WHAT WE'RE READING

AND WHAT WE THINK ABOUT IT

HERstory

In March, we celebrate women’s history month in the United States. Traditionally, women’s history is harder to document – legally women had fewer rights, often could not own property, and in some instances were the property of their fathers or husbands. Yet the tiniest bit of digging into family history, company history, and national history, will unearth the many contributions women have made.

To kick off this month, CHRC wanted to provide this link to various programs and resources ranging from the National Archives to the National Park Service that highlight the contributions of American women in our country. Spend a lunchtime getting to know some of the heroines of our past!

But we can’t just look backwards.

In an effort to ensure that women no longer have to bring their folding chair to get a seat at the table and now work in equitable work environments, we are taking the advice of Rachel Schall Thomas, of LeanIn.org. For International Women’s Day, March 8, LeanIn.org has developed free resources so that companies can build more equal workplaces—this International Women’s Day and beyond.

Not only is there a hands-on approach for teaching organizations 50 ways how to fight bias with digital cards—but there are training resources, a PowerPoint, and moderator materials that can be delivered in person or virtually.

Lovin’ It?

It’s complicated.

A phrase that we associate with romantic relationships as we close out this month of Valentine’s Day.

But McDonald’s and the African-American community? Oh yeah. 

When Marcia Chatelain published her book, Franchise at the end of 2019, she couldn’t have imagined what 2020 would bring. But for those of us struggling to understand all the complexities of systemic racism, she employed a clever device to convey its many mechanisms.

There are few among us who haven’t tasted, or craved, something from McDonald’s. It’s a fairly universal American icon. Yet in tracing the inception, growth, urban retrenchment, and eventual Black franchise-ownership, she is able to walk us through a journey that few of us know enough about.

There are many aha moments. These insights detail examples from why returning Black GIs weren’t allowed to take full advantage of all that the GI Bill had to offer, to why Black franchise-owners continually had higher per store sales, yet saw those margins erode because of the unfavorable terms McDonald’s “offered” them.  

This book transforms systemic racism from a vague but overwhelming concept to a process outlined with concrete steps for permanence.  It becomes very easy for those of us who understand what the post-WWII boom did for the majority of Americans, to now understand how so much of that economic prosperity was not afforded to a whole group of Americans. 

“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun!” 

So that special sauce of success? 

Franchise helps you understand a series of decisions that kept the special sauce from all of America.

63

What do you think when you see this image?

Some may think this is a very overused image. 

Perhaps it’s a cliché.  It’s over-done.  It over-simplifies something that isn’t simple at all. 

But about two years ago, those of us in Chicago learned, or re-learned, how a group of young white men from Mississippi sent a decoy group to board a plane, then drove out of their way, across their state border, and came to the frigid north in March, just so they could play a ball game.  

And that meant a white player shaking hands with a Black player at center court. For the whole country to see.  Including the Governor of Mississippi who had forbid them to leave their state precisely because he didn’t want them to compete with Black athletes.

When Loyola beat Mississippi State, the Chicago school went on to win the NCAA championship;  so far, the only Chicago college to capture such an honor.  A stirring reminder of that achievement reverberates throughout Loyola’s Gentile Arena whenever the Ramblers reach 63 points: the student section chants “six – ty  three,  six – ty  three.”  

Many have argued how significant or insignificant that game was.  Against a backdrop of Civil Rights issues that were yet to be addressed, and the violence and economic hardship that continued, how much did that game change? 

But in 2011, when Jerry Harkness attended Joe Dan Gold’s funeral in Kentucky, there, next to the casket was a picture.  It was from 1963, of the two of them shaking hands at the beginning of the “Game of Change” – a game that the Governor had tried to stop by issuing an injunction, and that had been overridden by a handshake. 

True Grit

By Lisa Aggarwal

Commonwealth HR Consulting is a firm composed of women who love math. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the movie Hidden Figures resonates with several of us. 

We are told from a young age that we can do hard things. “Things” have certainly been hard lately. Who better to learn from than women who looked hard in the face and told it to try harder.

One of the most amazing things about this movie was that no embellishments were needed to tell the stories of these female African-American “human computers” whose work and dedication was critical to the space race. This, at a time when WHO they were (African-American and female) was an inherent obstacle to their own success…still to this day. 

Instead, they were pioneers who charted their own courses. Katherine Goble Johnson became the best known of this group when she received the Presidential Medal of Honor; she calculated the trajectories of the Apollo 11 and Space Shuttle. Mary Jackson was the first female African-American engineer at NASA. Dorothy Vaughan was the first African-American supervisor at NASA … because she taught herself FORTRAN. 

 “Their path to advancement might look less like a straight line and more like some of the pressure distributions and orbits they plotted, but they were determined to take a seat at the table.” – Margot Lee Shetterly 

How was their world altering success accomplished, against all odds? GRIT.

