Grief, Gender, and Ecology at Work

We were totally excited recently to come across Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, a performance group firmly grounded in the 2010s. Part social commentators and part Nina Simone-inspired musicians, AATJ was spotlit in the Village Voice on the eve of Swanlights, their MOMA-commissioned performance at Radio City Music Hall.

In the Voice interview, English-born and transgender Hegarty reflects on the world he inhabits, and touches us at our core. In one moment — among many — of poignance, he relates his experience as a transgender person with the ecological devastation he sees:

“I see them as parallel issues, as a tiny reflection of a greater problem,” he notes. “Even as a transgender person, I’m excruciatingly aware of my privilege as a white male, and the subjugation of women is critical to understanding the subjugation and destruction of the ecology.”

Brilliance! See him working the dual oppressor and oppressed within him?  He continues:

“America is less willing to consider a gay or transgender having a platform outside of gender identity,” he says. “But we are barely acknowledging that the weather is changing, either.”

Say it, Antony. Americans’ purported less-willingness to see the world broadly can lead to pigeonholing one another, and to misperceiving the continuing transformation of Earth’s geography. He’s grounded in his emotions when he says, “We need to start grieving, at the very least.”

And then he drops a profound mind-bender:

“People can more easily imagine the collapse of the world than they can imagine stepping away from capitalism or patriarchy.”

We’ve been thinking about this idea ever since we first read it. Do you think it’s true, that capitalism and preserving the world can’t coexist? While it pains our brain to ponder, it’s certainly worthwhile to consider.

Still, he seems hopeful when he thinks about his ethnicity and place in the world. “I am as American as it gets,” he shares.

And we remain hopeful, too. Not only about our ability to solve some of these worldly problems, but hopeful that revealing our whole selves at work, as Antony does, will help lead us there.

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Gender and the New C.E.O.

One of the more poignant stories we know about organizational dynamics goes like this:

A Black man in his mid-30s was hired as a business development executive in a large consulting firm.  On his first day of work, his boss, a White man in his early 50s, said to him, “I’m glad you joined our team. Although I don’t want you to think that you were hired because of your race.”

To which he replied, “Why not?  You were.”

Whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not, we all notice physical characteristics of the people around us, including:

  • skin tone
  • height
  • body shape
  • hair texture and color
  • nose width
  • fullness of lips, and
  • size, shape and color of eyes.

From this data, we make inferences about individuals’ gender, race and ethnicity. And from these assumptions we often form conclusions about one’s competence, work ethic, and likeability, for example. Indeed bringing your whole self to work involves having conscious awareness of how your  gender, race, and ethnicity — plus other salient parts of your identity — impact your work.

So when Virginia Rometty was recently named the new chief executive of IBM (NYSE: IBM), it was surprising to read the perspective of Samuel Palmisano, the current chief executive. In a story from the New York Times:

Gender, according to Mr. Palmisano, did not figure into Ms. Rometty’s selection.

“Ginni got it because she deserved it,” Mr. Palmisano said, using the informal first name by which she is known to friends and colleagues. “It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies,” Mr. Palmisano added.

Just like the protagonist suggests in the story above, why wouldn’t gender be among the multiple multi-faceted factors that play into the selection of a chief executive?

Palmisano seems to be saying that Rometty’s promotion is not an affirmative action-related decision, which will ultimately help authorize her in her new leadership role.

We empathize with his need to be politic. Still, it would deepen workplace conversations if everybody acknowledged the role that gender often plays in hiring decisions. Not to mention provide significant relief in knowing the truth.

Up next: How gender impacts the world of journalism.

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Harmful Images of Executive Leadership

Imagine an executive at work.

Who did you picture? Perhaps a White, physically capable, probably straight, man? If you did, it’s not totally your fault.  In part because there’s an image of one to the right.

As consumers of media, we’re regularly fed subtle and powerful messages of what executive leadership looks like.  Bill Keller (right), former executive editor of the New York Times, was recently referenced in the New Yorker as follows:

With his square jaw, neatly parted gray hair, dark suit, and pocket kerchief, Keller on this day could have passed for what his father was, the chairman and C.E.O. of Chevron.

With this physical description, he’s a natural ringer for a chief executive of a global corporation making several billion dollars in annual profits, including last year?

The picture of Keller immediately continues, with a rub:

Yet when he stepped to the microphone his voice quavered, and he occasionally paused to restrain tears.

His bone structure, fine hair, and formal dress could link Keller to the role of multinational chief executive, yet he cried, so no behemoth conglomerate chairmanship for him!

The additional message suggests that powerful executive men don’t express tender emotions.

These ideas reach us in a place under the conscious level, and they sometimes come from an unconscious place in the writer. Is the New Yorker writer Ken Auletta aware of his myopic view of executive leadership?

This description of Keller comprises just a few sentences within a 10,000 word essay, so it’s easy to miss the underlying implications. It’s one of numerous written messages we take in regarding who’s fit for leadership in our society.

We get this message delivered in pictures, too.

One example: Read more

Layers of Identity at Work

Dr. Pauline Park has an impressive professional history. Among many accomplishments, she co-founded the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA) and the Queens Pride House, a center for the LGBT communities of Queens. She’s a trangendered Korean adoptee, and we’d say 100% American. Dr. Park’s path illustrates the way she has integrated into her career some salient facets of her identity.

We sure have alot to learn from her example.

Read the post in which she works with her gender, sexual, religious, ethnic and family identities: “Finding the Authentic Self: Coming Out as a Transgendered Korean Adoptee.”

[Photo courtesy]