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Candid Answers to your most Candid questions

A Safe Place to Ask Candid Questions


Every professional - entry level, mid-career, and experienced - faces situations where they wish they had someone they trusted who would listen to their challenge and thoughtfully suggest solutions or offer a new way to consider the situation.   In the Vault is a safe, anonymous space for you to submit questions and receive candid practical advice from Sophia Confidential for even the most sensitive of issues.  


WHO IS SOPHIA CONFIDENTIAL?

Sophia is an experienced professional who has worked in a variety of fields. Ask her anything. Sophia is not HR, your boss, your lawyer or your therapist. But, she IS the person who will tell it to you straight, even if it’s difficult to hear.

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Submit your question or situation anonymously, and our team of experienced international educators will post it with our best answer.

Watch  this space as well as LinkedIn and our e-newsletter for your answer!


SOPHIA SAYS....

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  • 27 Jan 2021 8:00 AM | Anonymous


    Dear Sophia,

    I’ve never connected with the League before. It’s a new year and I’m trying to establish some new self-care routines but I’m at a loss. I’m feeling overwhelmed. I see others around me in the workplace seemingly going on with their day-to-day. How am I supposed to go about my daily work when it feels like the world is falling apart?

    Sincerely, 

    Overwhelmed and Unmotivated

    Dear Overwhelmed and Unmotivated,

    You mean 2021 didn’t fix all of our problems?! Grab a drink, this could be a long conversation! First, let’s acknowledge how you’re feeling. The world is a bit of a dumpster fire right now and I would be worried about you if you weren’t feeling overwhelmed. On top of our individual life stressors, we’re all living with a pandemic along with political and economic instability. Even writing this is starting to stress me out, but behind this computer screen you can’t see that. 

    This brings me to my second point. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean others around you aren’t feeling it. We all express ourselves differently. Use social media as an example. Do you really think all of the people who are posting pictures of how much fun they’re having are happy ALL THE TIME? Nope. They project an image of themselves for the world. We all do this. Your coworkers are doing this. A part of this is because we’ve been conditioned to separate our emotions from the workplace. We’re told, “You need to be professional! Don’t show you’re overwhelmed or sad or mad,” or anything else negative because that may be perceived as unprofessional. But you even asking this question is courageously demonstrating that vulnerability is important in all aspects of our lives, including the workplace, and these feelings should be normalized so we can support each other. So props to you for starting the conversation.   

    Now, how do you actually deal with how you’re feeling and take care of yourself? Unfortunately, as you probably already know, there isn’t a playbook for this, but I have a few suggestions:

    • First and foremost, do what you need to take care of yourself. If that means taking a mental health day, half-day, hour, whatever, do it! Give yourself space and allow yourself to feel whatever emotions you’re feeling. This will likely entail having a conversation with your supervisor who is hopefully understanding and supportive. If they aren’t, well, that’s a whole other conversation, but at the end of the day, you won’t be very productive at work if you aren’t taking care of yourself, so decide what makes sense for you.
    • Second, taking a day for yourself here and there can be great, but you also want to think about what you’re doing regularly for self-care. Establish a routine. Are you able to take some time every day for yourself to, for example, exercise, read a book, or have a glass of wine? None of these things sound appealing? No problem. Do what works for you! There are so many things you can’t control, so focus on the tangible things you do have control over that you can remove (e.g. social media) or build into (e.g. meditation) your routine and add these to your calendar. This can be hard with competing priorities from work and personal life, but still important. Maybe you’ve never been a big calendar person, that’s OK too. What works for me may not work for you. Try tapping into a friend to hold you accountable to this new routine with the occasional strongly worded text message or two. Motivation can be hard. Trust me, I know! Find what works for you and make it a priority.
    • Finally, having a community that you can turn to and be open with is important. Try asking a colleague how they are REALLY feeling about things and perhaps that will lead to a larger conversation in which you can be vulnerable. Or, if work isn’t the place for this, then look towards family, friends, and other forums. Try seeing if there are any local organizations you may want to join. For example, I have colleagues in the San Francisco Bay Area that love BAYPIE (Bay Area Young Professionals in International Education). It’s local, intimate, and they have lots of happy hours and events for international educators to connect. You also don’t have to be in the San Francisco area to join considering everything is remote now! Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t put in a plug for The Global Leadership League which is my go to for building a sense of community and connection with colleagues in International Education. The Mentor Circles and Career Connections Program come to mind as solid opportunities to share with colleagues how you’re really feeling and, more importantly, to gain perspective. Wherever you turn, just know there are people out there who are feeling similar to you and are looking for the same kind of support you are. Take time for yourself, establish a routine that prioritizes you, and be vulnerable as you seek to connect with others.  

