miércoles, agosto 26, 2009

RIP, Teddy Kennedy

It always makes me so happy and proud when I say something that my father agrees with. He is my source of validation, and the only one that really matters to me. I called him this morning to see how he was doing in light of last night's death of Senator Edward Kennedy. He hadn't even heard. When I broke the news, daddy kept saying how sorry he was, and for the first time in my life, I heard his voice tremble slightly. It became clear to me that Teddy was, like his brothers before him, one of America's great hopes. The way things are going nowadays, I believe he was our last, and consequently, today I feel the tears welling up every now and again as I read his obituaries.

I never really gave Teddy much thought until recently when I listened to his speech at the DNC. The 2009 HBO documentary taught me about his life's work, which was truly inspiring, mostly for the resilience with which he carried out that work. I was intrigued, albeit much too late. When they found a tumor in his brain last year, I knew he didn't have a lot of time left, and what little time there was would be rough. But as always, he came back. He wanted to be there for the 2008 DNC, and he was. He wanted to be there for Obama's inauguration, and he was. He witnessed some of the best times in history, hell, he MADE some of the best times in history. And even after experiencing times of profound grief, he always came back and stayed true to his commitment to continuing the work of his brothers and seeing to it that ALL Americans get their due.

Teddy fought for universal healthcare, and in 2006, the people of Massachusetts got it. He fought for an increase in the minimum wage, and in 2007, Congress raised it. He wasn't afraid to speak out, and in 2004, Teddy said, "Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam, and this country needs a new president." In 2008, he endorsed Obama and made that great speech in Denver: "And this November, the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans, so with Barack Obama and for you and for me, our country will be committed to his cause. The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on." And Barack won.

I suggested to daddy (and he thought I was right) that Bobby and Teddy were "the brains of the operation". John was the image with which to promote their product. Regardless, all three were, are, and will always be the embodiment of commitment to the common good, great ideas combined with hard work and an unmatched strength and resilience that they carried with them into every area of their public and private lives.

When I think of Teddy Kennedy and his fight for universal healthcare, I think of my dad. Daddy taught me a great deal of what I know now. He taught me to think and to question. He inspires me, regardless of his failures and faltering strength. While daddy's work was on a much smaller scale, the purpose was the same: to get people their due. Daddy's work was in Latin America, and one of his achievements that I'll never forget is when he found money in his organization's budget to provide sorely needed incubators for a hospital in rural Honduras. No one else bothered to look for that money or to lobby for it from the donors. But daddy left no stone unturned, and after that, everyone knew him as "the guy to get things done." He never accepted praise, and insisted he was just a simple man doing his job. And there is the parallel I draw between my father and Teddy: two men with a tremendous sense of humility, humanity and work ethic whose purpose was to make a difference.

Mention of Teddy Kennedy calls to mind the words with which he eulogized his brother Bobby*. I love hearing that speech because, towards the end, Teddy's voice trembles. You realize that nothing and no one is perfect, that everyone has emotions and are sometimes consumed by them. What always remains is hope. It's everything. Teddy held it in his hands.

* - "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."

jueves, agosto 13, 2009

Do Women Make Better Bosses?

Let me stifle my uncontrollable laughter long enough to tell you that this entry is based on a posting on a New York Times opinion blog .

It has been my experience that women bosses/managers at the United Nations and even in the private sector are, for the most part, wicked, horrible, spiteful people. Not to men. Just to other women. There are exceptions, but these are pitifully few and very far between. One thing is for certain, however: the UN, and senior level management in most places, is still very much a Boys Club. As for the UN, positive changes take forever to pass through its doors. There are too many bureaucrats who would be inconvenienced by change and therefore, in self-preservation mode, they excel at putting them down. Thus, it is damn near a given that any woman at the UN in a position with any sort of power has had to fight long and hard for her post. And before I talk shit about these women, let me admit that I salute them for their efforts, however sneaky, underhanded or mean-spirited they may have been.

