former cofounder is trash-talking our organization, new boss quit right before my new job starts, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Former cofounder is trash-talking our organization

The cofounder and initial executive director of our small nonprofit was fired a few months after we launched for gross failure to carry out responsibilities and in no small part because of the way she treated the staff and other board members. As we were just starting out, we didn’t have the paperwork or foresight to have her sign an NDA. We have since found out informally that she is telling people she was pushed out because of “untrustworthy behavior” on the part of the other board members and not because she was at fault (naturally), and has been contacting our volunteers and saying negative things about our board and staff. Since none of this is public, we can’t figure out how to address her without her taking it as validation of her version of events and potentially escalating her behavior, or to make it publicly clear why she was fired without looking unprofessional ourselves. Is there anything we can do?

For what it’s worth, we have not done any of the things she accuses us of, and our organization has thrived in the several years since her firing. We are of the opinion that her behavior since explains why she was fired and that she comes out looking the worse for it. However, her behavior has caused some distress for our volunteers which we’d prefer to spare them, though it doesn’t quite reach the level of harassment. We’d also like to know how to handle inquiries should anyone contact us to check her credentials in the future.

If you really want to push it, you could talk to a lawyer about whether you’d have grounds for a defamation case. If you did, it probably wouldn’t need to go that far. Often a stern letter from a lawyer will solve this kind of thing. But that’s not necessarily the best way to go; it’s possible that it could inflame her further and make things worse. Or not — it’s also possible that it could work (although then you also risk the “oh, I’m not legally allowed to talk about what happened there” remarks, said in a tone that implies “I blew the whistle on them molesting children.”

If it’s been a few years, I’d lean toward just letting it go and assuming that she’s making herself look bad.

As for the question of references, you’re under no obligation to give one. You could simply say, “We’d rather not comment,” which is its own breed or damning. Or hell, you could give a fully truthful one, but “no comment” is probably a cleaner way to go.

2. New boss quit right before I’m supposed to start

I had accepted a job offer and will start in the next two weeks. Today, I received an email from the company that my “new” boss whom I would’ve report to has given her notice. Mind you, she has only been with the company for 1 year. This is a big concern for me as she was one of the main reasons of my acceptance.

Also, the location is a bit further for me but I was willing to overlook it because the opportunity to work for her would outweigh the cons. In addition, the other staff member I interviewed with are fairly recent hires with the longest length of service of 6 months. There seems to be a lot of turnover.

I forgot to mention that now the position will be reporting to the VP temporarily who resides out of state. There seems to be many red flags. Would it be okay to not accept the offer? I don’t feel comfortable going into a job with so many doubts.

Ugh, this sucks. It’s always a little tricky to accept a job primarily because of who you’d be working for, because that person could leave at any time. But in this case, you have the benefit of finding that out before you’ve actually started.

I’d do this: Knowing what you know about the offer now (the location, the unknown boss, the temporarily remote reporting structure, and everything else you already knew about the job and company), do you still want it? Would you have accepted it originally with these conditions? What if you’d started with the old conditions, but it had changed to this set-up a few months in?

I don’t know what your answer should be, but that’s what I’d be looking at to try to figure it out.

3. Pointing out a lack of diversity in our materials

I work at a public university. The team that produces the annual report has recently started publishing them as a calendar. Last year’s had beautiful pictures of our building’s architecture, but no people.

This year’s calendar had pictures from across our campus during the 1940’s/1950’s, each focusing on a group of students. I couldn’t find a single person of color represented in any of the photos. Our campus has had some serious diversity problems in the past, and diversity is a huge issue within our unit’s professional community. Diversity and inclusion are a huge part of our professional training, where we are very literally asked to look for diversity within any materials we are assessing.

I know we have photographs that would have shown diversity within our student population during this time, and I find it hard to believe that out of the 13 slots to fill, at least one couldn’t have been included. I’m presuming that this was simply an oversight by our fundraising team and there was no purposeful intent to exclude any specific groups of people.

I would like to say something about this but I don’t want to be an asshole and I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. We are a public university, so I’m worried that criticism like this may trip some more official discrimination investigation triggers that would be inappropriate. How can I make this criticism but not come off as a jerk that got someone in trouble? I’m pretty new and don’t have 1-on-1 rapport with the higher-ups.

Approach it from the assumption that someone just didn’t notice and would appreciate having it pointed out (which is probably the case). I’d say something like this to your boss: “I know that we’re making a big push around diversity and that we’ve been asked to be careful to make sure that our materials show diverse groups. Would it be worth pointing out to someone on the fundraising team that all 13 photos in the calendar are 100% white?”

Or, if you have standing to approach the fundraising team yourself (which depends on your role, internal politics, and probably just how new you are), you could say to them: ““I know that we’re making a big push around diversity and that we’ve been asked to be careful to make sure that our materials show diverse groups, so I thought I should mention to you that the photos in this calendar somehow ended up being 100% white. I know you can’t change it now, but I wanted to flag it for future materials.”

4. Listing old honors and awards on a resume

I recently attended a workshop given by a professional with 18 years in the HR industry. She stated that it is acceptable to put honors and awards on our profile that we feel will be most interesting to the world/recruiters. How far back can you/should you go?

For example, I received awards for creative writing, service awards four years in a row, was a debate participant award, and Vice president of a youth group (of my peers at the time). The problem is, these occurred a considerable time ago. What is your take on this ?​

Don’t use up the resume space on them. You have very limited space on your resume, and you want to use it on things that will truly strengthen your candidacy. Awards from a long time ago won’t do that, unless they’re truly exceptional and unusual. (If you won a Nobel Prize, you could keep that on. Debate participation, no.)

Even if you feel that you have the room, don’t include them because (a) when hiring managers skim the page, you want their eyes falling on something strong, not on a service award from 15 years ago, and (b) you don’t want to imply that you haven’t done anything notable since then.

5. Required to work on a holiday

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is listed as one of my paid holidays in my benefits package and offer letter. I just found out I need to work this day and that I will lose the paid holiday. Is my employer required to give an alternate paid day off? I am salaried, exempt, and work at a nonprofit in Wisconsin.

Nope, they aren’t. No law requires employers to offer paid holidays at all, and they can revoke them at will, unless you have a written contract specifying otherwise. I think you might be thinking that because it’s listed in your offer letter, that’s acting as a sort of contract, but nothing in there prevents them from changing the terms in the future. It’s pretty normal for exempt people to have to occasionally work in an evening, over a weekend, or during a holiday.

All that said, you could certainly ask your manager if you can take the day off on a different day. Many managers will be fine with you doing that.

{ 228 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. RKB

    For OP 3: you need to look at who the team is, because that could dictate your approach.

    I’m a woman of colour and I definitely notice when an advertisement, movie, or magazine has no people like me in it. (Which is common because I’m Indian.) Whereas a lot of white people just don’t notice, because that’s not something they actively think about.

    I remember on one of our first dates my partner took me to a crunchy granola type coffee shop and noticed I looked kind of uncomfortable halfway through. I pointed out I was the only nonwhite person in the establishment. He didn’t even think about that. Nor did he notice. I notice it everywhere, from my workplaces to my classrooms… It’s just something you take note of.

    If the committee is all white, I really would hazard it was an oversight and not intentionally exclusionary. Because it’s just not thought about!

    Reply
    1. RKB

      Also my intention here is not to be offensive or to point out anything wrong with white people, as some people are quick to react. It’s just sociological: people of colour are trained (whether directly, or indirectly) to confirm themselves as the “other” in a situation, since that’s what’s dictated by mass media! It has nothing to do with your whiteness.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        I spent some time working in Singapore and nearly all of the people I worked with were of Chinese descent — with the occasional Malaysian or Indian etc. It was the first time I was ever in a situation where I was often the only white person — it is hard to appreciate how weird this feels until you actually experience it. I grew up in the PNW where there were very few African Americans in my community (ONE black girl in my entire high school class and one Asian) and while there were more Asians, it was still a very white area back then — so this was a new experience for me. I hope the OP will find a way to alert the fund raising team to this oversight; I am frankly shocked that there is an PR group left in a college that doesn’t make this just one of the things on the check list for publicity materials. It has been a very long time since ‘oversight’ was much of an excuse for this.

        Reply
        1. AcademiaNut

          The even weirder thing is when you stop noticing. I frequently have the experience of looking at someone and not knowing immediately if they are Caucasian or East Asian. Basically, I’ve spent enough time surrounded almost exclusively by East Asian faces that the visual part of my brain pays more attention to the difference between the faces than the underlying racial traits, like I already did having grown up surrounded primarily by Caucasians.

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          1. RVA Cat

            Sort of reminds me of years ago when my family stopped at some fast food place near DC and all the other customers were Latino or Asian immigrants speaking their native languages. Then some African-American customers arrived and my first thought was “yay, Americans!” (Yeah that was kind of xenophobic and I’m not proud, but hey it’s how things evolve in a nation of immigrants.)

            Reply
          2. Artemesia

            I had exactly that experience in Singapore. The stereotype for caucasians is that east Asians look alike but I found that very quickly that wasn’t true at all, there were so many highly different types within the group (just as one would notice that those of Italian and Irish descent tend to look quite different from each other and those of Scandanavian or Spanish descent) It was an interesting experience to watch that sense of otherness fade away. It did make me much more aware though when working with or teaching a group where there was one African American or other distinctly ethnically different person so as to not do things that might isolate them or draw attention to them in terms of their race.

            Reply
        2. Graciosa

          I haven’t run into that one, but I did have a bit of a “Wow – this is different” moment when I realized how often I was the only woman in meetings in my large (Fortune 100) company. I have been the only woman not just in small meetings, but when there are literally dozens of attendees (I’d hate to tell you the record number since I started counting, and it occurred within the last two years).

          On the plus side, I have never had any problems as a result of the gender disparity, and I do genuinely believe both that it is largely the result of the nature of the industry (qualified candidates for many business roles come from the military, which is still fairly skewed on gender) and that the company is consciously and actively trying very hard to correct the imbalance. My particular chain of command is almost entirely female (the only male is in the most junior position, not the most senior), and it’s quite clear that the women in that chain are highly respected by their male peers.