    I said this could be a long conversation but will stop myself here. If we were sitting together we’d be ordering our second drink! Keep me with you in spirit as you do some of these things to ease your feelings of being overwhelmed. Remember, it’s normal to occasionally have days like these. Own it and do what you need to in order to bring yourself back to center.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Overwhelmed and Unmotivated? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 24 Jul 2019 11:30 PM | Global Leadership League ADMIN (Administrator)

    Dear Sophia,

    As most of us know, we do not work in the field of higher education to become rich but we should still be able to make a livable wage. I have recently found out I am the third-lowest-paid director on my campus and one of the only ones that is required to be accessible 24/7 for emergencies abroad and at home with our international students.

    I do understand there are differences in positions and that some directors have been in their roles longer than me. Taking this into account as well as researching salary data put out by the Chronicle of Higher Education, I feel I am being underpaid. My university is located in an expensive area, and in my estimation I should be making approximately $10,000 more than what I am currently making.

    I have brought this to the attention of my supervisor - the fact that I am one of the lowest paid directors and that salaries should take into account the cost of living of the area - and she told me she would look into it but not to expect anything because we have budget issues. I was also told it would be better if I had another job offer in hand because it would give me more leverage.

    Given all of this, what should I do in order to ensure I can make a livable wage for all of the work I am being asked to do?

    Sincerely,

    Exhausted on the East Coast

    Dear Exhausted,

    Have you approached your Human Resources department on this matter? I know at many institutions, if you ask an HR manager, they can do an audit of comparable positions and salaries in the area to see if your pay is on par with your colleagues’.  If your salary is way off from this data, you should have additional negotiating leverage.

    The idea of having another job offer in hand does have some merit. Another job offer motivates institutions in ways that a traditional raise request does not. I know that a job search is a lot of additional work (when do you have time time given what is already requested of you?), but it is good experience and allows you to reflect on what you love and don’t love about your current position.

    In the meantime, consider how you can improve your negotiation skills.  The League offers webinars and other resources to help members build new skills in this arena.  I would encourage you to continue to strategically build your case about salary negotiation with your supervisor.  Be sure to always frame it within the context of the level of responsibility you have as a Director and provide data (such as salary comparisons) that may bolster your case.

    Confidentially yours,

     

  • 28 May 2019 11:31 PM | Global Leadership League ADMIN (Administrator)

    Image by Pixource from Pixabay 

    Dear Sophia,

    I think I’ve hit a glass ceiling at my university. After advancing through positions in my office in the last ten years, I now understand that since I don’t have a Ph.D, and do not have faculty status, there is no ‘next step’ for me. My family is not mobile, there are very limited international education positions in my geographic region, and most of these are below my current level. I love my job and university, and I want to continue to advance through my career. Is there anything I can do to position myself and my office differently? Do I have to leave international education? Give up my aspirations?

    Sincerely,

    Bouncing Off the Glass Ceiling

    Dear Bouncing,

    My first response is a question back to you: How do you define advancement? What are you seeking? Different people see advancement differently: a higher title, a larger salary, more authority, different responsibility, more visibility, new skills, new knowledge. Once you have decided what is important to you, you will be better able to identify what skills, credentials, and experience you need to get there.

    Given that you cannot consider opportunities outside your geographic area and love your job, I have three suggestions.

    Since it sounds like you have outgrown your current position, consider whether it could be expanded or a new one created that would give you greater challenges while also providing needed support for the office and university. Present a solution to an issue the office is facing; propose a new initiative and offer to lead it; find a challenge that no one else is addressing. This type of ambition can open the door to discussions with your supervisor about growth opportunities.

    If a new job within your office is not in the cards, take a look at what positions are open at your institution; sometimes a move - lateral or otherwise - within your institution can give you the kind of advancement you seek. You can gain new perspectives on international education and facilitate new connections between your new area and international education. Or scope out areas of the university that are trying to expand their international activities and talk with them about creating a position focused on internationalization efforts where your skills and experience could be especially helpful. 

    If you are seeking new skills and knowledge, look outside your work. Take some classes or get involved with professional associations and other organizations. Or volunteer for committees on campus that will offer you not only new perspectives but also potentially bring an international education perspective to new areas.

    Keep in mind that many workplace skills translate into new environments. In new fields, you may gain new skills that are considered valuable further down in your career path. If you decide to transition to a new field, you may have the opportunity to transition back into IE at a later juncture in your career.

    Consider reading for new perspectives to guide your decision-making for what is next in your career pathway. A few recommendations: Radical Candor by Kim Scott, What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions To Work by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, or Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.

    And don’t forget to take advantage of the League’s two other safe spaces for encouragement - Career Coaches and Mentor Circles - for more support while you make this transition. You can also attend a League webinar to increase your skill set in areas such as negotiation.

    Growth often comes through sacrifice, so I encourage you to consider what sacrifices you are willing and able to make, then go for it!

