How not to network

I’ve been thinking a lot about professional networking lately, mostly due to the issues discussed in my previous post. Today, I had a reminder of ways that I don’t like to network.

I was on my way out of the house headed for a wine tasting, and received a call from someone who used to work for the same software company as me in California a few years back. I worked there for about 18 months, transplanting myself from Toronto to California, and found myself in a political mess of an old boys’ club that was impenetrable to women. So, after being promised a VP position but never seeing it get any closer, and being rebuffed by most of the management (except for the president, who I worked for but seemed to exert little influence over some parts of the company), I quit. Great decision on my part, I ended up moving back to Toronto and am 1000% happier not having to deal with the daily dose of bullshit.

Anyway, a former VP from the company called me today, looking to network and find work for herself. She left there last year, probably also tired of the bullshit, although I don’t really know that because she wouldn’t give me the time of day when I worked there. I tried to network with some of the VPs when I was there, but as a director (the level below VP), I obviously wasn’t worth returning a phone call or dropping by to say hi. Three and a half years after I quit the place, having never said a word to me in the past, she somehow tracks me down and feels that it’s appropriate to call me up and ask me if I know of any opportunities for her. The funny thing is, she didn’t quite realize that I’m in Canada so don’t see a lot of opportunities for washed-up ex-VPs in southern California: even after dialing my 416 area code, I had to remind her that yes, I’m in Toronto, and yes, that’s in the Eastern time zone, and yes, it’s after 6pm and she was inconveniencing me by keeping me from a social event. She talked for 20 minutes anyway. I was polite and we had a chat, and now she’s sent me her resume with very explicit instructions about what she’s looking for, as if I’m her recruiter. Yeah, right.

Coincidentally, I ran into a former customer at the wine tasting tonight. She’s been my customer through four different companies that she worked for, and although it has been lucrative over the years, she has been one of the most disloyal customers that I could imagine dealing with. I like her personally, and have been to her home, but I would not trust her to help me in business any further than I could bench press an elephant. The last company that she worked for helped to bring down one of my previous companies, by committing to paying for a large piece of work, then reneging on the payment after we delivered the work. Since they were large and we were small, it took my company into its final death throes. She didn’t make the decision to not pay us (at least, I don’t think that she did), but she had to know about it, and she never gave me an inkling of warning so that I could have pulled back earlier and possibly saved something. About a year later, after she had been laid off from the same company, she called me up and wanted to network so that she could find work. I talked nice to her, and did nothing except throw her the odd bone that I felt was a dead end. She’s now working in a completely different industry.

I pride myself quite strongly on personal and professional integrity and loyalty. I don’t have a lot of respect for those who don’t, in fact, I can’t imagine treating someone the way that these two people have treated me then be able to ask, without embarrassment, to help them network. I certainly won’t go out of my way to help them in any way; they might think that we’re networking, we’re actually “notworking”.

Reconnecting

I’ve been in a frenzy of reconnecting with people, due to two events: first, I changed my corporate domain, and hence my email address, and secondly, a friend introduced me to LinkedIn.

The first is a bigger boon that you might realize, in spite of the work involved. I needed a bit of a corporate rebranding, even though I am just a one-person consultancy, so renamed the company, grabbed the associated domain name, and finally mounted a real corporate website. I host the website and email on Yahoo!, which I love because they have the world’s best webmail and the web hosting is really easy to use for beginners (I recommended it to Damir and didn’t have to help him, much) but still allows for ftp and other more sophisticated things if I ever get around to implementing some of them. I even host my business blog on there under a subdomain, generated by Blogger. With the name change, email change and new website, I now had an excuse to email everyone in my address book with the updates, which is what passes for networking for me. You see, I’m a bit introverted (although some will disagree, especially after I’ve had a few drinks) and, being female, don’t really do the old-boy, hand-shaking, back-slapping type of networking. I whipped out my free version of Group Mail, which I use for mailings to the membership of my wine-tasting club, and set it up so that I could send individual emails to everyone rather than the usual everyone-on-the-To:-line nonsense that most people do. I did that last night (Friday, yes, I have no life because Damir is at his own place with a head cold, and I was recovering from a slight overindulgence on St. Paddy’s Day), and the replies started to trickle in. More came in today, and I’m expecting a deluge on Monday and Tuesday. You see, a simple change of email address is all the prompting that’s required for most people to send you a “how the hell are you” message back, and just like that, you’re reconnected. Some of them even visited the new corporate site, read the blog and commented favourably on it, which is pretty amazing because there is only one entry in it.