          But it’s different enough that someone else once commented when we found ourselves on a call with only women (just three of us, but it was still unusual enough for someone else to comment on it). I still find myself looking around and counting from time to time.

          It is getting better – yesterday, there were six of us in a high level meeting of twelve or thirteen, which would not be noticeable if it became the norm.

          Yes, you notice when no one around looks like you.

          Reply
          1. Charlotte Collins

            I think you notice when no one looks like people you know, either. I’m white (blonde, even!) and I find it weird when there’s no diversity in situations. This is probably a combination of having grown up in an area with more diversity and (weirdly) the fact that growing up I was often the only blonde in the room (anyone ever see “Meet me in St. Louis”? in my family I was the blonde throwback).

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            1. Cath in Canada

              My husband grew up in Vancouver; I grew up in an incredibly white town in northern England. The first time I took him back to my home town to visit, he freaked out – “everyone looks like me! Everyone! I could be related to this entire town!” He still tells people about how weird it was :D

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            2. Jaydee

              Yeah, I think it depends on what you’re used to. I’m white, but I went to a fairly diverse high school and remember getting to college and walking across campus and thinking something looked really off. Then I realized it was because there were so many white people.

              Reply
          2. Tau

            Every single other member of my subdepartment/area – around 15-20 people in all – is a guy. No signs of sexism yet, everyone’s been really friendly and welcoming and so on, but believe me – I’ve noticed, and I’m keeping an eye out. (It’s a male-dominated area I’m in but this still seems pretty extreme to me – not even 10%? They were literally all men before I showed up??)

            Reply
        3. Dan

          I travel around Asia quite a bit, I do it on my own, and I make a point of trying to get away from the overly touristy areas. I do find myself in places where I’m the only white guy, and truthfully, it doesn’t bother me that much, if at all.

          The strangest experience I had was flying Japan Airlines Business Class from Chicago to Tokyo. Business class sat about 60 people. Everybody in there was a Japanese dude in a business suit. Then there was me and my dad (two white guys) in western casual wear. I found it hilarious. It was also notable that there were no women at all. (I frequently travel in premium cabins, and it is noteworthy to me just how few are there. I don’t think it ever exceeds 25%.)

          Reply
      2. dragonzflame

        No offence taken – totally true! I’m white as white can be and if I were putting that calender together I’d be looking at pretty photos and thinking ‘wow, I love those haircuts/clothes/cars/buildings’ – I probably wouldn’t think about the whiteness of the people at all. Something to be aware of. Check your privilege, and all that.

        Reply
      3. SQL REBLE (without a clause)

        I don’t think its offensive, it’s a valid point, I can only think of being conscious of my colour once on holiday in Fiji after getting on a local bus where I was the only white person, and stoping at a local market where I don’t see another white person. I was only just 18 and remeber it feeling completely bizarre.

        The lack of diversity in the materials probably was an oversight but it still needs to be addressed so next time they’re printed they can be more inclusive.

        Reply
      4. Rubyrose

        Do I think the committee’s actions were purposeful? I won’t assume that. But if it was an oversight, something is either wrong with whatever diversity training you have, or someone needs to question why the fundraising committee has not read and followed the memo.

        True story, from 10 years ago. I, a white midwesteren, found myself transferred to the deep South. I had some professional books I wanted to donote to a university that had a program in my area of expertise (health care). I called the reference desk of the medical school library, asking if they could use them or if they could direct me to a school who could. They directed me to a school 1.5 hours away.

        Two weeks later, there was an article in the news about a program at a local historically black university that was an exact match for these books. I called them, asking what library their students used. They told me that their students used the medical school library, since their classes were on the med school campus. They also said they were trying to build a small library in their department offices. Guess who got the books?

        I asked a coworker (white) about this behavior. He told me that the med school would not have directed me to the local school because I’m white (how would they know that over the phone?) . Clued me in very quickly to diversity conditions at that time, in that place.

        Reply
        1. Bleu

          Huh. Given its past, the South is of course much more racially integrated now, with people making lives together, nevermind going to the same schools, stores, hospitals, whatever. Weird story.

          Reply
            1. Former Retail Manager

              Lifelong Southerner here….and yes, you are 100% correct. I don’t know where this university is located but in the 1940’s and 50’s, segregation was still in force here. There would have been no people of color at any university, to my knowledge. My mother graduated high school in 1963 in Fort Worth, TX, a medium sized city back then although larger now, and there was still segregation. The progress in the South and how true stereotypes are or are not, largely depends upon the size of the city that you’re in with larger cities obviously being more diverse and inclusive. And while I realize everyone likes to give everyone the benefit of the doubt here, I wonder if given the history of diversity issues the OP mentions, if there isn’t an agenda to make efforts to keep the school predominantly white. People love to scream diversity here in the South, but there are still quite a few who do nothing more than give it lip service. Racism is alive and well behind closed doors, and it goes both ways. Progress has been made, but it’s by no means some fabulous, integrated utopia. Hopefully, it was just an oversight made by a bunch of white people who are oblivious to the fact because it’s not something that’s typically on their radar, as another commenter mentioned.

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              1. JB (not in Houston)

                It’s totally true that there is still plenty of racism in the south, but segregation is very much a national problem, not a Southern one. It wasn’t so much a product of laws in the north, but it still exists there.

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              2. Kate M

                Yeah, also a Southerner here, and the South definitely is still racist. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s MORE racist than other parts of the country, though, it just presents differently. Racism is kind of more open in the South, but we also have a lot more integration. When you look at some areas in the West and Midwest (and even the North), people don’t talk about racism, but you’ll have much more segregated communities. It’s easy not to talk about or notice racism when you live in a neighborhood that’s 100% white.

                All that to say, there’s no place in the country that doesn’t still have some racism built into the system. It might present differently, but that’s why it’s so important to be conscious of these types of things (especially in media and things like the promotional materials here).

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                1. Creag an Tuire

                  I’ve heard it’s said that the difference between Southern racism and Northern racism is that Southerners will openly say they don’t like blacks, while Yankees will insist They Aren’t Racist But you really should avoid the “bad” neighborhoods, because of the “crime” and the “gangs”.

                  Having lived in both regions, there’s a lot of truth there, though non-coded racism is quickly becoming less acceptable even in the South.

                2. neverjaunty

                  There’s a saying ‘in the South they spit in your face, in the North they spit in your food’.

                  That said, there’s a lot more institutionalized and ‘traditional’ segregation in the South than other regions of the country still. But that shouldn’t be any reason for anyone not in the South to pat themselves on the back on how THOSE people are racist, not like us enlightened folks.

                3. kobayashi

                  I live in a bad neighborhood (though not as bad as the one right adjacent to me) and it is TRUE. There is a lot of crime and gang activity. My good friend lives in the even badder neighborhood next to me and has had her house shot at at least 2-3 times over the past few years. One time she was blocked in by a police stand off and could not leave when she had to get to an event.

                  Thankfully, I’ve never had my house shot at, but being in the area I’m in, I’ve had my share of incidents.

              3. Ad Astra

                Yes, many people in the South are still racist — and sometimes shockingly open about it — but it’s a mistake for people to assume that racism is only a southern problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Midwesterners say stuff like “Thank god people aren’t racist here” and then says something totally racist that they don’t believe is racist — like the “Fa ra ra ra ra” part from “A Christmas Story.” The lack of diversity in many communities just contributes to a different style of racism (another reason media representation is so important!).

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                1. Ms. Anne Thrope

                  Yep, Northeast here and I’ve heard someone say (in a group of whiteys) the words ‘Obama’ and ‘monkey’ in the same sentence.

                  I wish I was joking.

          1. Rubyrose

            Yes, weird. I was there 5 years and knew that the actual conditions there were so far advanced from the stereotypes of my northern family and friends. I was constantly having to counteract those perceptions. But then experiences like the above would occur.

            Reply
            1. Anonicorn

              I’m not directing this toward you specifically but wanted to leave my thoughts somewhere.

              People’s perceptions of the South are so unfairly skewed by past events, events that by no means everyone in the area participated or believed in, beliefs that were not and are not unique to Southern people. These events should certainly not be forgotten and we should certainly not turn a blind eye to lingering prejudices, but we should not use those events as an excuse to generalize and label an entire region of people. Because isn’t that partly what started this whole mess?

              Reply
              1. fposte

                Well, that’s not quite true. We’re talking generalizations about a region based on laws passed and a war it fought. That doesn’t mean everybody in it favors those laws or that war and that everybody outside of it feels the opposite, but it’s not unreasonable to categorize the region by actions it’s taken as a region.

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                1. VintageLydia

                  I do think Northerners do over emphasize the racism of the South and downplay their own racists pasts. Like, Sundown Towns were almost exclusively a Northern thing, Chicago is the most segregated city in the country, and pretty much the entire history of the PNW and it’s formation was based around White Nationalism. It gets pretty annoying to constantly be considered the “racist” part of the country when most of the rest of the country isn’t any less racist. It just presents less overtly or plain ignored. I mean, you can’t have racism when you kicked out or never let in to begin with all the POC a generation or two ago, I guess, technically.

                2. fposte

                  No argument there–not seceding doesn’t make you inherently virtuous. Hell, the whole American anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s was kind of a convert’s zeal, given the recency of the Civil Rights Act.

                  But regions, states, and cities are marked by the civic decisions they took, too. The ones you know best don’t necessarily count most, but they’re still fair to count.

                3. Anonicorn

                  but it’s not unreasonable to categorize the region by actions it’s taken as a region.

                  I strongly disagree, and am rather stumped by this way of thinking. A large number of the current population wasn’t even around for most what we’re referring to. Furthermore, I don’t know of any other region in the country that suffers the same kind of widespread negative reputation that the South does. I mean, I don’t know of anyone who looks at the New England states and assumes everyone there must believe in putting people to trial for witchcraft. Or, more recently, that the west coast is full of anti-Asian racists.

