Q: I am a librarian in my late 20s and, because of a wave of retirements, I have moved very quickly up the ladder. My supervisors value me, and I recently applied for and was offered a position that puts me in charge of my own library. It is just another individual and myself working in this location. The other librarian has been in the field for almost as long as I have been alive, and I know she applied for the position.
This has made for some awkwardness, and it is something we have not discussed. We hardly talk to each other at all. She was very surprised and upset by the fact that she was not chosen for the position. I believe she may even be seeking redress. How can I go about building a good relationship in these circumstances? How can I remain confident in my abilities and fight impostor syndrome? I just want to be on friendly terms and do right by her while also feeling confident enough to make the changes needed.
The circumstances have really sucked out a lot of the joys that should come with this new opportunity. — Anonymous
A: Congratulations on your new position. I appreciate the care with which you hope to work with your colleague. While you aren’t responsible for her not getting your position, I understand how she may resent being passed over for a promotion. If she seeks redress, all you can do is let that process work itself out.
In the meantime, you want to build a constructive relationship with your colleague. All too often, we avoid talking about what we really need to talk about. It could be useful to sit down with her and talk through your roles and how you can have a fruitful working relationship. Acknowledge her disappointment, but don’t take responsibility for it as that responsibility is not yours.
You also have to trust that you earned your position. Make the changes you believe should be made. Ask your colleague about what changes she would like to see and try to find ways to work with her instead of taking a more heavy-handed top-down approach. This is an opportunity to figure out what kind of leader you can be. Given the questions you’re asking, I am confident you will be wonderful.
Q: After four years of self-employment, I’ve decided to return to an in-house, director-level position. But as I take Zoom interview after Zoom interview, I feel I’m committing a sin of omission, not revealing my body.
I weigh 450 pounds on a 5-foot, 10-inch frame. Why do I think this matters? Because it requires accommodations. Flying first class or booking two seats, nabbing aisle seats at theaters, special ordering work clothing, potentially declining team meals or client meetings because of seating options (a physical limitation and unbearable anxiety induced by what I perceive as flimsy or inadequate chairs).
Employers have expectations that directors and executives will attend conferences, events and off-site meetings, sometimes with little notice. I don’t consider these unreasonable requests, but these implied job duties only fuel my concern.
Part of me thinks if I receive an offer, I should have a brief conversation with the hiring manager about reasonable accommodations for travel, conferences and in-person meetings. But, quite honestly, that feels embarrassing. Existing in a world that doesn’t accommodate your size is burden enough without having to address it preemptively. Clearly, I experience shame over the extra space my body demands, and I’ve made slow but steady progress with those feelings over years of therapy.
What should a person who isn’t physically built for white-collar leadership requisites do when virtual interviews and the majority of remote work keep your size a secret? — Anonymous
A: I can relate to everything you’ve written here. I wrote a whole book about it called “Hunger.” When you’re fat, there are many challenges, physical and emotional, in navigating a world that is generally quite hostile to fat bodies. That said, you are not committing a sin of omission by not revealing your body, because your body is not a sin. It is not, as writer Sonya Renee Taylor reminds us, a problem. And it is not a secret. I urge you to try to reframe your understanding of your body and be more gentle with yourself.
Everyone has professional requests, whether it is flexible scheduling for families, accommodations for disability and the general needs we ask our employers to recognize as part of being human. You are no more obligated to address your size, preemptively, to an employer than you would your eye color. That said, as a fat woman, I understand what you’re really saying here — all the self-confidence and fat acceptance in the world can’t mitigate the intense anxiety of being large in a world that wants us to make ourselves small. You’re hoping you can preempt some of the humiliation that comes with having to ask for people to accommodate the realities of your body.
But given cultural attitudes toward fatness, I don’t know that there is a “right” time to share any information about your body. It will probably be awkward, no matter what, so you have to find a way to tolerate that discomfort. When the issue of travel comes up, you can share that as a person of size you require first class travel or two seats in coach. You can request sturdy chairs with wide or no arms for in-person meetings. You can make suggestions for business meals at restaurants you know have appropriate seating. These are the things we learn to do to live our lives as fully as possible.
I hope you can try to do these things without shame. You are built for every role you earn your way into. I hope you can find a way to believe that.
At a disadvantage
Q: I am a law student and I work as a full-time unpaid intern for a nonprofit legal services provider. I admire the staff attorneys and their work. I also acknowledge they have high caseloads and are stretched thin. When I am given assignments, I receive little to no instruction or training. Questions often go unanswered. When I turn in assignments and ask for feedback, I receive a quick “thanks” in response.
I feel frustrated because it has long been my understanding that an unpaid internship provides compensation in the form of training and learning. This organization operates entirely remotely, and I am struggling to navigate this working environment.
I want to be conscious of my status as an intern, but I am starting to feel taken advantage of. How do you recommend I balance eagerly wanting to learn with the realities of a remote and heavily burdened workplace? — Anonymous
A: I am surprised you are only now starting to feel taken advantage of because you were taken advantage of from the moment you were asked to work full time without compensation. The aims of the organization may be admirable, but its employment practices leave a lot to be desired. I encourage you to let your supervisors know you would appreciate a bit more guidance. I have no doubt they are stretched thin, but so are you.
In terms of dealing with the challenges of remote work, perhaps you could ask for a weekly or biweekly Zoom conversation so you can have some real-time engagement with your colleagues. I know that many people are dealing with Zoom fatigue, but as a full-time intern, you cannot subsist on email alone. You can advocate for yourself while understanding the limitations of your colleagues and their professional burdens.
Meet me at the crossroads
Q: I’m at a crossroads in my career. I have been working at a nonprofit for five years and working in my profession for 15. I am good at my job, and I have a very clear sense of the work culture, my role and the program I oversee. I have good colleagues who are friends, and a fair amount of autonomy and flexibility. However, I am underpaid and underappreciated and often feel like I’m not being given the full respect of my experience and expertise from management. Yes, I am a woman of color. Also, I’ve been leading some aspects of our diversity and inclusion efforts, which is worthwhile but adding to my general disappointment in management and the institution.
I recently applied to a job and had an interview. It was refreshing because the hiring manager really seemed to respect me as a professional. I know this institution probably has its fair share of problems, but the position would pay much better, offer better resources and I could possibly be better respected. Should I leave what I know and at times love (but is disappointing in so many ways) or should I venture to something new, which could or could not be better? — Anonymous
A: There is a lot of professional comfort in the familiar even when the familiar is disappointing. You recognize that you’re at a crossroads, which means you want a change. Yes, you should leave the comfort of what you know and see how you fare at this new organization. It’s not that the new employer will be perfect. In fact, you are leaping into the great unknown, but I see that as an opportunity rather than a risk.
You know how you’re treated at your current employer. You know you deserve better.