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a single finger touches a chain and it explodes - our individual actions can, together, make a huge difference for those being exploited - for an article by Tim Wade global conference speaker Singapore
b. Give to help: give to education and micro-business projects in impoverished communities. Education helps people to gain work opportunities. Micro-business projects help people start businesses to lift them and their families out of poverty. Check out: Brian Keen and his Microloan Foundation – which we support through our membership of B1G1.
2. The Abhorrent and Tolerated
Examples: agencies that lock in construction workers from poor backgrounds to come and work for years to pay off the placement fee, and then have only a tiny monthly wage surplus to send home (surplus is required so that it can’t be called slavery, but the debt bondage is effectively slavery), and they build our roads, sanitation, houses, places of worship, offices, transportation systems… they build everything for us. And if injured they’re cast out as garbage by construction companies who find it cheaper to just get another slave. Oh, and maid agencies are often no better.
What we do:
We effectively blame the migrant worker for signing the deal in the first place. We hire the maid through the agency that gives the best rate, regardless of what maids pay to be on their books. We rationalise that we’re giving them a better life and don’t do any research on the agency sourcing practices before hiring.
We tolerate because it’s convenient for us. And some people, even people I know, treat their maids like slaves. With disdain, condescension, and even aggression. Shame on those leaders. Their attitude and behaviour towards people in their homes is appalling. It betrays a deeply masked insecurity, an unresolved resentment and a need for significance.
Others I know are awesome to their maids and treat them as part of the family. If you’re not yet one of the awesome, become one.
What we can do instead:
For migrant workers: google “how can I help migrant workers” (or whatever the term for those people are where you live) and find ways to help in your community. Here in Singapore, I spent time with injured workers being looked after through training and advocacy by the team at HealthServe. Organisations like that are helping the marginalised of the marginalised seek justice and treatment. And I see lots of church giving programs helping foreign worker support projects too. Corporates don’t seem to because it’s not sexy CSR. Kudos is due to those who do.
Wherever you are in the world, consider spending 25 minutes researching more about their conditions and writing to your local government about how construction companies who source workers through massive debt bondage schemes must not be awarded government building contracts. Supply chain sourcing is part of the responsibility of the end buyer. Sometimes awarding huge projects to the lowest bidder is not the correct decision, morally or ethically. The letter could be as simple as cutting and pasting the below in an email and sending it to your local senior member of parliament:
“Dear Minister, I know you care about the people who work in our country, both locals and foreigners alike. I’m concerned about how we may, as citizens of this country, be indirectly supporting modern-day slavery by supporting organisations whose worker supply chain sees debt bondage and near-zero-surplus income as a normal practice. Our nation’s values do not subscribe to that. Yet foreign workers in the construction, cleaning, sanitation, and maid services industries are often placed by agencies whose practices laden these workers with debt bondage so great that by doing business with them we are supporting this abhorrent exploitation of those workers. These human beings are coming to our country to create a better life for themselves and their families by serving in our workforce, yet are effectively slaves. Slavery is illegal in this country. I suspect that using someone else’s slaves is still breaking the law. How does our government, and you as my representative in it, ensure that the organisations to which our government is awarding construction and other services contracts are not doing this, and how do you ensure that organisations allowed to do business with or in our country are not doing this? And how are they penalised, punished or closed down if they are? Thank you, as my representative of me and all the people in this nation under your care, for your passionate advocacy of this, and response to my enquiry. Sincerely…”
Ok, moving on.
What else we can do for the plight of maids (or domestic helpers)?
First of all, increase your awareness of how you treat your maid if you have one. If you’re barking orders at your maid, change your leadership style. Spend more time with them and invest in their growth and development, at least with the skills you wish them to have for you. They are under your care. So care. Don’t exploit.
Help them gain skills to do even better work for you. Help them grow their abilities so should they need to move on to a new job for whatever reason (like you leaving), they can earn more because of your investment in them. This let’s them help provide more for their families, and change their lives or the opportunities for their children or siblings because of you.
They are under your leadership. Be a better leader. Especially if you advocate good leadership practices in the workplace.
We don’t have a maid now. But we did during my childhood in Malaysia. Our last maid before we left Malaysia was Ah Tai. She was awesome. She and her son lived with us, and her husband would also stay with us on weekends. We helped her son, Fong Wai, with his homework, improving his English, tried to teach him what little we knew about computers, and we all played together. When we left Malaysia, Ah Tai moved on to a new family.
Some years later we learned that Ah Tai had been at home during a break-in to the home she was caring for. She was stabbed to death trying to defend the house.
