The politics of work

We have a new director who got hired for our team, and he is spending a couple of days with us here in New York this week. He introduced himself and put time on my calendar for us to catch up one on one. We were only supposed to meet for half an hour, but half an hour ended up turning into two-plus hours over the course of two days.

He introduced himself by saying that he can handle and would prefer that I be fully honest and blunt, that he could handle it, that he doesn’t really do very well with politics.

“You don’t do well with politics, huh?” I said to him coyly. “Well, we have quite a bit of that here, so I hope you enjoy.”

I can get away with being this provocative because I’ve pretty much earned the right to do that. It was amusing to see how he responded to certain things I said. This was actually enjoyable. In some ways, this almost feels like a bit of a game now.

I know everyone says they don’t like politics, that they don’t deal with it or put up with it. But let’s face it: once you are in an office environment or any kind of group environment, there’s inevitably going to be politics regardless of what you say or do. Some people are going to be favored over others for reasons other than concrete performance or data that backs up how “good” they are. Others are going to be dismissed because they have been labeled as “complainers” or view work with “low urgency.”

It’s exhausting. It’s why my dad retired early from his “day” job to run his own business. “Why should I slave away for the white man when I can earn my own money and work when I want?” he declared when he retired in 2001.

His words come back to me all the time when I get frustrated with work.

Anti Sexual Harassment training

So, this is the message we all received here in the New York City office this past week:

“New York State Law requires that employers of one or more employees must conduct anti-sexual harassment training for all employees. Completion of this training is MANDATORY for our company to be in compliance with New York law. Starting today, you can complete the online 45-minute training. Please complete by September 30th, 2019, training link sent in an email. Thank you! – People Operations Team”

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with anti sexual harassment training. It’s creating an online training that shows with words, images, and sound what sexual harassment is and explains why it is not acceptable. What bothers me, though, about practices like this that “woke” tech companies want to require their employees to do is that in the event of sexual harassment, everything they teach you during these trainings doesn’t really apply. Here’s a case in point: this training, which I completed, says that you do not need to have written or video proof to file a sexual harassment claim. Now, while that is true, what *is* your proof — your words against your accuser? The less documented proof you have, the weaker your case is, and therefore, your company isn’t going to take it as seriously. And even the more subtle it is, the more “grey area” there is, and therefore, the accuser is always going to be in the weaker position. That’s why most sexual assault victims or victims of discrimination never come out: they will not only be unlikely to win, but they will also suffer as a result of their coming out and continue to suffer retaliation… even when companies claim that it’s illegal. Google is a respected household name when it comes to tech companies, but it hasn’t prevented them from their own discrimination and retaliation cases, has it?

Even in an age of #MeToo, sexual assault perpetrators like Brett Kavanaugh get confirmed to the highest court of the land and get away with their acts of violence and hate, whereas accusers who are so brave in dealing with getting endless death threats and not being able to leave their own home like Christine Blasey Ford are shamed and looked down upon. So all of this is why I think these anti harassment trainings are just done merely to check off a box as opposed to effect any real, tangible change in any of the companies we work in. It’s all just a facade that we’re trying to do the right thing, but we’re really not.

Poor business acumen

I came back to work today to a lot of drama resulting in some poor business decisions that were made on an account that I’m assigned to, so I was no happy camper pretty much all day today trying to deal with the mess I was coming back to. It never ceases to amaze me the complete lack of empathy and foresight that goes into decisions made by egotistical, entitled white men. I can say that as an Asian American female in a white male-dominated work place, when someone, anyone, ever even for a second, questions something I’ve done, my immediate default response (if only internally in my head) is to second-guess myself, wonder if I am actually in the wrong and if I could have done things differently. It has pretty much never occurred to me to immediately result to a stubborn deadlock, insist I am right without any thought or reflection, and continue to defend my “right” no matter how glaringly wrong I could be. What is even worse is the absolute refusal to admit any wrongdoing when they are clearly wrong… and have outright lied. And I always attribute this to the conditioning and painful awareness of my race, of my gender, something that white men are so privileged to never truly be forced to think about. It doesn’t even matter if you are in a city or country where being white male is not the majority. Why is that? Because in countries like China, which are painfully racist even against people from other cities and provinces within China, they still look at “the white man” as the preferred race to defer to. 

