Category Archives: Natalie Holder

Managing Office Bullies

By Natalie Holder

Natalie Holder writes about office bulliesHave you ever worked with a yeller, saboteur, or person who stole credit for your work? Then your work environment was plagued by a bully. Bullying in the workplace is on the rise and is gaining recognition as a national and international problem. According to studies, 35 percent (an increase since previous years) of US employees say that they have been bullied by a coworker, manager or customer. A quick Web search about bullying yielded websites like mytoxicboss.com and bullyonline.org.

High-stress environments like law firms, hospitals and stock market trading floors are breeding grounds for aggressive bosses and coworkers. Not only does aggressive behavior in the workplace have the potential to reduce your employees’ productivity, it sometimes comes with an expensive price tag.

In 2006, the National Education Association paid $750,000 to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit that was based on one tyrannical employee’s bad behavior. A high-level male supervisor subjected his female employees to yelling, screaming, and profanity-laced verbal attacks. The court transcripts described the supervisor as “turning bright red with bulging neck veins as he screamed, coming so close [to the women that] they often felt his saliva spit on their faces.”

Although the supervisor’s harassment was not sexual, the court of appeals did not dismiss the case on the grounds that “harassing conduct does not have to be motivated by lust or blatant misogyny to be illegal sex discrimination.” As you can see, there are serious consequences for hostile behavior in the workplace.

For some, bullying is just a personality trait, and they bully others wherever they are—restaurants, their children’s sporting events, and pretty much any setting. Others tend to target when they feel that there’s a chance to acquire power or exercise it in their workplace or places where it’s useful to them.

Sometimes, dealing with a bully at work requires the same strategies used on the playground in elementary school. While your workplace bully is not the same as your school bully, who employed peer pressure, verbal abuse and humiliation, the workplace bully is similarly overpowering and tries to get his or her way by usurping the entire power base.

However, remember when the playground bully was tamed? It was because someone stood up to him or her. The same concept often applies to workplace bullies. Here are some strategies to shock a bully and making him or her think twice before bullying again.

Recognize that you are being bullied

As intelligent and independent workplace leaders, it can be difficult to identify the signs of bullying and admit that they are happening to you. Bullies often prey on naiveté. You may not be pushed in the sandbox but a bully has figured out how to push your buttons.

Create office allies in the in-group

Bullies tend to seek out the most vulnerable: people who have a history of not speaking up or newly hired people who may not feel that they have earned their stripes yet (Why should people listen to them? They don’t have a ton of experience that others have). Many times employees in the non-dominant out-group—age, race, gender, national origin—are among the most vulnerable. It’s not that bullies are only targeting out-groups. Bullies tend to seek out opportunities where they feel that people in general are not going to be that strong or they are not going to push back.

Patiently seize the opportunity to confront  bullies

Studies have shown that the only people that bullies respect are the ones who take them on directly. Taking on a bully requires patience and planning at the right time and place. If possible, you want the right people—i.e., a manager who can make meaningful changes in the workplace—to witness their misconduct and empathize with your well-crafted response. Talking to others who have experience working with the bully can be helpful in determining how to manage your interactions.

Although there are no federal laws against bullying, a workplace may have a policy to address hostile, harassing, or threatening behavior.As with any other issue in the workplace, check your employee handbook. Ironically, bullies are often the kind of people that no one is happy working with, so they often, and eventually, are sabotaged by poor reviews or less than enthusiastic reference letters when they are trying to take another job or move to a different department. Sometimes the lack of interpersonal skills comes back to bite them.

Some people just grin and bear it with a bully because they feel that misconduct is a part of the office culture. However, bullying can affect the target’s health, overall self-esteem, and feelings of engagement. Your response will greatly depend on how you much you enjoy the work and need the job, as well as your threshold for working in stressful environments.

Regardless of your chosen response, it’s glaringly obvious that workplace bullying is on the rise and it should not be tolerated. When you consider and employ these techniques you stand a solid chance of stopping bullying in its tracks.

Natalie Holder is an employment lawyer, speaker, corporate trainer, and author of Exclusion: Strategies for Increasing Diversity in Recruitment, Retention, and Promotion. As the co-founder of the New York State Bar Association’s Labor & Employment’s Diversity Fellowship she developed strategies to increase diversity and retention for various bar associations. In 2013, NYU honored her with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award. For more information on Natalie Holder please visit www.QuestDiversity.com/.

Three Crucial Questions for Uncovering Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

By Natalie Holder

Natalie HolderDiversity and inclusion have definitely grown up over the past 20 years. Studies have shown that diversity management tops the list of priorities that businesses will have in the coming years. And, within the last 10 years, there has been an explosion of senior-level diversity officer roles in corporations, higher education, and law firms. With all of these resources being put toward increasing diversity, why have most organizations not achieved the change they seek?

