Do you ever miss the good old days? Do you find yourself lamenting what this world is coming to? It’s only human to glorify the past, to be attached to our present and to fear the uncertainty of the future. I had my own moments of holding on to the past and resisting the change. Some changes I dreaded more than others. It’s through certain eye-opening events in my life I learned that letting go of the past and embracing the change can be a good thing. Today I want to share a personal experience that reinforced my appreciation for change and the progress it allowed us to make as individuals, organizations and a society as a whole.
As a Quality professional one way I help organizations is by making sure the quality of outsourced processes meets customer requirements. As a part of supplier qualification process I audit companies before bringing them on board. I visit their facilities to establish personal rapport, review their processes as well as make sure they have the ability to support us with the necessary documentation.
As I was planning one of those audits, I made an appointment with the owner for the site visit. I took with me someone from manufacturing to check out the machinery. Something didn’t seem right with this place from our very first steps into their building. They had no reception area, and there was no one to greet us. Instead we found ourselves in a cluttered office space with a large fax machine in the middle. I was able to spot someone at a distance and called out to him “Sir, we are here to see …” He turned around, he saw me and he laughed and he laughed and he laughed… After coming back to his senses this person agreed to take us to the owner and as he lead us through dimly lit scruffy corridors he announced to at least two other workers how funny it was that I called him a sir.
When we met the shop owner, I thanked him for making the time for us and restated the goals of our visit. With a blank look on his face this formidable-looking aging man pronounced somewhere above my head that he didn’t understand a thing. Well, I thought, – it must be my accent. I slowed down and paraphrased what I said. There was a long pause with him staring me up and down, up and down with his eyes stopping anywhere but the eye level. He finally turned to my colleague and said he’d give us a tour. I was the one with the questionnaire but every time I asked a question the shop owner rolled his eyes and replied strictly by addressing my colleague. As if I wasn’t even there! To get through the rest of this audit I had to channel every question through my colleague and just like that he translated it from English to English for this man to respond.
The lousy attitude we met, seeped through to all other areas of this workplace. To get to the items we needed to see we had to step over bunched up cables and machine parts, squeeze through tight spaces and at times even limbo our way through the jungle of this workplace. As I was contemplating how in this day and age this shop even survived with their disregard to safety, none of their staff seemed the least perturbed with the poor lighting, the pinch points, the tripping hazards and the lack of personal protective equipment.
Many things in this workplace suggested there was no woman’s touch to it. But I can’t say I did not see any women there. Unfortunately I did. The stark naked ones. Staring down from the walls. You look away from one, only for your eyes to meet another, plastered on the next wall. If I felt invisible before, by now I also felt exposed.
Nowhere on my checklist it had a box for rating suppliers on sexism or bigotry. But for this shop to fail our audit it didn’t have to – they were far from meeting our requirements on many grounds. Unable to provide adequate quality records or show traceability, they expressed zero interest in accepting help ramping up their documentation. Everything we saw was shockingly outdated. We also learned that no one in this shop was computer literate. In fact, the company owned only one PC which was referred to cautiously as “The computer”. The only way they corresponded with the outside world seemed to be via the giant fax machine we had stumbled upon at the entrance.
On our drive back to work that afternoon my colleague kept apologizing to me even though we both knew it was not his fault. He felt deeply ashamed for his fellow men. He also told me what we saw that day was exactly how things were back in the 1970s and 1980s – in regards to quality, safety and, most importantly, the way women were treated in workplaces. He even admitted that obnoxious posters and calendars existed in many shops back then.
To be fair, I haven’t been around long enough to see the workplaces of the 80s for myself. I have to go with what I heard and read about those times. Having had this “glimpse into the past” left me with a bad taste in my mouth and more than ever before, grateful for what we have today, for the progress we have made together. So, next time you hear someone venerate the “good” old days please remember those for whom those days weren’t so good after all. Let’s embrace the change that is a catalyst of our progress.