Exhibit A – CL. She was my second boss when I worked in publishing. I had heard such great things about her, and I had met her briefly when I worked in editorial as a temp. I went to production and then back to editorial for her. I didn’t think anything of it when I was told that she couldn’t keep an assistant for longer than 6 months. OK, she was tough, but I could take tough, and a year of working for her would take me to editor immediately. I didn’t know she was the Miranda Priestly of computer book publishing. I’m not going to go into it, because calling her the Miranda Priestly of computer book publishing is not at all an exaggeration, and I’m sure if you’ve seen the movie you can imagine what CL was like. The only difference was that I was called “what’s-your-name” instead of Andrea and she never threw her coat on my desk because she worked from home in Boston or thereabouts. She called me every 5 minutes not to give me guidance or help or anything, but to criticise me for various things, like taking a 5 minute cigarette break, when all I was doing was learning my job by myself with help from others. I quit after 6 months.

Side note: While I was in production, there was a managing editor who took to having me proofread her manuscripts, which were these huge technical and reference books. What was she so busy doing that she left her job to a newb? Her nails. She didn’t hide it. To her credit, she inadvertently taught me a skill I still use today.

Exhibit B - My second UN boss, SM. For the first year of my tenure in her office, the CTC, she was pretty horrible to me. My mom's heart must have ached every time I whined to her about how I was being treated, and she insisted that SM treated me the way she did was because in her country (India) there was a caste system and she was a Brahman and therefore very skeptical of me. My mother's proof: SM did not treat me with any respect until I returned from a vacation in Japan, during which I attended a charity golf tournament thrown by my aunt and uncle stationed in Tokyo. Also attending this tournament happened to be a member of the royal family. So when I showed pictures of my trip to my co-worker and he saw this royal lady and me in the same room, he immediately went to show the picture to SM, and that was what upped my stock. It so happened that the following year, we changed buildings, and in the absence of anyone else with a brain (that's arguable, just not by me), I became her right hand and a few co-workers I had been friendly with started to talk shit behind my back, obviously hurt that they had unceremoniously fallen out of favor. The secret of my success, in my mind, was that after several instances where I let SM have her go at me, I stopped being able to stomach it and "talked back". This surprised her, and that was when I saw a change in her attitude towards me. Lesson: SM pushed buttons whenever possible, and when she figured out I wasn't afraid of her, she started to respect me, and it was cake from then on. Regardless of how it all ended, what a bitchy thing of SM to do and what a waste of time. At the UN, keeping one's status is much more important then being productive. In this sense, critics of the UN are absolutely right. I imagine that much more could be done to reach goals and whatnot if the UN scrapped this archaic hierarchy. Well, other things too, but that’s another story for another time.

Exhibit C - LM. She was not my immediate boss, but as a person of a "higher grade", she thought she had the right to act as my boss. Out of all the crappy things she said to me, the way she treated me, the worst was the fact that she tried to block my promotion not once, but twice. 1. The UN staffing rules used to state that after two years at the G3 level, the staff member would be automatically promoted to the next level, G4. At the time, I was a G3 and our office was in the process of splitting into two separate entities serving the same Security Council committee. I was in the middle of that, and fortunately, my "real" boss was this Scottish lady, and LM had really just come on board and tried to take ownership of me. If she had been a nice person, I wouldn't have had to go over her head, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. In any case, the Scottish lady was much more reasonable (one of the "few and far between", to be sure) and helped me along, and soon, I got my promotion. Much to the chagrin of LM, of course. The second time I wanted a promotion (and suffice it to say, I was well overdue for it), I had to leave the office altogether. Lesson: The fear that this woman had of anyone climbing the UN ladder, even a little, was palpable. It was not just me she targeted, by the by. She did whatever she could to stop anyone from moving anywhere, regardless of whether it was a lateral move or a promotion. She just wanted to keep people in her service. An aside: she had a raging case of rosacea which reared its ugly head when she was stressed or frustrated. So whenever her efforts failed, her face would get red and spotty and blow up. It was quite a sight.

