Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tips on Informational Interviewing with Delia Christina

Lately, I’ve been fielding calls from recent college grads (or their family friends) for informational interviews and I don’t quite know how to feel about it. Ambivalent about my own professional standing and trajectory, I don’t quite know what insights I’m supposed to give these young people. Sure, I have a solid list of contacts (not as fabulous as some, but it’s still a good one); but informational interviewing should be about more than just a polite way to demand names. I see it as a mini-mentoring opportunity.

And since I’m big on mentoring folks who look like me, I was doubly ambivalent when the two people I spoke with this week didn’t look like me. Their accumulated gender, race and class privilege outweighed any contacts or leads I could give them in a lifetime.

The bitchy thought crossed my mind, “Shit, why should I waste my time and so-called insight on these two when I could be giving them to another woman of color?”

But I tamped down my impatience and made the appointments with them – because that’s what you do when you’re a professional. You realize that the job search is a dance and these sorts of interviews are part of the choreography. Also, there was no way I was going to look bad in front of the people who referred them to me. So on Monday, I met with a very nice college grad who’s earnestly interested in women’s advocacy – or law school – and today I met with a guy who’s been interning at our org at a long-term research position.

The recent grad was a dream. She was prepared. She came with a list of orgs she was interested in; she had already met with a couple other advocates I knew and she had a couple of career trajectories in mind by the time she sat down with me. We spent 30 minutes talking about the non profit sector, women’s advocacy and why direct service in Illinois is not likely to be a good bet for the next 10 years. I gave her a few names of other women to reach out to and shook hands with her on the way out. What a nice girl, I thought.

Then I met with PolicyDude. Unprepared, vague about his plans, unable to say what he wanted or why, he made my head hurt.

“PolicyDude,” I said. “Here’s a tip. When someone asks you what you’re interested in, saying ‘social justice and progressive movements’ isn’t going to cut it. It’s too vague. That could mean anything and everything. You need to be specific enough so that I know how best to recommend you to someone.”

He scribbled in his pad.

“So…let me hear it. Give me your 5 minute pitch: why do you want to be in policy and where do you want to end up?”

“Um…is that really necessary?”

Tip Number 2: When you’re asking someone to help you find a job, don’t be bitchy.

“Ok…who has the job now that you envision having?” In the past, I had always found this exercise to be helpful in focusing me on my own professional ambitions; I thought this would work for him, too. But, no.

He looked at the ceiling. “Um, well….policy think tanks…social movements for women…maybe an international organization…”

Sigh. “What about title? Who has the title you want?”

“Um, well…maybe Director of …policy?” Never let it be said that men don’t dream big.

Tip Number 3: For the love of god, be prepared ... and brief.

We spent an hour trying to eke out what it was he really wanted. Did he want to stay in Chicago or go elsewhere? Did he want to try women’s advocacy or poverty work? Did he want to stay in non profit or had he thought about the private sector? (I gave him the name of a blue chip consulting firm in Chicago with a non profit practice and, swear to god – if he finds a job with them, I will lose my shit.) Which foundations or research orgs was he thinking about? Why was he interested in this work? What did he want to do? How could I refer him to anyone I knew (and foist this disaster on them) when he couldn’t answer any of these questions?

Before you chastise me for losing my patience, I have to say that this guy is a grownup and should know better – in his 30s with a solid academic background, married to a med school student, already thinking about raising kids. He had already done some little work in the field but basically expected me to open my contact list and read off a bunch of names and emails for him.

Tip Number 4: Don’t be so overtly greedy.

When I reviewed his resume, I discovered that this guy had never gone through a traditional job process. Through the kindness of teachers and friends, he’d jumped from this random post to that.

“So you’ve never formally interviewed for any job before? You’ve never had to compete for a job?”

“Not really. Isn’t it …um…all about who you know?” Somehow, he managed to maintain a puzzled look of cluelessness as he said this.

Tip Number 5: Don’t let your white male privilege hit your ass on your way out my office.

Note: Though I was mentally over this conversation halfway through, I stuck with it and gave him some tips on being a little more strategic about his interviewing: stop mumbling, rewrite your resume, have your pitch ready and ask your contact for more than who they know. I gave him some homework and we’ll talk again in two weeks. But jesus on the cross – really??