The second networking event was LinkedIn, which is a very cool professional networking site. I was invited to it by a personal friend (who I also worked with in the past), and since then I have found several people that I know already signed up for the site, and have invited them to join my network. Because I can see my connection’s connections, I saw a friend’s lawyer listed on her connections list, and have made a connection with him so that I have someone to review contracts for me. On another friend’s connections list I found a VP at a company at which Damir is interested in working, so I made that connection. On a whim, I looked up an ex-boyfriend and found that I was connected to him by four degrees of separation through three different people on my connections list, and none of these people know each other! When I imported a bunch of my address book contacts, it told me which ones were already signed up (by matching their email addresses). The more that I look at it, the cooler it gets. It’s just in beta now, and has some weird freezing behaviour sometimes; also, who knows what will happen when it goes to full commercial production: if they start charging for it, I suspect that most people will drop off.

I also was introduced (by one of the people who I reconnected with) to re:invention, a blog purportedly for women entrepreneurs, but probably of use to many entrepreneurs and small business owners. There was an especially good post today, Tips for 10 Million Women by Elisa Camahort of Worker Bees, which points out that technology-based networking is especially good for women — something that I think I just figured out on my own!

Cleaning House

I’m a terrible housekeeper. Maybe it’s because I was the youngest of four with a stay-at-home mom so never had to clean much except for my own room. Maybe I missed that day in home economics class. Maybe I got lazy by being married to a complete anal retentive who literally vacuumed around houseguests. Whatever the reasons, I don’t like to clean house, and I don’t do it as often as I should.

I should have a cleaner come in every week or two and clean my place. I used to, then the last time that I moved, my cleaner was too tightly associated with my crotchety old landlord and I thought a change was due. Then my metrosexual male friend teased me about having a cleaner even though I worked only part of the time, and mostly worked from home, as if this somehow meant that I should be using my free time to do something that I hate. Ever since then — two years ago now — some weird Protestant work ethic has been at work in my subconscious, based on that comment from my friend, and I still don’t have a cleaner. When I was away in October, a friend stayed at my apartment, and she had a cleaner come in the day before she left. Was this a hint? Do I care?

A funny thing happens every week now, however. Damir ususally stays over the weekend, then we’re both busy during the week so we don’t see each other again until Friday or Saturday. Mondays, after he leaves, I find myself cleaning the place. Not a thorough cleaning, but laundering bedding, towels and any clothes that he left behind; cleaning the bathrooms; making a swipe at the kitchen; and straightening the living room and the inevitable debris on the coffee table left over from a lazy Sunday of reading and watching TV. It’s not like I’m trying to eradicate traces of him, there’s still lots of that around; it’s more a matter of setting things back to my “single” state such that whatever I touch is the way that I left it.

I love being with him, but I also love my time alone. As long as I don’t spend too much of that time cleaning.

Whither the rant?

The day after my last posting, and after several more emails to other Bell departments, I awoke, looked outside and saw a Bell Sympatico truck. Instant paranoia swept me: were they going to punish me by cutting off my internet access? I laughed it off, until two days later when Damir’s Sympatico access died… 🙂

After a week and a half, it’s interesting to look back on what’s occurred in the Bell Sympatico rant story. I managed to inspire 5 friends (that I know of) to write to Bell in complaint about the ad, but as far as I know, we all received the standard form letter that stated “Our advertisement was a tongue-in-cheek attempt…” and worked hard to justify why they needed to degrade women in order to sell parental controls. I received a slightly more personlized letter when I wrote to BCE investor relations, since I am also a shareholder, but in spite of their promises to forward the issue to management, I have heard nothing in response.

A great summary of what went on in the press and other areas is here, including how an MPP has petitioned the Ontario Legislature to carry this issue forward to the Attorney General for review and possible legal action. For once, I would welcome lawyers.

