Pot is Legal in Many Places but Workplace Testing is Legal Everywhere

Q: My girlfriend and I spent our vacation in Colorado, skiing, hanging out with family and smoking some of their legal and beautifully packaged weed. Back home now, I heard my company is doing random drug testing this week. I’m cool, right? We were in Colorado and that weed is totally legal there. How do I tell my boss he can forget about that drug test?

A: I hate to crash your budding good time, but you may be screwed. While weed is legal in some form in over half the country now, drug-testing regulations haven’t softened one bit. In several states, the statutes legalizing weed also clarify that drug testing remains a viable and accepted practice, including testing for THC, the psychedelic compound that throws the party. If that’s not enough of a buzzkill, marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Think about this for a moment: having a couple of beers after work with friends is totally cool. Sharing a joint is a federal crime.

Drug testing originated from safety concerns, making sure workers weren’t high while on the job, endangering their own lives and those of others. Those concerns still stand, even where the drug is legal. And though your pot high may be long gone, THC can stay in your bloodstream for a couple of weeks or longer, and result in a failed drug test. Critics of such testing argue that residual THC in a drug test is akin to firing someone on Monday for a glass of wine imbibed on Friday. Others are working to create a breathalyzer equivalent for THC, so testing can measure current intoxication rather than past use.

If you get that pink slip, consider going back to Colorado, a state that might see things differently. “We have ski industries out here,” Curtis Graves of the Mountain States Employers Council told the Denver Post. “If employers really took a hard line on marijuana use, they would all have to shut down.”

Q: As an accounts director, I’ve got a great job managing a team of talented account executives, developing ideas and rollouts for client projects, and juggling endless assignments that require close management and oversight. My problem? I sometimes think my colleagues have an invisible mute button they use to silence me in meetings. I’m one of the few women in the shop, and I constantly have to push back against colleagues interrupting or talking over me. It’s bad enough in our internal team meetings, but it’s downright embarrassing in front of clients. I’m not looking to create a big gender conundrum. I like my colleagues, enjoy working with them and appreciate their input. I just want to
be heard!

A: It’s been over 25 years since author and therapist John Gray wrote “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus,” and we’re still figuring out how to navigate that celestial void to successfully cohabitate in our homes and offices. On the issue of woman interrupted, however, you’re not alone and you’ve got research to back you up.

A 2014 study at George Washington University found that when talking with women, men interrupt 33 percent more often than they do when talking with other men. In another report, University of California Santa Barbara sociologists Don Zimmerman and Candace West documented 31 conversations – 10 between two men, 10 between two women, and 11 between a man and a woman. While the same sex conversations included a total of seven interruptions, the male/female exchanges were riddled with 48 interruptions, 46 of them the man interrupting the woman. In their report, “Sex Roles, Interruptions and Silences in Conversations,” Zimmerman and West concluded, “There are definite and patterned ways in which the power and dominance enjoyed by men in other contexts are exercised in their conversational interaction with women.”

The issue garnered headlines after senior Google executive Eric Schmidt was called out for his incessant interrupting of the U.S. government’s chief technology officer, Megan Smith, when they shared the SXSW Austin stage at a panel discussion on diversity in 2015. The only woman on the panel, Smith was repeatedly interrupted, talked over or dismissed by Schmidt, stirring a real-time Twitter fest and resulting in Judith Williams, Google’s global diversity and talent program manager, respectfully asking her Google colleague why he continued to cut off his fellow panelist and asking Smith her thoughts on this apparent unconscious bias. The crowd cheered, Smith talked about the detrimental impact on women and a headline declared, “Schmidt Makes Total Ass of Himself.”

So you’re not imagining it: The guys are consistently and persistently muting you. What can you do about it? Zimmerman and West concluded that men speak up to assert power, while women hesitate to interrupt because it seems disrespectful. Communications experts counsel women to hold the floor, pushing back when interrupted with something as simple as “We’ll get to that as soon as I finish” or “Please, hold that thought.” (“On a related note,” “Let me finish” and “I just said that” are considered women’s most go-to phrases in the workplace.) They also recommend using the same strategies men use: maintain eye contact, speak in shorter sentences (requiring shorter breath breaks), and use words of conviction like “know” rather than “believe” or “feel.”

When that doesn’t solve the problem, follow the lead of the women in the Obama White House. After struggling to have their voices heard over guys like Rahm Emanuel and Larry Summers, the women deployed what they called “amplification.” When one woman made a point, only to be interrupted by a male colleague, another woman would interject, repeating her female colleague’s point and giving her credit for it. Over time, it worked. It also became a viral sensation, sweeping boardrooms and conference halls from Silicon Valley to university campuses.

The hope is that amplification will eventually go the way of the fax machine, unneeded in a business model that encourages better and more diverse communications among all participants at the table. Until then, however, speak up, amplify and push back. Don’t ever give up that seat at the table.

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