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Top management at my company has decided to set up workshops to think about the future of the company, mixing together executives, low-level management (such as myself), shop-floor workers and "strategy consultants".

A group has been assigned to the select few, and invitations sent, with 10 days notice. There is no direct subordination line between any of the attendees (ie. no-one above or below me is in the same group as me).

Immediately after receiving the invitation, one of the participants, a female shop-floor worker, politely said, in a group mail to all attendees, that she had scheduled time-off a while back, that it had been approved, and so on, and that she could not make the first meeting. She got a nice reply from the group lead, "enjoy your vacation" and so on.

The first workshop goes on, and in the meeting minutes from the consultant, it says, as a foreword:

Some shop-floor workers have not attended the workshop. This resistance and disdain can be understood as mistrust of their own abilities to contribute to a long-term reflexion ("glass-ceiling")

This really sets me off, as turning not wanting to cancel approved vacation a week before into disdain feels simply dishonest to me.

However, I am wondering if I should step in or not. I am the archetypal white-cis-middle-aged man, and some would say it is not my battle to fight, as no one has done me any wrong.

To expand a bit further this particular situation, and broaden the scope:

(When) should you step in to defend a minority or otherwise marginalized individual?

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    Was this person the only shopworker who didn't show up and are you sure this is targeting a minority and just two people who don't like each other? – Erik Feb 26 at 14:36
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    @SebastienDErrico Not one word about this during the meeting ifself, just a foreword in the minutes, that were sent to the top management, and the participants have been CCed. – Jean-Pierre Feb 26 at 14:47
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    I'm unclear what this has to do with class or minority groups. Surely this person is deserving of respect regardless of which groups they identify with. I think it would be appropriate to submit a complaint to your manager or HR etc. about the behaviour of the consultant. As for when it's appropriate to step in. I would say whenever you observe an injustice and you're in a position where you can do something about it, then you should. The world would be a better place if everyone stopped ignoring unfair behavior. – user1751825 Feb 26 at 15:04
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    @Oso This has more to do with mansplaining and the like. Is it OK for me to speak up, instead of letting this lady speak for herself? – Jean-Pierre Feb 26 at 15:08
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    What need is there to defend a minority when the strategy consultant is totally out of bounds for drawing a wholly unsupported inference? What made he or she feel that the members absence was due to their ethnicity / race? – Anthony Feb 26 at 16:26

11 Answers 11

49

It's not even a matter of racism/politics/etc.

When you see a wholly factually wrong statement, correct it firmly.

Name actual names and don't beat around the bush.

Steve, ah, you may have missed an email. Biff is on holiday. Biff had already arranged their holiday months before this meeting. The meeting accidentally included Biff, even though Biff is on holiday. If you missed it here's the email:

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    It appears to me that the consultant made it about being a minority. Consider the statement they made, "This resistance and disdain can be understood as mistrust of their own abilities to contribute to a long-term reflexion ("glass-ceiling")." They are basically saying, "She is refusing to do her job because doesn't have self-confidence because she's a woman." I like your factual statement to show everyone else on the email that management has her back, but I also think a complaint to HR is in order; this consultant needs to be shown the door. – Annie Feb 27 at 1:00
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    @Annie indeed. If the missing attendee had been a WASP manager, the consultant would've found other words to spin the story (in this case, likely referring to arrogance). Regardless of the actual reason for not appearing (vacation, sickness, last-minute-disasters..). The consultant's agenda really shines through and taints the workshop. Facts will help stop that in its tracks. +1 – Chieron Feb 27 at 9:25
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    "This resistance and disdain can be understood as mistrust of their own abilities to contribute to a long-term reflexion ("glass-ceiling")." This basically says "I'm a highly paid consultant who uses big words and you are worthless". To which the answer is "you don't know anything better, you are just a clueless twat". – gnasher729 Feb 27 at 13:31
  • what gnash said ! – Fattie Feb 27 at 14:27
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    actually I agree with Annie that, I personally would alert HR to this happening. actually personally I would have just screamed at the guy to get the hell out of the building, but, you know :O – Fattie Feb 27 at 17:01
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this would be a male manager speaking on behalf on a female shop-floor worker.

