Venting. . . Okay. I want to make this--potentially lengthy--story as succinct as possible. I work for a rather large American retailer who (this part is relative to the story. . . at some point down the road) prides itself on being liberal (in fact, it calls itself it). Companies call themselves a lot of things, but mine does a great job of backing it up. Domestic partnership benefits for gays (but not breeders, which is a little odd if you asked me), aggressive recruiting of historically suspect classes (to the point that the company is the most diverse I've ever seen with a team of principals that is about half female, with more color than the general assembly of the UN), very--VERY--strict employee protections, massive green initiatives, the list goes on. All of this, in my opinion, has actually been great. Moving along. . . So, recently I was made "high potential" (which is corporate speak for favorably promotable). This, in turn, means that I get to attend the annual shareholder's meeting (like all companies, in spring), the fall seasonal meeting (that comes just before the beginning of the American Christmas season), and career development seminars/meetings (which give the H.P. employee the chance to develop specific skills and cavort with the company principals). Travel and sundry expenses paid by the company (which is really nice) At my level, the only way to promote is to get invited to, and attend, the seasonal meetings and development seminars. More than anything, it's all about building partnerships with the higher levels of the company and get noticed by those who recruit for specific positions/areas/territories (who otherwise would never know of your existence). Needless to say, my life revolves around my job and getting invited is--for better or worse--the single biggest highlight of the past five years of my life. Two weeks ago, I attended my first corporate development seminar (I've been to regional ones, but--again--the corporate ones are the only way to promote above my current rank). From the moment you land in the hotel, until you leave, you're being "monitored". Every discussion, every break, lunches, dinners, meetings. Every moment observed to see your "true" behavior. The seminar is basically two days: Casual dinner with the regional principals the night before (usually at a mid level restaurant: PF Changs, J.Alexanders, Claim Jumper, etc.) and a 9 hour meeting the day after. The "big day" is divided into three segments: Cafe Discussions (3 x 1hour sessions, 5 H.P.'s with 5 company principles), one large session (the 15 H.P.'s and about 16 company principles), and face-to-face "conversations" (one H.P. and two principles, at a table). The whole thing is very informal (no ties allowed) and there are few "targeted questions" (like in an interview). Lot's of challenging situations (mine was: "Why are we losing all our good people?" from the Harvard Business Review), that we are given the week before. We then, in the group setting, required to give a 15 minute seminar to all the H.P.'s and principals. Okay, enough details. . . I thought I did pretty well. While I'm not usually an intimidated guy, I couldn't help my nervousness being around various people who's titles started with "Senior Executive. . ." yada-yada-yada. But, I nailed my presentation (random speaking classes at college finally paid off) and handled the challenging questions and sundry interruptions well. Midway through the day, we took lunch. Together. No assigned seating, but very important to sit and chat. I sat next to my VP, across from another VP, a territory HR manager (who I knew well), along with two other H.P. candidates. The conversation was VERY casual. When professional conversations get casual, and include details about "personal life" [have you guessed where I'm going, Tiassa?], I tend to get a bit guarded. I've worked for Walmart and was told--flat out--that I'd never be discriminated against for being gay, but that I could never make it a point of conversation or bring it in to my professional life [despite the fact that Pat Curran is a huge fag-hag and is passionate about gay issues]. So, the conversation--thankfully--started with my SVP, who casually talked about her dog, and her recent divorce (and marriage to a physician). Lots of jokes about "past mistakes". Next up everybody yapped about their dogs, their kids and their spouses. Right before me, a guy who's story amounted to: "Yeah, my wife and I bought a goat farm and never planned on having children. Somehow we ended up with five kids and a herd that doubles ever year." My SVP throws in an obvious joke about "kids" and "kids" and "goats" and "large families". (Quick back story: I used to date my SVP's good friend, it ended amicably. She knows I'm gay, she bought me dinner when I was forced to work on my vacation/birthday for her visit to the Cleveland area this past week, and instructed my direct manager to pay for the dinner for me and my boyfriend at a restaurant of my choosing ["Well, Daniel, thank you for working on your birthday and coming in on your vacation. I've let Jen [my manager] know that we're buying your birthday dinner, as a thank you for your hard work on this new assignment. Just keep the receipt and turn it in the next time you're at work."). So the spotlight is on me. And I avoid mentioning anything about my boyfriend, and chose to talk about my cat (who, once again, almost died from a UTI). So, I casually explain that my cat needed surgery, and it cost me an arm and a leg. My SVP says, "Dan, how much did it cost?" Me: "About six hundred so far." Her: "Seriously, I love animals, and I'd spend that on a dog without hesitation, but I just couldn't see me dropping that for a cat." Me: "Yeah, I tend to be a dog guy too, but when I rushed the little guy to the vet and hinted that 'his time up', my boyfriend started sobbing, so I sighed, turned to the vet and said, 'Uh. . . dangit! Dr. Sandu, do you take American Express?'" Laughs. Giggles. On to the next person who talked about his recent illness and near residency in the restroom. "Oh, why's that?" "Um. . . we're eating lunch. I'd rather not go into details." Moving along. . . So, what kind of feedback did I get? Lots. Most of it positive. In fact, my direct manager & and VP were thrilled while giving me the details yesterday morning. As with most feedback, it was divided into "strengths" and "opportunities" Strengths: (1) Able to speak comfortably and clearly in front of groups. (2) Comes up with creative solutions challenging dilemmas and supports them with relevant facts. (3) A good sense of humor. Opportunities: (1) Possibly afraid to challenge the "status quo" (in other words, I didn't object enough and offer contrasting and professional alternatives, which is something they look for at these meetings). This is laughable because it's. . . well, it's me, though a bit understandable since they have to judge what they see. My first meeting. I felt the need to bridle this side (nobody gets promoted after the fist seminar, though you can get passed over the next time for being overly feisty). (2) Didn't focus enough on the "we" and answered questions using personal experiences instead of "group" experiences (which, I have to agree with, I focused a great deal on my growth and missed a few opportunities to talk about my team). AND. . . . (3) Can misjudge his audience. (My VP and direct manager [who delivered the feedback] even admitted to discomfort with this one). Basically, the fact that I CASUALLY mentioned "my boyfriend" (and that's it, not a single iota more), may make others uncomfortable and that, one day, I may be asked to take on an assignment in a "conservative" part of the country and they are worried that I can "keep my 'alternative lifestyle'** out of work and understand other people's comfort zones." When I inquired about, ". . . had I said, 'my wife' or 'my girlfriend' would we be having this discussion?" I was told, "Dan, we are not, in any way, implying that you have to pretend to be someone you aren't, but part of leadership is knowing your audience." When I inquired, "Are straight managers advised to 'know their audience' when discussing divorce, as I heard, or 'know their audience' when discussing their reproduction, as I heard; I was given a blank stare and told, "Look, this is very uncomfortable for all of us, and XYZ Corp is a very open and liberal company, blah blah blah blah. . . " I casually, accepted the criticism and moved the discussion on to a new point. I don't work to prove a political point. If I want to change the world, I'll go to city hall or Haiti. I'm at work to make myself and the company money, that's it. But, I'm feeling really disgusted right now. I want to challenge this point--in about a week or two--but have no clue how to do it. I'm stumped. I admit, I want a promotion, but I feel like I'm back in the US Navy, being escorted to a "secure dorm" to await "less than honorable" discharge, back in '97. For the first time in my career, I feel totally second class and feel totally deflated. So. Um. Yeah. There you have it. ~String _______________________________________________________ **I'm not easily offended. In fact, I don't think I can be. But if I COULD be offended, I would have been. Like. . . "alternative" to what? Seriously!