Transgender Military Ban Just Another Attempt at Deflection

Whenever reality begins to intrude upon their self-made facts, you can count on Donald Trump and the perpetually shifty Steve Bannon to concoct something so egregious that the entire world’s attention is distracted. This morning’s tweeted news of a ban of transgender military personnel is the perfect example. Like all bullies, Trump and Bannon are masters of manipulation, deflection, deceit and denial—and with the ongoing fight for America’s healthcare and Trump’s inner circle talking to the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Russians, they must have gotten pretty desperate to take the heat off themselves.

How stupid do they think we are? Do they think the bald-faced appeals to their base designed to enrage progressives has anyone fooled? Pushback has been massive. Highly decorated transgender Navy Seal Kristin Beck fired back, “Let’s meet face to face and you tell me I’m not worthy.” U.S. Senator John McCain (AZ-R) issued a statement as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee pointing out that the Defense Department is already studying the effect of supporting transgender military personnel: “I do not believe that any new policy decision is appropriate until that study is complete and thoroughly reviewed by the Secretary of Defense, our military leadership, and the Congress.” But my favorite response was the one tweeted by my country’s Canadian Forces:

Why Being a Revolutionist is Critical Now

The image may forever be seared into the collective consciousness—Republican members of the House boarding buses to the White House to have a beer to celebrate passage of the American Health Care Act of 2017. Never mind that the AHCA has an enormous list of pre-existing conditions that unconscionably includes cesarean section and PTSD brought on by sexual assault, or that it makes it possible to charge people over 50 more than five times the rate of younger people, or that it included an exemption for Congress. And ignore that in their zeal to defeat the national healthcare safety net created by an African-American president, many Republicans admitted to never having read the thing or that they refused to wait for the cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. Just remember this: This may be the moment when the average American becomes a revolutionist.

As someone who has been a revolutionist for psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces for almost a decade, it gives me hope to see Americans fired up. It’s this energy that I hope to direct to employment issues, which differ from your rights as a citizen in an important way—the freedom of expression that you are guaranteed under the Constitution does NOT apply to the workplace.  This is why keeping an eye on workplace issues is extremely important—the man currently in the White House wants to run the government like one of his workplaces.

Examples of how employees lack rights abound. Donald Trump’s friends at Fox News continue to be in the headlines with new lawsuits and federal investigations due to sexual harassment and gender discrimination allegations. Most of the women who were harassed had no recourse at work. One of the most pernicious aspects of the culture at Fox News is the practice of human resource departments to encourage employees to come forward then use that information to facilitate retaliation. As I discuss in From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, this is far from unusual. I would even argue it’s the norm; in toxic workplaces human resource departments are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Far too often they suffer from what I call “Sean Spicer Syndrome”—zero credibility, zero courage.

One of the most egregious examples of employees lacking rights at work come from Wells Fargo. I’ve written a lot about the bank’s improprieties and I’m not fooled by the assurance of its new CEO, Timothy J. Sloan, that retaliation against whistleblowers won’t be tolerated. Or, according to a recent New York Times article, that it’s “critically important” that all employees feel safe at Wells Fargo. It does nothing for the employees who were fired for reporting the bank’s abuses and then show up only as a footnote in a 110-page report by an outside law firm. In order for there to have been abuse at the levels that took place and the whistleblowers silenced, the exploitation by Wells Fargo had to be deep and systemic.

That is why I take being a revolutionist so seriously and you should, too. Fighting on against depressing odds is difficult, but we don’t have the luxury of sitting back. Trump has tried to silence the press, boost religious extremists and roll back protections for the LGBT community, in addition to that outrageous bill that masquerades as health-care reform. But it’s not over. Not only does the AHCA still need to pass in the Senate, but 2018 midterm elections are coming up quickly. Use your anger to fuel your resolve to resist. Record donations yesterday poured into sites that will fund Democratic candidates in 2018. There are marches planned, including the June 11 Equality March for Unity and Pride in Washington, DC. I predict we will see record crowds for Pride around the world this year. As my 98-year-old mother, a veteran of the Dutch underground during World War II told me, “you don’t want to feel as you grow older that you should have done more.” Take action now.

Photo credit: CSPAN






Why Do the Big Tech Companies Drive Away Women and Minorities?

There are toxic workplaces and then there are toxic workplaces in the tech industry. Up until now the evidence was heavily anecdotal. There was the female employee who revealed sexual harassment at Uber, followed by the heart-wrenching tragedy of the African-American engineer at Uber who took his own life as the stress became unmanageable. There is the gay employee taking on the Omnicom Group for horrific abuse and the well-known story of Ellen Pao, whose gender discrimination suit made national news.

At last we have some data to support the chorus of diverse voices begging us to pay attention to the working conditions they’ve been forced to endure. The Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll just conducted a study to explore the reasons why people leave tech companies. What they discovered was that the outpouring of first-person stories of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, bullying and racial bias is borne out by the numbers: eight in 10 employees who left tech said they did so due to unfair behavior or treatment.  Eighty-five percent observed such behavior and 37 percent left their jobs because of it.

Women experience and observed far more toxic behavior than men, with women of color being most likely to be passed over for promotion. In addition, LGBT employees endured the most bullying and public humiliation leading to the decision by 64 percent to leave their company.

