The CEO, HR VP and I headed over to the site of our new facility for a walk-through.
As we entered the building, the HR VP explained that the third floor was the top floor and the most important in the building. He immediately pointed out the office suites of the Chairman and CEO. While pointing out his office space, we learned the dimensions of the VP offices and that each had a window view. All direct reports had a nice size office with windows too. I was excited to hear this because I knew my team would be happy given they were working currently in cubicles. Walking through the floor, the offices of the VP of Finance, Regulatory Affairs, and their direct reports were identified. Then we stepped on the elevator and headed to the second floor. Offices of the VP of Information Technology and his team were identified along with the new hardware and data systems. Finally, we were on the bottom floor. The HR VP then turned to me and pointed out my office and my direct reports offices. Immediately, it was easy to recognize that the office size was not comparable to the VP offices seen on the previous floors, and my direct reports offices did not have windows.
I was shocked and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. How would I ever explain to my Department that we were on the bottom floor, while the other departments were at the top?
Upon returning, the HR VP and I had a previously scheduled meeting. Excited about showing off the new building, he immediately engaged me in conversation about it.
HR VP: “So what do you think about the new building?”
Me: “I wouldn’t take my mother to see it.”
HR VP: With a look of disbelief he asked, “why would you say that?”
ME: “Well, at the outset of the tour, you told the CEO and me that the most important floor was the third. And at the end of the tour, you showed me the location of my department which was on the bottom floor. What message do you think that sends, when the VP of Professional Services is the only female VP in the company? The only African-American VP? The only VP with a rehabilitation background, which is the focus of the business? In fact, know that I will have a hard time coming from the bottom floor to the top when summons for a meeting. Also, I don’t know how I will explain this to my department and keep them excited about the move when my direct reports will not have windows and comparable space to their counterparts.”
HR VP: Stunned with my response and questions, he responded. “I don’t know what to say. That was never our intention.”
As soon as I arrived at the office the next morning, the CEO’s secretary called to say that the CEO wanted to see me right away. When I walked into the office, there was the HR VP with the CEO and blueprints spread out over the conference table.
CEO: ” Last night, the HR VP shared with me your conversation. And I want you to know that the company does not want to send messages that are not reflective of our values, beliefs, and priorities. We have re-examined the space allocation and your department is being moved to the third floor. Here is the location.” Pointing to the blue print, the CEO then said, “you and your direct reports have space comparable to your counterparts.”
ME: “I am pleased that you have addressed this issue prior to the move. Would you please, show me the measurements so that I can be certain that all of our space is comparable to the other departments?”
HR VP: Pulls out the ruler, measures, and validates the space size is the same.
ME. “Thanks for resolving this issue so quickly. My department’s location on the top floor sends the message to our stakeholders (both internal and external) that women, minorities, and our customers are as important to the company as our finances and government regulations.”
I left relieved that I was not going to have to let my department know that we had been forgotten, overlooked, and on the bottom floor.
- Make sure you obtain regular project updates, including specifics that relate to you.
- People don’t always recognize when their actions aren’t in alignment with their words and values.
- Don’t just point out what you perceive as a problem or issue, also point out the impact of not addressing the problem or identifying the issue
- Show gratitude when problems are resolved and issues identified