Defining Career Moment: Expletives, piercings & company culture

The Cambridge dictionary describes a career-defining moment or action as “one that is very important in making someone successful in their job, or in deciding how they will be remembered.” At Mantech, we have talked about such moments a lot recently, and have decided to share some of ours to give you an insight into who the team are, and how they came to be where they are now.  Here, Cameron Gillies talks about self expression, management and corporate values.
The year was 1984, the place Toronto Canada. I had just commenced work in a well-known executive search firm and the boss to put it mildly was a little “hardline”. Today he might be called among other things misogynistic, sexist, racist and so on. In the North American vernacular he was simply a “Jerk”. I had been there barely a month and my girlfriend of the time suggested I get an ear piercing. No reason not to, thought I – Viva la Difference! At the time as some of the readers would recall, wearing an ear piercing as a male had certain connotations. So what, I thought; it’s no big deal, I am not hurting anyone etc etc…

So, I roll into work on a Monday morning, not even thinking about my new adornment and promptly received a bit of a ribbing from my colleagues – no big shakes though, just a bit of a tease. Next thing the boss sees me and after nearly falling over himself lets loose with a series of unrepeatable expletives. I was stunned, speechless and utterly unprepared for the moment. I tried to argue the toss as reasonably as possible, but was cut short by his ultimatum “Either get rid of the stud by tomorrow morning or you’re fired” he snarled. A pure black and white moment. No shades of grey here I thought.

What to do? I needed the job, the dollars and the opportunity to build something in a new country. On the flipside, I have my rights to self-expression, why is this anyone’s business etc. Well, pussycat that I was, I took the stud out. “Why” I hear you ask; well, in summary, I concluded that if I wish to continue working in this place I have a responsibility to the social landscape of that workspace, whether I agreed or otherwise, and that if I chose to stand on my high horse, there was only going to be one loser!

So now to the real lesson. This little setback spurred me on to finding a new job, which I did within a couple of months in an organisation with far better management and a much more agreeable and tolerant culture. Over time I enjoyed strong success with my new employer and in a certain sense, I am grateful to the events as they unfolded. In a nutshell, we all owe a responsibility to the culture of our workplace, but at the end of the day, if it goes against who you are, then if possible find a better place to work.

Do I wear an ear piercing now? No; I don’t particularly like the feeling of metal on skin. More importantly though, in today’s workplaces my right to reasonable self-expression would be completely accepted. Now, as to full facial tattoos and massive spacers…… particularly in a customer facing environment…Hmmmm well that’s a story for another day???


Written by Mantech’s Managing Director , Cameron Gillies

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