                4. neverjaunty

                  “Most of what we’re referring to”? You’re doing the exact thing that makes people less interested in setting aside their prejudices. Widespread institutionalized racism is by no means unique to the South – but it’s been slower to recede there than in many other places. It doesn’t help to handwave about how this all happened a long time ago.

                5. Zillah

                  A large number of the current population wasn’t even around for most what we’re referring to.

                  But this conversation isn’t about blaming all white Southerners for the Civil War and segregation any more than conversations about white privilege are about blaming all white people for having it in the first place. The point isn’t that you are a morally bankrupt person or that you should feel overwhelming guilt for the Civil War. The point is that while much of the current population wasn’t around for some of those things (though I’d argue that the Civil Rights Movement is very within living memory – it wasn’t that long ago), the legacy of the culture that fostered and perpetuated deep institutional racism didn’t just magically go away when new people moved to the region or were born there. It continues to have a profound effect on the current culture, and it’s essential to recognize that if you want to address any of the problems that have endured. It’s not about you at all.

                  I’m not saying the rest of the United States has covered itself in glory where racism is concerned – there are a lot of things in the North that make me profoundly uncomfortable, and racism is still very alive here as well. However, that doesn’t mean that the legacy of the South is irrelevant; it just means it’s not dragging down an otherwise-utopic country of ponies, butterflies, and racial harmony.

              2. Sue Wilson

                Having lived as a black person in the South, the line between south and midwest, and the east coast, and the northeast, racism is alive and well everywhere, but the South’s particular brand is so tied up with the state version of nationalism, in the past and currently that it seems particularly bold compared the northern states where it is more of the white neo-liberalism kind of racism and the midwest where it’s reinforced by demographics. The South’s not unfairly skewed by past events, so much as those past events inform the sociopolitical atmosphere of those states today.

                And no, labeling an entire region of people is not what started this mess. White supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism started this mess.

                Reply
                1. Kelly L.

                  The midwest’s demographics didn’t get that way by accident, though. Read Sundown Towns. It blew my mind.

                2. voyager1

                  Sue,
                  I know where you are coming from. I have lived in the South now for close to 12 years. And as a white male I don’t get some of the defensiveness of a small but very and I mean VERY vocal group of what I call “Confederate apologists.” These are the folks who defend the stars and bars, get irate at the idea of taking down Confederate statues and etc. I honestly don’t get those people, I think it is more then just racism for those folks. The antebellum period died and it wasn’t no heaven when it existed either.

                  That all being said some of the worst racists/bigots in my life I encountered while I was in the military.

              3. Anonicorn

                neverjaunty, I’m hardly handwaving the issue, ans I clearly said we shouldn’t forget or ignore it. But it is not acceptable to have a prejudice against a whole region of people. I can’t believe I have to make that statement. That’s wholly terrible.

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                1. fposte

                  It’s not a prejudice against a group of people, it’s an association of a region with its political and civic history and current legacy. The same thing happens to the whole country, when you’re speaking in international terms, and there’s validity to that too–we’re a country shaped and scarred by our history in whole, just as regions are.

                  To say “Oh, you’re Southern, so you must be racist” would be wrong, just as it would be wrong to say “Oh, you’re American, you must eat a lot.” But saying “Americans eat a lot” is demonstrably accurate, not a prejudice.

                2. Zillah

                  But it isn’t prejudice to acknowledge problematic cultural paradigms, particularly when they’re based at least in part on a historical legacy that a sizeable portion of the population continue to celebrate and take pride in today.

              4. Artemesia

                I lived in the south for 35 years and raised my family there and in a probably somewhat more enlightened community than many of them and the racism was palpable and just woven into the institutions of the community. Everything in the south is colored by race. It is not all that swell in the rest of the country either but it is the core of everything in the south. Certainly slavery is America’s original sin and our politics nationally are still driven by pitting the races against each other in order for the oligarchs to keep all the money. But racism wouldn’t be such a powerful motivator for people to vote against their own interests if it were not so strong. Not just in the south — but the GOP didn’t call its successful creation of a voting block the ‘southern strategy’ for nothing.

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                1. Honeybee

                  Yes, as an African American woman from the South, I’d have to agree with that. I moved to the Northeast and later the Pacific Northwest as an adult and I’m still constantly stunned at how much race is sort of not a thing in those places. It’s not that race doesn’t matter or that those regions don’t have racism built into them – but it’s just different, in that race defines you so much more in the South in my experience.

      5. Ad Astra

        Yep, no reason to worry about offending white folks (though I know how people can be online). Privileged people — in this case, white people — tend not to notice diversity issues until they’re pointed out, or until they’re taught to look for them. We tend to think of white as a default because we tend to think of ourselves as the default. I have never encountered someone who intentionally excluded people of color in situations where photos are supposed to represent the entire school/company/country — though I’m sure at least one such person exists somewhere. But I’ve run into plenty of people who simply didn’t notice the lack of diversity, and a handful of people who might notice but don’t understand why representation is so important to people of color. It can be very helpful to point these things out in a non-accusatory way, and I would hope that people who care about their university would receive that criticism well.

        And you can bet your butt that we notice when they’re the only white person in the room.

        Reply
        1. GG

          Similar to how someone else noted above, I’m not leaving this here as a direct response to your comment. But I have to put it somewhere, and you happened to mention, “We tend to think of white as a default because we tend to think of ourselves as the default.”

          Exactly!

          Last year I (white female) found myself in a situation in which I was trying to direct a friend (also white female) to the appropriate staffer (black female) she should speak to about something. I didn’t know the staffer’s name, so I was describing her and where to find her. But as I said something along the lines of “the black woman with braids over by the tables”, it hit me like a ton of bricks… I *never* start similar descriptions with “the white woman”.

          I found myself in a bit of an internal dialogue. Why is white default? Maybe it’s okay for me to use it as the default since I’m white. But no, that’s flawed. Because if I use white as default because I’m white, then that means that a black person should be able to use black as default. And if a black person said to me “the woman with braids” I wouldn’t picture a black woman with cornrows. I’d picture a white woman wearing her hair in loose braids. So if a black person can’t use black as default I shouldn’t get away with using white as default.

          But wow! Do you know how hard it is to get yourself to try to change that kind of pattern? I think I’ve maybe been successful 2 or 3 times since. It’s just so easy to revert to a lifetime of behavioral programming.

          Reply
          1. Meg Murry

            Yes, to tag on to this, I’ve noticed news reports seem to go out of their way to avoid saying race. “Amber Alert for a child who is X feet tall with dark brown hair and brown eyes.” or even worse when it’s a crime suspect.

            Are they not referring to race/skin tone/complexion at all because it wasn’t reported? Or because they don’t know how to say it (medium complexion? Light skinned african american? Dark or pale skin?) without soudning bad so they just don’t? Especially over the radio where they aren’t showing a picture.

            I think it would be an interesting social experiment to give the exact same description once as a “missing child” or as a “good Samaritan” and once as a “suspect” and once as a “terror suspect” and see what race people assume from these descriptions – but I think the results would be a sad reflection on what the “defaults” are for those scenarios.

            Reply
            1. Natalie

              Just one data point, my university recently made a change to how they report suspect descriptions – they only provide a description if there is enough detail to actually use it. Historically, they would often only have the suspect’s race, and of course “black male” or “white male” doesn’t help anyone identify a robbery suspect. If they do have any details (height, build, hair, dress, etc) then race is included in that description.

              Reply
            2. neverjaunty

              In those cases, they may not know the child’s race, or the child’s race may not be obvious to an onlooker. I really don’t know what Amber Alerts you’re seeing where people are trying not to talk about race – here they mention that fact all the time where it’s relevant and useful to the description.

              Reply
            3. Ad Astra

              This is something we talked about a lot in my college journalism courses. On the one hand, it’s very common for people to describe someone’s appearance using their race in casual/private conversation because it implies certain features beyond color — the shape of Asian eyes or the texture of African-American hair, for instance. On the other hand, it’s not a reliable descriptor because our ideas about how a certain group of people may be inaccurate — either the person belongs to that race but doesn’t have the assumed features or they have those features but don’t belong to the assumed race — and it brings the issue of race into a story when it might otherwise be irrelevant.

              I do think it’s unnecessary to describe the person’s race (and other obvious physical traits) when you have a photo, which is often the case in print and digital media these days. You could make a stronger case for including it in a radio report, though.

              Reply
          2. Artemesia

            If most of the people working there were black you would certainly point someone to the ‘white woman’ by the door if she was one of the few white people. I always laugh at people who go to great lengths to NOT mention race when describing someone since race is one of the most clear identifiers. If there is one black guy in the office then that is a critical descriptor and vice versa.

            Reply
          3. Honeybee

            You know, every person is going to feel differently about this, but I’m always kind of amused when people (usually white) dance around using racial descriptors to point someone else out. I mean, yes, it is annoying that white is the default, but there’s nothing wrong with my race, and I realize that it puts me in the minority and thus makes me distinctive. So if I’m going to meet someone I’ve never met before, I describe myself as “the short black woman in the red sweater” and if someone white is pointing out someone to me, saying “the black guy over there with the book bag” is not in and of itself offensive or flawed.

            I’ve been involved in these crazy back and forth identification conversations that would’ve been simplified if someone had just caved and said “the black chick with the braces and the long ponytail.”

            Reply
        2. Ann Furthermore

          I think you tend not to notice it until you witness something really blatant. I’ve traveled internationally with colleagues from India, and I’ve seen them, many times, be racially profiled while I’m waved through customs without a second glance. Not just in the US, but in Canada and the UK as well. When you see something happen to someone that you know wouldn’t happen to you because you’re white and they’re not, it really makes you stop and think.

          I love Indian food, so travelling with those same colleagues is great. We always end up finding fantastic Indian restaurants. But they are in areas that are predominately Indian, so I’m usually the only white person in the restaurant, or I may not see another white person when we’re walking through the neighborhood. A few hours of feeling like you stick out like a sore thumb because of your skin color gives you a teeny, tiny, infintesimal taste of what it must be like for people who are not white.

