Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Time to move on, but not so easy

Like many Americans, accepting the election results has been tough. It's not because I'm surprised by Hillary's historical loss (I'm not, I recognized her flaws and accepted them), it's because of how president-elect Trump won. Divisive rhetoric that at it's core was meant to ensure that white Americans who felt threatened by the United States changing demographics weren't going to be forgotten. The covert message resonated and to Samantha Bee's point, "White people. I guess ruining Brooklyn was a dry run!" (Watch it.)

During the campaign president-elect Trump constantly talked about how the election was "rigged." In his win I can finally see the truth in that statement. Hillary had the cash, the pollsters, the experience, but one thing she didn't have was the media. Trump edged her out on that front and in the end I think media spin played a significant role in killing her presidential campaign. Social and main stream television media were assets. Trump used them to his advantage. Whether I like it or not, I have to admit that was a successful tactic. One that worked and resonated with more than the people in his base.

Since the election results there's been a lot said about how Hillary lost. Having gone through my seven stages of grief I'm finally ready to move on and focus on 2018/2020. I've listened to pundits and so-called experts on both sides. While the short-term picture looks pretty grim I remind myself that failure gives us the biggest opportunity to learn and course correct. America will move forward and so must I. I still have the power to shape my country and it's just as much as my country as it's David Duke.

As a fan of history I like to look back with a focus on the future. Words from President Obama, Bernie Sanders, Steve Colbert, Michael Moore and countless others have helped to lift me up and to begin the process of moving on and looking forward. I know there's light at the end of the tunnel. Besides there's too much work to be done in the form of checks and balances to sit out on the sidelines. It's how we got president-elect Trump. It will require thought, collaboration and action. 

My issue for 2017 and beyond is paid family leave for all Americans. We need it! Middle class families needed it yesterday. I want parent's jobs to be protected so they can get more than six or eight weeks to bond with their children. Pick your issue and get behind it with everything you have. The time is now.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Millennials make paid family leave matter

When you accept a job offer, it's just not about the salary, the benefits package your potential employer will offer also matters. Overtime many workers have come to expect 401k matches, paid time off (PTO), life insurance coverage, wellness benefits, etc. But what about paid family leave for birth or adoption of a child? Currently the United States is the only industrial nation that doesn't mandate paid leave for new mothers and fathers. There have been some companies, mostly the tech sector (Facebook, Google, Amazon) bucking the trend by offering this benefit. 

However, many workers don't get paid-leave and if you are one of the lucky ones it probably only covers a woman's postpartum bonding with child for six weeks for a vaginal birth and eight weeks for a c-section under short-term disability (STD). For me the fact that we classify child birth as a disability is a part of the problem. If you can afford to stay home longer you'll get up to 12 weeks of unpaid through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but that runs concurrent with (STD). Doesn't seem fair when society echoes the sentiment that "being a parent is the most important job you'll have." Now that I am a parent I wholeheartedly believe this but I don't believe our government or private sector employee policies are adequate in helping women or men balance work and family. 

To be transparent I have a personal bias. I'm a 38 year-old new mom of twins I love and adore. I will go back to work after four short months at with them. It's tough to reconcile that if I lived north or south of the United States or in Europe I would be able to be home for a year and the company I work for would have to hold a job for at least a year. I remember when my husband thought he would receive two-weeks paid paternal leave. He got a sobering reality check when his HR department let him know their company policy only extends to his European colleagues. To bond with his new family he had to take personal time-off (PTO), but if they would have died in child birth he would get six days of paid leave to grieve. Moms aren't the only ones getting short changed. Dads too.

I'm glad to see Facebook, Google and other companies in the tech sector taking a stand, but it's not enough. We all can't work at these companies.

My message to millennials

While parental leave may not be a job benefit you care about today, if you plan to start a family in the future it's one you'll want. Advocate NOW!

Here are four things you can do:
  • Learn more, Read More in the Motherhood Manifesto.
  • Check out Momsrising (an advocacy organization promoting paid leave for parents).
  • Let you company know. Talk to an HR professional or if you prefer to stay anonymous add a comment about the importance of this issue to you in an employee engagement/satisfaction survey. (Company leaders that want to retain productive employees pay attention to what their employees say and when they say it.)
  • Let your elected official know you care about this issue for policy changes at a local and national level.
Having sufficient time to bond as a new mom and dad will make you happy and happy employees are productive employees.

