Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Intern Leans In

In case you were wondering what they are learning in college today and in case you were wondering how today’s students would put their miseducation to work in the real world, here’s what happened when one young intern objected to her company dress code and decided that she needed to lean in. Better yet, she decided to organize all of the interns in a grand lean-in. (From Askamanager blog via Maggie’s Farm)

In fairness, the intern in question does not use the term “lean in.” Yet, she is the product of a culture that is more concerned with teaching students how to file grievances than with teaching them the importance of doing the job and of fitting in. I also note that when it comes to women, the champion of grievance culture is the matriarch of leaning in: one Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. Where the intern knew it or not, she was testing one of Sandberg’s ideas in the workplace.

It’s all about the dress code. Companies have dress codes. The military has a dress code. If you want to work in a company that has a dress code or that has other standards of decorum and propriety, you accept it. If you don’t like it, you work somewhere else. You do not have a constitutional right to work in a company or to serve in the Army and to dress as you please. Regardless of how uncomfortable you find it. Even if your feet hurt.

And yet, the intern must have had too much time on her hands. So, she looked around and discovered that she was the victim of an injustice. To be fair, she does not call herself a social justice warrior, but she was definitely torqued to discover that one person at the job was not following the letter of the dress code. Why would that person be exempted and not her? Her twelve-year-old inner child wanted to know?

Not being one to take an injustice lying down, she sprung into action:

I was able to get a summer internship at a company that does work in the industry I want to work in after I graduate. Even though the division I was hired to work in doesn’t deal with clients or customers, there still was a very strict dress code. I felt the dress code was overly strict but I wasn’t going to say anything, until I noticed one of the workers always wore flat shoes that were made from a fabric other than leather, or running shoes, even though both of these things were contrary to the dress code.

At the risk of identifying herself as a complainer, she asked her manager why she was being held to a code that was being violated by someone else… we are not told who the other person was. You will note, it centers on shoes, but it also relates to suits and blazers.

She continues:

I spoke with my manager about being allowed some leeway under the dress code and was told this was not possible, despite the other person being allowed to do it. I soon found out that many of the other interns felt the same way, and the ones who asked their managers about it were told the same thing as me. We decided to write a proposal stating why we should be allowed someone leeway under the dress code. We accompanied the proposal with a petition, signed by all of the interns (except for one who declined to sign it) and gave it to our managers to consider. Our proposal requested that we also be allowed to wear running shoes and non leather flats, as well as sandals (not flip-flops though) and other non-dress shoes that would fit under a more business casual dress code. It was mostly about the footwear, but we also incorporated a request that we not have to wear suits and/or blazers in favor of a more casual, but still professional dress code.

You will notice that, by all appearances the interns were female. And they all felt the same way. What more did they need to know? We do not know the gender of the manager because young people today have been trained to rid their prose of all indications of gender.

Anyway, our whiny intern decided to organize a protest movement. What good is college if it does not teach you how to protest? She wrote up a petition and got the great majority of her fellow interns sign it. Allow her to explain what happened then:

The next day, all of us who signed the petition were called into a meeting where we thought our proposal would be discussed. Instead, we were informed that due to our “unprofessional” behavior, we were being let go from our internships. We were told to hand in our ID badges and to gather our things and leave the property ASAP.

We were shocked. The proposal was written professionally like examples I have learned about in school, and our arguments were thought out and well-reasoned. We weren’t even given a chance to discuss it. The worst part is that just before the meeting ended, one of the managers told us that the worker who was allowed to disobey the dress code was a former soldier who lost her leg and was therefore given permission to wear whatever kind of shoes she could walk in. You can’t even tell, and if we had known about this we would have factored it into our argument.

Somehow or other, this intern believed in what they were teaching in school.  Personally I think that she should get a refund. Had she been reading this and many other blogs and media outlets she would have known that today’s education is all about making sure that students will not be able to work for any capitalist company.

In one final ironic twist, it turns out that while the young intern and her cohorts were railing against the injustice of having to follow a dress code from which one staff member had been exempted, it never crossed their minds to ask why one woman was allowed to wear shoes that did not comply with the dress code.

When they discovered the truth they should also have discovered that grievance culture and political correctness blinded them to the facts of the case.

It does not teach you the skills you need to succeed on a job but gives you advice that will, in the best of cases, will get you fired. Students today are not taught the importance of following rules. They are not taught the virtue of conforming to company cultures. They are taught to seek out injustice and to lean in.

Again, another job opportunity lost to bad advice. Hopefully it will be a learning experience.


Katielee4211 said...

Somehow I doubt she learned anything since she defends her action as being professionally presented, and had they known this person had lost her leg (you can't even tell), they would have factored it in to their argument.
Hopefully some of those interns did.

Ares Olympus said...

We could call this a blind-spot in more ways than one. She was blind to the reasoning why one employee had special exceptions, and that "unfairness" empowered her to be more aggressive than if she didn't have that exception to the rule. But more interestingly she was also blind to her own lack of status, and how her written request after her verbal request was already denied was aggressively refusing to accept a no.

This answer helps clarify:
AskAManager: Y’all were pretty out of line. You were interns there — basically guests for the summer. Their rules are their rules. This is like being a houseguest and presenting your host with a signed petition (!) to change their rules about cleaning up after yourself. You just ... don’t have standing as interns to push back on it in such an aggressive way. And beyond standing, you don’t have enough knowledge as interns to push back so aggressively — knowledge of their context, their clients, and their culture.

If this was a "lean in" learning experience I'd suggest the letter writer think beyond herself interest and recognize she was the instigator that got her fellow interns fired. So if she were to write a letter of apology, it shouldn't be to try to get her own internship back, but to take full responsibility for the mistakes, and try to clear the names of her petition signers and state she deserved to be fired, but they did not.

Maybe that's too forward as well, but at least it's not contradicting management's reasoning that the behavior was unprofessional.

Suzy Parker said...
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