          Reply
          1. Ann Furthermore

            *people who are not white….I don’t mean that being the only white person around for a few hours means that you know what it’s like to be a member of another race….just that you know, a very small bit, what it’s like to be in the minority…or, as Ad Astra put it, to not be the “default.”

            Reply
    2. newreader

      I think an important point the LW mentions is that the university is trying to be more intentional regarding diversity. I work at a university in a part of the country that has been historically very white and we struggle with how to be more inclusive of all backgrounds and cultures.

      Given that the employer is actively trying to be more diverse, Alison’s advice is absolutely right. This isn’t about people being unintentionally exclusionary, it’s about helping the organization achieve it’s goal to be more diverse. Bringing this example to the attention of the LW’s manager or to the fundraising team (whichever seems appropriate to the LW) will help people be more mindful in the future. People are going to continue to be unintentionally exclusionary unless they have help seeing where and how to change. If they already knew the best ways to be inclusive, there wouldn’t be such a push by the university to do so.

      Reply
    3. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

      Once upon a time, we were a blindingly white, small company (thankfully no longer the case). When my tiny division (fewer than 10 employees) produced our first print catalog, it was full of pictures of happy people. We’d contracted out the design but I approved every page of it. Part of the launch was a new product line of public health educational materials that also had lots of pictures of happy people.

      My proud moment, holding the first copy in my hand. I sat down to flip through and savor accomplishment!

      And that’s when I saw it.

      Every. Single, Face. Was. White.

      Picture me starting to flip through, faster and faster, looking for surely at least one person of color. (ANY color that wasn’t white!)

      FFS.

      (And note this was directed to public health which serves a diverse population. This wasn’t marketing to blue bloods. FFS. Also note, 1995 not 1961. FFS.)

      “Too many white people” << common note I have written hereafter, although not necessary very often in recent years.

      Side note: if you are making educational coloring books, which we do, coloring in an obviously Caucasian kid with brown ink for the cover art gets a "still too many white people, one has spent too long in the tanning booth" note.

      Reply
      1. Rubyrose

        “Too many white people” – I use this phrase myself! After being in the deep South for 1 year, I went back home (Kansas) for a visit. I’m in the grocery store and I’m very uncomfortable and can’t figure out why. And then that phrase pops into my head and comes out of my mouth. My sister, who was with me, heard it and gave me this very odd look.

        Thanks for sharing!

        Reply
        1. Hellanon

          That happened to me in Salt Lake City airport – I live in an exceedingly diverse city and I’m just not accustomed to being surrounded by faces that are exclusively Causasian….

          Reply
        2. Ms. Anne Thrope

          Yeah, I had this feeling for years after moving to NE PA from Brooklyn. All these natural blondes! So weird!

          Then there was the time a bunch of my coworkers and I took a day trip to the city and we’re on the 7 train going to Flushing (dim sum!) and one of them whispers to me “we’re the only white people in this car!” I hadn’t noticed. It just felt normal.

          Reply
          1. MsChandandlerBong

            I did the reverse: moved from NE PA to Brooklyn! I ended up having to move back due to health issues, but I loved Brooklyn and enjoyed the opportunity to meet people from so many different backgrounds.

            Reply
        3. the gold digger

          My husband and I went to Memphis for a visit a few years after I moved from Memphis to the frozen north. We went to our favorite restaurant – something looked different.

          Then I realized – there were both black people and white people in the same restaurant. That does not happen where I live now.

          Reply
          1. Natalie

            I was just noticing that in Texas! I live in a northern city that prides itself on its liberal bona fides and diverse population, and it does have both. It’s just that those attitudes and diversity extends to seemingly everyone except non-immigrant black Americans and Native Americans, who are de facto segregated into specific areas. We were in a restaurant in a suburb, in a really expensive mall, and there were multiple different tables with black patrons. That doesn’t happen in my city.

            Reply
            1. Ad Astra

              This is something I really miss about living in Texas — and I was in a relatively white area of the state, but it felt like Diversity City compared to where I grew up. It was the first time I noticed a lot of black and Hispanic people who were middle- or upper-class, held white collar jobs, and/or held leadership positions in fields like government, education, law enforcement, etc. It really helped me learn to “walk the walk” of inclusion and appreciate differences instead of just tolerating them.

              Reply
        4. VintageLydia

          I had this experience visiting my friend in Minneapolis a few years ago. The city itself wasn’t TOO white, but whiter than I’m used to, but I the suburban IHOP I was at it felt like uncanny valley.

          For contrast, in my tiny DC suburb on the “white” side of town this morning, both people in line in front of me (and the cashiers obviously) were placing their breakfast orders in Spanish and I didn’t even think of that as maybe being unusual until I read this thread.

          Reply
          1. Natalie

            We have a high Index of Dissimilarity here (a measure of residential segregation), so even though we look diverse by census data, non-white populations are generally concentrated in specific areas of the city. It’s very frustrating, it seems to lead to a lot of intense racism, even from pretty liberal people.

            Reply
          2. AcademiaNut

            I once got that feeling in Bangkok. I walked off the airplane into the airport, and my first reaction was “What a lot of white people!”

            Reply
      2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

        Part of the issue, btw, was the state of affairs of stock photos in the 1990’s. All of those images were stock photos, which at that time was hideously expensive and obtained via CD’s, with accompanying print catalog. While there were people of color in stock photos, white was the default and the diversity of selection was nothing like you see today on the interwebs.

        Reply
        1. Ms. Anne Thrope

          So true. I remember looking for a picture about ‘crime’ and there’s a whole series of a white guy being carjacked by a bunch of black gangsta-looking guys.

          Nope.

          I had to settle for the one shot of a white guy trying to break into a house using a tire iron.

          Reply
        2. AnonInSC

          Stock photos still are difficult. I work in the health field, and for a very long time there was only one older African American couple for all the photos in several stock photo sources. Everyone had (and still has) pictures of these two in their materials. I’ve seen them all over the place. It’s not much better now – I think it’s two or three. It’s something I didn’t notice…until I did, and now I can’t escape it.

          Reply
          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

            We were developing brochures with an outside agency targeting people 50 -65 and the stock photo they wanted to use was of an older gentleman reading…I now see this dude **everywhere**.

            Reply
        3. twenty points for the copier

          Honestly, I think it’s still a problem. My team put together a brochure recently and we wanted the pictures to reflect our client base – predominantly women and couples over 50 and a very diverse group. It was very depressing how quickly the tens of thousands of options were winnowed down to a couple dozen when looking for older, non-white women.

          Reply
          1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

            That is interesting, in not a good way.

            I haven’t had to fight the battle recently with stock photos. We expanded into an area of our industry where there are lots of model shots from suppliers we can use, and the suppliers are using quite diverse models, so our materials are organically* diverse just by using what’s available.

            *shout out to fposte :p

            Reply
            1. twenty points for the copier

              Yeah, I found it pretty depressing. The good news is that there was enough selection that we were able to find what we needed, but there was a lot of seeing the same five or six models and photo shoots over and over again.

              Reply
          2. Ad Astra

            Oof. When I worked in marketing for a rather conservative bank (like, even other banks saw us as conservative), my boss flat-out told me that we don’t use interracial couples in any of our advertising because we don’t want to come off as “making a statement.” It felt really icky.

            Reply
        4. Zillah

          Stock photos are the worst in that respect, oh my god.

          I moderate an amateur graphics website where a lot of fan art gets made – strictly non-commercial, etc. It’s so difficult to find decent HQ pictures of even very well-known POC actors/actresses (particularly men, actually), and it’s particularly jarring given that it’s not uncommon to find multiple full fan galleries for a white blonde actress who’s been in like two moderately successful movies.

          It’s taken 50+ hours of my time to diversify our resources a little, and I’m still nowhere near done.

          Reply
          1. Honeybee

            Yeah, I think about this all the time when using Wikipedia. Wikipedia often has page pictures for the most random, obscure, minor white extras but doesn’t have photographs for some fairly high-profile black actresses.

            Reply
      3. Meg Murry

        Yes, we just took some pictures at work for our website to try to use something other than really generic stock photos that are only tangentially related to what we do. When perusing the websites of our competitors or companies in parallel fields, it stood out pretty fast that at most companies (or in most older stock photography) scientist almost always = older man in a lab coat. Occasionally it’s a younger man in a lab coat – but rarely women and almost never people of color. And unfortunately, our company right now is all white people as well – so we were debating whether we wanted to include people at all, or crop it down to just “hands in latex gloves extending from lab coat” and other pictures of materials but not people.

        Basically, which is worse – all white people, but hey, at least we have women too which is actually a big step for our field? Or no people. Right now we’re leaning toward no people.

        Reply
        1. Charlotte Collins

          It’s also pretty annoying that when you see TV commercials, most voiceovers explaining science or technology are done in men’s voices. Even when women are the models or the item is being marketed primarily to women. (Really, Science Guy, you have some insight into menstrual cramps that I don’t?)

          I’ve been watching more British fantasy TV, and it gets really obvious sometimes how much better some countries are at portraying diversity than the US is…

          Reply
        2. JessaB

          I think no people, cause I honestly flipped a gasket at Golden Corral recently for unintentionally OMG advertising – in their restaurant they had pictures of what were probably actually employees, but the chef and the butcher were men, the baker was a fat white woman and the low on the totem prep cook was a black woman, shades of unintentional consequences. Nope. Not that real people don’t do those jobs but baker = fat and lowest level employee = black and female oy. That was just the wrong message to be sending corporate wide (two separate locations had the same pictures.) And btw I am a fat and proud woman, I am not intending to engage in fat shaming, it’s just the idea that anyone who works with sugar is by default a fat person is ridiculous. Because I just know that if they substituted a man in that picture he would have been thin.

          Reply
        3. Honeybee

          I actually wrote about this in a (successful) fellowship application to the National Science Foundation when I was in graduate school. When I was in high school I literally had no idea that people of color could be scientists because my conception of a scientist was always an old white man in a lab coat. It kind of blew my mind when I attended college (I went to an HBCU) and I had a diverse set of professors from all kinds of different backgrounds, many of color. It inspired me to get a PhD myself.