It appears that Bell is really missing the point, however: that people were really, truly offended, and that they ought to issue some sort of public apology. I also like the suggestions that they should launch some sort of woman-friendly campaign, but I’m not holding my breath.

A Rant on Bell Sympatico

I have to feel passionate about something before I write, and lately I’ve been pretty unmotivated to do much of anything, including working and writing. Today, however, my passion came to a boil when I picked up my mail and there was a flyer from Bell Sympatico that I find hugely offensive.

The flyer is regarding their parental controls product, and the front of the flyer appears to be a page from an anatomy textbox labelled “The Female Body”, showing a diagram of the internal organs, circulatory system, etc. of a woman. However, the areas around the breasts and reproductive organs have been cut out, as well as a sidebar picture of an ovary, and Bell’s tagline is “You’ll do anything to protect your kids from inappropriate content”. Since when did the “female body” section of an anatomy textbook become “inappropriate content” for kids?

There’s a rabble.ca thread discussing the ad and showing a picture of it, and one of the participants in the thread says it best: “It [the ad] says that women’s bodies, even in a desexualized, biological context, are dirty and something to be ashamed about! Secondly, it’s insulting to educators, medical professionals and biologists that the act of studying a biology text would be the equivalent of looking at pornography.”

I wrote a version of this rant to all of my Canadian female friends, and I’m starting to get responses trickling back in. I hope that many of them to see fit to make complaints, as I did. I started out by posting a complaint about the ad online with Advertising Standards Canada at www.adstandards.com. I then wrote a letter to Bell’s communications offices at executive.office@bell.ca and bcecomms@bce.ca, as follows:

I received a Bell Sympatico flyer in my mail today that I find highly offensive and sexist. It appears to show a page from an anatomy textbook opened to a page on the female body, with various parts of the woman’s body cut out of the page, including the breasts and reproductive organs. Your tagline is “You’ll do anything to protect your kids from inappropriate content. So will we.”

The portrayal of a woman’s body, especially in a non-sexual medical context, as “inappropriate content” is incredibly offensive. Furthermore, the mutilation of the female figure in your ad subliminally promotes hatred and violence towards women. You must discontinue this ad immediately, and issue a public apology for using such an offensive image to promote your company.

The executive.office@bell.ca address forward my email to
executivecare@sympatico.ca, but I received an almost immediate response from the bcecomms@bce.ca address:

Please be advised that in no way does Bell Canada find the female body inappropriate. Our advertisement was a tongue-in-cheek attempt to show the lengths some people will go to in order to protect their children from “inappropriate” subject matter – the implication being that textbook diagrams of the human anatomy are the furthest thing from “inappropriate”. This message was intended to play off of some of our other recent television ads that poked fun at those that go to far. This was not meant to be taken literally.

These guys really don’t get it. “Tongue-in-cheek”? No. Blatantly offensive and sexist? Yes. I replied to their email with my own:

The TV ad campaigns are also offensive on many levels, not the least because they portray the mother as being neurotically overprotective, so you should not be proud of the fact that you’re playing off those ads.

The print ad of the female anatomy page with portions cut out is highly offensive to women, and sends a message to everyone — including our children, who see these ads, too — that the female body is shameful. You’re not poking fun, you’re proselytizing censorship of the female body, even in non-sexual contexts. This is not tongue-in-cheek, it’s a blatant message that women’s bodies are bad, and that any representation of the female body is pornographic. It follows that you would also condone censoring information about breast cancer, since it would require the use of the word “breast”, and maybe even a picture of breasts. And that you’d condone censorship of art sites, since there might be pictures of Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”.

You should be ashamed for publishing such advertising, and further ashamed for trying to defend it by characterizing it as humour.

I stopped short of calling them Brown Shirts and suggesting that they burn books, but just barely.

It’s good to feel passionate about something again, even if it does make my blood boil.

Toothbrushes of mass destruction

I used to carry a tiny (and I mean tiny) screwdriver in my purse. It was useful for odd bits of electronic equipment adjustment, such as tightening screws on monitor cables, and I once impressed the hell out of a client by whipping it out in the cloakroom of a restaurant after a business lunch and fixing the handle of his briefcase. For years, my screwdriver nestled in the bottom of my purse, beside my pens and keys; rarely used but always appreciated.