I can’t imagine what she went through, and what her family has gone through. It was heartbreaking for us. It stills hurts now, even writing this. I know Fong Wai ended up starting a security business. I don’t know what became of her husband. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have been her employers at the time either.
But Ah Tai could have been working for you. Putting her life on the line for you. She’s part of your family. It is your duty to care for her.
Be aware of how maid agencies source and indenture their people. Write a letter to the Ministry of Manpower (or your equivalent where you are) if you find abhorrent or unjust practices. Or connect with the media.
Hire from an ethical agency, like Helper Choice. This was started by French expat Laurence Fauchon in 2012 who was also appalled at the illegal placement fees that turn a dream of hope into a nightmare of bondage for so many maids. Go to their website and check out their locations. They operate in lots of places in Asia and the Middle East.
And as a final action to suggest, you could even help your maid out of her bondage. Set her “free at last”. She can still keep working for you, but she’s free to do it.
Okay. The last section. Here’s where I may go on a rant. Deep breath.
3. The Abhorrent and Normalised
Here are two of the many: bad bosses and unequal pay.
First: bad bosses
What we’re doing:
We’re tolerating and normalising bad leadership. We’re saying it’s okay. It’s expected. It’s not personal, it’s business. What a load of crap.
I’m talking about that bad leader in your organisation that continually gets promoted regardless of the trail of human debris left in their wake, or as they lord over their subordinates thinking themselves better than anyone else, infalible, and in regal control.
Their self-pride, their hubris, their arrogance and mistreatment of the people working for them makes me angry. If I were a vigilante superhero, I’d use my superpowers to fight against that sort of injustice.
These leaders need a wake up call. And they only seem to wake up when they crash and burn two or three times. And by then, their destructive impact on lives is extensive; they’d have destroyed people, fueled anger, created injustice, played politics, sabotaged good people, taken credit for the work of others, and even believe their own lies and self-delusions that they’re not to blame.
And the people who are in their care, who they are supposed to help grow, learn, contribute, and become the next level of leaders and influencers, are left injured. The injured have their creative contributive selves diminished by this sort of leader. Their self-esteem, confidence, and passion are shot to pieces because of idiotic, self-absorbed leaders in title only, but not in practice. Leaders of only themselves. Because no-one wants to follow this leader. People tolerate them until hopefully the leader is promoted again or the people choose to resign. In both circumstances the organisation loses.
But the organisation tolerates this behaviour because of the results this person claims to have achieved (they tend to move to a new role before the ramifications of their corner-cutting can be fully uncovered). The organisation even normalises this behaviour by rewarding it with promotion. It needs to stop.
They are promoting Mercenaries.
It drives me mad. That leader serves only one person, themselves. In my motivational keynote “The Mindset of Victory” (which is much chirpier than this discourse) that person is the Mercenary archetype in my Mindset of Victory model.
Shame on the organisation that tolerates that sort of behaviour, and painful losses of value for the ones that promote these people.
And to that person: Your crash will come, if you’re given the grace a corrective crash. And if that crash doesn’t, the promised result of continuing like this is that you will receive of illusory success, but it will be a life of insatiability, nothing will ever be enough, and you’ll always be terrified of losing it all. You’ll experience a deep loneliness as those who should be around you stay as far away from you as possible. It is a life of pulsating, persisting, pervasive discontentment.
The problem? Your values were misaligned. You’re supposed to strive for people against the odds, not strive for the odds against the people. Injustice, distrust, betrayal, emptiness, bitterness, and loneliness is your lot should you not awaken.
Awaken. Remember this. Change tack. Create a different end to your story.
What we can do about it:
To those under a leader like this: have courage. Choose an opportune time to speak up. Before that, record conversations with this leader. Especially their diatribes which undoubtedly will be laced with voluminous self-adulation and attempts to establish power. Then listen again to it carefully. The truth of their underlying mindset and inconsistencies will betray them in their off-handed remarks.
Keep an email trail of communications. These leaders like to do everything in undocumented voice so they can bullshit their way out of being challenged about this behaviour should a complaint arise. They will put their positive actions in writing and CC the world, but their venomous tongue will be kept hidden for those to whom they wish to appear competent, in some attempt to be Machiavellian and crafty. Build your portfolio of evidence.
Then speak up. Trust that the other leaders in the organisation aren’t like this. If nothing happens, speak up some more to people in higher positions in the organisation. Note that they like forwarding emails back down the chain. You might be asked to leave. Go higher. As a last resort report this nonsense to some external tribunal or that sort of action. But keep trying internally first.
