The Sum Volume #4: Heat

“The first responsibility of leadership is the creation of meaning.”—Warren Bennis.

Word of the Week is: Heat

 I landed in Phoenix @ 120 degrees. Or 122, but who’s counting. Yes, it feels like putting your head in an oven even if it’s a dry heat.

There’s lots of heat everywhere.  They say if you can’t stand it, you should get out of the kitchen. I say this week gave us at least three more reasons why women need to stay in the leadership kitchen.

3 Reasons Women Need to Stay in the Kitchen

Sometimes the pot boils over and it’s a good thing.  Uber founder Travis Kalanick resignsafter the pot of his own making boiled so hot that he had to. It took the cool head of a woman on the board to force the change. Here’s Arianna Huffington’s speech to Uber’s employees. It’s been a rocky ride; she was quoted in Broadsheet saying, “Knowing how to deal with crises without being overwhelmed – keeping one’s head while people all around are losing theirs – is the most important leadership quality.”

Contrast Kalanick’s leadership style (power over) with that of China’s dominant rideshare CEO Jean Liu (#powerTO). Can’t help but apply a gender lens to this though the article did not do so.

Continue reading “The Sum Volume #4: Heat”


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Shall We Start a Pool re When Cain Leaves the Race?

In my previous post about Herman Cain, I suggested responses to the sexual harassment allegations that could keep him in the running. Now I agree with former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner who said at the beginning of this debacle that Cain is toast.

If you were betting, when do you think he will leave the race for president?

And what do you think last night’s election returns mean for him and the rest of the Republican candidates?

Herman CainArena Asks:Herman Cain held a press conference tonight to defend his reputation, choosing to address accusations of sexual harassment directly. “I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period,” Cain said, indicating that he has no idea who accuser Sharon Bialek was. He added that he would not be stepping out of the presidential race.
Is Cain wise to remain in the presidential race? And does his defense of his reputation seem plausible?

My Answer: Cain is getting less plausible by the minute.

Cain stays in the race at peril of going down in the same flames that engulfed Anthony Weiner and so many other politicians on both sides of the aisle. They are like babies who think that when they have blankets over their heads no one can see them. Eventually, they have to backtrack on everything, and that more than any acts they committed forces them out.

Herman Cain has never lacked for arrogance and it is not surprising that he claims innocence. Many men, especially in his age group and at his level of power, often have no awareness when their behavior toward women is inappropriate because they have heretofore been able to get away with it. For many women who have been in the workforce for several decades, such behavior used to be “just the way things are.” For women today, thankfully, sexual harassment has a name–and remedies.

Here’s the link to my original post on Politico


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Making It Too Hot for Chili’s to Ignore Sexual Harassment

This is a story to warm your heart this holiday season. It’s a story of a sister who cared enough to combat injustice publicly. It’s a lesson in how to answer the question “So what are we going to do about it?” by giving those responsible for the injustice some serious heartburn. It’s a tale of hanging in there long enough to be effective in fomenting the change that’s needed to bring about fairness and justice.

Rebekah Spicuglia is media manager at the Women’s Media Center (full disclosure-I’m on the WMC board and that’s how I heard about this). Furious that her sister had been sexually harassed repeatedly, yet repeatedly disregarded by mangement when she reported it, Rebekah decided to tell the world about it in the Huffington Post Tuesday:

When my sister, Rachel Spicuglia, a five-year employee of Chili’s Restaurant (owned by Brinker International), reported to her manager the escalating sexual harassment she was receiving from the cooks, which had culminated in an assault that morning in the walk-in refrigerator, the manager asked Rachel if the offending employee had gotten a “full cup” when he had grabbed her breasts…

Rachel ended up taking a leave of absence, filing EEOC Charge of Discrimination on August 12, but she continued to work with Chili’s to arrange transfer to another store. The transfer was approved, but Rachel’s calls to the store manager were never returned, and on December 9, Rachel received a letter from her health insurance, saying that her medical benefits were denied, due to the fact that she was terminated from her job…Apparently, Chili’s was unable to fire Rachel during her leave of absence, but under Georgia law, unlike other states, you can suffer sexual harassment and be fired.

So Rachel, an exemplary employee who had received many awards from the company and recognition from her colleagues, lost her job while the cooks who harassed her went unscathed. She understood her responsibility to report the harassment and began telling her boss last spring when the first incidents occurred. But it turned out not to be so simple or straightforward when her managers failed to take the appropriate steps.

Rachel’s lawyer, Steve Mixon, notes: “You can’t just sue. You have to go through the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission], which can take a month, or multiple months to have an investigator assign to your case.” Mixon noted that it is in the interests of the employer – in this case Brinker International – to procrastinate, as many witnesses who might be willing to come forward are transient due to typical staff turnover in the service industry.

This is a direct result of the slashing of EEOC budget under the Bush Administration, which lacks the funds and staff it needs to protect women like Rachel. It has not only been under a hiring freeze since 2001, it has dramatically cut staff, most of them in enforcement. There are a mere 5 investigators covering the entire state of Georgia, as well as large portions of South Carolina. Needless to say there is a backlog of thousands of cases. Potential new cases are put off by the difficulty of filing, and often they are told to return or call back at a later time, because there is no one to do the intake.

In that scenario, women often become doubly victimized: first when the harassment occurs and then when the system that should protect them not only fails to do so but actually treats them as though they are the troublemakers.