Prior to 9/11, I never gave it another thought, even though I travelled tens of thousands of miles each year by plane. It was never questioned, never even noticed as far as I could tell. After 9/11, I started getting worried about the fate of my screwdriver when I heard of friends having their nail files, knitting needles and (horrors!) corkscrews taken away, and I considered removing it from my purse. However, after several flights when I completely forgot that it was there and I passed airport security without a problem, I assumed that it was small enough to not be considered a threat.

The bigger threat, I felt, was the electric toothbrush. Yes, I am a big fan of my Oral-B 3D electric toothbrush, to the point that I take it along on trips less than a week (hence not requiring me to take the charger). Since I often travel will just a carry-on bag for short trips, I felt that I was at risk of being challenged: the toothbrush is a fairly robust tool with a slightly pointed metal tip (where the brush head snaps on); wouldn’t airport security certainly pull me aside and confiscate my beloved 3D, thereby forcing me to either abandon $50 of consumer electronics or risk checking in a flimsy duffle bag?

During a round of weekly business trips between Toronto and Winnipeg, I decided to risk carrying it along. I approached security in Toronto, and breezed through without a hitch. Ditto on returning from Winnipeg. Obviously, I had been worried for nothing, or maybe enough other people carried their electric toothbrushes with them that a global memo had gone out to just consider us as slightly anal about our dental hygiene and otherwise not dangerous.

Weeks passed, and all was well, except for the fact that I was visiting Winnipeg in winter. Then one Friday evening, after a long week in the ‘Peg, I passed through Winnipeg airport security. I unloaded all the electronics (laptop, cell phone, Blackberry), dropped my purse, duffle and laptop case for scanning, and walked through. I waited while they kept scanning my bags, back and forth, pointing at the xray screen and discussing it amongst themselves. Was I about to lose my 3D? Finally, the security geek prodded my purse and asked “Do you have tools in there?” After a brief period of puzzlement, my heart sank as I remembered my trusty tiny screwdriver, and I pulled it out for his examination. He looked at me sternly and said “You’re not allowed to carry tools onboard!” I remembered the line in one of the Crocodile Dundee movies, where a bad guy pulls a smallish knife on Mick, and Mick said “That’s not a knife, this is a knife”, while whipping out a foot-long blade from under his shirt. I had an irresistible urge to say “That’s not a tool!” about my tiny screwdriver, but had left my cordless drill at home so didn’t have a good prop for the second half of the declaration.

Needless to say, that was the end of my relationship with my screwdriver. The security guard made me write my information on a form regarding confiscated goods, and when I hesitated over the “description of item” entry, he barked “write ‘screwdriver'” while I was deciding whether there was enough room to write “world’s tiniest screwdriver”. I didn’t feel like a strip search or missing my flight, so followed his order, but I’m left with a nagging feeling that someday, the toothbrush is going down.

Boy friends

I just watched an episode of Naked Josh on Showcase. This is a great show, very clever writing and some interesting dissection of our sexuality through the artistic vehicle of the sexual anthropology course that Josh teaches. There’s always some tidbit of truth tucked in there somewhere.

This episode dealt with flirting, but the thing that struck me was the closing scene. Josh and Hunter, after a misinterpreted flirtation, settle into a friendly brunch at their “favourite place”, having coffee and playfully trading sections of the newspaper. There’s still a sexual tension between them, but at this point, they’re just enjoying each other’s company as friends. I watched the scene, and realized that I miss male friends.

I’ve had two really close male friends in my life. The first, I met in university, even shared an apartment, and was very close with him for a number of years. Right up until he had an affair with my husband. Stupidly, at the time, I blamed my friend and forgave my husband; I haven’t spoke with my (ex-) friend since then. In retrospect, I should have ditched them both, since I put up with another several years of my husband’s bullshit before I walked. My friend’s excuse at the time: we’d “grown apart”, as if that was a good reason to hop in the sack with my other half.

The other, still current, male friend has been amazing for me over the years. He helped me survive my divorce, my move to California and back to Toronto. We hung out together, just hung out enjoying each other’s company like the scene in Naked Josh. He comforted me when I called him in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. I helped him pick furniture for his new house. For a time, we worked for the same company, and I still do some work for them so we always have work stuff to talk about.

