May 17, 2012

Donna Summer: The Best Surprise Guest

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It was April 2007 and I couldn't have been happier. Tyler had just moved to San Francisco from Chicago and, as a congratulations gift of sorts, my editor requested I take my new roomie on a business trip to Los Angeles. Less than 3 weeks after Tyler arrived, we were on a plane to Southern California for an all-expense-paid charity event at a swanky hotel.

All dressed up, we walked into the lobby just in time to see paparazzi snaping shots of Dr. Phil, Ray Romano, Tommy Hilfiger, Nikki Hilton, and the entire cast of Dancing With the Stars. It was a complete thrill. We were ushered into a massive ballroom for dinner and ate filet mignon while Tommy Hilfiger entertained the crowd with a fashion show. But the real entertainment didn't start until after our food was picked up by tuxedo-clad waiters.

The lights dimmed and the sound of a drum beat in the background. Three men, one holding a saxaphone, jumped on stage and started singing 'Dancing in September.' It was Earth, Wind & Fire. Tyler and I sprung from our seats and danced to every song while singing at the tops of our lungs. Before the event, the M.C. had told us of a 'surprise guest,' but at the sight of Earth, Wind & Fire, we thought nothing could top them. We were wrong.

With just 30 minutes of the night left, the lights again dimmed and out came a black-clothed figure. We couldn't tell if it was a man or woman until a spotlight revealed....

Donna Summer.

The crowd went wild as she sang 'Hot Stuff' and 'Last Dance.' She was as energetic as the videos I'd seen of her from the 70s. Her voice was pitch perfect and at the end of her performance, we all gave her a standing ovation. Walking back to our room, Tyler was completely awe-struck, "Donna Summer, no way!" As someone who grew up listening to 60s and 70s music, I was equally enthralled.

This wasn't the first time I'd seen Mrs. Summer. On another business trip (I love being a travel writer), I was privy to an outdoor concert in Nashville. Just like in Los Angeles, she got the crowd on their feet, all dancing and singing.

Today's news of Summer's death at the young age of 63 makes me sad. I was not aware of her battle with cancer. I, and many other fans, will miss her beautiful performances. Fortunately, her music will forever live on.

Do you have any memories of Donna Summer?

May 15, 2012

Gender discrimination in the workplace: One woman's story

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Jessica Irons

*This is an excerpt of a post written by my friend Jessica Irons, originally published on the McCormick Northwestern Engineering blog. Irons is an Northwestern MBA graduate and last year was subject to a great deal of gender discrimination in the workplace. Here is her story:

During the scope of my engineering education, I learned that I could always earn respect from my peers, male and female, for my hard work and accomplishment. When I was transferred to a new engineering department in Arlington Heights in 2011, I was shocked to discover the poisonous environment of the notorious “good old boys” club.

After being treated with respect for years, I suddenly had been reduced to a “woman” and not an “engineer.” Every aspect of my appearance and personality was picked apart and became an opportunity for judgment and ridicule—my perfume, my clothes, my jewelry, my nails.  I was held to different social standards in which the men could say things I was not allowed to say—and the things they said! I had to constantly listen to offensive, rude, insensitive comments from men of all ages and levels of experience.

Soon, engineering was no longer enjoyable for me. My confidence began to wear away as I lived in constant fear of being picked on, ridiculed, talked down to, and had to listen to the  horrible, derogatory way my co-workers talked about women. I dreaded going to work each day and even the engineering became tedious and repetitive.

During this time, I was thoroughly enjoying my marketing classes at Northwestern and the way they focused on the bigger picture of strategy, business development, organizational behavior, and, marketing. I jumped at the opportunity to transfer to the marketing department when the opportunity arose.  My current boss is not a member of the good old boys club and treats me with the utmost respect. My health has improved and I couldn’t be happier, though the men from my former department still hold a great deal of resentment for me.

Although I’m happy to have escaped the negative environment that was holding me back personally and professionally, my journey raised a question in my mind:

What can be done to change the good old boys club mentality in the workplace?

May 9, 2012

Obama: What are you doing?

