What happens when you get six HR rebels together for dinner? Well, let’s just say that these rebels don’t just challenge the status quo at work, but outside of work as well. It was such an eventful evening that the group have named it “steakgate”. Interested? Well, read on to hear what happened.
The story takes place at a very nice restaurant in downtown Sydney, Australia, where we were together to celebrate the release of our new book, ‘Build it: A rebel playbook for employee engagement’. Everyone attending was a rebel, as they had contributed to the book in some way.
So onto the story, which began when our waiter came over to take our food orders. Sally asked him a very simple question – “What is the difference in taste between a steak that is aged 36 months versus 60 months?” The waiter responded by saying that he would recommend the 36-month-old steak because women’s palettes are different from men’s, and from his experience women just don’t like the 60-month-old steak.
With this one sentence, our waiter, despite being well-intentioned, stunned an entire group into silence. We couldn’t believe, as Denise Hanlon said, that “steak was gender-specific”. So although the group had just met that night, we rallied together to wrong the right and help the waiter understand why his behavior was inappropriate so he would not offend someone again in the future.
“The poor waiter didn’t realize he was with a bunch of HR rebels who would all advocate for gender equality” Kylie Green
What happened next had two parts, the soft approach, and the more in-your-face approach. Let’s start with the soft approach, which is when we encouraged Sally to explain to the waiter how his behavior had made her feel and went on to suggest an alternative approach in the future.
“He listened, but no giant light bulb appeared above his head. It also didn’t lessen the irritation that we had faced such an obvious case of unconscious bias and not dealth with it fully.” Mat Lawrence
Feeling as if we couldn’t or shouldn’t let this go – we are rebels don’t you know – we decided to move onto the next step. So when the waiter stopped by to take our dessert orders we encouraged Matt to ask him – “Which desserts were for men and which were for women?” The waiter walked away with his head held low, clearly upset, and we wondered what would happen next as he went to talk to a colleague.
He then completely earned our respect by having the courage to come back and apologize for his original gender comment, saying how he had been wrong. We accepted his apology and then apologized to him for making a joke of the situation and hurting his feelings, ending with a heartfelt handshake.
So did we go far? Should we have left it alone after the first part? After discussing this over coffee – we decided against ordering dessert – we all agreed that the answer was yes. For although it was a bit difficult and uncomfortable for everyone involved, we got to where we needed to be with a more educated and sensitive waiter who we are 100% confident will never do this again.
“I think the real highlight was giving the waiter direct and honest feedback, to the point that he understood clearly and was very apologetic. I don’t think he will do that again to another customer, so I think that’s a very positive outcome!” Mathew Paine
The lessons for us, and that I wanted to share with you, are first, change often requires taking multiple steps – some which can be easy and others which can be more challenging and take you out of your comfort zone.
But that’s fine, because if we truly want to challenge the status quo and make a difference, we need to be rebels, and we need to be brave and take action. Second, if we work together as a team, a team of rebels, we can support and encourage each other – for together we can make the difference and make the change that needs to happen.
Let me end by saying that I look forward to a reunion dinner with my new group of Australian rebels, who are Matt Lawrence, Mathew Paine, Sally Park, Denise Hanlon and Kylie Green. I’m not sure if it will be at the same restaurant, or maybe we’ll bring our rebelliousness to another one. Watch this space!