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An Overlooked Factor In Employee Trust Scores: Sexual Abuse

"Don't report sexual harassment (in most cases)" is, from where I sit, one of Penelope Trunk's most controversial posts about success at work. Her basic position is not, as it appears, to be a victim but rather to find the most expedient way to save oneself - because the odds are stacked in favor of the abuser. She writes:

"Sexual harassment in American work life is pervasive — as much as 80 percent in some sectors. But most women don’t stand a chance of winning a lawsuit. So having a plan to deal with the problem is a good idea for all women."

In fact, men and women alike can be victims of sexual harassment at work. Sadistic people populate organizations just as they do the schools, the clergy, the home, and every other environment with a power differential. According to the child abuse advocacy organization Darkness to Light, "About one in seven girls and one in 25 boys is sexually abused before they turn 18." (And we frequently hear that "sexual assaults are badly underreported and poorly counted.")

The extent of sexual assault in all sectors of society, its institutional sweeping under the rug, and the shame that victims feel about it is a problem. Post-traumatic stress keeps victims from ever feeling physically or emotionally safe - forget innovating, they're just trying to get by. The organization's legal and reputational issues and fears keep it wedded to a model where closing ranks becomes the easy solution, rather than working through problems transparently and moving on. Not to mention that abusive executives get away with hurting their employees over and over again, individually and by extension.

It's time to pull the curtain back from sexual abuse at work, support current or former victims in a very vocal way, and get the perpetrators out of the system.

Making it safe is not just the right thing to do, it's essential if we are to move forward and be fully productive.

* All opinions my own.

"Catching Fire" In Government: How We Will Get Our Creative Back

Image source: Wikimedia

If you oppress people they will rise up at some point and reclaim their freedom. Many popular shows today are centrally focused on that theme: "Catching Fire," "The Walking Dead," and even one show actually titled "Revolution."

Physical oppression is horrible to watch - I had nightmares from "12 Years A Slave." But the ultimate freedom is freedom of the mind, and that is invisible. You can only see the effects when it's not there.

Crayola crayons don't work as well as oil pastels. But as a kid I loved the 64-crayon boxes anyway. A colleague in government told me she did too. And then she relayed what happened to her in kindergarten.

"The teacher only wanted us to bring the 8 crayon box. She could tell that I was using other colors. I really got in trouble for that."

I would like to say that I can't even imagine what kind of human being would tell a 5 year old to restrict their creativity in such a petty way. But unfortunately I can.

In "Catching Fire" they try to control what people think, by alternately scaring the hell out of them and then distracting them with propaganda.

In the government we have for decades tried the exact same thing. It isn't out of "badness" but because we need order. In a huge bureaucracy you have to obey.

We are in a crisis of innovation. We have to be crazy creative to get ourselves out of the mess we're in. But we've taught everyone to restrict their thinking.

Religious people are in this crisis. They (we, because I am in a sense religious) shelter ourselves from outside influences. It gives us unshakable values that we treasure, values that keep us intact through incredibly challenging and degrading times.

It also closes us off from necessary growth and improvement.

Think about the fact that we need soldiers. A free thinking soldier with moral doubts means we are dead. But then again, a soldier who easily dehumanizes others is a very grave danger to society as well.

But all these debates are old now. We have to get back to being little kids taking charge of very grownup things. Forget the 64 color box of crayons, we need 128 or even 254. We need virtual crayons.

To do this we have to invest in people. Not just those who are new to the system. We actually owe a debt to those who "grew up" here in government, so to speak. Who gave up a lot - who have given their lives, who sacrificed their own need to constructively dissent - in order to serve the institution, to be part of the team, and yes, to put food on the table.

We will get our creative back when we train our existing employees on the job, for the skills they need now, not just on the technical side but with respect to culture, communication and emotional intelligence.  It is time to empower everyone as a personal "innovation hub."

It's not the job of leadership or management anymore to think us out of the dilemmas we face. We need a "people's uprising," of rebels who want to practice "creative self destruction" so as to enable our mutual survival. The system serves the people not the other way around, and the only way to get there is ourselves.

How about we throw out those 8-crayon boxes, and give all the kids a multitude of crayons instead?

* All opinions my own.

Animal Farm (5 Sources Of Resistance To Open Data)

Frequently in literature we see that animals are used to symbolize human personalities. And it occurred to me that in government, there are some types of people whose presence gets in the way of progress.

Of course these are one-dimensional extremes, meant to illustrate a point.

1. The snake

Wants to keep power, works better in the shadows, thus sets about quietly choking transparency advocates to organizational death.

snake and acorns

  2. The rooster

Seeks all the credit for themselves. Toot their own horn, and suppress others' ideas and accomplishments.

rooster cock
Photo by mewwhirl via Flickr

3. The goat

Just complains about everything, sapping the energy of everybody in the room.

Photo by kkirugi via Flickr

4. The chimpanzee

Continually head-scratching, confused, can't figure out what's going on even after nearly five years of movement toward the new. Where they could add momentum, they continually slow it because they just are without a clue.

Photo by David Lewis via Flickr

5. The alligator

Always ready to swallow you whole; their primary motivation is self-protection, and they do not want you looking too closely at what they're doing at any given moment. Abuses the legitimate right to grieve, and is always ready to escalate rather than resolve. (It goes without saying: Of course employees should grieve legitimately, the balance of power is not in their favor.)

Alligator Farm @ St Augustine, FL
Photo by Steve Beger via Flickr

If we are honestly want to improve the way federal government operates, the first thing we should do is find a way to constructively address the problem of employees who impede progress.

* All opinions my own.