Chick Tech Chicago Meetup. RealTalk: Workplace Harassment

I attended this meetup in September, during this crazy week before I left for Helsinki. And although it has been a while, I still want to write about it. Interestingly, just before that, I completed a mandatory harassment training, so everything was pretty fresh. This was the first time I completed such training for managers, which gave me a new perspective.

The meetup agenda said:

In this discussion, we will be diving into a tough topic. Workplace harassment can be very difficult to handle and highly unexpected. We’ll learn from our speakers on real-life examples in which you can navigate situations and how to maintain your own communication through a very difficult situation.

Speakers:
Cassi Hansen, VP of People Operations at Nerdery
Debbie Pickus, Founder and CEO of Team Fireball Inc.
Laura Khalil, Executive Coach at Force of Badassery

I would describe this more like a panel because as you can see from this description, the speakers were the subject matter experts. Each of them had a lot to offer in terms of how to fight harassment at the workplace. We were going through many real-life examples, many of which sounded very much alike to the ones presented in my training.

One of the topics which came up was the question of how women, who are sexually harassed at work can find their allies, how they can stand for themselves when the source of harassment is somebody in the authoritative position.

My thoughts were going in a little bit different direction since the same training reminded me that there are many kinds of harassment, and one in particular, which bothers me a lot.

Then I decided to tell my story.


Once at one of my previous jobs, a co-worker stopped by and asked whether we could talk in private. When we were behind the closed doors, she procced with saying she is a messenger of other folks. Although I do not like characterizing people by their national origin, it is important for the story. She was a green card holder, and the other folks on behalf of whom she was speaking were from the same country of origin, but they were alien workers, holding the work visas.

She proceeded with the long list of complaints about their manager, who treated them poorly, was mean to them, was presenting their results as his own, and so on. Knowing the situation, I had no reason not to believe. But then my coworker said: they are afraid they will be fired and will have to leave the country. They are afraid to go to HR. And even if you will go and tell HR what’s going on, if HR calls on them, they will deny everything because they are afraid of retaliation. I asked – then what do you want me to do? She said: please go and talk to our director! Maybe he will be able to do something.

I knew that it would be impossible to do something without HR, but I went to my director anyways. His response was as I’ve expected: there is no way around HR.

This happened many years ago, but I still do not know what’s a good way to resolve such a situation. And when I shared this story with the meeup, nobody had a good answer…

History Lessons

I was at lunch with three of my younger co-workers, and one of them mentioned that he probably misuses utensils. The other two joined the conversation suggesting that all of them are not perfect in this regard. I wanted to tell my story about Germany, and a lunch with the Dean, and how I was inadequate to the occasion. So I started by mentioning, that since the upper class was eradicated in the Soviet Union, the skill of using the silverware properly was not taught to children at home.

One of my co-workers asked: what do you mean by “eradicated?” This question took me by surprise, so while I was collecting myself, another co-worker replied: well, precisely that: they were killed. She continued: I do not know that much of Russian history as I probably should, but I now that in the beginning of the 20th century there was a revolution, and people were killed.

Apparently, for two of the three, this was news. Not that I think everybody in the world should know Russian history, but recently I’ve encountered several cases when people made bad judgments and bad decisions repeating history to the letter.

Maybe I am wrong, and this is already an old history, and the new generation should learn from new examples – I do not know.

“Having It All” Then and Now

Anna and Nadia were staying with me last weekend. The main reason was “All kids’ birthday,” but we were also hoping to spend some time together and to do some girls stuff. Which we did, and while the girls were here I was thinking (as I usually do in such cases) about how much parenting had changed since the time I had small children.

It’s also worth noting that I was in the process of listening to the audiobook “All the rage.” In addition to the fact that this book makes you think about gender inequality at home like never before, there was something else.

I always use my own life as an example of “you can have it all.” I used to say that if you plan everything carefully and can distinguish important things from unimportant, you can be a successful parent and a successful professional. And I still believe it is true, but it depends on how you define a successful parent.

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Understanding Our Family History

Another topic of my conversation with Anna was about an understanding of people’s motives and preception of the world around them. That’s precisely the reason I started this blog; that’s why I try to be very honest with myself about the past.

Anna told me that she read somewhere on the internet about her great-grandfather, the one who was NKVD Major General, and about his career in the 1920s. She asked me whether she understood correctly, what he was doing in Middle Asia and Azerbaijan, and I confirmed. I think that it is essential to understand what many people were both the executors and the victims of the Great Terror. That is something I am not going to hide. And as Anna put it, she wants to understand, what was going on the people’s heads, how they could justify within themselves all these actions. How could a highly educated and very intelligent person consciously participate in the “kulak’s liquidation.” I can only guess about him. But I remember what his sister-in-law, my grand aunt, was telling me about her joining the Communist Party after most of her family was prosecuted. And I am going to write about it in the future. 

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Parenting

Anna was asking me how Nadia is different from her at the same age. I replied that she is different because all human beings are different. But I am finding it hard to pinpoint, what are the exact difference,

Our parenting styles are different. When Anna was two, her life was undoubtfully more structured than Nadia’s. There was no question about what clothes to put on, whether to have dinner or not, and what will be served. There was no throwing away food. There were no reading books on the potty. Part of it was survival, me being a single working mom of three in an unstable economy. But part of it was a starting point. 

I was an incredibly liberal parent by Russian standards those days. I didn’t spend all day disciplining a child. I would let them do tons of things other parents won’t. But by the nowadays civilized standards, it was still very rigorous parenting. 