    Confidentially yours,

     

  • 26 Apr 2019 11:32 PM | Global Leadership League ADMIN (Administrator)


    Dear Sophia,

    My boss (who is male) treats the women of our office different than our male colleagues. It ranges in scope from not taking our ideas as seriously to asking only the female employees to clean out the fridge.

    What can I do to call him out professionally and help change his behavior?

    Sincerely,

    Seething in Silence

    Dear Seething,

    The frustration you’re feeling is not surprising, and yours is sadly not an uncommon situation. One of your first actions, if you don’t already know, is to learn about your institution’s culture on EEO and TItle IX in the workplace (what policies are in place, what reporting is required, what resources are available to you and your office, along with any available training for managers and employees).

    Once you understand your institutional culture, several ideas come to mind for dealing with your situation - some “official” and some less so. The order you apply them will depend on your office dynamics and the policies and resources available to you.

    You can request a confidential meeting with HR. Any documentation you have of specific incidents and dates - from a factual and observational perspective, leaving out assumptions and emotions - will probably be helpful. HR should have processes for dealing with inappropriate behavior of all sorts.

    Outside of HR and official processes, addressing what seems to be blatant sexism - especially from your boss with the added power dynamic - can be especially difficult because its visibility makes it appear to be widely accepted. Any discomfort by those witnessing it can remain hidden, further encouraging the inappropriate behavior. Or if the offender is unaware of his (or her) sexism, the opportunity is missed to address it. At best, you hope that your boss’s behavior and apparent biases are subconscious.

    One less official approach is to work with your colleagues to amplify each other’s ideas. This approach was used perhaps most famously in the Obama White House and has since been used in numerous offices. When one of you voices an idea, and it is ignored or downplayed, someone else can voice agreement with the idea, attributing it to the person who originally mentioned it and adding supporting thoughts.

    The second less official approach involves speaking up - either in the actual meeting or in a private conversation with your boss - to say, for instance, that the same people have been asked to clean out the fridge in the past, and you’d like to institute a system so that these types of tasks can be shared more equally among staff. You can offer to create a schedule or ask the group to do so. Depending on the mood of the room, you could try lightheartedly pointing out that it’s been all women doing these tasks. Such a discussion could potentially open the door for more direct conversations in the future.

    Confidentially yours,

     

  • 25 Mar 2019 11:33 PM | Global Leadership League ADMIN (Administrator)

    Dear Sophia,

    I am our campus Senior International Officer, managing study abroad, international student services, partnership development, and campus internationalization. I hold a Director title (and salary); however, have much more (and growing) responsibility (as well as 24/7 on-call duties) than peers in my division.

    How can I navigate a promotion request to accurately reflect my level of responsibility and duties? Such a promotion would break with a current structure that has existed for a very long time and I fear would not be received well despite my good work. However, I see this as an opportunity to step up, grow, show my value, and ask for a fair title and salary that reflects my role. I would love some feedback and direction.

    Sincerely,

    Onward and Upward

    Dear Onward and Upward,

    You find yourself in a difficult but unfortunately not unusual position in international education. The more data you have to support your request, the better off you’ll be. If you have actual data showing that your salary and title are not in line with others on your campus with similar responsibility, experience, and background, that’s a great start!  In addition, you can provide data on comparable roles at peer institutions.

    The history and culture of your campus community may also be an obstacle.  Try to align your request with other strategic priorities. Consider what dynamics may be at play if they promote you. Will your promotion be viewed as problematic to others at a similar level?  Is campus leadership concerned about additional staff requests once you’re promoted? Are they unaware of how the office structure is hindering your institution’s ability to be effective in advancing international education?

    An external reviewer may also be an option to make recommendations on staffing, structure, and operations; their report could make a difference to your administration.

    At the end of the day, be sure to value your own worth,  Taking the time to advocate for yourself and to improve your negotiation skills will be a critical component to a successful career.  Check out The League’s webinar on negotiation skills to get ready: webinar recording.

    Confidentially yours,

     

  • 24 Feb 2019 10:34 PM | Global Leadership League ADMIN (Administrator)

    Dear Sophia,

    I've been at my job - being incrementally promoted - for eight years. My boss just left, and the organization has promoted someone to be interim while they do a search.

    My interim boss, who has for the last 4 years been very supportive of me and become a friend, seems to have become someone else. She finds fault with everything I do, has given me negative reviews (despite my outstanding reviews for the previous 7 years), and seems to change the rules from one weekly meeting to another so I never know what is being used to measure my success from one week to another. She focuses on my weaknesses, and I'm starting to doubt my own abilities.

    I love this job and the other people I work with, but I'm not sure I can stay here without damaging my career. My spouse wants me to quit and look for a new job, but I hate to leave this job that I love!  What do I do?!

