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 Joel Sweeney
 Joel Sweeney
by Joel Sweeney  FollowFollow
Joel Sweeney is a Suburban American. He one day hopes to live in a gated community.
More work by Joel Sweeney:
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When Michael asked William if he was familiar with our diversity statement, and William said no, we sprang to our feet and repeated with pride:

“At Thomas & Martin our goal is to become the worldwide leader in zippers, both visible and invisible. We are committed to having a diverse staff, and plan to have a workforce of five percent Non-Michaels within the next ten years.”

We sat back in our chairs. I looked at Michael and he nodded. That was our best recitation of the diversity statement yet, and we both knew it. I expected William to accept the position right there and then, but he continued asking questions as if nothing had happened. Michael seemed just as shocked as I was. How could someone not be moved by a statement like that?

It had taken the company four years and thousands of dollars to write it. I heard that one of the guys on the project threw himself in front of an ice cream truck because he couldn’t come up with the perfect wording. People died for this statement, and I didn’t see any tears in William’s eyes. I choke up every time I get to the “committed to having a diverse staff” part. The first time I heard it I was so moved I had to take the afternoon off. I went home and cried tears of joy in the bath for an hour.

I was proud to be working at a company that would put such a brave statement in writing. When I saw it posted on our website, I had to resist the urge to find some warm water and a box of tissues. There it was in beautiful Times New Roman font for everyone to see, evidence that our little company cared about the world and the people in it. A Non-Michael in Belarus could see the statement and say to him or herself, “I’m going to Houston to make zippers.”

The company never planned to hire only Michaels, we’re not biased, it just worked out that way. When Michael Thomas and Michael Martin, founded the company, they hired their friends, who just also happened to be Michaels. Pure coincidence. And as the company grew they started recruiting at the same colleges they went to, which just happened to be filled with more Michaels. That’s how they found me. I didn’t know it when I went there but I was in a school that fed you right into the zipper business. I started working here immediately after college and ten years later I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

Of course not everyone in the office liked our new statement. Michael in accounting was all set to hire his nephew, but then the Michaels upstairs said that we had to interview any qualified Non-Michaels. Michael in accounting was pissed. He said that the company was now discriminating against Michaels. During lunch he would march into the cafeteria hold his egg salad sandwich up high and demand a revolution. He had quite a big following, and I don’t know if the Michaels upstairs caved in, or if Michael just rigged the hiring process, but his nephew got the job, and then he shut up. It seemed he only cared when the policies affected him.

When Michael from HR told me that we had hired William I was ecstatic. I pushed aside my hurt feelings about William’s reaction to our diversity statement, and saw the moment for what it truly was: A new era at Thomas & Martin, and possibly the whole corporate world.

I wanted William to feel comfortable on his first day, so I sent an email to his new corporate address. I wanted my message of acceptance to be the first thing in his inbox. I sent an e-card with a little movie. First, the movie showed a very long brick wall, and then a wrecking ball swung in and knocked down the wall. I personalized it to say, “William, you’re breaking down barriers! Glad to have you on board!!!” Later that day, I received a reply that just said, “Thanks.” Again, I was expecting a bigger reaction from him, I did personalize an e-card, but his reply was probably short because your first day is always busy.

The business of zippers waits for no man, so it was a couple of days before I had time to visit William in his office. I had taken the liberty of printing out a copy of the diversity statement on some high quality card stock, and had it framed. I wanted to make sure that William knew that this statement was created for him. I introduced myself as the one who sent him the e-card. He smiled and thanked me again. I could tell that it meant a lot to him. I showed him the framed diversity statement. His eyes got real big and he was speechless. I offered to hang it on his wall, and of course he said no, but I knew he was just being polite. I took out the hammer and nail, which I had the foresight to bring with me, and hung it on his wall. It would be the first thing people see when they walked into his office.

I sat down across the desk from him and engaged him in some light “getting to know you” conversation: “Where are you from?” “What religion are you?” ‘Where did you go to school?” “How long have you been practicing Ju Jitsu?” I was shocked to learn that he had never even tried Ju Jitsu—Not one Kimura or triangle choke. Every Michael I knew practiced Ju Jitsu. I thought this was something that everyone did.

To fit in at Thomas & Martin, William would have to know Ju Jitsu—all the office talks about is the advantages and disadvantages of Rubber Guard, and the career of Royce Gracie. So I looked at William dead in the eye and said, “Get down on the floor and let me choke you.” Again, his eyes got real big and he was speechless. I looked at my watch and realized that we wouldn’t have time for even a quick introductory lesson, so I told him that I would work with him during lunch.

The first lesson was awful. William kept asking what Ju Jitsu had to do with zippers, and I kept trying to pull him between my legs and into my guard. When I tried to push his head down and wrap my hands around his neck, to demonstrate the Peruvian Necktie, he pushed me off of him, and stormed away.

Having another man cut off the blood to your brain by squeezing your neck in between his thighs can be a difficult experience and take some getting used to, so I gave William a couple of days to cool off. I went to see William at his office, but stopped just short of the door when I heard William talking to someone. It sounded important so I made sure to listen very carefully, not wanting to miss anything.