Note: What’s Tip Number 1? Don’t be lazy!
So my org was just featured in an article about succession planning and how the org empowers female leadership. Great! Yay!

But then, in a meeting yesterday, it was said that we have a policy of 'not providing food for staff.'

Irony, much?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dear Jesus,
Thank you for arranging things so that my field of work doesn't put me in direct contact with entitled, rich, white women anymore. They are crazy.

Delia Christina

A friend at work is dealing with a very rich, very entitled white woman who answers every email but my friend's, makes threats about my friend's work and has tried at least once to make my friend look bad to her boss. (Thankfully, our boss is a very cool sort of woman and has been getting copied on every emailed interaction.) This entitled rich lady is a volunteer.

Where the hell do volunteers for an organization get off treating staff like their servants?

I think I've just found my new side hustle: rogue volunteer whisperer for stressed out non profit fundraising staff.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What's new, pussycat?

Not much. In a funny twist of workplace irony, I was named a high performing ROCK star (don't ask me why it was capitalized thusly) on my team, which entails one personal day off. When Boss Lady told me I asked her if they were supposed to pick the team member who was closest to a nervous breakdown. She laughed. But really. I wondered.
If you follow my twitter you might have seen the photo of me and M- at a wedding a couple of weeks ago. What a fabulous day that was! Romantic, pretty, random...everything a wedding should be.  And we danced - to jazz! Sigh. (The fact that we fought for the lead for a few seconds is not important.) We should have more weekends like this but then we'd be broke.

All of that to say that M- and I are pretty good.
Our world is frakked. Every day I watch the BP disaster unfold and grow angrier and angrier. But who am I angry at the most?

At BP for being the epitome of a bad-acting corporation? (cutting corners on safety, not giving a shit about workers or safety, being more concerned about PR than actual problem solving or taking responsibility for their bad act....I could go on.)

At the general public for our blindness at our own complicity? (That oil was for us - literally. It was for the US market. If we're so upset about this and about all this offshore drilling, and we say we never want to see this happen again, we need to make some different choices. Choices that go waaaay beyond being 'green.' Choices that mean the infrastructure and flow of our society looks different. Are we even ready to contemplate what a society without fossil fuels looks like, acts like?)

At folks for having these wacko expectations of a President? (Really, you're mad that the President didn't come to your dock to speak to you personally about how this spill is affecting you? And he should do this for every single person in the Gulf region? To make YOU feel like YOU are being listened to? When did we become such babies?)

At the Obama administration for being well-meaning but sort of politically doofy? (What happened to all the savvy public strategy folks that got them through the elections? Where's that message discipline?)

The longer human beings are on this planet, the more we fuck it up.
When the flaming meteorite comes, I hope the end is quick.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

reality bites, indeed

I am not a radical.

As a bourgie brown woman, I acknowledge what little privilege I have and wish everyone had the advantages I've had. However, just because I'm a bourgie black woman does NOT mean that I don't give a shit about making a difference in women's lives. 

I'm in one of our chief executive's office this morning and throwing an idea out there that our legislative agenda next session needs be more cohesive. So we're talking about the benefits to it and somehow ending up on a potential issue area for us: domestic trafficking and prostituted women. And then began a depressing conversation about whether or not we're a feminist organization and what matters more: dollars or actually advocating to empower women? Clearly, dollars.

Know what I hate about working for an org that's over 100 years old in this funding environment?

I hate knowing that every future decision we make about policy is probably going to come from a place of fear: fear that we'll alienate a donor; fear that we'll make a politician angry; fear that our general constituency will back off from us; fear that the shiny white ladies from the burbs won't want to be sullied by the hard scrabble lives of women living on the south or west side.

I hate coming to the realization that, because of our age and our size, rather than use this time of uncertainty to be brave, we only TALK about being brave but then cavil and end up being mealy-mouthed and cowardly. Because that's what it means to back off from policies that mean life or death to women. It means you're chicken shit and you're not really serious about what you mean.