          Reply
      4. Observer

        Side note: if you are making educational coloring books, which we do, coloring in an obviously Caucasian kid with brown ink for the cover art gets a “still too many white people, one has spent too long in the tanning booth” note.

        I love it!

        Reply
      5. Charlotte Collins

        Also, please tell me that you don’t only use “Person in Wheelchair” to show any person with disabilities. Diversity comes in all forms, and it really annoys me that that is the only way visual materials seem to be able to portray disabilities. (I believe it also give people a skewed notion of what disability “looks like.”)

        Reply
        1. Dan

          You can’t see a lot of disabilities, so what do you want to show? A “normal” looking person? Somebody with crutches missing a leg?

          Reply
          1. Charlotte Collins

            A person with a Hearing Ear dog? Someone (non-elderly) with a cane – either for the visually impaired or just for walking? Someone with a prosthetic hand? Someone with a leg brace? Someone clearly speaking ASL? There are times when I’d be happier if more people were shown wearing glasses.

            It is true that you can’t see a lot of disabilities, but that doesn’t mean that you should only use one. (And my original comment got posted to the wrong place – I meant to respond to the comment about the educational coloring books. In those cases a stronger effort should be made – kids with disabilities really do not see a lot of representations that look like them.)

            Reply
          2. Kelly L.

            Blind person with cane and/or service dog. Hearing aid in person’s ear. Yes, an amputee can also be a good idea, especially with a lot of the war injuries that are out there currently. Those are just a few things off the top of my head. And no, you won’t be able to “picture” something like autism, but I think that’s just one of the limitations of the medium.

            Reply
            1. Dan

              The other thing is, we typically think of these shots as full body, front profile shots. Many of these things are hard to see at a glance. I always wonder if service animals will get the point in across in a visual, because if they’re not in a vest marked “service animal” it’s too easy to mistake for a pet.

              FWIW, I generally hate stock photos. They don’t do anything for me as a reader, I’m there for the content. It seems like every article on the web has to have a stock photo, and I have no idea what it adds.

              Reply
              1. Kelly L.

                Service animals often have very specific harnesses, FWIW.

                I’m not exclusively picturing full-body frontal shots, for what it’s worth. I’m picturing everything you see in materials about a workplace: People Nodding at Folders, People Smiling on the Phone, People Sitting at Desks, all sorts of things.

                The thing I dislike about stock photos is the weird forced expressions. Women Laughing Alone with Salad!

                Reply
                1. Charlotte Collins

                  My mother used to work for a woman who was deaf. There is definitely office equipment specific to that situation. (And her dog had a special collar to indicate that he was a service animal.)

                2. Kelly L.

                  Right, like a TDD! Which a hearing layperson might not recognize off the bat, but a deaf potential applicant would know what it was, and see themselves represented.

            2. JessaB

              How about a picture of a lady like Rep Tammy Duckworth? Someone with Down Syndrome? Stephen Hawking? Someone young walking with a frame (either the in front of them kind or the in back of them kind,) someone with a scoliosis brace? A kid in a bed with a lift trapeeze with an iv and a fancy hat? A few healthy looking kids playing with a kid with a seeing eye dog?

              Or maybe even playing with a bunch of puppies with training harnesses and a blind kid who is helping out who may be soon getting a dog, with text that says “kids helping Sofie train her future guide dog?”

              A bunch of kids playing in an accessible playground that serves both elders and kids all together? healthy kids pushing granny in her wheelchair on a wheelchair swing next to a kid on the same kind of swing?

              Reply
      6. Honeybee

        OK, now I’m picturing you proofing catalogs and shaking your head and scribbling “too many white people” and it’s hilarious.

        Reply
    4. fposte

      I’ve also worked with white people who feel that such inclusion should happen “organically”–they don’t want to consciously count the representation when assembling publications because it feels forced and crude. Which I kind of get as a feeling, but otherwise a diversity failure is pretty much guaranteed, and it’s more important to avoid that than to avoid feeling awkward about the procedure.

      Reply
      1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

        I get the feeling and it will be awesome to live in a world where “organically” will automatically produce diverse. I hope I live that long.

        Reply
      2. Sunshine Brite

        It’s such a fine line with being aware and forced. We always used to joke about some of my undergrad’s publications at a majority white school, but you could pick out the various minority students they chose to highlight making it look like a much more racially diverse environment on paper. There were certain people who they’d always try to track down if they needed a dynamic photo with a diverse population.

        Reply
        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

          Is it exploitative or is it valid in an effort to try to make the campus actually more diverse? You’re not going to encourage more diversity by printing marketing materials where all the people look the same.

          I don’t know. My teapot selling mission is much smaller and less important than trying to build campus diversity.

          Reply
          1. Sunshine Brite

            It’s absolutely an effort, but they didn’t back it up as an administration with additional retention efforts once they got there. There wasn’t enough staff and faculty from diverse backgrounds, understanding of the actual campus climate, support for the Intercultural Life office, etc to support the students they were bringing in, particularly if it was also a student of color who was lower income or a lesser served minority. There was one Native American when I was on campus and there was no support available for Indigenous students. She ended up leaving once her health was getting affected from her spiritual wellness not being understood and constant clashes with administration/faculty who did not invite a Native perspective easily. That’s part of what made it disingenuous to students that were already there.

            Reply
            1. Sunshine Brite

              Also makes me giggle a bit when I think about that show ‘Superstore’ where there is a Black guy in a wheelchair who spends an episode dodging the publicity photographer because they always put someone on the cover of the employee magazine with a visible disability.

              Reply
            2. Anon for this

              I saw that at one of my old workplaces as well. There was one student they wanted to photograph for everything, as she was both a minority and drop.dead.beautiful. Her picture was in everything. We went rounds with marketing a few times over a photo where they’d posed her with someone else’s work (which mattered for several reasons, in this case).

              But yeah, this place also didn’t do a lot for minority students on a day-to-day basis. The retention rates were horrible and nobody really spent much time digging into why.

              Reply
              1. LadyKelvin

                That’s how my undergrad was, unfortunately. I also lived in an area where I went to the rich white school district and not to the poor black school district. Our campus though, really thought diversity was important so the small, religious, liberal arts school started a new scholarship program to increase diversity. It was for students of their particular religion (which ironically, was not the major religion on campus, mine was) and all they needed was a letter from their pastor about how active they were in their church. It certainly increased the diversity of the campus, it brought in students from a large number of different states, who also all happened to be white, cis, upper-middle class Christians. They couldn’t understand why we were so upset.

                Reply
          2. fposte

            When you’re creating photo ops, it does get really sticky–it can seem like you’re treating students of color as props or, even worse, window dressing. That doesn’t mean the effort is invalid, but it complicates the process.

            However, that’s not really a factor when you’re pulling out historical photos, as the OP’s workplace is.

            Reply
          3. Hellanon

            I think it’s a key part of the broader issue – “normalizing” if you will a view of society that includes all of us, not just the white or especially photogenic. One of the things I talk about with my students is that ads on TV now include African Americans who are clearly coded for middle class – khakis, suburban houses, expensive kitchens – & how this is a big change from no African Americans in ads in the 20th century, or only in ads for products pitched toward that particular market. All of it is important: companies getting gay couples, visibly handicapped individuals, middle class Asians and Hispanics and South Asians and Muslims, etc, into mainstream representations of the American consumer is, I think, not a trivial thing at all, and plays a vital role in making that happen across society.

            Reply
          4. Cath in Canada

            I’m friends with the two sisters who were, for a while, the only non-white kids in my entire high school (1980s-1990s – the area’s getting more diverse now). They were well aware that they were always included in any public event, to make the school look more diverse – in fact, it was a running joke of “well guess who got picked to go to this presentation ceremony!” They thought it was hilarious and great, because they got to do all kinds of stuff the rest of us didn’t.

            Reply
        2. blackcat

          I went to a private high school. One day, I was working in the library with a set of people who just happened to be of all different races (me, white; 1 black student; 1 latino student–of native American decent; 1 east asian student; 1 middle eastern student). Naturally, that was also the day that there was a photographer taking promotional pictures, and so they took SO MANY of us. We ended up posing sort of comically–eg, the textbook upsidedown, intentionally puzzled faces. As it turns out they school STILL USES those pictures, ~ 15 years later. Sometimes, I’m inclined to call them up and say “Hey, my Nokia brick phone sitting on that table is a dead give away that this picture was taken around the time current students were born.”

          I find the situation pretty funny (as do several other folks in the picture). When I recently saw someone else in the picture and we joked about it, she said, “They had every color in the rainbow! They’ll never let that one go!” Indeed.

          Reply
          1. Judy

            I was in a 4 month training program at one of my employers in the mid 1990s. The cohort was 24 people. In our group, there were 2 black men, 1 Chinese american woman and me, the rest were at least visibly white men. When the corporate photographers would come, they would manipulate the teams so that multiple “diverse” folks were in a picture.

            “We are a rainbow, made of children…”

            Reply
            1. Meg Murry

              Ugh, I can’t get that song out of my head now, darn it! And it doesn’t help that I only know one verse (or maybe there only is one verse?) and it’s stuck on endless repeat!

              Reply
      3. Artemesia

        Exclusion didn’t happen ‘organically’. US suburbs are not segregated ‘because people like to live near others like them’; in the 40s and 50s and 60s it was actually illegally most places or where not illegal ‘unethical’ for realtors to sell a house to a person of the ‘wrong’ race for the community. This was written into our housing policy at the national level. Banks also made loans this way. After hundreds of years of racial segregation and discrimination you don’t get magic organic integration.

        Reply
            1. Artemesia

              Initially is was done by law, by FHA public policy not just by bank redlining. This as you note still happens.

              Reply
      4. AVP

        As part of my job I am often at commercial and films castings, and let me tell you…everyone wants it to happen organically, and it just doesn’t. There are so many reasons for this, and they all suck.