    Sincerely,

    Betrayed and Confused

    Dear Betrayed and Confused,

    First off, do not let one person’s challenge of your abilities negate years of positive feedback. I am reminded of a motivational quote, “Your value doesn't decrease based on someone's inability to see your worth." You were clearly valuable to the organization for a long time, and you can be proud of the contributions you made! That said, there are always ways we can grow, and if you can identify some weaknesses, those could be areas that you can look at ways to improve or work around them.

    As for looking for a new job, consider your two choices. You can meet with your new supervisor, describe your passion for your current role, and inquire about clear steps for moving forward. It never hurts to advocate for yourself. Alternatively, you can also make the choice to start applying for other positions. While it can be difficult to leave a position and colleagues that you love, it is also challenging to stay in a role with a supervisor who does not value your skills and abilities. Sometimes moving on can be a new adventure and opportunity to grow both professionally and personally. Those beloved co-workers will become valuable colleagues in your next position!

    If you decide to move on, remember that the League also launched a Coaching Hub, so consider signing up to be matched with an experience Career Coach in our field to guide you.

    Confidentially yours,

     

  • 20 Jan 2019 10:35 PM | Global Leadership League ADMIN (Administrator)

    Dear Sophia,

    I supervise a small staff. Recently one of my employees asked for a day off that I could not approve, since it was one of our busiest days of the year (a pre-departure orientation for over 100 students).

    This employee did not like the decision to not approve her requested day. She served her notice to HR, telling them I had gone back on my word over this day off after originally saying yes. I had never said yes, and the pre-departure orientation had been on her calendar since the beginning of the semester. She also told HR that I was difficult to work with and this was another factor to her leaving.

    Is there a different way I should have handled this situation? How should I move forward in my communications with the HR department without it turning into a "she said, she said" situation and still protecting myself?

    Sincerely,

    Frustrated in the Four Corners

    Dear Frustrated in the Four Corners,

    This is definitely a frustrating situation; hopefully you can view it as a learning experience.  Regarding the HR department, demonstrate that you are open to feedback and welcome any additional comments that might have been reported, or not. Additionally, many HR departments have learning and development programs that you may benefit from.  Consider inquiring about bringing the program to your office, such as work-style assessments and how that provides insights into your work style and your team.

    Consider a new system that provides clear, explicit guidelines about vacation ‘black-out’ dates. Meet with your staff and discuss office priorities together so that everyone is on the same page.  Something that might seem obvious to you (not taking time off on the busiest day of the year), as an experienced professional, may not be as clear to a young individual at the start of their career. Perhaps it is worth including such messaging during the on-boarding of new staff for the future.

    Confidentially yours,

     

  • 20 Jan 2019 10:34 PM | Global Leadership League ADMIN (Administrator)


    Dear Sophia,

    Recently I have been part of an interview process to fill an advisor position in our Education Abroad Office. As the Assistant Director, I have had to lead the entire process of reviewing resumes, selecting candidates, and organizing the interviews (which includes inviting individuals from other offices to assist in the second round). It is a significant amount of extra work which my supervisor, the Director, asked me to do.

    After the final round of interviews, my supervisor and I sat down to review our top choices. One my top candidates was a male, who did not appear on my supervisor’s list, and when I asked his reasoning he said the male candidate was “overqualified for the position.” However, in comparing my top (male) candidate with his top (female) candidate, the two had exactly the same qualifications in terms of number of years in the field, degrees, international background, and other relevant areas. I believe that my supervisor’s decision to eliminate the male candidate due to overqualification was a sexist one, and I let that be known.

    How could I have better handled this situation? Following this interaction I am noticing other behaviors that include burdening me with additional work and undermining me when it is time to make a decision or take credit for something good. How can I work with my supervisor moving forward?

    Sincerely,

    Irritated in Illinois

    Dear Irritated in Illinois,

    This is indeed a difficult situation. Given that our field is dominated by women, one way you might have been able to advocate for the male candidate further is to express your desire to diversify your staff and encourage more males to study abroad through role model advising. You might also have asked for clarification of more specifics on where your supervisor saw differences between your top two candidates. It is also wise to navigate the conversation with calm and to resist being defensive.

    Possibly more concerning is the shift in your supervisor’s behavior after this interaction. Have you reached out to your Human Resource Department for advice or support? I know it can be difficult to trust the anonymity of these difficult conversations with internal colleagues, but HR is trained in this type of coaching for managing up or managing down. There are also online resources that provide guidance on these issues, if you are not comfortable talking with your HR department. The League also launched a Coaching Hub, so consider signing up to be matched with an experienced Career Coach in our field to guide you.

    Alternatively, if you feel comfortable approaching your supervisor, you might want to address the behavior directly. Approach the conversation with confidence and direct communication. This might make you feel empowered and allow your supervisor to face an uncomfortable situation directly.

    Confidentially yours,

     

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