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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Asking the Boss to Change is Missing the Point

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If a boss believes they are totally justified in treating you badly, does it make sense to ask them to change? Chances are they don’t even see their treatment of you as negative. And even if they did change according to your preferences, would you really want to continue working for a ‘nicer’ slave master?

There has been recent uproar in newsrooms across the country by journalists of color. They’re fed up with white-centric work environments. And they’re just not gonna take it anymore from management that just doesn’t get it. This is hardly new. Yes, it’s bolder. Perhaps with depressed wages, longer hours and no job security anyway, these reporters are less inclined to be scared they might get fired. So let’s hear the new battle cries! But even if this fight ends with the journalists of color as the victors, they’re leaving out an important piece of leverage and may lose the war in the end.

In the days when the grumblings were less bold, I’d say from personal experience that the journalists of color who self-selected into these newsrooms were mainly those who wanted to go along to get along. They respected the institution they entered and they wanted to believe (as these latest accounts suggest) that media professionals would be more progressive. Ha!

Now that their fantasy has been shattered, they’ll advocate for better working conditions and for the institutions to finally enact changes that will make their company both technologically and socially woke for the 21st century. In a way, these media brands have been stupid for decades for not seeing this free advice coming straight from their already paid employees (no need for expensive strategy consulting). It’s also an opportunity to create employee loyalty and dole out non-wage-based feel-good compensation. In essence, these employees were being the perfect employees. And you just spat on them. This group was your ride or die.

However, since I’m not surprised at the position of management, I’d rather focus on how these journalists should move forward more successfully. Watching these good-intentioned reporters was like seeing a house guest offering to pay for a kitchen renovation or someone going into a boxing ring to see if they could just talk instead of punch.

The main point is these media properties aren’t yours. If the owner wants to be on the spectrum from racist to I-can’t-believe-it’s-Not-racist, then they should be free to exercise their free market rights within the bounds of the law, ethics and their reputation. What you shouldn’t be is someone who helps them build and expand this empire on your back and sweat.

I’ve cringed at gaslighting by people from my own Asian American community who had to believe in tokenism and wanted to be among the rare few chosen to be protected by the white savior. Goodness knows I’ve been there and had to play that game. In an ideal world for most, just being a loyal employee is all one wants. But you will never be able to tell the owner of someone else’s house to replace the roof or dictate when they should take out the garbage.

I see you Karen

don‘t outstay your welcome, build your own house

So what’s the missing leverage? These owners are tuning their antennas to hear whether you will become a threat. Not by protesting or quitting. You’re replaceable after all. But whether you will supplant them. More journalists of color need to put their mind in the game of building their own houses. Yes, it is INCREDIBLY difficult to make a new media property that pays wages and benefits, etc. But at least people should know the choice: you’re a house guest (ideally get in, get out, move higher) or on your way to build a better house that you own (or owned by people who represent you better). It’s only when the latter becomes more likely that house guests will be treated with more respect so they won’t leave.

Make your moves

And wouldn’t that be a win win? Those who want to be house guests can have better outcomes. And those who want to create houses will have more company to pool resources and connections with. With the way the fight is going, it’s like you’re asking to make mortgage payments into a house you’ll never own.

And the boss? Well, we’ve already forgotten about them in this mix. You’ll be focused on making higher-level moves. And that’s the best ‘bye Felicia’ there is.

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