        There’s an inherent unconscious bias when the clients, the film team, and the agents are mainly white. We have done better at getting women into leadership roles but at the most recent casting I went to, the 20-person management structure was 100% white. This leads to a numbers issue: if you see 100 people for a role and 90% are white, the chances of a white person being cast are much higher. People want to cast the best overall actor for the role, and they’re thinking in terms of “one role at a time,” not an overall ensemble, so when you get to call-backs it’s now 98% white and you realize you have a diversity problem, but once callbacks get moving it’s hard to see new people.

        The only fix I’ve seen to this is that someone self-appoints themselves the “diversity captain” and keeps reminding the whole team that there needs to be diversity at every step – starting with the description that goes out to the agents and ending at the final casting. When someone has taken that up, we’ve gotten it. When that person doesn’t exist, or everyone is afraid of the client, it doesn’t happen and you end up with a product that doesn’t reflect real life at all.

        Reply
        1. Natalie

          This probably wouldn’t work with film, but I found it interesting that orchestras suddenly got more diverse when they had people try out behind a screen, so you can’t see any irrelevant characteristics like gender or race.

          Reply
        2. Sue Wilson

          I think Matt Damon’s Project Greenlight proved that even with a “diversity captain” you can still get intense pushback from even people who want to be aware.

          Reply
      5. Dan

        When I see a photograph of a group of people in PR material that is overwhelmingly people of color, I do find it forced.

        Side note: I spent a year at a community college in Wisconsin. Of the 13 community college campuses, one was located in suburban Milwaukee, the rest were in rural areas of the state. (The four year UW campuses were in the more populated areas.) At one all-college University meeting, the diversity coordinator from UW System came and spoke to us about the 10 year diversity plan. It was really interesting, because the rep was a black woman in traditional African dress addressing 30 white kids.

        The really tough challenge in that area of the country is that the rural areas are pretty much all white, and community colleges are typically “commuter” campuses, reflecting the demographics of the area they serve. It’s not like the flagship campus that draws students from all over, and therefore has a reasonable expectation of increasing its diversity base.

        Reply
        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

          How many people of color = overwhelmingly? If you switched the people of color for white people would it strike you as overwhelming and forced?

          Not picking at your words. I understand what you said. Is that more or less forced than One White Guy, One White Woman, One Black Person?

          Everybody should watch the ep “Indians on TV” (Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”) and then we should reconvene to discuss. :-) (I’m barely kidding.)

          This is a quote from an interview that Aziz did, sums up the ep well, Aziz himself:

          “So the “Indians on TV” episode, that kind of came about from this idea that there is this kind of thought that like, “Oh, there’s been so much progress and there’s all this diversity on TV” … but it’s still, like, there’s one Asian guy. Does this group of people ever see another Asian guy ever? Just the one guy? It’s just him? Is that it? So that’s what we started talking about: “There can be one, but there can’t be two.””

          Reply
          1. Kelly L.

            Yep. There’s research showing, for example, that if a crowd scene in a movie is about 17% women, male viewers will think it’s 50% women, and my guess is that a similar effect might occur with race.

            Reply
            1. Honeybee

              There’s something magical about the 17% number. I’m not even kidding. There was a paper in my field that found out that 17% was also the tipping point for residential segregation – it was the level at which white residents felt that a neighborhood had become overwhelmingly black and started moving out en masse.

              Reply
          2. Dan

            I’ve seen some general stock photos where I don’t recall there was even a single white guy in there. I get it when the target is some sort of minority focus group of sorts, but for a general purpose publication? Strange.

            The right “blend” in a photo depends on the situation. My grad school class was (excuse the math) half Chinese, half Indian, and a handful of white people. A marketing brochure for my program that had all white people in it would look really funny to those of us in the program.

            My community college in Northern Wisconsin? A photo of something other than all white men and women would look forced to the students there.

            Yes, I’m familiar with the term “token ____ person”.

            Reply
            1. Kelly L.

              Well, but sometimes in real life, there isn’t a white person in the room. You wouldn’t have zero white people in, say, an entire booklet of photos, but within a single photo, why not? There are meetings every day that no white people happen to be at.

              (People had this issue with the show Sleepy Hollow too! It jarred some folks to see the black police chief, the black police officer, and her sister having a tete-a-tete.)

              Reply
            2. get some perspective

              “I’ve seen some general stock photos where I don’t recall there was even a single white guy in there. ”

              How outrageous.

              Reply
            3. Zillah

              I’m actually not super bothered by stock photos without white men in them. I’m actually kind of tired of white men being so ridiculously over represented in everything. White men make up… What, 35% of the population, give or take? Less if you want to only include white non-Hispanic men? I’m okay with them sometimes being left out of the occasional stock photo.

              Reply
          3. Kelly L.

            Oh! And it’s always the white person who has the disability, if they’re being forced about it, because everyone is allowed to represent only one group, never two, which may be part of why so many people have no idea intersectionality is a thing.

            Reply
          4. Ad Astra

            Another endorsement for “Indians on TV.” It does a really beautiful job of explaining the issue to white people who’d never considered it. And I have heard (and would guess, as an outsider) that it really captures the dilemma people of color face in media — they don’t want to play into stereotypes or encourage tokenism, but they can’t necessarily afford to turn down a bunch of roles on principle.

            Reply
      6. neverjaunty

        And by “organically” they mean “in a way that doesn’t require me to expend an iota of mental effort, and that doesn’t make me feel the slightest bit uncomfortable.”

        Reply
      7. TowerofJoy

        Right. I completely understand how it feels crude to feel like you’re checking boxes in representation categories, but the alternative is much worse… until we get to a better place in society, its what we have and we have to continue trying to do better.

        Reply
    5. KC

      Speaking as an Indian American, it’s not often that I notice a lack of diversity somewhere unless it is out of the ordinary. It’s even less often that a lack of diversity bothers me. Also, a person of color is a weird term.

      Reply
      1. Chalupa Batman

        I agree, it’s weird-but useful. I use “person of color” when I’m talking about shared experiences across non-white races in the US (I typically don’t try to speak on other countries). For example, I would say “as a person of color, I’m more conscious of the absence of racially diverse imagery than I would be otherwise,” but I would say “as a black person, I am uncomfortable with the automatic assumption that I agree with Obama, even when I do.” One would be equally relevant if I were Latina, East Indian, Haitian, etc, and the other is tied specifically to the experience of being a person of African descent in the United States. Which one I use is a very conscious decision for me.

        Reply
      2. Sue Wilson

        Racism should bother everybody.

        Loretta Ross talks about how “of color” came about as a political identifier. You can find it on youtube titled “The Origin of the phrase “Women of Color.”” Essentially it was a term used for solidarity between feminist women who weren’t white and didn’t necessarily share the same concerns as white feminists.

        Reply
      3. Ad Astra

        I always thought “person of color” sounded weird but several people I respect in the media (who happen to be black — I don’t think any other races have mentioned it to me) have spoken out against the use of “minorities,” preferring “people of color.” In many communities, white people are now the statistical minority, but of course the term is never used to describe white people — its primary (maybe exclusive) use is to describe people who are not white. So now I lean toward “person/people of color,” but I think it’s important for people to tell others what they want to be called when they have the opportunity.

        Reply
    6. Chalupa Batman

      I noticed immediately at my current job that people of color tended to be clustered in departments (I’m the only one in mine), but after some time, I think it’s because of what you said: departments do their own hiring for the most part, and it often didn’t occur to all white departments that they are all white, plus there are a low level of qualified minority applicants (or qualified applicants period) for many of their searches. They freaked out a little in a diversity meeting once when I pointed out that our public stats may be scaring off non-white students because their numbers are so low. “But the numbers are going up!” Yeah, I get that. And I also get that this isn’t a particularly racially diverse area. But the reality is, as a consumer of color, I pay attention when people of color aren’t represented, and I don’t necessarily know why they aren’t being represented. It’s a pink flag that I may not be well served by this group/company/school. Not usually red for me, but for some people it definitely is, especially in fields like healthcare or beauty salons, where cultural competence is a very relevant factor to satisfactory service. They think “if there are no people like me in all of these brochures, how will it be when I actually get there?”

      Reply
    7. Creag an Tuire

      Not to mention, if these were meant to be historical images from the 40’s and 50’s, I admit that my pasty white self might have noticed the lack of diversity but thought “well, of course it’s all white dudes, that’s how things were back then” and not thought to double-check. Especially if the institution is known for having an exclusionary past.

      Reply
  2. KarenT

    #2 Did you speak with the VP at all? At minimum I would try to get a phone call with the VP to discuss how reporting to them, training,,etc may be impacted by the temporary reporting structure.

    Reply
    1. Sara

      I’d add in, if you built some rapport with the ex-manager, you could try reaching out to her via LinkedIn. If she’s on there, and you two connect, she might be willing to share a bit more on her choice to leave, or give you some advice. It’s a bit tricky because she could steer you down the wrong path, so proceed with caution and only if you felt you built up that rapport during the interviewing stages.

      Reply
        1. Stranger than fiction

          I like both ideas- Address your concerns with the VP at new job, while also reaching out to former manager and get both perspectives and decide from there.

          Reply
    2. Kyrielle

      It might also be good to ask how long they think it may take to fill the position / how that process will proceed, if you’re not sure you do (or don’t) want to go ahead with your position.

      Reply
  3. neverjaunty

    For OP#1, it sounds as if the problem is not so much defamation as borderline harassing volunteers? In that case, OP, you should talk to your organization’s lawyer about the best way to approach things. LIKELY, the advice will be to have a meeting with volunteers where you can give them some strategies for dealing with the ex. Sometimes it is a situation where a Stern Letter will solve things, but you really need an expert’s take on your specific situation.

    (And if you don’t have a lawyer in-house or assisting your org with legal issues, THAT is a huge problem.)

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      Volunteers need to be explicitly told of the ‘sad case’ of the troubled ex co-founder and how to deal with harassment by her. Giving them the authority to ignore or language to direct her to the current director if she has concerns may make it easier on her and help them frame it as pathetic rather than threatening their job and the organization. Which it sound like is pretty accurate. The quicker she becomes a joke, the sooner she is no longer a threat.

