Workplace culture is set from the TOP.
My first real job was at a local restaurant in Red Bank NJ. It was 1987 and I was a Sophomore in High School. I had a strong sense of pride within myself. I was earning my own money and could buy whatever I wanted. Though there was another side to the working world I had no clue about. This story is about those lessons.
Before I got hired at Molly Pitcher Inn, I had worked at a few places in my community. I worked at the local grocery store, the gas station and did a bit of work at my best friends Dad’s Accounting business. I learned that accounting was not for me.
To get the job at the restaurant I had to get permission from the school so that I could leave early for work. Since I didn’t have any experience waiting tables I had to start out in the back as a dishwasher. That didn’t last long before I was moved into the dining room as a bus girl. I enjoyed doing the work because the waitresses would share their tips with me if I helped get them more customers. That was my first lesson, treat others well and you will be rewarded greatly.
I worked hard as a bus girl. I made some great tips. Each night I was taking home at least fifty bucks. Back then the hourly rate was about $2.50 per hour. That’s right you are not miss reading anything. I thought that was big money plus the tips were plenty for me to make like I was a big spender.
After a few months on the job, I was well appreciated by the waitresses and waiters. I got to be good friends with everyone. The bartender Kelly was like a big sister to me. She kept a watch out for me to make sure the men were not too friendly when they had a few drinks in them. But the men at the bar were not the issue.
After working my way up in the business to waitress a position opened up for a Hostess. I had watched several other ladies come and go with that job. You had to be at least 18 years old . My birthday was approaching so I decided to throw my hat in the ring and applied for the position.
To my surprise and delight, I got the promotion. The position required me to dress up. I liked that part of the job, it made me fill professional. I would also do my hair nice and put make-up on. One of the customers gave me some perfume for a congratulations gift. I was well on my way now. Little did I know what was waiting for me on the other side of the corporate wall.
This is when I learned my second lesson. Never trust a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I call him MR. G. He was the boss and owner of the place. He had the typical business man look. Dark hair, slender build. And he wore the finest suits. He had a quiet personality though you knew he was all about the business.
He would come in each day and give us instructions about what he wished to be done and how he wanted it done. He was cordial with everyone. Seemed to be professional. As a young lady trying to make an impression, I made sure I looked the part.
One day I chose not to wear make-up to work. It was hot outside, and I had to walk to work and hated when my make-up would drip onto my clothes because I was sweating like a pig. I still look well-groomed and put on a bit of lipstick to off set the plain Jane feature. Mr. G expressed without hesitation upon seeing me that I was “not to come to work without make-up”. He said this in front of the other Hostess Lisa as we stood at the podium. I did not know what to say so I just said “Yes Sir.”
What Mr. G said to me was not within the guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). I spoke to my friend Kelly about the situation and she filled me in. She explained that Mr. G could not say that. And she took it a step further. We had a meeting in his office where she let him know she would file a complaint if he said it again. Lesson three, there are rules for a reason.
A few months went by and all seem well in my world. I was making money. Buying me some clothes and paying my own way. Though I was getting board with the Hostess job. It paid well but it did not offer a challenge that I could sink my teeth into. Well, wouldn’t you know a position opened up at the Hotel front desk, Yep! you guessed it I applied.
But this time, the wolf was ready to make things a little more challenging for me. It wasn’t going to be as easy. I was getting ready to graduate from High School so I would need a better paying position. This position would be the answer.
I approached Mr. G and asked for a meeting. He said sure just come in my office. During my break, I went to his office and he says “Come upstairs later tonight we can talk then.” As I left his office, I was like upstairs? That’s his apartment. Hmm.
So I went to my go-to girl Kelly and told her about the conversation. She was not happy. She advised me to do no such thing. So that evening after the restaurant closed, we locked up and went home. The next day I was called to the office by Mr. G. He asked me what happened to our meeting. I explained to him I was not comfortable going upstairs to his apartment to have a meeting. He says “When I tell you to meet me upstairs that is what I mean. ” I then told him I spoke to Kelly about this and she agreed with my decision. I knew I had him then.
Well, I got the job by applying for the position and going through the right channels for the interview. I think a part of the reason was because Mr. G did not want me taking our conversation to anyone else. It was a great experience that taught me to learn the rules of the game.
I tell you this story to share with you that no one has the right to bully you at work. Whether it’s saying you need make-up or meet me upstairs. There are organizations like the EEOC that can assist employees who are being harassed at work. Note that harassment is not always as clear as an invite to the apartment. Sometimes it is a criticism disguised as a comment or jester. Only you can be the one to make a true determination if someone has crossed your boundaries.
The other piece to this post is to say, that it is important that we as a country put in place a leader who will display characteristics that are a positive example of equal treatment in the workplace. The Culture is established at the top.
Visit the EEOC website for more answers in regards to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.