You’d likely have been considering your options of leaving by now anyway, and that gives you additional power. Use this considerable power intelligently. If you are willing to leave anyway, consider confronting this person. Be civil, firm, assertive, and take no nonsense, no threats, no interruptions. Don’t take their bullshit. “When you’re quite finished interrupting me, I will continue.” “Please exercise some simple manners and stop interrupting me. Part of your problem is you haven’t been listening. Now is your chance to listen before I escalate this.”
When this bully tries to remove you for not submitting to their authority and control, refuse to go and counter threaten. Call their bluff. Then pull out your documents and blindside them with their own words, documented for the world to see what a bad example they are.
Consider doing it privately first, and later publicly with an influencer later. For example if you’re in a meeting a this person is taking a whole bunch of credit or blantantly lying about something. Speak up. “Actually that’s not exactly true. We did send you several emails, reports and highlighted warnings to you on these matters. We spoke about it in meetings, but you kept shutting us down and not listening. So far in our estimates, your poor leadership has cost this organisation 23 million dollars in lost opportunities. I’m happy to share the entire evidence portfolio of this with everyone here. Because this attitude and nonsense has to stop. I refuse to be loyal to someone I cannot trust and whose attitude, behaviour, decisions, and so-called leadership are adversely impacting my people, the team, me, the department, the organisation and our customers. That’s who I am loyal to. And every time we have attempted to highlight this, we are berated and put down and told all sorts of nonsense. It’s got to stop. And if it doesn’t, there will be an exodus of staff and a series of external formal complaints.”
That should finally get some attention.
If the organisation doesn’t back you, leave. And watch an exodus behind you follow. Then you have become an activist for positive change.
In a way, you may have helped save that lousy leader from that dismal future I described earlier. Maybe.
Either way, you’ll heal, recover and live a life more fulfilling than if you do nothing. And that idiot will for you become a blip in the chapter of your story, but a blip that pinpointed a catalytic moment when you stood up and stepped up. Deciding never to be like that manager, and heeding the warning of the consequences of self-absorption, self-delusion, and leading only self.
Check out this article about a cognitive bias that masks people from seeing how they can be. I think you’ll like this:
Okay. Rant over. But now to my second point on the Abhorrent and Normalised.
Second: unequal pay.
It’s astonishing that people are being treated and paid differently based not on the colour of the skin or the content of their character, but because they are women.
This is nuts. It’s theft. Possibly fraudulent. It’s certainly unethical, prejudiced, sexist and just plain wrong. It’s a gross injustice that has been normalised, and it needs to be addressed and fixed. It’s not hard to fix. So help fix it.
What we do:
Nothing if you’re a man. Be annoyed if you’re a woman.
What we can do instead:
Men and women: champion change in your organisation. Workers in your world, unite.
Leaders: make it a rule in your organisation.
Governments: make it law in your jurisdiction.
People: be more aware of yourselves and your normalisations. There are biases at work; societal, corporate cultural and psychological. Read this article next, it articulates a number of the wild inconsistencies so succinctly you’ll be blown away: Article – Subtle ways women are treated differently at work.
Then get a group of like-minded individuals together – make sure there’s men in this group – and write a note to HR asking: “Are women paid differently for the same job as men in our organisation?”
It seems to me that there are significantly more women in HR than men, so you might get some support for your research. Great if you can get the support on someone in the senior executive too (if you do, this may be good for your career as well). You don’t need names, just data.
Then ask them how they think it can be changed and offer to champion it in your organisation.
Use the values and behaviours documents of your organisation to align your argument with what everyone already is supposed to subscribe to. This creates cognitive dissonance – two conflicting “truths” can’t occupy the same space – and one will have to go, and as it can’t be the corporate values you’ll take a step closer to seeing change happen.
You could also get Corporate Comms on board to get them to see how this can be spun to make the organisation look great and progressive and an employer of choice in public dialogue. Bonus points if you can do that as it will cement the change; once public and boasted about, it’ll have to ensure it maintains that position.
Keep chipping away until change happens. Because change needs you too.
“Early morning, April 4, a shot rings out in the Memphis sky. Free at last! They took your life, they could not take your pride. In the name of love, what more in the name of love?” – U2
Tim Wade is a husband, father, son, brother, and friend. He’s also CEO of Wade.global, a change agency helping organisations communicate and transition their people through change through keynotes, training, videos and coaching. Tim Wade is a global motivational speaker on transformation, innovation and motivation. He helps individuals get a Promotion Payrise. He’s sometimes Batman.