Absolutely, as a manager you back up your workers regardless of their gender or anything else. You don't let people tread on them, especially if they're not present.

I would have answered along the lines of.

'There's only one person not present and they had prearranged leave.' and left it at that. You don't owe the consultant an explanation or anything else, if it goes further they will just look stupid.

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    +1 this is my stance too. No be scared or walk on egg shells here. What the consultant said was factually incorrect. The consultant was totally out of bounds here for making a wholly unsupported assertion, and it's your duty to be firm and defend them – Anthony Feb 26 at 16:20
  • Thank you for your answer. To clarify, I am not 'the' manager, but 'a' manager. The missing attendee's manager is an other guy, not in the workshop. To quote the question: "There is no direct subordination line between any of the attendees (ie. no-one above or below me is in the same group as me)." I failed to make myself understood for the 'minority' thing. I am not saying the consultant did it because it's a minority. I am saying that I am afraid it will backfire if I say something ("Just because a damsel is in distress, doesn’t mean you need to be a knight in shining armour.") – Jean-Pierre Feb 26 at 19:37
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I think you are placing too much emphasis on the fact that the employee was a "minority or otherwise marginalized individual", and that is leading you state the following:

However, I am wondering if I should step in or not. I am the archetypal white-cis-middle-aged man, and some would say it is not my battle to fight, as no one has done me any wrong.

Let's imagine that the employee on vacation was also a "white-cis-middle-aged man", Bob, and the consultant said almost exactly the same thing:

Some shop-floor workers have not attended the workshop. This resistance and disdain can be understood as mistrust of their own abilities to contribute to a long-term reflexion

This is also not your "battle to fight", but would you not step up and say "Bob was on pre-scheduled vacation, so I don't think it is fair for you to say he has any resistance or disdain regarding this process"? Or would you let someone maintain, and spread, an incorrect and unfairly negative portrait of Bob?

Assuming you would correct the consultant, it isn't because Bob was white, cis-gendered, male, or middle-aged, and therefore, it shouldn't matter if "Bob" had a different value for one of those categories, either.

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    +1 Exactly! Correct a factual error and dont wander outside the note given by the consultant – Anthony Feb 26 at 16:28
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Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity

The person making that statement may just have missed or misinterpreted the facts. Or maybe you are the one who did.

Start by trying to clarify things with them. Probably through a more "personal" way of communication, such as face to face, or a phone call, or a chat message, rather than a direct e-mail, or, worst case, an e-mail with everyone CC'd.

I'm sorry, I must have missed something, who were you referring to? I believe the only person who was missing was X, and they didn't attend because they were on leave, as previously arranged, and they explained so in their e-mail dated X. Let me know if I missed something.

They may tell you it was about someone else (maybe in a different workshop they were in as well and you didn't know about). In that case, you avoided escalating a situation which (possibly) didn't need to. They may tell you they didn't know, in which case you can hint it would be appropriate to issue a correction and an apology.

Only if the facts are confirmed and they refuse to make an apology should you then intervene publicly. Again, don't put them in a corner. Just state the same thing:

I believe X missed the fact that Y didn't attend because of their earlier planned leave. So let's thank all the participants, and hope that Y will be able to make it in our next workshops.

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  • The comment from the consultant goes way beyond factual error, and a certain level of malice (or at least inappropriate inference) seems to derive from their words. – Mark Rotteveel Feb 27 at 12:21
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Let me analyze your quote of the consultant.

Some shop-floor workers have not attended the workshop.

Stating a fact.

This resistance and disdain can be understood as mistrust of their own abilities to contribute to a long-term reflexion ("glass-ceiling")

Stating an ideological opinion, which can also turn out to be wrong, as it has not been researched.

