Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner

Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner
Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Day 82 - Red Light, Yellow Light

With the recent news involving the power of a group of women suing Walmart that has made it to the Supreme Court, I just have to tell you a story.  The reasoning goes that because all the women of Walmart banded together to sue their employer, this has put Walmart at an unfair advantage.  They are petitioning the court to disband the group and require that the women sue them individually.  This makes it fair in Walmart's estimation.  Sometimes as a female, we just scratch our head and it was ok when it was unfair to us as women to be the minority and not be given a fair shot at suing such a corporation that had more lawyers on their team than the entire number of women in management?

As a female who worked in a male-dominated field I have had my own run ins with male managers.  For me it was either a curse or a blessing.  I've had three really great managers who saw something in me and smoothed out the edges.  I was used to fighting for my own recognition for so long that they showed me that in some environments, they were not the enemy.  They gave me the impossible tasks with the impossible deadlines and I did the impossible.  They then recognized this and gave me their trust and respect as I reciprocated the mutual trust and respect.

On the other end of the spectrum, I was also in positions that required me to keep my mouth shut if I wanted to keep my job.  I had a boss named "John" who repeatedly said words and phrases that were completely inappropriate at work. I never was able to get "used" to that kind of harassment at work but I always spoke my mind about how he was being offensive in using such words.  I have never looked the same at a number two yellow lead pencil after what happened one Friday. "John" mentioned that he had a dick that was long and thin like a pencil.  This was a tipping point for me, so in the room with three other co-workers who just laughed at him (silence constitutes consent...MLK, Jr.) I mentioned that in the armed forces, when a person says things that could be offensive to others, they have a protocol to follow.  If the words could be interpreted sexually or racially they were to tell their fellow enlisted mates "yellow light."  If the words were definitely offensive, they were instructed to say "red light."  The assumption was that the light was always green unless someone crossed the invisible harassment line.

After explaining the protocol I said to John that pencil remark clearly warranted a red light!  He agreed and said he wouldn't say that particular phrase again.  I guess he thought about it over the weekend. On Monday he brought me a gift.  He had made an electrical switch encased by a wooden box.  It had a place for two bulbs in which he placed a red light bulb and a yellow light bulb. The switch was off when it was in the default place in the middle.  He instructed me that anytime I would feel that what he said was crossing the line, I could flip the switch and say "red light or yellow light."  I wouldn't have to defend my position with words, he would get the visual message.  Honestly, I appreciated the time he took to go buy the parts and make this as it showed some thought. He did the right thing and acknowledged his words were not what somebody else wanted to hear.  He provided a way for safe feedback.

There were many times when all five of us would race to the switch to put it on red as we knew the line was crossed. Sometimes we begged for forgiveness prior to committing the ultimate swearfest when a job wasn't going to reach its deadline. It took the edge off and we laughed about it.  We still knew where the line was and believe it or not, this hand-made creation made defending my position easier.  People who worked with me weren't silent anymore.  Somehow the light was easier to control with the flick of a switch than opening their mouth and finding the right words to say.  I loved this thing and knew that it was an act of kindness from my boss who honestly had just never had anyone tell him there were just some things that you don't say in the work environment of mixed genders. I couldn't have fought this war alone and having support made a huge difference.

This device actually empowered all of us.  I had been battling this one alone for over a year.  So to the lawyers of Walmart I say, "If you're big enough to have that many lawyers, than you're big enough to look at your entire corporate structure at this problem and not be content to defend this one case at a time.  The only reason to do this would be to gain the upperhand to which you already have had from the beginning. If the management was committed to fairness, they would have addressed the concerns of these women before they felt the need to band together." Or as in the case of "John" at least put some thought into it and provided the women a tool to voice their concerns.  It will be  interesting to see how the 9 justices rule on this one considering this is the largest count of female judges in the history of the Supreme Court. They have the green light.  All I know is I will be taking notes with a number two pencil that is long and thin. Yellow....light.

 Most high courts in other nations do not have discretion, such as we enjoy, in selecting the cases that the high court reviews. Our court is virtually alone in the amount of discretion it has.  ~Sandra Day O'Connor

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