Public recognition vs. Public service

In my consulting life, I’ve helped a bunch of startup nonprofits get started.  But that’s also one of the jobs I turn down…a lot.  I have a hard time working for folks I don’t believe in, and I see far, far too many individuals who want to start their very own nonprofit instead of taking an entry-level job and working their way up in established organizations.

A rather good article by Amy Schiller at The Baffler made me think a little bit more deeply about what’s happening in those situations.

She writes about the rise (and foibles) of “philanthro-capitalists” – paralleling my ambitious future founders in naiveté and hubris.  The thing I am intensely interested in is the strong desire to get individual recognition – for being a founder, for being a savior, for being a hero who is smarter that everyone who has come before and lo, has fixed our problems.

It strikes me as a cultural psychology problem. Read more

One good step deserves another

Like at least a third of the folks on my Facebook feed and Twitter stream (it would be higher, but I know a lot of people who just couldn’t care less about organized much less professional sports), I was transfixed by the Don Sterling meltdown and general debacle.  What a horrible person, how upsetting and confusing the opportunity to stare directly at a specimen of fully grown, mature racism, spread out on a table to examine in full light.

I’m pleased that the NBA decided to take action against him.  But I’m also skeptical that it was more than a nod to general survivalist instincts, to manage public relations by cutting off their suddenly visible wart only after it was put in the media spotlight.  What I really wanted was for the organization to pat itself down afterwards, to realize there might be more sickness lurking, and to take affirmative measures towards becoming an institution where diversity flourishes at all levels.  To figure out how the institution can become a model for other businesses.

That’s what I thought of when I read this article, on the dismissal of Anne Baldassari, President of the Picasso Museum in Paris, France.

Firing nonprofit leaders who allow (or more likely generate) “profound suffering in the workplace” and “a toxic atmosphere”?  Great!  I bet that any random grouping of nonprofit professionals, out for a drink, swapping war stories, will have no shortage of tales to tell about suffering and toxic work places thanks to bad bosses.

Management is hard, and good management is hard to come by.  In the nonprofit world, we often overlook bad management (both the aggressively poisonous kind and the well-intentioned but inept kind…it’s not clear that one is always worse than the other when looking at outcomes) for folks who are great figureheads, great fundraisers, etc.

Wouldn’t it be nice to start a movement, ousting those nonprofit leaders who cause or allow “suffering” in the workplace?

But that’s not what this is…

In my mind, Don Sterling and Anne Baldassari are jumbled together.  I can’t hate that these nasty people were called out, Don and Anne, and faced some well deserved consequences.  But I’m also muddling Anne Baldassari and Jill Abramson, recently of the New York Times, wondering what would have happened with these two had they not been women.  Because there’s no grand movement afoot towards insisting on great management, no general justice sought against inept or toxic leaders on behalf of the suffering workers of the world…just some women, dismissed from their powerful positions, and questions about why (which remain, even if the firings were deserved…)

It’s interesting – folks who are attuned to see a particular prejudice in the workings of the world (in my case, misogyny) are very likely to see it where other factors were decisive.  (I was going to write “where there is none,” but that’s not quite accurate…I’m talking about the cases where it’s irrelevant and undetectable, not obviously absent.)

What I’d love to see is for all of us in the US to take a page from the French, and fire nonprofit leaders who are causing profound suffering in the workplace.  And if we do so actively, rather than passively awaiting complaints to accumulate from the staff, not only will the nonprofit sector be a more attractive place to work for talented professionals, but I’ll sleep well at night knowing that we’re not just witch-hunting and hanging a lot of women no better or worse than their male counterparts.

Keeping up with the Joneses – social media edition

Interesting new survey just being reported on HubSpot on social media practices among 9,000 small to medium nonprofit organizations in North America.  Check it out here.

It’s always interesting to see what other folks are doing, in aggregate – my clients know that I am constantly asking where they are in relation to best practices and common practices.  You should never confuse the two…but the rules are the same: you need to know what the best practices are and you need to know what the herd is doing, because you never want to be far afield from either unless you have made a strategic choice to do so.

So, go through the report.  See how you stack up.  Remember that these are NOT best practices…and I’m going to go through some of the things I think are problematic for the organizations represented here…but aren’t you curious to see how you rank with social media savvy?