Do you have a parental leave story?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Finding improv and learning how to use it to enhance my leadership capabilities: Part 2

I wasn’t sure what to expect at my first improv class. I wondered about the people who would be there. Twelve people were in the room, more than I expected. Their ages ranged from 16 to late forties and their careers were diverse. There was a stand-up comedian and actor and that made sense for improv; But I didn’t anticipate a social worker, retired military, librarian, or educator in the class! Despite our varying backgrounds and being a mix of introverts and extroverts, we were all there for the similar reasons. Some were looking to be more creative in their work, others wanted to improve their public speaking or being comfortable with speaking in front of others and a few wanted to use improv to be more responsive and collaborative with others.

The class was very active. We started and ended every class with a physical group ice-breaker that focused on a communication or active listening skill. In improv, you learn the importance of thinking fast on your feet and reacting to your partner(s) in a scene. If you’re not listening and paying attention to your partner, the scene falls flat. In a work environment this translates into miscommunication that hinders the development of relationships with others. Throughout the four weeks the acronym CROW was reinforced in our classes. It stands for:

Character – Who are you in the scene and have you established that character for the audience?
Relation – What are the relationships between the people in the scene and does the audience understand them?
Objective – What’s the purpose of the scene? Does the audience understand the character’s objectives?
Where/When – Where does the whole scene take place? In the present, in the past, or in the future?

What’s nifty about CROW is that the focus areas highlighted with each word are transferable to your professional relationships and help to develop your leadership style. You can apply CROW at work by asking these questions?

Character – How well do the employees you work with or lead know your character? Have you made your objectives clear? Are you making sure people understand you?
Relation – How are you developing relationships with your team and coworkers? Do you greet people in the morning?  Do you try to understand them more than just for their work?
Objective – What’s the purpose or goal? Do people understand their roles and responsibilities? Are you actively listening to your team and your peers?
Where/When – Where are we at with project tasks? What problems do we anticipate?  What’s the project timeline?

At the end of the four classes I felt more creative and noticed I paid better attention to the body language of my classmates in scenes. I also applied this experience to the workplace by asking my colleagues clarifying questions when they share ideas and paying attention to their body language in addition to what they are saying. Taking an improv class was a fun and valuable experience, where I’ve shared some of what I learned with colleagues. At an offsite team meeting I used one of the ice breaker activities with our team.

And while you may not have the time to sign-up for an improv class, it's something you should consider in the future. You'll learn and have fun while doing it.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Finding improv and learning how to use it to enhance my leadership capabilities: Part 1

When you hear the word improv, also referred to as improvisation, leadership probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.Instead you probably think of the show, “Who’s Line is it Anyway,” or the famous improv group “Second City”. Maybe you’re familiar with famous artists like Bill Murray, Steve Carroll, Wayne Brady, or Tina Fey, who all got their start in improv.

You don’t just have to be a comedian, actor or entertainer to reap the benefits from improv. These days we’re all challenged to bring our ‘A’ game to work. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a stage in front of a few hundred people or leading a team of seven, there’s a need for all of us to be innovative and creative! In my role as a communications consultant I write a lot. It’s not just sharing information, I’m telling stories. In managing an online community at Aetna I’m focused on understanding our audience’s leadership and professional development needs and providing content that resonates with them while also helping them be better and more effective leaders. Keeping topics interesting and fresh for audiences can be a daunting process, especially when creative ideas dry up and writer’s block sets in. I’m always looking for inspiration and it’s not in the places I expect to find it.

Last year, I attended Content Marketing World conference, an event focused on helping communications and marketing professionals be better storytellers. I sat in on a session entitled, “Improv Rules for Creating Award Winning Content.”  Tim Washer, senior marketing manager for Cisco and a former comedian and executive producer for “The Stephen Colbert Show” and “Saturday Night Live” was the presenter. His session shared four key
principles of improv that people can use to be funnier and more creative with their corporate material. They include:


  • Listening – As simple as this seems, it is probably one of the most difficult skills to master. Listening will free you from having to think of what you are going to say a head of time.
  • Relationship – The scene is always about the relationship, not things or what you are doing. Make the scene focus on the relationship.
  • Point of View, Opinion & Intention – Enter a scene with a point of view, opinion or intention… let these drive your character and response.
  • Make Active Choices – Do something, don’t be a talking head. Do something but don’t make the scene about that something.
His humorous presentation engaged the audience and gave examples of how you can be funny (even in the corporate world). Believe it or not, even executives like a good laugh. During the Q&A session attendees wanted concrete ways they could learn to be funny. His advice? Take an improv class! I decided to look into a class and after a few tweets and Twitter mentions from Tim, I signed up for an intro to improv class with Sea Tea Improv, located in downtown Hartford, Connecticut.

In my next post, I’ll share what I learned from my four-week "Intro to Improv" course with Sea Tea Improv.