William was speaking with one of the important Michaels from upstairs. Michael wanted to know how William was enjoying working at Thomas & Martin so far. William said he liked it just fine. Michael asked him if the other employees had been treating him well. William said they had. I kept waiting for my name to come up, but it never did. Michael then told William that they wanted a Non-Michael to become a Vice President, and were hoping William was the one. I was so excited about the news I almost screamed right there and then, but I covered my mouth and went back to my office to wait for William’s phone call.

I didn’t have to wait long. When I saw William’s extension on the caller ID, I picked up the phone said, “I bet you want me to choke you now!”

Over the next months William excelled at his work like he had been doing from the start, and he really picked up his Ju Jitsu training. Sure, I was always able to make him tap, but he had memorized all the names of the positions and submissions. I even heard him tell other co-workers that he supported the use of the rubber guard. We can’t all be perfect, but the important thing was that he knew what rubber guard was and had an opinion about it.

About a year or so into William working at Thomas & Martin it happened. When I heard the news from Michael in HR, I immediately ran into William’s office joyously waving the application. “We got an application from another William!” I shouted. William, who had been quietly concentrating on his work, was so startled he fell back in his chair and hit the ground with a thud.

“Get up and look at this,” I said slapping the paper on the desk. “We finally get another Non-Michael applicant, and he’s amazing. He’s got terrific experience, letters of references from the CEOs of all the major Zipper manufacturers, and, get this, he’s a purple belt! Can you believe that?”

William calmly picked up his chair, sat down, and then studied the application. I tried to wait for his reaction before I told him the even bigger news, but I was too excited to wait.

“What’s even better, is that I got both of us on the hiring committee. This way we can make sure that he gets a fair shot at the job.”

William kept looking at the application and said that we had to make sure that we hired the most qualified person. “Which is going to be William,” I said, and left William with the application.

Every year someone at Thomas & Martin hosts a party for the Abu Dhabi Grappling Championships. This year William jumped at the opportunity, and he went all out—huge projection screen, full bar, he even had a full wait staff serving chicken wings. I tried to corner William and tell him what a great party it was, but every time I saw him he was hobnobbing it up with the Michaels from upstairs. William roped off his leather sofa, so that the only people who could sit there were the important Michaels. Though some of the other guests thought this a bit rude, I saw it as a shrewd career move. William was doing whatever it took to further his career, and that’s the type of cutthroat mindset that this country was founded on.

If we were going to be successful with our plan, we would have to be prepared. I compiled and gave William a list of really tough questions for each of the Michael applicants and then a list of softball questions for us to ask William. When we interviewed the first applicant, however, William didn’t ask any of the questions. I confronted him afterwards and asked why he had taken it easy on the applicant. He said that he didn’t want it to appear we were being tougher on the Michaels, so we couldn’t ask them all really difficult questions—we had to mix it up a little. “Of course,” I said. “That’s very clever William. You’re going to make a fantastic Vice President.”

But during the next batch of Michael interviews William still didn’t ask the questions. I said, “William, it’s fine to be sneaky about our bias, but some of these guys are actually really qualified. One of them might get the job.”

He told me not to worry and that he knew what he was doing. His phone rang and he said he needed to take it, as it was a Michael from upstairs calling.

Finally the day arrived to interview William. I was filled with hope that today would be another step towards filling the promise of our diversity statement. The applicant sat across from the committee, looking confident and very professional. I started to ask my first softball question when William interrupted me with his own question, and it was not an easy question. The applicant shifted in his chair but was able to provide a pretty good answer. I opened my mouth to ask my question, but again William asked another difficult question. It went on like this for the entire interview. By the end, the poor applicant was drenched in sweat and all of his confidence had faded away. I was furious with William—what the hell was he thinking? Did he hope that by asking William all of the difficult questions that William would appear more intelligent than the other applicants? Did he not want William to get the job? I feared the worst.

The hiring committee met to discuss the applicants. Two of the other members immediately said that they wanted to hire Michael. I quickly put my vote in for William, but not before I reminded the committee about our diversity statement. The fourth committee member agreed with me, and then everyone looked at William. His would be the deciding vote. I tried to make eye contact with William but he would not meet my gaze. After what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few seconds, William said that we should hire Michael.

This was about all I could take and I needed some answers. After the meeting, I tracked William down in the hall. He was walking away from me towards the elevators, so I caught up to him and grabbed his shoulder. He quickly wrapped his arm around mine and got me in a shoulder lock, which is the proper defense, when someone grabs your shoulder. I pulled my arm free and said, “How could you do that to one of your own people? We created the diversity statement to help people like you, and now you’re ruining it for anyone else like you. How can you live with yourself?”

William got real close to me. His face was just inches from mine. He looked me directly in the eyes and said, “This company has never had someone like me as a Vice President. Do you think they would actually ever have two, at the same fucking time?”

I was hoping the question was rhetorical, but William waited. His eyes drilled into me, daring me to answer. I had to look away, but managed to squeak out, “Maybe?” Disappointment washed over William’s face and he shook his head.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he said,” I have a meeting with the important Michaels.” William stepped away and then walked into the elevator. He waved just as the doors closed, and then rode the elevator up.



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