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A few things off the bat: #1. This is a rant post. #2. I'm voting for Obama.

For those of you who are still reading, no doubt you have heard the news that our Commander and Chief now "personally affirms...same-sex couples should be able to get married." This news is literally everywhere. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been blowing up all day with happy expressions of how wonderful it is that he finally said it. As a strong proponent of gay rights, I'm also thrilled that the conversation is again at the forefront, but joy isn't what I felt when I saw the ABC clip.

My first though: 'Huh?!?" My second thought: 'Ahh!' Both negative.

Here's why: Just last week Obama struck down the option of giving an executive order banning workplace discrimiation against LGBT individuals. This act really sickens me. Just a few months prior, he had said that, because of what he called a 'dysfunctional congress,' he encouraged his staff to find laws passable with the wave of his pen. The anti-discrimination order would have fit perfectly into this category, but he's decided to put it through the slog of the legislative process instead. And we know what that means (especially in an election year). It won't see the light of day until his second term.

His faliure to sign this order has rightfully angered a lot of people and I find it quite coincendetal that so soon after this refusal he comes on ABC to tell Robin Robertson that he's pro-gay marriage rights. The election is in 6 months. This isn't just fishy, it's stupid. I'm not the only one who is pissed, according to the article 'Barack Obama's Bullshit Gay Marriage Announcement' on Gawker.

On the other hand, if he did sign the anti-discrimination order and followed up his prime time 'affirming' statement with enough guts to pass laws on the topic, this post woudn't exist.

Is anyone else annoyed by this hypocracy?

May 7, 2012

Are we exclamation point addicted?

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I received a shocking comment to one of my online stories the other day. It was for a piece on 5 Things Women Should Never Say When Negotiating. Mr. CJ Bordwell (don't know him) replied with the following:

"Katie, I recommend you stop using exclamation points in emails/posted comments. It's an approach overused by women in business (to appear friendly/supportive/non-threatening) and, as with your negotiating tips, adjusting the approach would allow some women to improve their credibility in communications. Confident, thoughtful communications don't require pre-emptive softening via an exclamation point."

It really gave me pause. At first I was stung, but then I looked back at my article and noticed that I'd included zero exclamation points. I had, though, included several in my responses to comments. After shaking off the sting, I really got to thinking--do we use way too many exclamation points in digital communications?

The answer is yes. I'm a cheerful person (some may say overly energetic at times) and I don't apologize for it. I speak in sentences that end with exclamation points. But I think I'm going to alter my tactic over email from now on. Why? A writer from The Atlantic convinced me to.

Rebecca Greenfield recently wrote an excellent blog post about this very topic: It's Time to Fix America's Exclamation Point Addiction! I found it really funny and her examples spot-on. She makes the claim that, like CJ pointedly told me in his comment, we include exclamation points so as not to come off as jerky and insincere in our emails. But what about the people who use exclamation points after every sentence? I had a friend who did that years ago and I had to stop reading her emails. It felt like she was screaming at me. The only thing worse: using all caps.

But that's another blog post.

Then there are the people who never use exclamation points in their emails. Depending on the content of the email, it usually looks like they are either pissed or have no emotion whatsoever, like they are a robot.

The solution to all this madness? Use the exclamation point wisely. Try not to include more than one in an email. It will come off as more sincere. 

How do you feel about exclamation point usage?

May 4, 2012

A Sprinkle of Inspiration

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Every time I hear or read an inspiring quote, I put it in a folder so that I can go back and look at it on a rainy day. Recently, I realized that I hadn't looked at that folder in ages. So in honor of tomorrow being Friday (and my busiest workday of the week), I thought I'd pull out of few of my favorites. I hope they inspire you, too.

"Those who wish to sing, always find a song."-Sweedish proverb

"Relaxation frees the heart. Courage opens the heart. Compassion fills the heart. -Kall

"An open mind is like an open window. It lets the fresh air in." -Mike Hernacki

"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence." -Helen Keller

"The difference between try and triumph is a little umph." -Unknown source

"Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher." -Oprah Winfrey

What are some of your favorite quotes? 

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