Helpful hint – be sure to include some of these findings in your next presentation to the board.  Regardless of whether you seem to be far ahead of the curve or need help to prioritize a jump into the 21st Century, it’s GREAT fodder for productive conversation at the board level.   Read more

Article Review: The Confidence Gap

If you haven’t read Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s piece in the Atlantic titled “The Confidence Gap,” you should.  There’s a lot of really important thoughts on gender differences in the workplace packed into a single, dense longform piece.

Confidence matters, almost as much as – or perhaps more than – competence.

I’ve been saying this for years, sometimes quoting some of the same citations, but mostly relying on my own life experiences of watching incredibly confident young men, my peers, overcome all manner of outrageous odds to succeed…despite being less talented than many of our female peers.  This article resonates deeply with me, and, I expect, will create a similar tug of feelings in many women: relief that their experience is normative, that they are not alone, while at the same time being deeply frustrating as confirmation that the world rewards the irrelevant.

I do take issue with a couple of things in the article though.  Most importantly, I specialize in getting people to “fake” confidence…it’s more complex than that, of course, but it’s much easier than Ms. Kay and Ms. Shipman seem to acknowledge. Read more

Why you need to care about white male privilege

You (and I don’t care who you are) should read this beautiful and challenging essay by Syreeta McFadden: Teaching the Camera to See My Skin.

If you have caucasian flavored skin, it has likely never crossed your mind that there are engineering challenges inherent in capturing light bouncing off everything in our complex world and transferring it to paper so that our eyes can recognize the image, unless you’re a fairly advanced photographer.  And even if you are one of these photographers, you probably have not thought about the problems created by manufacturers of film as they made choices – theoretically innocuous tradeoffs – in pursuit of marketshare and profits.

It’s real.  And it matters.  Read more

Plus ça change

I hope you’re reading and paying attention to the thoughts of Lucy Bernholz, a fine scholar and thinker about philanthropy in the modern age.

Her blog post from February is something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while, and the Jewish holiday of Passover seemed like a great time to do it.  Her post title (and thesis) is this: Disruptive wealth hasn’t yet disrupted philanthropic forms.

She’s right.  But what does that mean for the practitioner? Read more

It matters what you wear (lawyers edition)

I was interested to read Amanda Hess’ recent Slate article on the perils of wardrobe choice for lawyers.  There’s a very strict, if not obvious or consistent, code of propriety for men and women – she outlines some of the challenges that apply to everyone, as well as the disproportionate impact on female lawyers, who had to pass the bar like everyone else but get reduced to sexpots if they wear the wrong heels.  The gender bias starts with the click bait title: Female lawyers who dress too “sexy” are apparently a “huge problem” in the courtroom.

None of this is a surprise to me.  One of the workshops I’m called upon to give at the undergraduate level at least a couple of times every year is my spiel on “Wardrobe – why you need to look the part.”  It’s the least fun workshop I give; pretty much just me, showing slides of good and bad wardrobe choices and getting the kids to articulate their assumptions and biases about a person based on their looks.  It’s ugly, it’s problematic on very many levels, and I keep doing it…because people really need it.

So here are some of my insights, based on four years of telling people how to dress for job interviews and internships. Read more

What it means to soften your edges with questions

There’s a great little essay making the rounds on HowlRound, which you probably haven’t read unless you’re a theater academic or practitioner.  But it’s a good one, and while it’s a meditation on some of the awkward and undercutting choices that female theater directors are prone to making, you’re likely to recognize yourself in there, regardless of specific profession.

Language Worth Repeating, by Jess K. Smith Read more

Mixed messages, or, how to help women keep feeling bad about having any salary at all

If you’re a professional woman, you would be hard pressed to miss the fact that most women are not paid as much as men for similar (or, in some companies, the exact same) jobs.  It’s constantly in the news…which makes it all the more shameful that it’s still the case.

At the same time, a lot of people like to talk about how women don’t negotiate – at all – when it comes to salaries.  The cynical suggest that this would explain the wage gap (see?  we’re not sexist bastards, we play hardball with everyone, and if women just played the game, they’d be doing better.) – not true.  The reality is that it’s complicated – women who negotiate tend to have a variety of challenges that men don’t face, from the response to negotiation to blowback after they start the job.  So tread carefully!  But do you really want to be part of that statistic?  One of the 70+% of women who simply take whatever job offer is made, without further discussion? Read more