They say that sunlight is the best disinfectant. So when the powers that be didn’t respond properly, Rebekah decided to try dragging the facts out into the bright lights of the public square–the virtual square of the blogosphere in this instance. Within a few hours, the post received dozens of comments, most of them from people hot under the collar with Chili’s. Then she did something else that made all the difference: she gave readers a simple but concrete way to take direct action by telling Brinker’s what they thought about the situation. (Take a moment to click that link now.)

Pretty soon, someone using the moniker BrinkerSpokeswoman posted this:

In response to the article concerning Rachel, several important facts warrant clarification which could have been accomplished by contacting our media relations team prior to publishing the story. Rachel has not been terminated and remains a full-time team member at Chili’s. We apologize for any confusion which arose from her interaction with one of our benefit providers. We are working with that provider to clarify her continued employment at Chili’s. Just as important, Brinker does not condone sexual harassment or retaliation and has strict policies and procedures in place for dealing with such claims. We work to train all team members on this issue to create a greater understanding of its effect and consequences.

Rachel has her job back. And Brinker’s isn’t likely to soon forget that the modern day equivalent of the adage “Never anger someone who buys ink by the barrel” is that on the internet, the “ink” spreads faster than Chili’s jalapenos send people grasping for water.

Rebekah’s gift to her sister is obvious, but there’s also an important present in the form of tips for all who want to “do something about it”, whatever “it” is at any given time:

First, have the courage to call out the injustice.

Second, know the laws and policies and use them; taking good notes about what does and doesn’t transpire.

Third, if that doesn’t work, keep turning up the heat by empowering others to take direct action individually and collectively.

And finally, be persistent enough to stay with it until the necessary changes are signed, sealed, and delivered.

Rebekah has promised to keep us informed of progress so that we can all participate in the public celebration or approbation once this is resolved. Stay tuned.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Daylight Lessons from Letterman’s Late Night Escapades

Guest post By Ellen Bravo, originally published as a Women’s Media Center exclusive.

The author, an expert on the prevention of sexual harassment and other issues of women in the workforce, suggests that human resources professionals and corporate executives take the occasion of David Letterman’s revelations to revisit their companies’ policies with the understanding that “sexual favoritism is sexual harassment.” I’m posting her commentary here because I think it is one of the best and most realistic about 21st century sexual mores for the workplace that I’ve read on the Letterman affair(s). Your thoughts? Read on…

I don’t know David Letterman or any of the staffers he had sex with.

I believe fidelity is the business of only one person, the philanderer’s partner.

Extortionists aren’t whistle-blowers—they’re criminals, and should be put away.

But whenever I hear the justification, “I didn’t violate company policy and no one complained,” my hackles jump up.

Let’s talk about why it’s bad business for the boss to sleep with subordinates.

The key part of consent is that the right to say “yes” is balanced by the right to say “no.” When the person doing the asking is the boss, declining becomes dicey.

Even if there’s no threat or demand involved, how do you know there won’t be repercussions for refusing to go along?

If there’s a problem, whom do you tell? Especially when company policy is silent on the matter, how do you know anyone will listen? Who isn’t beholden to the boss for their job?

Suppose later you need a reference from that person. What assurance do you have that your refusal to play around won’t lead to a negative comment, or a deadly neutral one: “Yes, she worked here.”

The problem is exacerbated when the boss is well-known. Maybe an assistant really digs the head honcho. She might take the initiative to get something going or be flattered that he has shown interest in her.

But the bloom can fall off that rose. What happens tomorrow or next week when she decides she’s changed her mind? Or he starts looking at the next or younger intern and wants to move on and move her out?

And what about the rest of the staff who aren’t sleeping with the boss? If someone who’s known to have done so (and sooner or later, everyone will know) goes on to be promoted, the perception will be that sex was the reason—even if that person is the smartest, most talented person onboard.

The result isn’t hard to predict: resentment, lower morale, conflict, and when opportunities arise, people jumping ship.

Sexual favoritism is a form of sexual harassment. Those who aren’t in a romantic relationship may well feel disadvantaged by that fact. The company opens itself to legal liability.

CBS says Letterman wasn’t their employee. But companies have an affirmative duty to protect workers from third party harassment—especially in cases like this when the third party holds so much power at the workplace.

My concern is that corporate execs will learn the wrong lessons from this case.

They’ll review the company sexual harassment policy to make sure it’s silent on supervisors sleeping around unless there’s egregious retaliation. They’ll remind themselves to call the bluff of anyone who threatens to reveal misdeeds.

And there’ll be a huge run on personal recording devices.

So this is an appeal to human resource professionals and boards of directors to draw the right conclusions from the Letterman experience.

First, make sure there is a written sexual harassment policy and that all employees, senior management included, are trained about that policy and their rights and responsibilities under it. Make sure the policy spells out clearly that senior managers (no matter who signs their paycheck) may not have romantic entanglements with any subordinate. If he or she does, the relationship must be disclosed immediately so management can see whether there’s a disinterested outside party who can take over supervision of the lower level individual. If not, the relationship should end or one of the individuals should leave.

Second, firms—including media outlets—should have an arrangement with an independent, outside counsel with no ties to the organization. That counsel’s number should be made available to all employees with instructions to call with impunity in the event that a top-level staff behaves inappropriately, whether to them or someone else. Employees should be assured that such a call will be held in strictest confidence until the matter can be properly—and promptly—investigated.

As for Letterman and anyone else in his position, here’s some advice: If nightly adoration and huge paychecks aren’t enough for you, try sweat yoga or cold showers.

Ask yourself if you were just Joe Schmo and not in a position of power, would this woman be interested in you?

Above all, ask yourself: if the staffer were my daughter, how would I want her boss to behave?