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I’ve Realized One Interesting Thing…

When I started my LiveJournal blog 12 years ago, one of the goals I had in mind was to tell my Russian friends about America “from inside.” Not like there are not enough Russians living in the US, but I’ve credited myself for looking at the life which surrounded me with the wide-opened eyes. I was curious, I wanted to understand, and I had my American co-workers, who thought of me as a complete savage (which was a good thing in this case :)), and educated me about everything.

I knew what could be interesting for my Russian audience. I would explain lots of things, which were so obvious and trivial to the locals, that they could never imagine somebody needs any explanations on them.

Funny enough, I am doing a similar thing now but in the opposite direction. I am writing for my American audience, and since I live here for 23 years by now, I understand, which parts I need to explain in detail. And if I won’t be a part of both countries, I would not even know that the explanations are necessary 🙂

Healthy Living For Baby Boomers

I often talk to people who are about my age or older, or a little bit younger, trying to motivate them to be more engaged in physical activities and overall, to have a healthier lifestyle. I am an excellent motivator :), so most of the time there are some positive outcomes.

Some time ago (about six months, to be exact) I came across the article in the Chicago Tribune, which I liked a lot. I decided to paste it’s full text here because people do not like to click on the links, and there are way fewer chances somebody will read it, if it is not copy-pasted.

The reason I often post my pictures with all the muscules exposed is not that I like to show-off, but because people believe more in what I am saying when they can see results not on TV, but on the real person. Most importantly, I try to draw people away from the preception, that their health should decline with age, that this is normal.

It takes moxie to flip an unhealthy lifestyle to a healthy one particularly for folks 60 and older.

Here is the article:

Most baby boomers approach retirement age unwilling to follow basic healthy lifestyle goals established by the American Heart Association, said Dr. Dana King, professor and chairman of the department of family medicine at West Virginia University, referencing his university’s 2017 study comparing the healthy lifestyle rates of retired late-middle-aged adults with rates among those still working.

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What I Thought About The Foreign Countries

To build on my previous post, I am thinking about our perception of foreigners back in the Soviet Union. It was not about “foreign countries,” it was not about “international tourists,” it was about “Abroad” as a noun, “Zagranitza” in Russian.

The word means “behind the border” or “over the border,” anything which lies outside the borders of your country. I never thought of it back then, but now it seems funny for me that this word exists in the Russian language.

Zagranitza was scary and exciting at the same time. And when I am trying to analyze my past thoughts and feelings, I have to agree that they were very inconsistent and conflicting.

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About Journaling

When I decided to abandon my previous blog and to focus on family history here on WordPress, some of my friends had asked me how I am going to survive without daily journaling.

At first, I didn’t think much about it. But after a while, I’ve realized that I want to continue my daily journaling, even if virtually nobody is reading. I what to write about my life for the same reason as previous generations were keeping paper diaries – for themselves to remember what was going on, and for future generations to find it out :).

One of the most important things which your journal gives to you is the ability to observe your personality transformation. Now, when I read my journal records from ten or twelve years ago, I can vividly remember how I felt and what I thought at that time.

But unfortunately, although I was journaling for extensive periods of my life, this process was not consistent. My friends resent that there is no Livejournal from the years when my children were just born, and being honest; I regret it myself:).

So one of the things I am trying to do now is to fill this gap retroactively. I am trying to recall as precise as possible, how I felt about events at the time they were happening, what were my believes, how I saw the world, and how I’ve reconciled in my head all the things I saw.

Such posts as good examples of a bitemporal framework, which is something from my professional life; I can say that they are “effective in the past, asserted now.” If you understand, what I mean:).

Cooked: Survival By ZIP Code

In these super-hot July days, when the temperature climbs to the 100s, I’ve attended the screening of the documentary Cooked: Survival By The ZIP Code. I watched it on Monday, unfortunately almost the only screening without any public discussion as a follow-up. That was my only option to see it, and I am happy I went, but boy, how much you want to discuss this movie after the final acknowledgments appear on the screen!

From the Siskel center website:

Inspired by Eric Klineberg’s book, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Helfand (BLUE VINYL) takes a hard, personal, and often quirky look at the inequity of natural disaster, beginning with her family’s own experience of Hurricane Sandy. She ultimately zeroes in on Chicago’s shockingly inadequate response to the deadly July 1995 heatwave, during which the city morgue overflowed with the sudden deaths of 726 citizens, largely the elderly and people of color from the city’s impoverished South and West Side. This audacious look at natural disaster American-style starts with the stark premise that a zip code can be an accurate predictor of life or death when nature unleashes its worst. With increasing frequency and force, climate change sets the agenda for hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and such, but systemic neglect, deep poverty, and political expediency have already drawn the line between the survivors and the doomed, even before disaster strikes.

Cooked: Survival by Zip Code (2018) | Official Trailer from Kartemquin Films on Vimeo.

I do not even know how to describe this movie. It could very well become trivial – who does not talk about the predominantly black impoverished neighborhoods. Yet the evidence is striking. The footage of the news coverage back from 1995. Mayor Daley statement: “That’s why we love Chicago.” The refrigerator trucks storing the bodies awaiting autopsy outside the city hospitals. The life expectancy numbers – sixteen years difference between the North and the South.

The director takes a broader approach and poses very pointed questions to the officials: why we can’t address the issue preventively, before a disaster strikes? She also links the heatwave casualties with the overall state of the neighborhoods: the absence of affordable health care, inability to pay electric bills, the food deserts. If fact, one of the most striking episodes is the one in the mobile grocery store when the workers on the bus are trying to convince a teen to eat an apple – for the first time in his life!

The movie calls for action, and I can’t imagine anybody dismissing it’ s message.