Career Paths, Kerfuffles, Respect, and SFWA

I was talking to a co-worker today who was running thoughts past me about a possible next role. We discussed steps that had occurred, people who had been talked to, and the relative merits of the role and this co-worker’s capabilities and merits. Mostly, though, we talked about a question the co-worker had about how to get feedback from their manager. In other words, it was an interesting conversation. I’ve been around the place awhile, and I have these on occasion. I have a great time with them, really.

What was different this time, though, was that we got to talking about the company’s policy about posting positions–meaning that unless there exists some really compelling case, every position below executive director will be posted to allow equal opportunity for everyone in the company. I like this about my company. It’s these indirect things that tell you how much the leadership values diversity and attempts to foster the environment of merit over pure network. Anyway, the conversation brought about a thought about networking and merit, and the value of both. It goes like this:

Before you get a role you’re interested in, you know you need to network. Get your name out. Show people you’re interested. To some degree you have no problem with this. You’re growing your own opportunities, you think. It’s how you do it. Being a new writer, or even an “established” writer without much of a profile, that resonates. When I talk to people about growing their career, they get it. They realize networking increases their visibility, and gives them an advantage in the marketplace. They realize that part of the game is increasing the numbers of their opportunities for good things to happen–essentially increasing the odds, which means they know part of the game is associated with what I’ll call “luck.”

But then something strange happens.

The person gets a role.

And within a short while they forget the luck part. Suddenly they got where they got via the hard work they did and their basic capability. In other words, they earned it.

I’m thinking about this now, and I’m relating it to the recent whirlwind of issues that have been discussed across a gazillion SF-related blogs regarding sexism and misogyny in the field. I’ll not go into details because if you know them, I’ll bore you, and if you don’t … well, they’ll bore you. All I’ll say is that I love that word “kerfuffle.” It seems perfectly made for this situation, and I credit Laura Anne Gilman with using it first.

But I have a couple questions for you to think about here:

1) In the case of the person who gets a new role through the networking, interviewing, and being selected for the role, did they get lucky, or did they succeed based on merit?
2) If you tell that person that they achieved their success without working hard (that, for example, they were born on third base and think they hit a triple), do you think they’ll take that well?

A lot more ground that needs to be covered in the areas of gender and ethnic issues, that’s true. And I think it’s important to speak out when lines get crossed. But I think there are times when the angst that gets spun up gets tossed about in ways that are too pointed and swaths that are too broad. I think the most important thing about these situations is that we be able to differentiate each situation for what it is. That’s the ultimate lesson of valuing diversity, after all. Every person is their own being. Every situation its own thing, you know? We are all one culture, we are all members of multiple sub-cultures. But, ultimately, no one can define us buy our groups. Ultimately, we are each our very own culture. I think it’s basic respect to assume people who succeeded worked hard–even if they had advantages, just as it’s basic respect to understand that any success you have is the result of some degree of luck and advantage (some you create, and some created for you by things often completely outside your control). Nothing is easy, you know?

Anyway … I’ll not say much more about my personal feeling on the kerfuffle here except to say that I’ve been thinking about rejoining SFWA for a few months, and after seeing how the organization has reacted to the blow-up, how they owned it, how they quickly set wheels in motion to address the issue, has pretty much convinced me that I should throw my hat into the ring again.

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