Then, relationships happened. Funnily enough, my friend introduced me to my boyfriend, although never thinking that we would get together. Obviously, I started spending quite a bit of time with the boyfriend, but I don’t do that to the exclusion of all others, so I still make time for my circle of friends. I do have less time for my friend, and we also feel a bit weird about discussing anything to do with my relationship, since the boyfriend is his friend, too. We still found time to do things together: dinner once in a while, or shopping (being a metrosexual, it’s his favourite activity). Then, I introduced my friend to his girlfriend, again, not imagining that they would get together. Now, it seems that most nights he’s at her place, and the ones when he’s not, the boyfriend’s at my place. The four of us do get together, but she’s just a casual acquaintance of mine, so it ends up with most of the conversation being between my friend and I.

I miss spending time with him, just the two of us. I miss being able to talk to him about relationships. I even miss shopping with him. Are male-female friendships destined to change when one or both of the parties gets into a relatioship? Are these friendships just a place-holder for relationships?

My addiction

I started this post before I left for Europe:

“I confess, I’m addicted to my Blackberry (or Crackberry, as the wags call it). I get up every morning and check it for email before I wipe the sleep from my eyes and put on the coffee. I check it on elevators between client meetings. I compose emails while walking along the sidewalk, looking up only at street crossings or if I feel particularly geeky. After four years, it’s become part of me. I often forget my cell phone in my desk or even at home, but I never forget my Blackberry.”

Funny what a difference that a month can make. Lazy days wandering around European cities with Damir, checking email once every three or four days, all my current contracts finished and nothing new in the works — a true recipe for relaxation and a chance to get my mind off work for the first time in a long time. Yes, I still check my Blackberry, but more often to check calendar items rather than email, or to look up an address. In other words, it’s become more of a normal PDA and less of an addiction. Clearly, my addiction to the Blackberry was really an extension of my addition to my work, and taking a month off with no work in the pipeline was enough to put a serious dent in that depedency. I strongly recommend the “month in Europe” method for kicking the habit.

Desperately seeking business ethics

Today I received a cheque in the mail from a customer. Great, right? Well, it would have been great 172 days ago, when I issued the invoice. It would have even been good 127 days ago, when it was due. However, my deadbeat customer decided to pay their invoice more than four months late.I have the temptation to tell the whole story, but I don’t think that there’s that much space on my server. To make a long story short, a large management consulting/systems integration firm — I don’t want to name names, but let’s assume that they are the spawn of one of the former big accounting firms — used my resume on a proposal to score a deal with a customer, hired me to work on a long-term contract, then breached my contract after two months. (They were within their rights to terminate the contract; it’s just that they did it with only two weeks notice instead of the required 30 days.)

The termination was bad enough, although I had plenty of other work and I wasn’t going to miss the weekly trips to Winnipeg, but then they stopped paying my invoices. Their excuse? When they centralized and replaced their accounts payable system back in April, they forgot to set up their Canadian suppliers. And it took them four months to sort out the mess. Yeah, right. Meanwhile, my one-person consulting company bankrolled them for $45,000 of unpaid invoices, when they were presumably paid by the customer months before. After no less than 100 emails and phone calls, “apologies” from the managing director, excuse after excuse, the payments finally started coming in: most of them last week, and one last cheque (funnily enough, for the oldest invoice) today.

What bothers me about all this is the complete lack of business ethics exhibited by a large and well-respected corporation. Call me naive, but what could they possibly gain by decreasing the quality of work on a customer project by removing the primary design resource? Or cheating a small subcontractor out of two weeks work on a multi-million dollar contract by giving insufficient termination notice, and thereby risking a lawsuit? Or pretending that their accounting system was so screwed up that they were unable to pay me, wasting a huge amount of their own time in responding to my persistent inquiries? You know that if they’re treating me like that, they’re also fucking over their employees, customers and partners, because corporate culture comes through in most of a company’s actions.

However, now that the final cheque has arrived, it’s a relief to take that reminder out of Outlook, and not spend some time each day stressed over whether they are going to pay or not, and when. Now I can get down the to business of suing them.