      Reply
  4. TT

    #1 – sueing for libel seems a much clearer ‘she was in the wrong’ solution that leaves no room for different interpretations. If this woman was board level and you’ve proof of her lies, I’d definitely go for that to protect the business’s reputation, and give my staff a clear “no, she’s in the wrong” support.

    Reply
  5. Ruth

    Regarding number 5- is it optional to have work contracts in the US? As someone from the UK, I find this so odd as we always sign contracts for jobs!

    Reply
    1. Apollo Warbucks

      I’m in the UK too, my understanding is that only one state has employment contracts as standard and other than union contracts the reset of the US has at will employment meaning there is no contract.

      Compared to the UK and Europe the regulation of employment in the US seems to be very light. (Not saying that’s a bad thing, just very different to what I’m used to.)

      Reply
      1. Not Gloria A.A., B.S.

        Montana is the only not at-will state, but I don’t think that people there have contracts either. They just need to be fired with cause. Whereas everywhere else your boss could decide they don’t like the color of your shoelaces and you’re out the door. Not that it happens too often, but it could.

        Reply
          1. Mpls

            And Montana doesn’t have that many people (population less than 500,000, despite being the 4th largest state in area), so it doesn’t affect a lot of people either.

            Reply
            1. Velociraptor Attack

              Montana’s population is actually just over a million and hasn’t been as low as 500,000 since the 1940s.

              Granted, that is still a fairly low population but it’s far higher than 500,000.

              Reply
    2. Sunshine Brite

      I’ve still never even gotten an offer letter, just verbal, let alone a contract. I didn’t realize until this site how uncommon that is too.

      Reply
    3. bassclefchick

      Apollo Warbucks is correct. Most of the US is at will. Theoretically, both sides can end employment at any time. Of course, the employer can fire me and walk me out of the building any time they want. But I, as the employee have to give notice. It’s weird. And contracts aren’t necessarily optional, just Not Done.

      Reply
      1. Elysian

        You don’t HAVE to give notice if you’re at-will. It is just a good idea professionally. You could still get up and walk yourself out of the building if you wanted and no one would sue you for breach of contract.

        Reply
          1. Elsajeni

            Maybe not firing, but people certainly consider it bad practice to have layoffs without either advance notice or severance pay.

            Reply
            1. Zillah

              Yes, this. I certainly look poorly on a company for failing to give notice or severance for a layoff, and unless the firing was based on a major behavioral problem (e.g., theft, harassment, whatever), I’d expect an attempt at helping a poorly performing employee improve and/or a clear warning that the performance problems could cost them their job.

              Doesn’t mean companies always give it, but I think many people see companies who don’t as being pretty shitty.

              Reply
      2. finman

        It’s risky to let someone who knows they will be fired continue to have access to your network, files, customer lists, etc.

        Reply
    4. Not Gloria A.A., B.S.

      I think the only type of positions in the US that typically have contracts would be teachers, doctors, actors, and on-air “personalities” such as radio DJs and TV reporters. Then there’s union members, they generally have more employment protection, but it also depends on how strong their union is.

      Reply
      1. Natalie

        And I don’t believe individual union members sign a contract – they are just covered as a group by the contract signed by the organization and the employer.

        Reply
          1. Natalie

            Closed shops used to be a thing, but they’ve been illegal for some time. You cannot be forced to join a union.

            What can happen in many states are “agency fees” – if you’re benefiting from a union contract as a non-member, you may have to pay a portion of the typical union fees. If you live in a state with a “right to work” law, agency fees are also illegal and you can be covered by the union contract and pay nothing.

            Reply
      2. AcademiaNut

        I think you might need a contract if you’re on a work visa, because your immigration status is dependant on your job status.

        Reply
    5. Ad Astra

      In the U.S., the professions most likely to have contracts are teachers and other types of union workers. Jobs that are intended to last a specific period of time (usually short-term, but not necessarily) typically use contracts as well. As others have said, most U.S. jobs are the kind where you can be fired for no reason and you can quit whenever you want. Offer letters are common, but not standard — and they’re typically not legally binding.

      Reply
  6. Duncan - Vetter

    #2 – This is indeed a very unpleasant situation. However, before you accept or reject the job, you should consider this: what made you apply for it? If the answer is the reputation of the company, you should reconsider your position. Furthermore, people come and go, and it is not a good idea to rely on this aspect. If you are in doubts and feel that you need more answers, you can write an email to the HR or the person who conducted the interview. It is the best way to ask for further clarifications. Remember to adopt a professional tone and base your decision on the answer you receive. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. AnotherHRPro

      OP, I agree. It is totally normal to be nervous when accepting a new job, especially when things that look like red flags start to appear. During the interview process to ask about why the department seemed to have such low tenure? Was this purposeful? Did they restructure recently? Or do they typically have high turnover?

      Also, did you meet the VP at all during the interview process? I think it would be reasonable to ask to have conversation with the VP to address the change in leadership. Especially as you will be reporting to the VP for a period of time.

      Good luck!

      Reply
    2. Stranger than fiction

      Which made me think of another thing they could check out – any PR articles on the company that may explain the turnover – maybe there’s a new CEO or some other shake-up at the top in recent months that caused some of the old “regime” to leave, good or bad. Or did they merge with another company last year or acquire a company or anything like that? All of these things usually cause some turnover in the aftermath.

      Reply
  7. Theresa T

    To be honest, as someone who gets angry at my college’s calendar every year, I’d go back to pictures of architecture. No one wants pictures of people anyway. Seriously, every year we get this calendar with random students in science labs or dancing on stage or whatever, and every year, without fail, my social media feeds are full of people saying, “Can we just get photos of pretty buildings and landscapes and the bridge by the lake at the first snowfall? Random people I don’t care about are the worst.”

    Reply
    1. Kelly L.

      In addition to everything mentioned above, there is always the Blonde Woman Reading Under a Tree. Every campus must have one.

      Reply
      1. Blurgle

        My alma mater had the same thing in the 80s, despite there being almost no trees on campus. We always wondered where they found the tree.

        Reply
        1. Kelly L.

          My old work had a school song that prominently featured lyrics about our beautiful lake—which had been sold to the city years ago.

          Reply
    2. Ama

      Heh, for a while I was in charge of a semiannual magazine for a small graduate program that was based in a lovely renovated building. Right as renovations were completed, they hired a photographer to take beautiful professional photos of the space which we used in the magazines (occasionally the features had their own photos but the cover and any story about upcoming school events were illustrated with architecture photos). Without fail the complaint I always got was “these are lovely pictures of the building but why are there no people in them?” You really can not win.

      Reply
    3. CM

      I agree! Pictures of laughing students are great in recruiting brochures, but not on a calendar meant for fundraising.

      Also, I really appreciate the respectful tone of the discussion about diversity in these comments.

      Reply
    4. scribbles

      The Faculty of Science at my undergrad university has a photo competition where current students and faculty (and alumni) can submit their best science-themed photos, and the winners appear in the calendar. The result is usually lots of interesting landscapes and animals from people’s fieldwork, or the more abstract results of lab experiments. There are never random people in the photos, and it’s a cool way to show off the research being done and have community participation. Even though I graduated 10 years ago, I always look forward to getting the calendar and seeing what people have been up to!

      Reply
  8. LuvzALaugh

    Alison would your advice regarding awards on the resume also include military metals and awards? I still carry two lines on my resume listing these.

    Reply
    1. S.I. Newhouse

      I would think that’s fine, personally. Some companies actively seek out veterans as part of their hiring process.
      I also think it could be a benefit to list awards if they’re from a recent job, or perhaps if the awards are listed by a very recent graduate. But if it’s far in the past, as with OP #4, I agree with Alison.

      Reply
    2. Silver Radicand

      The difficulty with military awards is that many hiring managers either won’t understand the significance of a given award, or consider it irrelevant to civilian work. The question I would ask you is would a civilian with no military experience be able to make the connection that your silver star, etc will make you a better Teapot Salesperson, Teapot Engineer, etc. without you having to explain such? I would only allot space for your military awards to the degree that that is true.

      Reply
      1. Silver Radicand

        For example, when I started in the workforce after the military, I included one line for my military awards because I didn’t have much to include, now I’m more likely to leave them off unless (as S.I. Newhouse mentioned above) I know that the company is particularly veteran-friendly.

        Reply
    3. MK

      Not from the U.S., so I don’t know what’s appropriate there, but I would think the same rule applies: if you were awarded the highest honor your country can bestow on a soldier, mention it in some section with other general information; if you got commended for quick thinking 25 years ago, don’t waste paper.

      Reply
  9. Kate M

    OP #4 – For the awards you’re mentioning, they sound like awards you get in high school/college. Is that the case? If so, I would definitely leave them off. Awards from high school I don’t think should be anywhere by the time you’re in college, and awards from college shouldn’t be on a resume after probably your first job. They’re just…not applicable anymore (I mean, if you were a Fullbright scholar or something, that would be different). But definitely a “participation” award is never something to actually put on your resume, it doesn’t really mean anything. For creative writing, if it’s relevant to your field, and happened recently, sure that would be a great thing. But something you got in college 10 years ago? No. A lot of service awards just mean you have to complete so many hours of community service, and if that’s what this is, also not relevant from 15 years ago. And being the VP of an organization in college could be anything from meaningless to a really hard job, but it’s still not relevant after a long time years.

    Reply
    1. irritable vowel

      Yes. A resume is not a college application. Don’t list anything from high school, ever. Only list awards/honors from college if they are significant, universally recognized, and don’t take up much room — Phi Beta Kappa, Fulbright Scholar, etc. (I wouldn’t even put GPA-related honors like magna cum laude after a few years out.) The honors you want to highlight on your resume are those that were achieved during your career, and again, they should be significant and relevant — so, yes to “Elected member of the [Prestigious Professional Association],” no to “Employee of the Month, April 2012.”