I'm sure I'm not the only policy/advocacy person in a human services non profit to come to that realization.

If I'm going to be this disillusioned, I should have stayed in corporate.
At least I'd be compensated for my cynicism.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

This is White Supremacy

So I'm getting ready to go to a wedding in Kenilworth (one of Chicago's closest 'sundown' towns, incidentally) when I read this article in my FB feed: Arizona public school is being forced to change little black and brown kids in a mural white because some assholes are offended by the mere visual reminder that not everyone is white.

So far reaction has been "Wow, those Arizonans are freaking crazy, with their racist thoughts and all."  Well, yes and no.

Yes, they are freaking crazy but this isn't racism. This is white supremacy.

When a state, by large unspoken agreement of its people, decides to ellide the very presence of the racial Other then we're beyond 'race bigotry' + power = Racism. We're into the land of: You are not white so therefore you are not worthy of citizenship (SB1070), a place in our history (see ethnic studies bans and textbook revisionism) or even artistic or public representation.  When the black and brown people are told their presence isn't wanted in public that's a strong statement of who IS welcomed: whites only.

To me, that means Jim Crow. And if we're all students of history, we all should recognize Jim Crow, or bullshit 'separate but equal' segregation, as a tool of white supremacy.

Disenfranchisement is more than just being treated differently - it means one has no public, legal or civil recourse to wrongs done to you. It means you have no right to participate in civic life - voting, for instance. When applied to ONLY people of color, it is a white supremacist method of social control.

So let's start calling the racists what they really are: Jim Crow apologists and white supremacists.  Because now we know what we're dealing with.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Dad gets another lesson in feminism: on raising strong daughters

Talking with my dad allows me to say some things kids and parents normally don't have a chance to say to one another unless one of them is on a deathbed.  So today, I told him how his and mom's messages about our bodies basically created some of the issues my sister and I have with intimacy.  And his brain exploded.

"What did you expect, Dad?" I said. "We grew up in a religiously strict Baptist home, we were taught Satan was real, we were going to hell if we touched ourselves, our bodies were dirty, sex was bad and that boys were rapists. So, yeah - we're gonna have some issues with men when we grow up!"

"Ahhh, well. I don't know," he stammered. "I don't know if I agree with all of that. But we can talk about that later."

"Dad, L- and I still talk about how traumatized we were when you told us about sex. It was graphic!"

"I was just trying to protect you from the little knuckleheads down the street!"

"We were eight! Don't tell us about being snatched off the streets, thrown on a dirty mattress in a van and having some little boy put their fingers in our bodies! That was terrifying!"

"I was being a father! We lived in South Central - not some fairy land."

"Well, congratulations, Dad! You told us our bodies were fodder for rapists - who, apparently, lived down the street, went to school with us and walked the sidewalks! Nice going." I said. "We were EIGHT!  Dude, didn't anyone back then read books about child development? Didn't you guys have Good Touch/Bad Touch?"

"What's that mess?"

And so on.

Anyway, things are not going well with my sister's marriage; she has admitted to Dad that she has hated how men look at her, which has prompted Dad to ask where her attitude comes from.

"Are you kidding me?"

"I'm serious, Delia Christina. I don't understand it."

I tried to explain what it's like growing up a girl where you're taught that Bad Things will happen to you because of what's between your legs, how this reduces a girl to an object and tells her that SHE is the cause for a man's violence and perversion; but he didn't get it, quite.

So I said, "You raised us to be afraid, not strong. See the difference?"

My sister and I heard the same messages growing up. But I know what made the difference for me. Feminism. If that kind of awakening hadn't happened to me, I would still be struggling with my body, my value, my worth. I know that I've had a reputation for being a ball-busting man-hater, but I'd rather be a so-called man-hater than a woman afraid of her own body and desire.

But this, I think, is the conundrum of raising daughters. If you know that this patriarchal world is full of violence against women and girls (which it is, in horrible, horrific ways) then how do you prepare your daughter to face it? And then, how do you raise them to face it without making them afraid of themselves, of their bodies - how do you raise a daughter to be without shame?

Mothers and fathers raising daughters, I'd love to hear from you on this one.