Moments like this always make me wonder if I was really ever “made” to be in the corporate world, constantly battling fights that seem so pointless, especially in the year 2019, when you want to believe that “progress” has actually been made. I want to believe that people at least have the intention of being “good” and have some level of integrity, but that seems to erode every time something reckless and toxic like this happens. 

When your age becomes noticeable

Before my colleague’s going-away party tonight, I rushed in to see my hair stylist on Astor Place to get a quick hair cut. I was telling her that I just want to take off two inches of my fried ends and redo my side bangs as she combs through my hair and examines it when suddenly this look of horror swept over her face.

“Bella!” she exclaimed loudly. “What has happened to you? Your hair!”

I had no idea what she was referring to specifically. Yes, I know. I’m cheap; I haven’t redone my highlights since December. It’s June. That means six months have passed. I wasn’t even willing to come in to do a toner as she suggested. “What do you mean?” I responded, innocently.

“You’re going grey!” she whispered loudly. “Did you see this? There are several grey hair strands!”

I had seen one or two a couple weeks ago, some really short ones that were growing in, and I did the in-denial thing and pulled them out. But… I didn’t realize that it had friends in the back of my head.

“Yeah… I saw I had a couple,” I admitted, “but I didn’t realize there were more in the back!” She angled the second mirror so I could see the single strands in the back. I was not happy. I started sulking.

“Bella! What has happened?!” she continued to exclaim, looking disappointed. “Three months ago, you came in for a cut, and I know we didn’t see any greys at all! What is it — work?”

“Maybe… or maybe I’m just getting old,” I said to her, sadly, while staring at her in the mirror.

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I’m just a year younger than you, and I have SO many more greys than you! You just can’t see it because I always bleach my hair!” she said gleefully. “It’s okay. I will take care of you; that’s my job! When I get back from Palermo and you get back from your vacation, I will touch up your roots and redo your highlights. We’ll strategically place all the highlights where the greys are, and it’ll be good as new! But… it will take some regular maintenance… I’m just letting you know now.”

Only someone as sunny and bright as my Sicilian hair stylist could get all giddy about grey hair. This really stinks — just another thing to throw money at.

Cough cough

This is really a year of hell for me when it comes to catching colds. First, I got sick coming back from Vietnam in January. Then, I got sick coming back from San Francisco in February. I don’t think there has ever been a year of my life after the age of 5 when I have gotten sick this frequently. Now, I’m sick from something I caught at the end of our Colombia trip nearly two weeks ago. And the same violent coughing and phlegm build up is there. I’m not happy. If it were just a basic cold, I’d probably be okay with it and shrug it off, but this coughing is just not good — at all.

I called Teledoc yesterday, and that was pretty much useless. The doctor was unempathetic, curt, and flippant. Despite telling him none of my symptoms were getting better, he insisted it was a virus and not bacterial, so he just said the usual – drink more liquids, rest more, vitamin C… and a prescription grade cough suppressant “if you want it … it’s up to you.” He did not care at all.

Then today, I went to urgent care and had a doctor look me over. He said that because my symptoms hadn’t improved at all after over a week and a half that it must be bacterial, so he gave me an antibiotic for bronchitis and similar respiratory illnesses.

These are the moments when I think… this is why we need to be grateful for having good health. Having a violent cough that could come up any time, any place, is really a hindrance, and a nasty one.

Little love for women in the world

I met my former colleague and now friend for dinner tonight in Elmhurst, and we caught up over Northern Thai food (which was so good that I’m still thinking about it now). She was based in our company’s Amsterdam office, but she is temporarily here in New York with her husband and baby daughter, waiting for their visas to be cleared so that they can relocate to Hong Kong for his new job. We lamented all of the ridiculous drama at the company where I currently work at that she has left, and discussed all the hate in the world for women, and particularly, women who are mothers.