Given that employee retention problems due to toxic workplaces are costing $16 billion a year, one would think that the tech companies would use their brain power to work harder at a solution. However, Facebook, whom we recently praised for its new policy about gender-diverse legal teams, has been cited in the Wall Street Journal for its hidden biases against female engineers. Perhaps Cheryl Sandberg might want to figure out how to help her company lean in. Right now it’s not getting the job done.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

Illustration credit: Womena/

Brutal LGBTQ Discrimination Leads to Historic Court Ruling

One man’s courage in the face of brutal sexual discrimination has led to a court precedent that may make it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers on the basis of sexual orientation. According to this harrowing article in Slate that describes the abuse he suffered, Matthew Christiansen won the right to sue his employer from the U.S. Court of Appeals 2nd Circuit. For resisting the horrific workplace bullying he suffered, and taking a stand as a resister, a defender, a protector and an activist, Christiansen is our Revolutionist of the Week.

According to Mark Joseph Stern on Slate, Christiansen has earned the right to sue his employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars sex stereotyping against employees who do not conform to gender norms. Chief Judge Robert Katzmann wrote that recent legal developments support a greater interpretation of “sex discrimination” and that Title VII should already protect gay employees from bullying in the workplace. There seems to be growing consensus among federal judges on this matter.

None of this would have come to light without Christiansen’s bravery in the face of relentless cruelty at work. The Chief Digital Officer at his place of employment had targeted him from the very beginning and drew obscene pictures of Christiansen that he shared with colleagues throughout the office, spread rumors about his HIV status, referred to him using homophobic slurs and made crude references to his sex life during business meetings. Christiansen couldn’t take the abuse anymore and reached out for legal advice. When lawyer after lawyer turned him down—and some even questioned if he was to blame—he persevered and finally found an attorney who wanted to empower LGBT employees facing similar prejudice.

Getting help wasn’t easy. Fighting this battle meant that Christiansen had to report to work every day and even accept assignments that were personally challenging, but sticking with it brought surprises. According to Christiansen’s attorney, Susan Chana Lask, “After his name was in the papers, he said, ‘Susan, I’m so freaked out to go to work.’ But when he did, people he didn’t even know came up to him and hugged him. They just said, ‘thank you.’”

I’ve written at great length about what to do if you find yourself the target of bullying in the workplace in my columns, as well as in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. First, and most importantly, do not try to do it alone. It took awhile, but Christiansen found support from his lawyer, and later from his coworkers. My research has shown that organizations that make horrific bullying possible have a systemic problem and there are other victims. By banding together they can offer one another support. Other key tips to survival are:

·       Build your sense of self: Don’t let the bully break you.

·       Don’t become a bully: Don’t let the bully turn you into someone who targets others.

·       Understand the motivation: Learn why you are targeted. It will help you fight.

·       Avoid the Bully’s Trap: Don’t let the bully set you up for a confrontation or failure.

·       Call the bully out: Let the bully know if front of supervisors the harassment must stop.

·       Get professional help: Attorneys and therapists are equipped to help you.

·       Become a revolutionist: As someone who has called out bullying, you are now in a powerful position to change things for the better. Accept this challenge to build a better workplace and a better world.

Christiansen hasn’t yet had his day in court, but we will be watching to see how it goes and cheering on this brave revolutionist.

Photo credit: Susan Chana Lask

Equality on Ice

When you think of a sport that is willing to be a trailblazer for diversity and inclusion ice hockey might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but the aptly named Calgary Pioneers are doing just that. Without any fanfare the 96-team WinSport Hockey Canada League, one of the largest men’s non-contact leagues in Calgary, created the first openly gay men’s hockey team in Alberta. I have to especially applaud the additional steps the league took to create a psychologically healthier—and more enjoyable—sports experience for everyone involved. Allan Maki captured what inclusion looks like in his article “Being Able to Play the Game we Love” in the Globe and Mail.

Credit: Pioneers Hockey

An End-of-Year, and Near End-of-Life, Message from My Mother

A recent visit with my 97-year-old mother brought home the sobering reality of the times we are living in. There’s nothing like the testimony of an eye witness to the Holocaust to make you really see the parallels of Nazi Europe with what is going on today in many parts of the world, which is why I wrote this piece, “What the Holocaust and Coming Out Taught Me About Hard Choices in 2016” that was published in the Forward. I’d be honored if you’d share it.

Photo: Courtesy of Willhelmina Faas. Willehelmina (on bicycle) with friend, taken in Holland c. World War II

Using the Workplace to Prevent Mass Violence

The recent events in Orlando are tragic, unprecedented, and were entirely preventable. I’ll be writing more on this soon, but I believe that workplace indicators could have kept Omar Mateen from following the path of violence he chose. It’s been a hard day for both the LGBT and Muslim communities, in addition to the USA at large, but we all have to believe in the ability of compassion to overcome hate. My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who died. I hope the national conversation turns away from marginalization, blame and politics, and begins to focus more on the preventative mental health perspective that could have stopped Mateen in his tracks. You can read more about Mateen in the workplace in this Daily Beast piece.

Photo: Hilary Swift for NYT