To your question(s):

(When) should you step in to defend a minority or lower class?

The answer is always, as every hand is important to satisfy customer needs.
However you might not be capable of leading a constructive and positive discussion about the topic in an archaic work culture (the consultant raging for).

This consultant could quickly be unarmed by asking for specific evidence (eg. specific examples, who, what, when) to where resistance and disdain exists and why (negativity bias -> don't assume malice -> assume positive intent) this could be understood, in the consultants opinion, as mistrust or disbelieve in own capabilities, which is not proven.

You could finish by expressing a wish to any further such events, that those would conclude in constructive criticism and guidance on to what specific steps would be recommended.

Also unfortunate about the consultant's capabilities is, the splitting of the company.

In an ideal economic production or services environment, every subject is responsible and important to the success. A culture should unify all subjects towards fulfilling the real needs of customers with services or goods.

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    I really like this answer, because it also covers the possibility that you have misunderstood the consultant. Perhaps there was another shop-floor worker who sent a direct, disrespectful message to the consultant. By opening dialogue without assuming bad faith you allow both sides to mention relevant facts that the other doesn't know (eg "Jo already had holiday booked", "My comment was a reference to an email from Sam") – thelem Feb 26 at 23:43
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(When) should you step in to defend a minority or otherwise marginalized individual?

The same time you'd step in for any other coworker.

Let me flip this one on you.

I have a hearing impairment, should I, as a hearing impaired individual, step in for a coworker who is bothered by another coworker who is very loud and making noise that is keeping him from doing his job, or is it not my place?

Of course I would step in, because it is a problem. The fact that you and your coworkers are different does not mean that respect should or should not be given based on those differences.

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I fail to see what this has to do with defending "a minority". If you reread the question you asked carefully (and yes I checked the revision history to make sure it wasn't lost in an edit), you will see that nowhere even in your own question did you even make mention of the fact that this person was a minority, except at the very end where you asked the direct question. Even to you, the fact that this person is a minority is unimportant to whether what happened was right or wrong (and it's clear you've made up your mind that it was wrong regardless of whether or not this person is a minority, and that is the correct take to have).

Now, because you are not in a direct chain of command with the person who didn't attend, it's not really your call to make in public terms, in terms of blasting everyone and so forth. The members of the group know what happened, and it's not worth blasting them about it. The people who need to know this is management, who have received this notice but may be unaware of who was away and why. So you should follow up directly with them:

I was an attendee of the session in question, and I can confirm that all attendees were in attendance, except Alice. Alice had previously noted that she had scheduled vacation well in advance of this session being announced, and would not be in the office on those days due to her vacation. She sent notice to everyone in advance of the session to say that she would not be in attendance due to these other circumstances, and I think it's very poor judgment to spread these sorts of untrue, defamatory, and inflammatory statements about Alice.

I'd send something like that to management and see what happens. If management fails to correct the record on this misinformation in a very public way immediately, I would seriously consider finding another job myself. This (if management fails to correct the misinformation publicly, at least to the same degree as the original email was sent by the contractor) says to me that the company feels like it can censure employees and publicly embarrass them for taking their contractually allowed vacation time, even if the employee follows company protocols vis a vis scheduling in advance and so on, and that's not OK.

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  • I would still include all the members of the group, and not just higher management, because 1) it shows them someone took note of the error and corrected it, and 2) Alice knows someone had their back. It can feel very lonely when you are attacked, and - seemingly - no one comes to your aid. – Mark Rotteveel Feb 27 at 12:24
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Rather than focusing on the specific employee with the pre-approved vacation, I would question the overall legitimacy of a consultant that would draw such a conclusion from someone not being present at a workshop.

Remind them that besides pre-approved time off, there are things such as emergencies, being sick,...etc that would prevent an employee from attending a workshop and is in no way indicative of their faith in their abilities.