Exhibit D - My fifth UN boss, RC. I was actually really excited to join this new office, PBSO. In the interview, it sounded really right up my alley, and I think they were kind of excited to have me too. If I had had any inkling, however, of how it was going to end, I wouldn't have taken it in the first place. It was a promotion to G5, but I still would rather have stayed a G4 in my previous office. It was a colossal waste of time. RC was actually brought in after me, and I was unlucky enough to have her assigned to my team as my boss. So while I watched as my job was downgraded to keeping RC's schedule, I had to take her rude, disrespectful and condescending comments almost everyday. RC had a great professional reputation. I went into the relationship expecting a sort of "mentoring" kind of scenario. But RC was busy making sure I never felt proud of myself for a job well done, and that I never "got a big head". The emphasis was on me knowing my place. One of her comments, while I can't quote her and I don't remember all the situations where she said this, was that I could only make an administrative contribution to our section's work. This made it easy to disregard my ideas, whether or not they were good ones, and sometimes they were, according to co-workers also in our section. The kicker: After a year, she told me that PBSO would not renew my contract. One of the reasons she cited was that I never tried to make any contributions to the work of our section.

Which brings me to my current situation =)

Exhibit E - NS. NS is not my immediate boss, but has been allowed to take ownership of me, because her colleagues cower in her presence. This includes the ASG and the
P5. This of course would be fine with regard to distribution of supervisory obligations and whatnot, if she were a decent person, that is. But she's one strange bird. Rumours surround this woman. She’s disliked by many, yet others adore her. She has a great relationship with her niece and nephew, and her office is full of drawings and cards they’ve made for her. I suppose everything started out OK. I was not interviewed by her, and I suspect if I had been, she would have blocked me. They needed someone quickly for my current post, as the person I am replacing was leaving on mission in two weeks. I got on with everyone and learned the ropes really quickly. So quickly that in my second or third week here, the other two assistants took off on vacay and I was able to hold down the fort for the next few weeks by myself. In fact, I still often have to hold down the fort by myself. For whatever reason, one of the assistants is almost always out. The other assistant has arranged it so she doesn’t have to do anything for anyone (don’t ask). I often pull 12-13 hour days, sometimes three in a row. So it’s apparent I’ve put a lot of time and energy into this gig. NS appreciates exactly none of it. The other two people we work for, a Frenchman and a German girl (she’s my age, so she’s a girl, like it or not), presumably, don’t either, in part because of what NS has told them about my poor performance in terms of budget and staffing. And I’ll be the first to admit: my aptitudes do not at all lie in those areas. But any failures in those areas on my part are certainly not for lack of effort, and not for lack of trying to understand it. NS just brushes me off and/or snaps at me for nothering her. So there are times I'll sit in front of my computer, tearing my hair out, trying to figure out how in the hell I can do it myself without having to talk to NS. I often avoid her, actually. She's rude, disrespectful and snippy to me so often that I have had to ask her to please control her tones with me. I have since given up and have just accepted the fact that she’s going to be awful to me almost all the time. As for the other assistant, she had applied for my post and the others wanted to give it to her, but she was blocked by you-know-who, who cited her inability to do x, y and z, yet denied her training to do x, y and z as well. But in these weird changes of heart, NS brings me little gifts from her trips. When she went to Timor-Leste, she brought me this cute woven tapestry-thing. From her recent trip to Sri Lanka, her country, she brought me incense. But when she gave out Christmas cards last year, she left me off her list of recipients. She invited the ASG’s assistant to drinks tomorrow night within my earshot, but did not invite me.

Women have to work a lot harder to get positions of power. That much is true. So why are they so hell-bent on NOT being supportive of other women? Would they not want to help get more women into top spots so we can all take over the world??? Yet they treat men so much better. They kiss their asses. Even male assistants. So, if you find a position where the boss is a woman, don’t think you two will get along swimmingly. Odds are you won’t. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be chased around a desk.