At our company, we get 17 weeks of fully paid parental leave. Given that the Netherlands is, well, in Europe, they clearly have better laws that allow mothers more time off, so she took an additional three months of leave… and it was really clear that the leadership on our team was not happy about this. When she informed our leadership team that she would likely be relocating back to New York City, which is home for her, a leader on our team responded, “Oh, so you want to do the easy thing when moving home, then?” and asked her if her views of work and work ethic had changed since becoming a mom. What the fuck kind of question is that? It’s almost as though since she became a mom that she had less respect on our team. And it didn’t help when someone said that in the last year, she had become “less ambitious.” Why — because she… gave birth and became a parent?!

On the flip side, she has friends who have sleep trained their babies, and they are judging her left and right for not sleep training her own daughter, who is just over a year old now. They send her passive aggressive text messages, saying she should really consider sleep training. To me, she’s not any different pre or post baby, and she is definitely not more tired or grouchy. I don’t really get what all the fuss is about. It doesn’t seem to matter what you do or what you say, but as a woman, and especially as a mother, someone will be judging you very openly, and implying you are failing or just not good enough.

You’d think that in 2019 we’d have made more progress than we have…. but even at “progressive” companies and cities, we really just have the facade of progress, but inside, we’re just as backwards as any other place.

when the ignorant discuss topics as though they are experts

As a woman and a person of color, I am oftentimes amused, baffled, and at times even enraged when I think about all the conversations that I overhear about topics being discussed by people who have no clue about the realities of the topics they are discussing. It ranges from the stupid generalizations I hear of people who have traveled to maybe one or two cities in a country and are now somehow making massive all-encompassing statements about x country in comparison to this country or others they have visited, to a bunch of white men gathered around a table discussing diversity – no woman at the table, no person from the LGBTQ community, no black, brown, yellow, or blue person. What exactly do anyof you know about what you are discussing, anyway? 

Then there’s the generalization of old white men in Alabama today making decisions that affect women in the form of not only banning abortion, but making it illegal for doctors to perform the operation, without exceptions for incest or rape. While all of that is horrible and completely lacking of empathy or any ability to relate given that no man will ever have the opportunity to understand how horrific this situation could personally be, I would even go so far as to say that women who identify as pro-life and consider abortion “baby-killing” likely have zero idea how judgmental, unempathetic, and wrong they are in their opinions. It’s not really anyone’s place to be deciding what any one person decides for her own body. That’s like regulating when someone decides to cut their hair or pee. Leave them alone. It doesn’t affect you at all. How does this affect your life…?

I oftentimes think back to my last workplace where one of my colleagues was five months pregnant, and at five months, the fetus suddenly stopped growing. And she had to face the absolutely horrifying decision to either a) abort the baby (which was essentially dead), or b) take the risk of ‘carrying it to term’ and giving birth to a dead body and suffering massive potential health consequences. Given she lived in San Francisco, she was actually able to make choice A… as painful and depressing as it was. But I’ve read other cases where women had similar situations when they were not so lucky to live in a progressive city or state, and thus were forced to take major health risks and carry the fetus to term. Some of these stories have resulted in significant health ramifications that never seem to get brought up when the topic of “pro-choice or pro-life” debated.

We have no idea what we don’t know… until we learn it. So why are we all trying to regulate the bodies of other people? Why does the Republican Party, who prides itself on being for small government, want to have “big government” specifically when it comes to making personal decisions for women, who represent over half our population?!

Until this week, I didn’t even realize that New York State bans abortions after about 20 weeks. It’s even nearly impossible to get an abortion in New York City, LAND OF PROGRESS. That’s my city where I live right now, today! Even in a land where Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land over 46 years, people still can’t accept reality and still try to oppress vulnerable women who need the most support of them all. The progress we have made is slowly being rolled back and destroyed. And that “progress” is still a long time coming and has a long way to go.

