieve these values within our society, socialized or not, our medical system is fair and equal.


For those of you in the lower 48, here is my experience with the system.  For years my premiums have been less than $100.00 per month for my family.  I can see any doctor I want, go to any hospital I want.  When my late husband was diagnosed with cancer, he was seen and treated within 3 days of the discovery of his tumor.


The Canadian system is not perfect.  From my perspective, our socialized medicine does not go far enough. It does not cover dental, or prescription drugs for the majority of Canadians, although, as I learned through my husband’s illness, once your drug bill exceeds a certain reasonable amount, government assistance kicks in.


It does, however, reflect the values of Canadian society.  It reflects our commitment to the promotion of justice, human rights and human dignity.  It reflects values of compassion, empathy and community.  It makes me proud to be a Canadian and is one of the reasons I choose to live here.


The Universal   Declaration of Human Rights states that all of us, simply by virtue of the fact that we are members of the human family, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  And in my mind, that means that when we are sick, whoever we are and wherever we live, we should be able to get help.


I can only hope that the petition I signed will help to make that happen for my fellow human beings, who also happen to be citizens of the United States of America.



An Attitude of Gratitude

October 12, 2009

October 12 is Thanksgiving Day for those of us living above the 49th parallel.  Like many of my fellow Canadians, I am making a purposeful effort to be thankful today for all the gifts I have in my life.  I am thinking about all of the reasons I have to be grateful.    Turns out that if I chose to maintain that attitude throughout the year, rather than just on Thanksgiving, I’d be a happier person.


Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD. Studies the science of human happiness.  When a LinkedIn colleague, recently posted a link about Professor Lyubomirsky’s new book The How of Happiness, I was really curious to find out more.  I mean, who doesn’t want to figure out how to be happy on an ongoing basis.


What struck me most profoundly about Professor Lyubomirsky’s research was her finding on the factors that contribute to our happiness. Surprisingly, our circumstances factor in at only 10%.  While our genetic makeup is responsible for 50% of how happy we feel, it is our attitude, what we think, feel and do on a daily basis, that is responsible for the other 40% of how happy we are.


Buddist monks are among the happiest people on the planet.  How come?  Well, according to Dr. Lyubomirsky, one of the main reasons is the fact that they meditate for 30 minutes each day focusing solely on all of the things they are grateful for.  If you are a Buddist monk, everyday is like Thanksgiving, minus the turkey and the pumpkin pie.


The past year has been fraught with challenges for many of us.  The recessionary economy, uncertainty, and job loss are thought to be responsible for an increase in stress, as well as in disrespectful behaviours in the workplace.  Dr. Lyubormirsky would say that those are merely circumstances.  Those circumstances, however difficult they may seem, do not necessarily need to translate to more unhappiness.


We all have a choice here.  Rather than focus on what isn’t working, on our problems, what we don’t have, we can choose to adopt an attitude of gratitude.  We can be focus on and be thankful for all of the good things we have in our lives – the love and support of our friends and families, the fact that we have food on our tables, and if we are really lucky, our health.


My daughter spent this weekend in bed fighting the flu.  She got quite sick.  With the spectre of H1N1 hanging over us, the flu can be quite scary, particularly as this strain seems to be most lethal to young people.  I have personally experienced how vulnerable we are all, how quickly disease can devastate young healthy individuals.  I watched my 42 year old husband succumb to melanoma in a matter of months.  I am so grateful that my daughter woke up today feeling stronger and on the road to recovery.


Whatever challenges I may be facing, at least I am lucky enough to be alive to face them.  I should be grateful for that fact each and every day of my life, and since reading about Dr. Lyubomirsky’s research I have been trying to do that.


In the past few weeks I have been making a conscious effort to live my life with an attitude of gratitude. I have been finding all kinds of things to be grateful for, things that I simply took for granted.  And you know what – although I still have real problems and challenges, overall, I do feel happier.  I think about how lucky I am to have wonderful colleagues like the woman who shared the article that has had such a profound impact on my life. Today I am thinking about  how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to share these thoughts with you.  Thanks for reading this post.


My goal is to promote respect in the workplace, and by extension, in the world.  One of the things I am thinking about on this Thanksgiving Day is how grateful I am to live in a country that embraces the values of tolerance, fairness, justices and mutual respect and allows me to work to promote those values.


