The Job

I have three full days of work under my belt, 4pm to 12:30am. I’m working for the Census – well, I’m working for the Bureau of the Census’ contractor (Lockheed Martin), or for their sub-contractor (CSC – Computer Sciences Corporation). Something like that. So, I’m a government contractor working at the Baltimore Data Capture Center.

As such, three days of work means no work at all. I have been in training, and my training is yet to be completed. The training before I get trained on the work itself, I mean.

We spent 4 hours the first day in Orientation. I found out about the origins of IBM in a contest for census employees and how many people don’t know that the census is constitutionally mandated in order to determine representation in the House.

Then it was 2 hours of Diversity (yes, with a capital D) and 2 hours on ADA. By the end of the first day, I knew the names of many of my co-team leads (that’s my job title) and I knew that the training sub-sub-contractor has some pretty good materials and trainers. I didn’t learn much about diversity or working with differently-abled people and people with disabilities.

Oh, wait. That’s not true. I learned about the diversity among my peers on subjects like cross-dressing and gayness. Many (happily, or I would have had a much harder evening) are live-and-let-live types. But there is the moment when the pins-and-needles of preparing to defend myself and others turns to the sinking quagmire of the “too much” argument.

The dress policy calls for casual clothing with no logos, symbols, words, or pictures that can offend. Easy enough, and the exercises exploring this all referenced overtly Christian symbols. But one exercise had a person coming to you because he didn’t want to work with a coworker who is lesbian and wears a locket with a photo of her partner. A locket. The group agreed that he was in the wrong, but it’s always in the chatter that things get sticky. “It’s not like it was a photo everyone could see.” “As long as she isn’t always talking about her partner.”

Okay, people. You’re not being on my side, and you think you are. Diversity training is good, but people often think of themselves as open even in the same moment that they’re trying to push someone in a closet.

Wonderfully for me, the trainer picked up the argument on the side of removing double standards. Anything it would be okay for a straight person to say about their loved one is okay for a queer person to say. And contrarily, anything not okay to say, dot dot dot.

The hardest thing in these conversations is avoiding the golden rule. It’s so natural to appeal to someone’s sense of fair play by asking “Wouldn’t you be insulted if you tried to talk about a dinner party you threw and someone told you it was inappropriate to go into personal detail?” But so often you get a response that sounds something like this: “I wouldn’t, I’m a very private person.” Well, whether that’s a mistaken self-perception or not, the rule cannot be made to conform to any individual person’s comfort levels.

I feel completely comfortable talking about sex. I did it for years in the sex toy business and I feel strongly that a person’s sex life should fulfill their needs, however hungry or austere those may be, and that I might be able to help people by talking to them about those needs, their attitudes, their partners, their techniques. I really wish that I could go with the golden rule on that stuff, but I can’t.

Similarly, I wish I could ban all conversation about children. It bores me at best and, at worst, I feel put in a tough spot of being perceived as abnormal, unnatural, unwomanly, or incomprehensible.

Through my own experience, I’ve come to see the wisdom of a professional demeanor and the slight distance it gives you from other workers. If I don’t like you enough to want you as a friend, why would I need to disclose things that you don’t need to know?

There will be some people who will hear when I get a kitten. Others will not. If James and I have a fight before I go to work, it is incredibly unlikely that anyone will know. I do not share some things and I do share others.

And it’s not a matter of being in the closet or out of the closet. It’s topicality. And the requirements of the moment. And…

Okay – that was a long side road. Back on topic.

What was the topic? Oh, yeah, my first three days of work.

Day 2 was devoted to Getting the Best from Employees, where we found out our personality types and learned to stereotype others (diversity training?), and another one…wait…nope, can’t remember what it was. And this was the day I enjoyed best so far.

Day 3 was violence and difficult situations. Although I controlled myself well and didn’t actually engage in either myself. Neither presenter knew their material, giving utterly inept and/or incorrect readings of charts, failing to mention or emphasize main points in some sections, etc, etc.

In learning about violence in the workplace, we were told that women shouldn’t engage and that large men should. Thereby shaming them into making bad decisions? I hope not. Also, this guy is telling a story to illustrate the difference between being argumentative as a personality trait and the sort of argumentative that is a warning sign of possible violent situation escalation. He explains that his friend is a Moroccan Jew – as though that explains why she is argumentative! Stereotyping, anyone? (Though I didn’t even know about that one…) Also, he had a terrible way of disagreeing with people. I think someone, some time, told him that he came across too aggressively in correcting people. His answer is to try and sound like he’s joking, but wow – that make it sound like he’s mocking people for misunderstanding. It’s especially off-putting when he is the one who misunderstood, as happened several times.

Ugh. I seem to be in rant mode right now. Let me refocus again.

I’m getting along with the other team leads pretty well. I didn’t expect to find a new best friend, and I think I’m right in that, but I like and enjoy many of them. I keep hearing about how much fun we’ll be having and I’m starting to get an idea of what that means.

My assumptions involved unrelenting repetitive work, but it seems that many departments stop their workers and have them stand and shake it out periodically. There’s a camaraderie being expressed that I hadn’t expected, and a respect for and trust in the Functional Managers (who directly supervise Team Leaders like us) that gives me strong hope for the operations.

There’s also a person in charge of morale. She arranges parties, provides rewards, and gets people riled up for incentives. There’s a ton of work to do, but they talk about pizza parties and cake breaks and potlucks as though they are regular parts of the job.

It’ll be a while before I’ve experienced enough of this to report back. I’m really looking forward to the operational training – learning to do the jobs I’ll supervise, finding and demonstrating my areas of excellence. There’s a particular job that pays more than the rest, and I can’t help but hope that I am great at that one, but I respect the job assignment process.

We will learn every single task and figure out what we’re good at and enjoy. We’ll also figure out which Functional Managers have the most comfortable ways about them. The assignments will be a combination of Functional Managers requesting us and us requesting them (with them as decisionmakers of course, but what process is perfect?), and the hope is that the assessment of strengths will match.

I’ll put my first guesses here and compare later:

I think I’ll like Sorter and Edits. I think I’ll be good at Check-in, Sorter, Imaging, Key from Image, and Edits. I think I’ll do worst at Transcription (I cramp up with large amounts of hand-writing) and Document Prep. Okay, maybe I won’t do poorly at Doc Prep, but it’s the one area that sounds like a drag to me.

Any bets?

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