      Reply
      1. get some perspective

        “Don’t list anything from high school, ever. ”

        Depends how old you are and what you’re listing. I had one strong high school accomplishment on my resume right out of college. That info was only five years old. I think I took it off a year later. I had a job from senior year in high school on my resume for several years – I’d worked mainly blue collar jobs while in college and wanted to show office experience on the resume.

        Reply
    2. CMT

      If you were VP of an organization and did a lot of work, than I would put that as an actual entry in your resume, where you list the accomplishments. (Assuming, of course, it’s relatively recent and/or relevant to what you’re applying for.)

      Reply
      1. Kate M

        But the whole point I think was that these were from a long time ago. So honestly, if I got a resume on my desk for a job (anything past entry-level) with a position from college on it, it wouldn’t look good to me. I wouldn’t automatically throw it out, but I’d question why they thought college activities were still relevant. To me, what you do in college (as in extracurriculars) is supposed to help you get your first job. After that, it should be all professional accomplishments on your resume. Unless it’s something that was just really incredible and almost nobody else would have it, leave it off after your first job.

        That said, it could always be good to mention in your cover letter if it’s relevant. Like, if you’re applying for a job at a non-profit dealing with a specific disease, and you founded a healthcare/disease-related group in college, then certainly mention how long you’ve been interested in and working on the cause.

        Reply
  10. Clarita

    Regarding #1 – I see that the you note this person is a *Co-Founder* – so we’re not talking about some regular employee but someone to whom the organization owes its very existence. Right or wrong, she is not wrong to feel a sense of “ownership” over the story of this organization. You say noone thought to have her sign a NDA, but if one is the actual (co-) FOUNDER of an entity, I cannot imagine anyone in that vein even being asked, let alone willing to sign such a thing for something they, themselves (co-)FOUNDED. Obviously this is an uncomfortable scenario for you and the org today. But I think it’s going to be a challenge to refute/discount what she tells people because—again—the org is something she was directly involved with and partly responsible for creating and developing in the first place. All that said, I think the best defense is just to keep on demonstrating professional ethics and excellence all the way around. If colleagues, clients, etc. see this, THAT is what you’ll continue to be known for.

    Reply
    1. Velociraptor Attack

      I’ve known multiple people that when they left businesses that they co-founded were asked to sign an NDA. This has happened when they left willingly and on good terms and when they left on very messy terms.

      Reply
  11. Temperance

    I can really, really relate to #5. Due to the nature of my role, I somehow ended up with my office’s MLK Day Service Project dumped on me (even though I’m not really part of the staff who would do said project – my team has another project on the same day that I attend, also not really by choice).

    So I need to spend way too much time preparing for, and then volunteering on what should be a work holiday for me. I can’t be compensated for the holiday because I’m “volunteering” … except, I’m really not, and would prefer to either actually be working or to be home enjoying a long weekend, like many of my cohorts.

    Reply
      1. Temperance

        Yep. And because I didn’t have a choice in the matter, even though I kept repeating myself over and over that I was voluntold for my team’s project, and couldn’t do both (because I don’t have a freaking time-turner) … they cancelled the staff project and then more or less blamed me, because there was no one else “available” to handle.

        Reply
    1. Observer

      Someone should point out to the org that unless you are in an exempt position, you have to be paid for “volunteer” work.

      Reply
      1. NJ Anon

        Yes, this. You can’t volunteer to do your job. If you are required to be there and are non-exempt, you must be paid. Check out your state’s dept of labor website.

        Reply
  12. Audiophile

    Is anyone else confused by question #1? I initially thought the firing was recent until I read further on in the letter.

    If the person has truly been gone several years, who knows how long she’s been badmouthing the company. Since the organization has thrived, it seems most people aren’t taking much stock in her claims.

    Reply
    1. Rin

      I know; doesn’t this woman have anything better to do with her time? Harassing people for years? Get over it, lady.

      Reply
  13. James

    OP #2: I had a similar situation. IT WAS AWFUL. Don’t ignore the red flags. I accepted because I thought the company reputation and the job itself would outweigh these flags. I was wrong. I now reported to a VP Teapot Business who had no knowledge of Teapot Web, and a different personality than my “hiring boss”. We got along great, but it was challenging to do tasks related to web instead of business. I then assumed all responsibilities of the “hiring boss” (no additional support staff, no title change, no pay increase, long hours) while they looked for a replacement for 10 months. During that time the VP Teapot Business left, and when the new VP Teapot Web was finally hired he let go everyone in our department to bring in his own team. Sigh. It wasn’t worth it. Best of luck with your decision.

    Reply
  14. AdAgencyChick

    #2, have you given notice at your current job yet? If not, I would recommend not doing so, and then calling the VP and asking for more time/information to make your decision, given this very material change in your working situation. Of course managers come and go, but if you had a great rapport with this one, and that’s what made you take the job in spite of other factors that you weren’t comfortable with, I definitely think you need to take Alison’s advice and think about whether the job as it is, is one you still want. This may include asking to speak to the person who would be your direct manager, if you didn’t do so during the previous interview process, and also asking hard questions about what the reporting structure would look like, how long it would be like that, and whether you’d be involved at all in the selection of your boss’s replacement.

    I was once the manager in this situation. I gave notice at my job a day or so after the guy who was to have been my direct report accepted our offer. I felt horrible — obviously, I was fairly far along in the interview process at that point and I could certainly have told the candidate, “Look, we’re getting along great, but you should know I’m close to leaving.” But without a written offer in hand, I didn’t feel safe asking him to keep that in confidence in any discussions with others at the company.

    I did call him as soon as I accepted my offer and apologized profusely. Told him I still thought he was an awesome candidate and that I owed it to him to tell him that I wouldn’t be there on his first day. He was understandably taken aback. The last time I saw him was a few months ago, now interviewing for a considerably higher-level position. He seemed not to have any hard feelings toward me, for which I am very grateful, but he confirmed that my old company used him pretty hard while he was there, and that the boss he got instead of me was no bueno.

    Reply
  15. KC

    #3: I would imagine that the level of diversity in higher ed in the 40s/50s was very low, if not non-existent. It doesn’t surprise me that none of the photos showed any diversity. An easy solution would be looking a little further ahead to at least the 60s if you’re still going for a vintage look. It was in the 60s, during the civil rights movement that you first had real change in terms of diversity.

    Reply
  16. Anon for this

    #1 – I am living through your situation, except the ex-executive director is using others to trash us so we can’t sue her. It is sick and evil.

    Agree with the direction to take comfort in knowing many, many people will see the situation for what it is.

    Reply
    1. neverjaunty

      If she thinks using others to trash you makes her lawsuit-proof, she may be in for a very ugly wake-up call.

      (That’s not to say you SHOULD or MUST sue her, of course. Only that using intermediaries is hardly a way to insulate oneself from a defamation lawsuit.)

      Reply
  17. Red Wheel

    @2- This happened to me. Twice.
    It was disturbing in both instances because it is important to understand the personalities of the people I will be working for/working with. I like to select ( or not select) them when I can.

    First time- hiring manager knew she was retiring as she was hiring me and deliberately withheld that info until I showed up on day one. I relocated to take that job and had several other offers that I declined in favor of that job. It was NOT happy when I arrived. it worked out well because the office was amazing but I wish I had been informed up-front.

    Second time-hiring manger got replaced shortly after my arrival. It was not anticipated and not her fault. The replacement is just awful, awful, awful, I TRULY would not have accepted the job if I had the opportunity to meet the replacement in advance.

    My advice: trust your judgment. If you will not have an opportunity to meet the VP or the person to whom you will be reporting, consider if there are other reasons to still take the job. However, if you see red flags now, they are unlikely to turn green before your start.

    Reply
  18. Jade

    OP #5- I feel your pain. Before I started working at my current job I was told that we’d get a set number of paid holidays off. Now that I’ve started working there, that has changed to “Well, you technically *can* have the holiday off, but we’d rather you be working so the company can make money.” I’m hourly, so if I’m working the holiday, I just get holiday pay on top of earned hours, which might be okay with some people, but is not what I was looking for. My last job had me working *every* holiday, so the holidays off bit was a big incentive for me in taking this job.

    It sounds like the same thing happened to you- were told you’d get a holiday off and then it got revoked. I would take the advice of asking for a different day off in place of it. Have a talk with your boss about it. Especially discuss the loss of holiday pay for that day (That’s a really crummy thing to do, and IMO not the kind of move that retains good employees). Going forward I think you and your employer need to have a clear understanding of where everybody stands on the holiday policy. I certainly wouldn’t want another holiday to roll around and you find yourself losing that one, too.

    Reply
    1. Thank you!

      Thanks Jade for your response! I did talk to the boss – I wanted to make sure that I was coming in that day due to projects that could not be rescheduled, not because I had fallen behind on things. The boss was understanding and I am just taking off the next day now. It’s crummy to hear lots of others experience the same thing and maybe don’t have as understanding of a boss.

      Never truly realized that the offer letter wasn’t something legal. I guess that means I could lose my other benefits “on a whim” too? Like health and retirement? Makes sense, just hope that doesn’t ever happen!

      Reply
  19. Gene

    For number 3, it sounds like the calendars are themed each year. Last year was architecture, this year was students in the 40s and 50s. Best tack might be to suggest that next year be students of color.

    Reply
    1. neverjaunty

      That completely misses the point. Students of color are not a novel “theme” – the university is trying to promote itself as a welcoming environment where students of color are part of the community, not a special thing or a historical curiosity, and treating them as a one-time subject for a calendar theme is the opposite of that.

      Reply
    2. Charityb

      The OP makes it sound as if the school did have photos from that era of students of color and just chose not to use them; if that’s the case, it might be a mistake to not say anything now.

      Reply
    3. Zillah

      People-as-theme is super gross, though. It’s one thing to have themed (non-culturally appropriative) costumes – e.g., a Star Wars theme – but it’s quite another to turn innate characteristics into a prop.

      Reply
  20. wellywell

    Re: #2 (supervisor quit before first day): I was in the same situation. My advice is RUN LIKE HELL. Especially if there is (or may be) high turnover. Something is VERY wrong there. It was *bleep*ing awful and I wish I had never accepted the job.

    Reply

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