What about you?  Do you think that happiness is an elusive goal, something that will be achieved when this or that happens for you?  How about trying to develop an attitude of gratitude and see what happens?  After all, what have you got to lose? 

Respecting the Whole Person at Work

October 20, 2009

October 18 was Persons Day in Canada.  It marks the date when women were recognized as persons under Canadian law.


A lot has changed for Canadian and American women in the past eighty years.  Our rights and our ability to access those rights have increased.  The question is, have our workplaces adjusted  to reflect those changes?


According to the recently released Shriver report, the answer to that question is a resounding no. The report, authored by First Lady of California Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress,  documents the fact that in 2009, for  the first time in history, women will make up half of all U.S. workers.  Mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families.  And that, states the report, creates a “woman’s nation that changes everything.”


The problem is that neither society nor most of our workplaces have instituted the kinds of fundamental changes needed to support this new reality. Increasing numbers of workers are juggling work, child care and elder care responsibilities.   The report found that a majority of both women and men want more flexibility at work.   It also found that a majority of individuals are not getting that flexibility and further, that they are afraid to ask for it.


When I interviewed Jane Sillberg, former HR Director of Intuit Canada for my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit, she told me that one of the practices that supports Intuit’s consistently high level of employee engagement is respect for the whole person. “In the 70’s and 80s I often heard leave your personal life at the door.  That makes no sense to me.  We don’t just tolerate personal lives, we embrace them. If your child gets sick in the middle of the day what can you do?  We don’t worry about which day off they access.  We say how can we help?  We want them to deal with the situation and come back to work comfortable that they can be there.”


As First Lady Michelle Obama has said, “If you are worried about your children, you can’t breath.”  Workplaces that want engaged and focused employees must create workplace cultures that respect the whole person. A respectful workplace culture supports and empowers employees by creating a safe environment where employees feel safe to speak up. Now is the time to start the conversation with employees, both women and men, to determine what policies and practices need to shift in order to demonstrate respect to the whole person and allow each employee to be focused, committed and   productive at work.



Are You Ready to Take the Oath for Ethical Leadership?

November 29, 2009

In 1908 a new management program was introduced at Harvard University.  The  program’s goal was to educate those who would become the leaders of the large corporations which were emerging as a feature of the American business landscape.   The program’s founders  believed that corporations should be run in a manner that reflected the interests of society.  The vision of the program, one still reflected in the motto of the Harvard Business School today, was “To educate leaders who make a difference in the world.”


One hundred years later a lot of questions are being asked about the difference those leaders have made and whether or not the interests of society have indeed been respected.  The gap between rich and poor has grown increasingly wide, as has the gap between executive compensation and the wage of working men and women.   Ethical values seem to have been replaced by egotism, narcissism  and greed.


In the face of the economic meltdown, a group of Harvard MBA students decided it might be time for a change.  They started asking some questions:  What would do we want our class to be remembered for?  What should our legacy be?  What can we do to ensure that MBA becomes synonymous with integrity, professionalism and leadership?  From those questions the MBA oath was born. (


The oath is a voluntary pledge which  MBA students interested in  “creating value responsibly and ethically” are invited to sign.  It is intended to provide a foundation of ethical practice for  business leaders, much as the Hippocratic oath does for medical doctors.  The idea, according to Max Anderson, one of the members of the group at Harvard that initiated the MBA Oath, is  “… to begin a widespread movement of MBAs who aim to lead in the interests of the greater good and who have committed to living out the principles articulated in the oath.”


Within weeks 450  Harvard MBA students, half  of the graduating class, as well as  over 1000 MBA graduates from schools in 115 countries, speaking 49 different languages, signed on.  There have been requests to have the oath translated into German, French, Spanish, Icelandic and Norwegian.  Columbia Business School has something similar to the oath, an honour code for the business grads, in place for the last 3 years.   Here in Canada the University of Ottawa just introduced their version of the Harvard MBA oath.  It appears that this is an idea that is catching on.


In this age of corporate greed and financial rip offs a la Bernie Madoff, should we really be surprised by this interest in a return to values based leadership?  I think not.


One of the values you will find enumerated in both the Harvard and the U of Ottawa oath is respect.  Respect is universally recognized as an ethical value.  When respect is embraced as a core cultural value and becomes embedded in all business practices, the result is a business model that demands ethical behaviour and ethical leadership, which inevitably spills over from the  workplace to impact society at large.


