Active Voice Column: Corporate Social Un-Networking
by P. Kristen Enos
(All rights reserved)
This August 31st will be my official 19th year anniversary as an employee of my company. And that’s not counting the year or two of being a temporary worker before then. I would tell people it’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had. A joke but not so much.
Now, despite having the less than fully enthusiastic attitude about the span of years that don’t seem to be ending any time soon, I have to admit that I have a definite comfort level with my corporate employer, a national company in a cutting edge industry. For the most part, my company’s corporate philosophy does involve a lot of basics of integrity and respect… believe it or not. This is formalized in our Corporate Code of Conduct manual that every employee is required to read every year. Along with guidelines about integrity, it contains warnings like “don’t do X or the company integrity could be questioned and lose customers, oh and you’ll probably get fined and go jail along the way.” Yes, every year.
Still, as cheesy as I summarize it, I’d rather work for a company that had and promoted a code of conduct than one which didn’t. Whenever a company is in the news for ethical violations, it’s almost a guarantee that we employees will get a reminder email about our code of conduct to avoid such business disasters and shame.
Along with having watched my company evolve and grow over the past two decades, I’ve watched the evolution of the corporate employee rituals and tools. From paper checks to direct deposit (thanks to being the first employee in my company to EVER have her mailed check not arrive), to dress codes relaxing from fully corporate to business casual. All the while, the internal employee website grew to become the most essential tool today’s corporate life.
For me, the website was at the least critical for entering timesheets, if I want to be paid properly, as well as getting needed information related to Human Resource related matters, or the latest news on company activities. The home page is broken down into various sections for different sections to post different teasers for articles. These articles allowed you to comment, or rate from one to five stars, or see the most popular ranking based on number of views. And because this is an employee website that can only be accessed via your personal log in, any activity you do, especially comments, can be traced back to you – as well as publically identifying you as the source (again, especially comments).
A couple months ago, I did my regular visit to the sight and scanned the new article headlines. My casual curiosity was piqued by an artsy graphic of a set of hands, each shaded in a different color of the rainbow with a corresponding headline about celebrating diversity. Needless to say, I clicked on the link to see the full article.
It was a full page devoted to highlighting the efforts of my company to sponsor or have a presence at various LGBT Pride festivals in several states. I had to admit I was impressed and pleased.
But then there were the comments. Now, along with listing the writer’s full name, readers are allowed to mark whether they liked or disliked the comment. Names aren’t tracked to the activity, but the counts are displayed for each (if there are any.)
They started off as enthusiastic with declaration of gratitude about working for such a progressive company, even announcing that they’ve taken advantage of domestic partnership benefits. But then each comment had several counts of likes and dislike, even for those comments who were clearly fully enthusiastic and positive. Then after a couple of pages, the comments started to become… diverse.
People were starting to comment about how many ‘dislikes’ there were for clearly LGBT positive, signs of clear phobic undercurrents. One man went so far as to declare that he hoped people respected his opinion that he didn’t like how our company participated in such activities because we had such a great “family” company – and I’m assuming he meant in the traditional straight and narrow sense, which had several likes and dislikes but no counter comments.
I decided not to contribute to the postings because I felt there were enough other pro-LGBT who were going to be vocal enough to balance anyone who got too far out of line.
But then I saw a comment by a man who wrote that he didn’t think the company would have participated in all of these events if there weren’t job protection laws for LGBT employees.
Now, I believe people do have a right to their opinions. That’s part of the price of embracing the philosophy of honesty, truth and freedom of speech. You cannot create an environment of communication and education without that. However, in my top three list of social archetypes that truly piss me off are people who are spoiled, ungrateful whiners.
In a flash, though I knew full well my name would be listed as the author, I commented that that no matter the ultimate intention, I’m glad to be part of a company that appreciates me and my friends both as employees as well as a valued demographic.
And then I decided it was time to go back to “real” work. I also didn’t want to revisit the comments thread in case I should see an extremely negative comment that will make it challenging if I should (or currently do) work with that person.
But the comment about “family” bothered me – actually, more the lack of a counter-comment to it. It bothered me enough that it simmered in the back of my mind through the rest of the day and into the evening. I didn’t know the person, and I wasn’t about to look up his department and location. Though I felt I could be mature and professional.
I was once in a situation where I had to evaluate a co-worker and had gone out to a group lunch with this person. In the casual course of the conversation, this person told a homophobic story, which made me immediately think “Does (this person) not have a clue of who’s also sitting at the table?” It bothered me for a while, but when push came to shove, I still recommended this person because of the experience and talent. However, in voicing my opinion to my supervisor, I did mention in passing the story, and she was the one who pointed out to me that such statements are against our Code of Conduct in the realm of treating all demographics with respect in any work gathering — group lunches included. I was so blinded by challenging myself with being professionally fair that I did kind of forget about that. And I was ultimately glad she pointed that out to me.
Though I claim I’m a retired activist, the “family” comment was something too easy for me to address, especially if no one else had. If nothing more, I needed to feel like I made the effort to address my guilty activist conscious.
So in driving to work the next day, I had formulated in my mind that I would post a response like “While you are asking people to respect your opinion, I feel compelled to point out that your opinion shows a lack of basic respect, equality and consideration for not only your fellow coworkers but also our paying customers who may not be gay and lesbian themselves but loves someone who is. I agree this is a great family company, but I define family not as narrowly. I suggest you reread the Code of Conduct not only in actual words but in spirit as well.”
The first thing I did when I sat down at my desk was access the article. I was surprised to see the comments were all removed. In fact, there was no link or evidence that they were even there. You could still mark it as a favorite, but it looked like it was for information only.
I have to admit I thought it was a clever way to minimize what was clearly becoming a source of discord between employees.
And then the following Monday, we got a reminder email about our code of conduct with a mention about behaving with respect and integrity but without any mention of a news drama that usually accompanied such notifications.
As I said, it’s the longest relationship that I’ve had, and all things considered, it’s not surprising why.