Q: I just bought a house, which I am extremely grateful for and excited about. I’m an elder millennial and absolutely benefited from generational wealth to make a down payment.
I’m feeling really weird about sharing the news at work. My organization is a nonprofit and has a problem with not paying enough. I’m also one of the younger directors there. Most of my professional peers within the organization already own homes, but most of my peers age-wise are below me on the org chart, make less and do not own homes.
I’m wrestling with feeling guilt about generational wealth — and guilt that many people on staff aren’t in a position to buy a house, earning salaries that won’t help that happen anytime soon — and the joy of this milestone in my life, and the desire to share the joy with my team so I’m being authentic.
How do I balance these pulls of guilt and joy? — Anonymous
A: I appreciate your thoughtfulness around this issue. However you proceed, never lose sight of the fact that you are not responsible for the general scarcity of affordable housing. But I do encourage you to share this milestone with the colleagues you want to develop a personal connection with. Context is everything. Share your joy but also acknowledge, clearly, how you were able to buy a home. You don’t need to share exact numbers, but saying you had the support of generational wealth helps those without such resources to know that they have not failed if they too cannot buy a home.
Additionally, lobby for improved salaries within your organization. As a director, you have some power, so use it. This is not to say that you can magically manifest a more robust budget, but you can begin to build a case for paying people better, or otherwise improving working conditions with things like a four-day workweek, pay transparency and a better ratio between salaries at the top and bottom of the organization.
I understand why you feel guilty, but there are few emotions less productive than guilt. Your guilt will not help anyone. It will not change the failures of late-stage capitalism. Use this as an opportunity to plant seeds of change while also celebrating your milestone, considerately.
The never-ending job interview
Q: I applied for a position and over the course of two months, I had several interviews. I was asked to complete an assessment that included addressing four hypothetical situations. They paid me $500 for this work.
Next, they want me to do several more interviews. Also, and perhaps most disturbing, the position is still posted online.
I’ve hired or promoted a couple dozen people in my career, and I never put anyone through this type of scrutiny. My fear is that this drawn-out process is a sign the company really doesn’t know what it is looking for in this position.
What’s your take? — Anonymous
A: It is standard for job listings to remain posted until a position is formally filled and an employment contract has been signed. You’re not really embroiled in a situation. You’re dealing with a lengthy and, yes, convoluted interview process. Whenever I hear about job searches requiring so many interviews, I wonder why employers make things so unnecessarily complicated. But the rigorous process probably means that they want to be as certain as possible about a new hire given the resources it generally takes to bring a new employee into an organization.
I am encouraged that you were paid for the required assessment. The organization understands that your labor has value. All you can do is continue with the process and be your best professional self. Or, of course, you can remove yourself from consideration if you have lost patience. I’d recommend sticking with it. You’ve made it this far. You’re a contender. Best of luck in getting the job!
Flagrant acts of lateral micromanagement
Q: I have been having trouble managing a relationship with a colleague. We used to intern together, and our relationship was contentious. Before me, he had been the only intern for two years, and he gained a reputation for being the “golden boy.” I brought a fresh perspective and work ethic that the team had not experienced. I quickly became a valued member of the team and, as he later admitted to me, he became jealous and treated me negatively because he was insecure. He is a white man and I am a woman of color, which has contributed to our dynamic. He has a tendency to mansplain. Others on our team find his shenanigans endearing, whereas I find them frustrating.
Now, we both work full-time on the same team. Because of a pandemic hiring freeze, I started a year later than he did. During that year, he managed projects that are now part of my role. My work is more visible than his. He can see what I am doing, but I do not have visibility into his projects. He continues to provide unsolicited and unhelpful feedback. Even though he can see everything, he does not know the strategy behind it. I have tried to take it in stride, gently pushing back when he says things that are misguided.
My patience is wearing thin. I am trying my best to keep my head high and work diligently, especially as my manager is happy with my work. But it is exhausting to hear consistent criticism from someone who has no idea what they’re talking about — and to feel like communicating my discomfort to my manager will not be met with understanding. — Anonymous, Chicago
A: You are under no obligation to listen to this man. Stop engaging in these conversations. When he tries to offer unsolicited feedback, tell him you aren’t seeking input at this time. Walk away. Ignore him. All too often, we indulge bloviating men for the sake of decorum. Life is too short. You don’t have to be rude, but you don’t have to indulge his nonsense. You can also tell him he is not privy to all the information that goes into your work so you would appreciate it if he would not comment on matters for which he has only a partial set of information.
Regardless, try not to be defensive as you are not the problem. You might also bring this up with your manager despite not knowing if you will be supported. At the very least you can put this issue on management’s radar. His bizarre interference is not conducive to a productive work environment, or your sanity.
Reverse affirmative action?
Q: Was I the victim of discrimination as a straight man? I really don’t know how to frame this without sounding offensive.
I worked for a large company under a very accomplished vice president I greatly admired. I received exemplary annual reviews. When she left, there was hesitancy to name me her successor. Eventually I was placed in the interim role with a slight salary increase. In the interim position, I achieved 98% of my annual goals despite the pandemic. During this time there were also multiple changes in senior leadership at the company.
One of the new executives is a very masculine lesbian. She made very little effort to understand the importance of my department’s work. She had my interim position posted as a nationwide search. One of my female colleagues at the company was selected for the permanent VP role though I had more subject matter expertise, graduate education, and budget and leadership experience. I have no idea why my employer chose that course of action; I had received no negative feedback. I feel I have no legitimate recourse, but it still doesn’t seem right. — Anonymous
A: I’m sorry to hear you were passed over for a promotion you feel you earned. That’s always a disappointment, and now you must deal with that disappointment, to which you are entitled, and find your way past it. Sometime, when we don’t receive a position, an accolade or some other thing we covet, we assume it’s because of discrimination rather than an issue with our professional merits. And why not? When we are confident in our abilities, it is easier to believe the problem is external. To be clear, sometimes that is the case, but I don’t get the impression that is the issue here. No, you were not the victim of discrimination as a straight man. I don’t know all the particulars of your situation, but some of the tone of this letter leads me to believe there may be interpersonal issues at play.
That you don’t allow for the possibility that you may not be the best fit for the more senior role for reasons other than your gender gives me pause. That you take time to note that one of your colleagues is a “very masculine lesbian” offers an indication of how you think about others. This executive’s appearance and sexuality are irrelevant. When there are multiple qualified candidates for one position, some people are going to lose out, and it likely has nothing to do with identity. It is frustrating, and anyone would be disappointed, and perhaps even angry. But I encourage you to engage in some self-reflection to see if there are other reasons you may not have gotten the promotion you wanted.