There are many ways to describe grit: being resilient, having a strategic mindset, continuously striving for self-development. It is a competency, or innate behavior. You can sometimes develop it, but it is usually a part of a person’s make up.  Without leverage, without a voice, the heroines of Hidden Figures demonstrate so many aspects of grit, then out-prepare and then out-perform their peers.  It is a muscle that they have been using their whole lives.

The easy path is rarely the most rewarding. Invest your time in someone you see has potential, or in yourself. Sometimes, in order to get some traction, you need to put some grit down on that slippery slope and see where it might take you. 

How many more weeks of Covid?

If Covid had a mascot, it would be the groundhog, at least in the United States. Different animals in different northern regions have stuck their necks out to foretell if winter is over.  Every year on February 2, many cultures look for a sign that winter might be over.

Recently, a podcast caught my attention; hadn’t hit start, hadn’t heard of the book, but who wouldn’t keep listening about a book called Wintering when it is January in the snowy North? The author, Katherine May, read a passage: 

“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt.”

Suddenly you recall an Aesop’s fable, of the Ant and the Grasshopper.  One creature is busy storing food for the winter, one plays in the sun and does not. You probably first heard this tale at about the age of five, and Aesop wrote, or at least recorded it, 5,000 years ago. 

In her interview, the author says she feels that Covid has been one L O N G Wintering.  Many of us have forgotten how to winter—how to store away preserves in our cellars for the seasons in which the harvests are not plentiful. Companies either don’t retain earnings for a rainy day or are pressured to pay them out to shareholders.  

This February 2, the groundhog represents us emerging from our Covid Hibernation, looking for hope, an efficient vaccine distribution system, some semblance of normal. As we all know we will have at least six more weeks of Covid Winter, but perhaps we can resolve to prepare a bit more for our next “wintering”—whatever it may be—so that we might be more prepared, like the ant, and not have to go underground, like the groundhog.

Carved in Stone?

By Lisa Aggarwal

Every day, I’m amazed by the innovation I have seen since the Covid-19 pandemic began. In order to survive, virtually every company has been asked to evolve and change the trajectory of its business. Every person has made changes to their routine and how they operate on a daily basis. 

For those companies whose fiscal calendar begins on January 1, the traditional annual merit cycle is upon them. The good news: organizations who are managing to thrive despite a worldwide pandemic (i.e., not the restaurant and hospitality industries) are still planning on giving their employees raises. 

Yet, the annual merit increase isn’t as “traditional” as you might think. Some of you might remember the days when you received a raise on the anniversary of your hire date. One of my colleagues recounts when moving to a yearly increase was unheard of, needing at least a year of change management for employees to understand why it would be any other way—or why it even happened this way in the first place. 

As CHRC has been researching how companies are coping with this year’s cycle, the overwhelming answer is: it depends. According to a recent study by the Economic Research Institute, annual salary budgets remain around 3.0%, but many companies are only implementing actual increases around 2.2%. Some of that gap may be avoided by thinking strategically. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you need to work on an annual review cycle, or should salary reviews only be done if revenue targets are met? Can that be quarterly, or can you wait until business recovers? 
  • Should you focus on promotions or retaining your high performers who, according to many reports, are still able to find new jobs with relative ease?
  • Are your compensation programs and structures aligned with the external marketplace? Have any of your roles been affected by increases in your state or city minimum wage as of January 1? With remote working, do you now compete nationally for talent?
  • What programs is your company implementing to address burnout and the around the clock work from home cycle? A recent study by AON indicated that the #1 concern when it comes to retaining female employees is not only childcare…it’s wellbeing. That concern doesn’t stop at the gender line. Do you need to think beyond Total Rewards to Total Wellbeing?

The more creative you are with how your financial resources are invested, the better you will be able to redeploy your assets. Are your merit increase cycles ready for a little innovation, or are they carved in stone?

The Clue in the Puzzle

Over the holidays, I hung out with one of my most inspirational friends from my adolescence. We spent many hours together reliving her many escapades (and the ways in which she inspired me to ride along on her adventures), even though I will never be as brave as she is. We even giggled about her hairdos and fashions. Don’t worry, we were socially distant the whole time—Nancy Drew was safely ensconced in the covers of her mysteries that made up this year’s holiday puzzle.  

Unlike last year’s ridiculous puzzle undertaking, this year’s was not frustrating—it was fun. While no one else in my family helped, many other things did help with this puzzle. Intimately knowing the artwork of many of these covers, the ability to discern the difference between fashion across the decades, and then of course, an eye for fonts.   

At some point in the endeavor, I was struck by a thought that differed from last year’s insight.  It was at the point when you have done enough of the hard work that you notice a piece, recognize the color scheme or font, and remark, “Oh, I know where this belongs.” I started thinking about the types of Aha! moments that only come from long hours and deep thinking—a shortcut won’t get you there. It is only from studying something and understanding its nature, from having the patience to get to that point, that you can make a break-through. My mind immediately went to the scientists who developed the Covid vaccines in record time. They have spent careers doing the equivalent of 20,000 piece jigsaw puzzles. Their knowledge base far exceeded color schemes and fonts, but at the core of the development, patience.