You might not have an answer because despite much societal advancement, there are reminders that people are treated unfairly because of their faith, how they look or how they sound.

Our silence might also be acknowledging that we do not know how to achieve the diversity we seek.

In the workplace, part of the issue is not knowing the difference between diversity and inclusion. Think of the high school lunch table as a metaphor for experiencing the distinction between the two.

Do you remember what your high school cafeteria looked like, sounded like, and what it smelled like? You probably had a group of friends that you ate lunch with every day. Imagine that one day, you asked a different group if you could sit with them and they enthusiastically made room for you. However, after a few minutes at this new table, you noticed that you were not a part of the conversation. People were making plans for the weekend without asking if you would like to join them. When you tried to tell a joke, everyone stared at you dismissively. People talked over you and cut you off mid-sentence. While you were invited to sit at the table, you were not invited to engage at the table. Many organizations do a great job of recruiting for the diversity they seek, but fail to create inclusive environments.

Engagement is a measurement of a person’s inclusion in an organization and drives the overall quality of the human capital brought to the table.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that everyone has needs that must be met before they can reach a level of self-actualization. In the workplace, an employee’s safety and psychological needs are most likely taken care of because their jobs provide the financial resources to clothe and feed themselves. However, the difficulty in most workplaces starts with the social needs.

When you have friends and positive relationships at work, it creates a sense of belonging. Next is your esteem needs. Everyone has a a need to have their work recognized by senior leadership. If employees never hear that they are doing a good job, they may doubt their work and themselves.

Lastly, if all your other needs are met, you may reach the level of self-actualization at work. Self-actualization is the point where you take initiative and solve the critical problems in your organization. When your social and esteem needs are met, you have the space, room and security to think about new and different ways to contribute to your company’s business goals. If one of these rungs on the ladder to engagement are missing, however, it could financially impact the organization. For instance, employee turnover is one consequence of not having engagement. If your organization had 75,000 employees, and 50% were women and non-white but saw a 3.6% attrition rate with this population, it would cost the organization $2.2 mil if it costs $10K to replace an employee.

So how and why does exclusion still take place when there are direct benefits to inclusion? Often, without even realizing it, people engage in micro-inequities that are driven by their unconscious biases. Micro-inequities are the subtle gestures, comments, and interactions that make you feel included or excluded by another. It’s feeling ignored when you’re talking to someone and they glance at their watch when you make an important point. It’s being left off of an email chain when you should have been included. Think of micro-inequities as the waves that threaten to erode your beautiful beach house that sits on wooden stilts. Over time, the waves deteriorate the wooden stilts, often in ways that are unseen by the eye.

While there are a number of ways to uncover exclusion and unconscious bias in an organization—and eventually eradicate it—the process may start with three questions:

  1. Is there a team member who would view my feedback as negative if I give them any feedback at all?
  2. Who on the team do I dislike working with?
  3. Which person on the team makes me say, “I am having such a difficult time getting to know this person?”

Most likely the person or people who surface in your responses are feeling excluded from your work groups.

In a training session for a large government agency, there was a senior leader who admitted that while he was committed to diversity as a cause, he was not putting his actions into practice with certain individuals on his team. He courageously admitted that he created a self-fulfilling prophecy where his favorite employees were excelling and the others, whom he did not connect with and had ignored, were struggling. Invitations to his afternoon coffee excursions to Starbucks were only extended to the people on his team that he connected to and liked.

Even those with the best intentions have difficulty tying their words to their actions. Creating an inclusive culture takes shaking our unconscious minds awake and questioning our actions.

Natalie Holder is an employment lawyer, speaker, corporate trainer and author of Exclusion: Strategies for Increasing Diversity in Recruitment, Retention, and Promotion. As the co-founder of the New York State Bar Association’s Labor & Employment’s Diversity Fellowship she developed strategies to increase diversity and retention for various bar associations. In 2013, NYU honored her with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award. For more information on Natalie Holder please visit www.QuestDiversity.com/.

Knocking Down the Costly Top Five Barriers to Diversity and Inclusion in Your Organization

Natalie HolderBy Natalie Holder

Twenty years ago, when most of us thought of “diversity” the prefix “bio” was attached to it along with visions of nature. Today, diversity has become big business for Corporate America and many organizations. The Glass Ceiling Commission found that companies had 2.5 times higher stock market performance when they invested in glass-ceiling related issues versus companies who ignored them. Racially diverse companies have 15 times more revenue than the least racially diverse, which explains why 40% of the companies with $5 billion in revenue have diversity as a focus in recruitment. However, many organizations feel stuck in their diversity mission, in part, because they do not know the difference between diversity and inclusion.