Have you taken an improv, public speaking or acting class to help you be more creative?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hollywood's White Out Problem Goes Deeper than the Oscars

#OscarSoWhite is trending on social media and it's getting contentious. Prominent A-List black industry insiders like Jada Pinkett-Smith, her husband Will Smith, and Spike Lee are boycotting this year's Oscars and encouraging their peers to do so. It's a noble gesture, but for me the "Oscar White Out" is the symptom of a much bigger problem within the entertainment and film industry. Hollywood has a race problem, but so does America. It's the pink elephant in the corner of the room staring at us, yet many of us still refuse to recognize it. 

The topic of race and racism is a divisive subject that pits those who are misguided and believe we live in a "post-racial" society since the election of President Barack Obama, against those who embrace ignorance, racial division, and prefer to keep that status-quo, with those who recognize and acknowledge institutionalized racism and white privilege's impact within our society. When these voices converge, there's a lot of noise and the chance to have a meaningful dialogue to move us forward as a nation gets lost in anger and rhetoric.

I am disappointed by the lack of diversity in this year's nominees, but am not at all surprised. Same thing happened last year and in previous years we get happy when one or two actors of color get nominated. We get so ecstatic about their nominations that we overlook the broader problem within the film industry. When Halle Berry, Denzel Washing and Monique won their Oscars, we considered it a crack in the glass ceiling, they let us in. We choose to see the glass half full and count it as a win and milestone for blacks in the film and entertainment industry. While that's true, the problem is we've been doing this since Sydney Poitier was the first black male to win Best Actor from the Academy in 1964.

The real problem is Hollywood has maintained a "white out" since it's inception. There is practically no diversity and white males dominate in decision-making roles behind the camera. While I'm thankful for disruptors like online streaming services such as AmazonPrime, Hulu, Netflix and premium cable channels like HBO, Showtime, and Starz because these platforms have helped present more diverse stories that get a pass by major studios and the six major television networks. However, it's still a fraction of what is pumped out in Hollywood. Next time you watch your favorite network show, look at the credits and pay attention to the names of the executive producer, show creator, and director of the episode. See a pattern?

The grim reality of white privilege within Hollywood can be found in a wide variety of film industry data and studies on diversity. Reports like, The 2015 Diversity Report, produced by the Ralph J. Bunche Center, examines relationships between diversity and the bottom line in Hollywood. 

When it comes to the executive suite, the Ralph J. Bunche Center report found:

  • Film studio heads were 94 percent white and 100 percent male
  • Film studio management was 92 percent white and 83 percent male
  • Film studio unit heads were 96 percent white and 61 percent male
  • Television network and studio heads were 96 percent white and 71 percent male
  • Television senior management was 93 percent white and 73 percent make
  • Television unit heads were 86 percent white and 55 percent male
Organizations like The New York Film Academy, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and others have highlighted the gender gap and lack of diversity between women and white men within the industry. These groups have been looking at inequity within the industry for more than 40 years. 

Jada Pinket-Smith has made a lot of noise on this issue in recent days. I wonder if she would still see an urgency in calling for a boycott if her husband Will Smith wasn't snubbed for his role in Concussion. I think Janet Hubert, famous for her role as the first mother in the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" was right to call Jada out on her boycott in the media. Hollywood has its "Talented Tenth," of black actors, producers and directors who manage to break through and become the few elite who have earned and been given power to produce in Hollywood. They include Oprah, the Wayne's Family, Bill Cosby, Lee Daniels, Denzel Washington, Chris Rock, Tyler Perry, Shonda Rhimes, Spike Lee, Kerry Washington and Don Cheadle, among others.

Each of these individuals has have their own stories of adversity within the entertainment industry with the battle scars to prove it, but the bigger problem is that the needle for key jobs within the industry hasn't moved despite the small percentage who are brought into the fold and manage to direct a hit, produce and own the rights to their work.

There is no easy answer to this problem. It's more than two-hundred years in the making. Part of me is happy to see a renewed interest in dialogue on the topic. But we have to get past dialogue, we need those who sit at the top to acknowledge they've created an inequitable system. Own it and come up with a real strategy that can level the playing field. I'm not talking diversity programs where the "Talented Tenth" get cherry picked to be the face of black, Hispanic or Asian American's that rise to the top in Hollywood. I want equitable acknowledgement and action that future generations will look back on history and say this is when the change began.

Diversity strengthens us. Diversity of race, religion, socio-economic background, gender and thought adds more to the conversation. It makes our storytelling for film and television that much richer and compelling. As our nation continuing to grow and evolve, our entertainment, marketing and advertising needs to evolve to reflect the many voices that make up the fabric of our country. If not, we'll lose important voices and the chance for achieving progress towards racial inequities.