These are the moments when I am so ashamed to be a part of this country. This is really when the lack of funding in education, the overall lack of knowledge in this country is just so painfully apparent and excruciatingly raw.

First full day of resort vacation, then pain

Last night when I went to bed, I discovered that the pillows on the bed were extremely soft, but given I was already nestled in, I was too lazy to call room service to ask for a firmer pillow and made the huge mistake of going to sleep with these. I then woke up this morning to the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my neck all the way down my right shoulder. I kept stretching and massaging it every which way, and nothing would help. Why am I starting the first day of my President’s Club resort vacation in pain? This must be bad karma, I thought.

Despite that, I woke up early, stretched, went to the fitness club and did a spin and TRX class, then met some colleagues on my team for breakfast. I kept stretching my neck, and although they knew I had booked a facial around noon, they encouraged me to also book a massage, as well, to get the kinks out of me. So after some steaming, sauna, jacuzzi, and facial time, I decided to indulge even further and book a deep-tissue massage with hot stones.

As I got into the room, I told the masseuse about the bad pillow and my neck/shoulder issue. He felt the area and started working on it. “Actually, you seem really tense overall in this area,” he observed. “You may already have had something here before the bad pillow, and that ended up being the icing on the cake.”

Great – all this tension built up in my body, and it culminates in pain on the first day of my only real resort vacation ever. This is just great luck.

The other added benefit of getting the massage was that he also identified the kinks in my lower back that were a side effect of hurting my piriformis muscle weeks ago, and he managed to get them all out. This was the most expensive massage I’ve ever had in my life, but it was all worth it in the end… especially since it was mostly comped by my company.

Now, I’m wondering if I could make President’s Club again this year. 😀

good manager, bad manager

I was at dinner tonight with a friend and his friend, a former colleague of both of ours who you might describe as a fiercely independent power woman. She’s also Asian and swears like there is no tomorrow. I was sitting at a fancy midtown bar, telling them about the work drama that ensued this week that has left me feeling like I want to burn my office down. I described the head of my team to her today.

“You know what?” she said to me, with a look on her face that clearly matched how I’ve been feeling this week. “She sounds like the kind of person who has an exact vision of what she wants a role to be all down to the last bullet, but she doesn’t have the empathy and awareness to understand how someone who doesn’t fit the mold could actually do that job, but even better than they would have originally imagined. That’s because her mold is so restrictive and colored by what she is projecting onto it. She wants someone who can be just like her in that role. You will never be her, and that’s okay. But for her to not understand that you could still be successful in that role just because you are not exactly like her is a sign she’s a poor manager of people. Good managers see the strong qualities of their direct reports and allow them to play up those qualities to help them shine. Bad managers simply reject those who are not exactly like them or the mold they want them to be.”

That just made me want to have yet another drink.

Hair breakage

I’ve never really been into hair at all. I don’t use any hair products other than shampoo and conditioner. The few times a year when I curl my hair, I use a heat protective spray and hairspray to set the curls. But ever since I started highlighting my hair about two years ago, I realize that my hair gets less oily than before, so now, I can go with washing my hair with shampoo as little as two days a week sometimes. However, it’s also led to more frequent split ends since I have very fine hair, and recently, much to my complete horror, the ends of my hair just keep breaking every single time I comb through it or take my hair out of a bun. Tiny little one- to two-inch pieces break off, and I’m left with a mess to clean up on my bathroom floor and in my comb.

Yesterday, I went in for a trim with my hairstylist, and I told her that my hair was breaking. It’s most likely due to the combination of color treatment, harsh winter cold, and my morning blowdrying I have to do before heading out for work (since the last thing I want is my hair to turn to ice and break into pieces outside). She gave me a three-step deep hair conditioning treatment/masque to apply this weekend and said I needed to start giving my hair some TLC, otherwise it would just keep breaking.

I left the hair salon feeling so high maintenance. Now, I’m going to be that woman who has to masque her hair.