Business students that are graduating today are looking for more in their careers than the on ramp to  financial success.  Like their Generation Y peers, they  have an interest in ethical conduct and corporate social responsibility.  According to those in the know in business schools, this is not a passing fad, but a trend that is gaining momentum and is here to stay.


As I argue in my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit, having a values based culture where respect is a embraced as a core cultural value ensures that business is in a  position to attract and retain the best and brightest talent in today’s marketplace. Graduates that have signed the MBA oath will be interested in workplaces that will offer them the opportunity to walk the talk of ethical, respectful leadership.


What will they experience when they come and work for you?  Will they see their values reflected in your corporate culture, in your business practices?  Will your culture ensure they stay, or encourage them to look elsewhere for that opportunity to make a difference?


Tomorrow’s leaders are looking for opportunities today.  Why not become their employer of choice.  Create a respectful workplace culture.  Give them the chance to make a difference.  We will all be the richer for it.



Twenty years on -  And the violence against women continues

December 7, 2009

Yesterday, Dec 6 2009, marked the 20th anniversary of the shooting rampage of Marc Lepine at Universite de Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique.  Lepine killed 14 female students and injured 13 others before turning the gun on himself.  The reason for his rampage - anger at the fact that women were interested in working in “non-traditional” workplaces, those that had been traditionally reserved for men, anger at the feminists that had started this movement.


As a result of that horrific event, Dec 6 was designated Canada's National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women.  Yesterday, at one of the many memorial services intended to mark this tragic day,  Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper commented that “we should all take time to remember and reaffirm our commitment to continue working to protect the lives, dignity and equality of all women."


It is difficult to see how Prime Minster Harper and others in positions of power are in fact reaffirming a commitment to protect the lives, dignity and equality of women.  In fact, the opposite seems to be the case.  This year members of Prime Minister Harpers Conservative party, along with other MPs, voted to kill the gun registry legislation that had been passed in response to the “Montreal massacre.”


The reality is that violence against women is a global epidemic which currently affecting one third of all women world wide.  Estimates are that one in four women will experience violence from a current or former spouse or boyfriend in her lifetime.  Repressive regimes and ideologies are increasingly rising up to challenge women’s basic human rights and freedoms.


Here is British Columbia we have seen funding for women’s justice programs, in particular legal aid slashed, citing the current recessionary climate as the rationale.  The current cuts come on top of the 40% reduction to legal aid funding which occurred between 2002 and 2004.   The latest cuts and office closures effectively mean that those women and children who are the most vulnerable to violence will now be at greater risk.


Twenty years may have passed since the Montreal Massacre, but unfortunately, the world has not become a safer or more respectful place for women.  What  this anniversary really highlights the fact that the massacre of women and their rights continues.



Celebrate your Right to be Treated with Respect and Dignity

December 9, 2009

December 10, 2009 marks the 61st anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Adopted by the UN in 1948, this was the first document in human history that talked about and enshrined the notion that each of us, by virtue of our membership in the human race, are deserving of respectful and dignified treatment.  The Universal Declaration also stressed the importance of enshrining these rights in law.


As Canadians, we can be particularly proud of the fact that John Peter Humphrey, from the province of New Brunswick, was the principal author of this document.  As we mark this anniversary we can be proud of what we have accomplished in the last 60 years.  Basic human rights have improved for many citizens in the world, in particular those that live in Canada.


However, here in Canada our human rights framework and our human rights commissions are under attack.  Funding for social justice programs is being cut.  Beyond our borders we can see mounting evidence of the lack of respect for the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration.


It was the Holocaust, where the world witnessed how power misused could deprive millions of individuals of their most basic human right, the right to life, that prompted the adoption of the Universal Declaration. Sadly, today we are witnessing a resurgence in the anti-Semitism that allowed the murder of 6 million Jews, as world wide Holocaust deniers and their followers are gaining strength and credibility.  Discrimination, racism, homophobia and gender inequality are still a daily reality for millions of individuals.


Tolerance and respect for difference is still very much the exception, rather than the rule in the world.  Why not make today the day we start thinking about what we can do to promote respect and dignity within our human community.  Whatever our differences we all want to be treated with respect.  And according to the Universal Declaration, that is our right, no matter who we are or where we live.


Let’s all work together to make that dream of universal respect a reality.

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