So, I spent the rest of my time with Nancy pondering patience. What in our lives today (pre-Covid) fosters patience? In an age when many kids grow up with knowledge, entertainment, and transportation, amongst other things, at the tip of their fingers, how do we impart the value and lessons of patience to them?

We should all be extremely grateful to all the scientists who developed the Covid-19 vaccines in record time. Their patience and deep thinking was the key to solving the world’s biggest challenge.

Waiting for Early Dismissal

I don’t know about you, but the last time I had this feeling about a year ending was probably 4th or 5th grade. In grade school, some of your personal heroes were the room mothers. They showed up at key dates: Halloween, the last day before winter vacation, and Valentine’s Day. I associate room mothers with sprinkles, you know the kind you find on cupcakes or amazing sugar cookies.

But the most important day that they refereed was that last day of school before winter break. Because the only thing that stood between a bunch of kids getting out of school for two whole weeks was that sugar infused party, complete with sprinkles.  

Now this is when we take pity on any grade school teacher. Those poor teachers spent the entire morning trying to calm a class full of children that acted as though they had already ingested a container full of sprinkles before they even got to school. We wriggled in our seats, barely able to contain our excitement …. if it had snowed outside, the distraction reached new heights. So, in an effort to keep us in our seats those poor teachers, who we might add were completely exhausted from trying to teach an entire semester, thought that they would outwit us, by giving us games and puzzles instead of work to keep us occupied until those room mothers showed up.

We’d sit there with our pencils in our fingers and start on the worksheets.  We quickly figured out the teacher had tricked us into doing some math before we could color in a winter scene, or do a word search to review our spelling words from first semester.  

In tribute to all those teachers from our childhood, and all of those teachers who have been coping as best they can in the fall semester of 2020, here’s a word search in hopes that this just might distract you for just a couple minutes as you wait with fingers crossed, hoping that the principal will get on the intercom and let us out with early dismissal from this year.

December Lights

December is a tough time of year.

I do not like the days getting shorter. 

In typical Decembers, I do not like the craziness of holiday shopping, the hectic nature of too many invitations jammed into the early part of the month, and the frantic feeling BEFORE December 25th. But what I do enjoy about December? Candles and lights. The more candles and the more lights, the better.

Several years ago two wonderful authors entered my December. One wrote a moving children’s book and the other discussed how she, as part of an interfaith family, embraces December. The children’s book that I discovered, and delighted reading as a library volunteer, is called The Christmas Menorahs How a Town Fought Hate. It’s a true story from 1993, when Billings, Montana took a terrible hate incident and used it as both a teachable moment, and a moment of united defiance against hate. I then heard Chicago author, Barbara Mahany, discuss how she treasures the December darkness as deeply spiritual, as a way to go inside, to shut out the early December hecticness, to embrace the two candle-centric holidays that her family celebrates. In turn, I now cherish our Advent wreath that burns brighter as the days grow dimmer.

In this December of 2020, when most of the world is facing a darker December than most, when we could all benefit from lighting as many candles in the darkness until the vaccine lightens the darkness for us, perhaps you can find this special holiday book, and read it to a young person in your life? Or perhaps, in need of hope and light, you can just read it yourself to reaffirm that light is indeed stronger than darkness. 

Winning Communication

Photo by Christina Morillo, from Pexels

Back in February of 2018, our blog highlighted some best in class recruiting practices. We noted that companies like Microsoft had adapted their screening and selection processes to capture the needed talent of those candidates on the autism spectrum. In so doing, they were actually employing a more robust way of screening all candidates and predicting success within a role and a company culture.

As we all continue to navigate remote working, especially in a certain Midwestern city that has had really low level clouds for several days, what if you heard that there was a place to work where you started your morning with two questions:

  • How “interactive” do you feel today?
  • What’s your energy level today?

What if you also heard that this same company listed everyone’s preferred communication and feedback preferences? Versus, you know, waiting two days for a call back and then learning someone NEVER checks their voicemail?

A recent article focused the spotlight on Ultranauts, a tech company that has engineered itself not only for remote working, but for the diverse needs of its employees—many of whom are on the autism spectrum. This company’s practices are valuable for all of us right now. Not only because they allow the workforce to absorb information in the ways that they
prefer—but because it practices the key components of good employee communications:

1. Tell them what you are going to tell them
2. Tell them
3. Tell them what you told them

AND with technology to take notes, so that no one gets stuck being the scribe!

While Ultranauts developed this culture to accommodate the sensory-overload that many on the autism spectrum experience on a daily basis, in this current environment, these practices offer a great deal to all of us who are on so many different sorts of overloads and prioritizes employee-first communications, so that all succeed—no matter what.