Back when I worked for pay in Region 2, our Regional Leadership Team had a couple of discussions around “undiscussables”. One I remember was about the Regional Forester overruling a Forest Supervisor on a resource decision. In my experience, just talking about it openly took out some of the underlying tension. But don’t believe me! You can read this from Leadership and Change, in an article from 2015:
Last year, the New York Times revealed that not everything has been golden at Harvard Business School. And surprisingly or not, the crack in the ivy-covered veneer at Harvard Business School is the challenge of gender equity. Revealed was that females got lower grades than man even though the sexes enter the school with similar test scores. Female students and younger female faculty in the classroom were hazed, and female students felt pressure to dress well, ‘look hot’ and not be ‘too assertive’.
Yikes, nothing really new here – but what is most surprising is how long these behaviors appear to have been tolerated at the Business School to the point that Harvard staff describe them as their “dirty little secrets.” As at Harvard, asking people to name their own workplace undiscussable, or a difficult to talk about topic, is a great way to open the door to ‘honest culture conversations’ in most organizations.
As you can see, just naming the undiscussable can lead to ‘honest culture conversations’ that are the basis for sustainable change. At Harvard Business School, Dean Nitin Nohria named this approach: “Sunshine as the best disinfectant.” “
I don’t think it’s remarkable that the undiscussables in this article were about gender and favoritism. Forester 353 raised these same questions in a comment here.
How will the numerous – possibly hundreds of accusations over the past several years with increasing intensity, both true and especially those proven false, effect the future work place? I can tell you from personal experience that it won’t be positive one, even though it should be. Attractive women will be shied away from by self conscious male superiors because the risk of some accusation isn’t worth it. I’ve already seen people walking on egg shells in meetings and in the field when in mixed company because of the fear of something being mischaracterized.
Less than qualified people of both sexes have already be being promoted because of “equality” issues, often creating an elephant in the room. Now will we see more women promoted regardless of qualifications or being the best person for the job? Long term if this happens, it is not beneficial to an agency, company or the person being promoted.
At first I thought “this is a society wide problem, someone smarter and more experienced than we are can figure it out.” But it affects our lives and undiscussables are not good for the Forest Service. Plus we have a place here where people freely disagree all the time, mostly civilly. So if people are interested, this seems like a good place to host this conversation. We can start a new thread for other FS undiscussables people might want to bring up. While this is generally about the Forest Service, others are welcome to share their own experiences and thoughts.