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I would never try to couch actions in terms of defending any person. I would recommend simply stating my desired outcome: e.g., "Dear Strategy Consultant taking minutes, Please amend the minutes to strike the following sentence: This resistance and disdain can be understood as mistrust of their own abilities to contribute to a long-term reflexion ("glass-ceiling"). It does not accurately reflect anything that we discussed."

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When should you step in to defend a minority?

As a manager you should defend all members of your team whenever anyone makes inappropriate remarks based on race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation or any other personal characteristics wholly unrelated to the merits of their work or their qualifications for their role

I strongly disagree with your comment that "as a middle aged white cisgender man, it is not your battle to fight ." First let's assume the consultant was not factually wrong and totally out of bounds here. If a remark was made concerning perceived negative personal characteristics of the absent team member, you as the manager, absolutely must stand up and defend the missing team member, and must not be soft, lest you be perceived as ineffectual. Its wholly irrelevant whether or not you yourself are a minority. You dont have to be a minority to stand up and defend other minorities who may be subject to unwelcome remarks in a professional work environment. I have done so in the past, and had no qualms, but rather received good praise in showing solidarity with a teammate.

As for the specific scenario, the strategy consultant made a wholly unfounded conclusion that the member was absent due to lack of self confidence due to her minority status. My advice is to respond and correct her that she is a member of your team and you have preapproved her leave. If you want to really make your point, let the consultant know explicitly that her uncalled for remark is unbecoming and unwelcome

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    Thank you for your answer. To clarify, I am not 'the' manager, but 'a' manager. The missing attendee's manager is an other guy, not in the workshop. To quote the question: "There is no direct subordination line between any of the attendees (ie. no-one above or below me is in the same group as me)." – Jean-Pierre Feb 26 at 19:21
-5

Top management at my company has decided to set up workshops to think about the future of the company...

Those who think about the future are visionaries.

A group has been assigned to the select few, and invitations sent, with 10 days notice.

The woman was invited to think about the future.

...she could not make the first meeting. She got a nice reply from the group lead, "enjoy your vacation" and so on.

The woman accepted the invitation.

Therefore the woman is a visionary.

(Management even confirmed receipt of her invitation acceptance)

As a visionary, she has right to the meeting notes.

Therefore tell her what was said, verbatim.

Follow her lead. She may choose to forgive. If so, that's justice. Do not negate her pronouncement of justice. If she forgives and you press charges, you've used power on her.

If you've been hurt by this, then you are free to pursue wrong done against you. If that's the case, the first step may be to confront the individual privately yourself. You're asking this question for a reason.

If she hears, forgives, and seeks further justice, then follow her lead. Lift up others. Support them. Give them power.

The goal is love and unity:

(If you publicly confronted the individual on social media or immediately filed a lawsuit, for example, that could lead to division (for example, the company could incur financial loss from public reputation loss)).

Before a public confrontation, choose a private confrontation.

Give the individual a chance to clarify, repent and, moving forward, be loving to women. The woman decides (and/or delegates) who all confronts with her in this private meeting. The woman could decide to go to management or HR or directly. Unsure of what country this is, the business practices, etc.

The general idea is: follow the rules, and escalate as privately as possible.

Embarrassment/shame/ridicule/gossip works against reconciliation. It's much easier to admit you're wrong "off the record." When your family, friends, and possibly the world is watching, it's much harder to admit you're wrong.

Therefore, involve as few people as possible.

Fight until love, forgiveness and justice. Do not relent.

You should say and do something. After all:

A threat to justice anywhere is a THREAT to justice EVERYWHERE.

(Edited for clarity by request)

(This is an example approach; specific details may vary depending on context I am not yet aware of)

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  • @JSLavertu I edited for clarity. How is that? If someone believes in God, praying to God is a good first step – Jesus is Lord Feb 27 at 3:48
  • Much better! I dont agree with the religious perspective, but I understand the value of having an answer that presents it. – JS Lavertu Feb 27 at 17:05

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