Diversity is like being invited to sit at a table that is already set; inclusion is being asked to partner with the host and help set up the table. Inclusion can be measured with the level of employee engagement in your organization, which drives the overall quality of your staff, and has a positive impact throughout the company.

Studies have shown that it is natural for people to create in-groups and out-groups, depending on similarities and differences. The more people perceive someone to be different, the less likely that they feel comfortable or trust them—thus putting them in their out-group.

Knowing the benefits of an inclusive work environment, why do some organizations still operate with a mindset of exclusivity, creating inclusion roadblocks that are difficult to overcome? Identifying these five roadblocks in your organization is critical to success for the 21st century business because when you knock them down your whole company will be better for it.

  1. Informal Mentoring: Formal mentoring pairs often have the best intentions, however, they rely on trust and shared interest being manufactured. However, informal mentoring is a self-selecting process where a senior leader has chosen to guide and care for the career development of a junior colleague. Trust and shared interest are inherent in the relationship. Informal mentoring is like a senior leader being obsessed with your success. Often, informally mentoring members of out-groups is difficult because unconsciously, we are more likely to be invested in someone’s career development and create opportunities for them when we can see themselves in a colleague. To challenge this natural inclination, think about the person who you feel adds the greatest diversity to your team and ask yourself, “When was the last time I invited this person out for coffee or gave this person feedback on an assignment?” If your answers are consistent with your answers for other team members who are comfortably in your in-group, then you are on the right track. If not, an outing for coffee or an informal feedback are solid steps in the right direction.
  1. Recovering from Mistakes: Although everyone makes mistakes, how they are dealt with makes all the difference. Are you given a second chance or are you forever marked as the careless employee? Studies have shown that we have a greater tendency to blame external factors when our in-group members make mistakes, for example, understanding that a report was late because the printer was broken. However, when out-group members make mistakes, we attribute their mistakes to their personal flaws, that is, a broken printer is no excuse because there were ample days to complete the report. While an employer may be instilling good relations with one employee, she is potentially ostracizing the employee she chooses to penalize. When employees in out-groups notice that they are treated by the book while their majority counterparts are not, this creates an environment that says that discriminatory discipline is part of the unwritten rules of the workplace.
  1. Bullying: Yelling, abusive emails, and character assassinations are just some of the tactics workplace bullies use to usurp the power base in an organization. Bullies will target out-group members who seem vulnerable because they do not have strong informal mentors or allies. Managers should be concerned about and put an end to bullying because it can destroy a team and decreases work productivity.
  1. Insensitivity: Organizations often do not realize how changes in their employee and client demographics may require a few tweaks to their social traditions. The jokes, comments, and even events that were once held may have a negative impact on the talent who adds a new dimension of diversity to your office. Insensitivity can even become a source of workplace stress, which can result in burnout, low morale, drug use, and violence. Ultimately, insensitivity can expose organizations to costly employment lawsuits. The manager who ignores complaints of insensitive conduct is just as guilty as the person who makes the offending comment or gesture.
  1. Perceived Underperformance: Kevin Costner’s character in the movie Field of Dreams was inspired to turn his farm into a baseball field when a voice told him, “If you build it, he will come.” People are influenced to act based on their beliefs, which create perceptions, which—whether false or true—become reality. When you unconsciously believe that employees in an out-group are less skilled, less qualified, or less talented, you consciously look for affirmation of these beliefs.

If you start a relationship from the premise that an employee is not going to succeed, more often than not, that employee will not succeed. Similar to how work styles can obscure a manager’s perceptions about an employee’s abilities, visible characteristics can also distract managers from truly valuing the employee’s work. Sometimes those who bring a dimension of diversity to the office might not be appreciated because their managers and coworkers are considering the person doing the work and not the content. When your subjective perception about how someone will work interferes with their objective performance, everyone loses.

Training and other strategic actions steps can move your organization in the right direction toward diversity and inclusion. Increased profits, improved reputation, and employee engagement are just a few of the huge returns on your investment of time and resources when knocking down these five inclusion barriers.

Natalie Holder is an employment lawyer, speaker, corporate trainer and author of Exclusion: Strategies for Increasing Diversity in Recruitment, Retention, and Promotion. As the co-founder of the New York State Bar Association’s Labor & Employment’s Diversity Fellowship she developed strategies to increase diversity and retention within the Bar by 200%. In 2013, NYU honored her with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award. For more information on Natalie Holder please visit www.QuestDiversity.com/.