Our Frontline Spotlight Series highlights members of our Frontline Employee Council. Council members partner with us to better understand the frontline experience and disrupt workplace power dynamics.
Name: Maria “Alex” Alexander
Place: Los Angeles, CA
Current Job: Executive Director of Center for Living and Learning
1. As a form of introduction, please share with us a time when one or more of your identities played a role in your career.
The first scenarios that come to mind were in the 80’s as a woman cab driver. None of the owner/operators at one company would lease me a cab because of being a woman. At one hotel I was even punched in the face to discourage me from picking up fares there. I was not helped by anyone, and I did not complain as I simply believed it was the way of the industry and the times.
Fast forward to 2001, I began a job at my current employer just coming out of drug treatment after being recently incarcerated and homeless prior to jail. My employer knew of my situation and was happy to welcome me. All were very supportive to me, yet one day at the coffee machine I dropped my coffee. The first response of the manager who was standing next to me was to inquire if I had relapsed and if I was on drugs. This affected me more than the taxi situations as I was trying so hard to be a good employee and earn the chance that I felt I was given. It made me feel paranoid that every wrong thing may be perceived as if I was back on drugs. And this was from an employer with welcoming staff. They simply didn’t know better, and I was too new in recovery and unprepared to feel safe enough to address it. This is very common with our clients at CLL as well. Sometimes the small talk can lead to uncomfortable situations as we may not have reunited with family/children and the talks are around family, etc. It can lead to others thinking we are standoffish and cause further problems in the workplace and yet we are just terrified of discussing personal issues that seem harmless to others.
2. Can you share with us what was one impactful moment that you feel was pivotal in making a shift in your career? i.e. a mentoring relationship, a policy at a place you worked, a good or bad interaction with a manager.
I had a mentor who was very insightful and taught me how to correct my own mistakes which was valuable in my training. She also taught me to stand up for myself and contribute ideas when I felt I had input.
3. Can you share an experience where you felt respected and valued? How did that affect your relationship to the job and the employer?
I was asked to take on a role that essentially was cold calling as in “telemarketing”, yet I had been hired for customer service duties that did not require selling. I was very upset and thought I was going to have to quit when the director noticed the look on my face and asked me about it. I explained to him that I wanted a “real job” and not a telemarketing job. To my surprise he was very supportive and replied that he did not want someone for the job who was not interested in it. A month later I was given the opportunity to apply for an administrative assistant position. I got it and continued to move up. I am so glad that I was honest and given a chance to work in a department where I thrived. I continued to communicate in an appropriate manner when sometimes uncomfortable, which was a valuable skill that would lead me to higher positions and a higher functioning level.
4. What have you taken away by the partnership/work you’ve done with Talent Rewire to date?
That there are employers who wish to be and do better. This partnership has also taught me to involve line staff in decision making and input gathering.
5. Can you think of a time when an employer might have missed on feedback or an idea on how to do something better, but they never solicited your feedback/input, or you just didn’t feel comfortable giving it?
Yes, the restaurant industry was notorious for just telling you do as they say and not listening to feedback on how things could be better. There was an unhealthy communication dynamic and did not feel comfortable giving feedback.
6. What are the biggest misconceptions you think employers have about frontline employees?
That frontline employees are not motivated and are dispensable.
7. What kind of change would you like to see take place in the workplace for frontline employees?
Management that are trained to be managers. We see too many managers that are given minimal increases, no training, and then put in charge of staff. The staff then complain and give examples of how they are spoken to poorly.
8. What are ways in which employers show you that they value you as a human and as an employee?
Positive communication skills, words of encouragement, pointing out jobs well done, taking the time to help with better training if not performing to standards, investing in training, understanding family/children needs, such as school functions, family and employee outings such as team building and social activities.
9. What builds Trust for you as an employee?
When an employer keeps their word; seeing difficult issues in the workplace confronted, knowing that policies are enforced fairly, feeling supported when mistakes are made.
10. What’s one thing you would encourage the employers to do with their frontline talent?
Build two-way positive communication regularly by soliciting input and following through with the input when appropriate.