I had the pleasure of interviewing Mirande Valbrune. Mirande is an Employee Relations professional with an Employment Law background. She has over 15 years of experience, with a majority of those spent in senior roles, and including work with Fortune 100 companies. She holds degrees from two Ivy League institutions that are renowned for their Employment Law programs. Most recently, she has released her debut business book, “#MeToo: A Practical Guide to Navigating Today’s Cultural Workplace Revolution”. The case studies provided in this book, inspired by real #MeToo stories, can serve to help employees, employers, and those “afraid of getting it wrong” handle more effectively instances and allegations of sexual abuse or harassment that may arise at work.
What is your “backstory”?
For the past sixteen years, I have been a workplace fixer—someone who helps make organizations better both for the company, and its employees. I have achieved this by applying proactive, preventive in-house practices and through developing and promoting policy, diversity and training initiatives to align with business imperatives. My passion for this work began in college when I joined an organization at Cornell called Peer Educators in Human Relations (PEHR). They had a call for freshman interns. The job of an intern was to attend workshops to learn of the “-isms” (i.e., anti-semitism, racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism and ageism). The workshops were led by student staff members and a couple of full-time staff members. My experience in the organization was transformational, as it challenged my personal views and biases. It also informed the life and career choices that I subsequently made. I went on to become a staff member at PEHR, to co-lead the group during my senior year, and then to pursue an employment law career. I now work in senior leadership roles promoting the work that I care about.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
I was facilitating a sexual harassment training with a diverse audience of professionals from different areas and locations in the organization. Therefore many attendees didn’t know each other. I sat in the audience to start, which I find can be helpful for getting a temperature of what people are saying and how they feel about the upcoming event. One financial professional took it as an opportunity to “take his shot” at showing interest in me. It didn’t quite rise to the level of the sexual harassment that I would later warn about during the training, but it was enough to leave him very red-faced when I started the training. Moral of the story: always show the utmost professionalism in the workplace (and at workplace events) at all times. You may not know who you’re speaking to. And even more importantly, you shouldn’t need to. Everyone deserves to feel comfortable at work.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The positive response to my book has been overwhelming. From strong reviews and book sales to speaker, trainer, presentation and panel requests, I could not be more pleased. I am very excited to be traveling for these engagements, as well as delivering them locally in the Florida and South Florida regions.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I am a huge Oprah Winfrey fan. I have always been most impressed and inspired by success stories that are marked by past adversity and challenges. Oprah Winfrey’s rise to fame is accented by these factors. Moreover, she did not fit the average profile of a rising television star or billionaire. Far from Martha Stewart’s past as a young blonde model, Oprah was able to touch America’s heart through the sheer impact of her ability to deeply motivate, galvanize, empower, influence, embolden, sway, inform and touch others. I am reminded of the awesome power of these attributes when I design and deliver trainings and presentations. I aspire to them in my writings, and most certainly did so with the drafting of #MeToo: A Practical Guide.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I am a lifelong learner, so business books are an essential part of my repertoire. “Who Moved My Cheese?” is a staple for me that I reference and go back to consistently in my personal and professional life. The name says it all. None of us are, in fact, entitled to claim ownership of whatever “our” cheese is. So there is a constant need to shift and adapt to new realities, whilst doing our best, reasonably, to influence it. In this spirit, my book (#MeToo: A Practical Guide) offers some great tools for adapting to the new realities of the workplace.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
When I conduct workplace harassment investigations, I often write a report summarizing my findings and recommendations for the most sensitive and complex cases. I am keenly aware that these findings and recommendations can have a very strong real world impact on the person making the complaint, and also on the alleged harasser. So it is imperative that my writing conveys my message in a way that is clear, concise and easily understandable to my busy, internal business stakeholders. Also, my writing should persuade and influence (through the facts and investigative conclusions) insofar as I am making recommendations. These writing skills were important to my development and drafting of #MeToo: A Practical Guide. This book is an opportunity for me to bring my advice and experience to scale in sharing with others my recommendations for dealing with a post-Weinstein world and #MeToo in the workplace.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Start by defining your objective (i.e. begin with the end in mind). However, maintain some flexibility because the book may also take you to places that you did not necessarily intend to go – be ready and open to the journey of discovering your book as you write it. Dedicate a set amount of time every day for writing the book. Just get the words down in alignment with your broad outline, and then come back later to edit. Give yourself time to step away from the book and come back to it with a fresh eye a few times. You will discover things, after some time away from the book, that you would not have imagined. Partner with an excellent editor and publisher that you trust and who has a proven track record.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have volunteered some of my time to speaking before schools and non-profits. I believe that the success of the book and its wide readership is helping to make the workplace better for those who read and apply its principles.
What are your “3 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?
Your life will be this book until it is complete and it has been distributed to the world.
I lived, breathed and slept this book for the time that it took to write and publish it. I was on an abbreviated timeline because I felt that there was an imperative to share quality guidance quickly with those impacted or questioning how to handle #MeToo. Even with a much longer timeline, I believe that my life would have been dedicated to this book until it was completed and distributed.
To the extent that adding a number of other major, time intensive priorities during this time may be avoided, then it may be advisable to do so.
Related to #1, is #2. I decided to purchase a condo during the condensed time that I was writing the book. Fortunately, I had a realtor who had the patience of a saint. Between the book, work and purchasing the new home, he was truly a great help and godsend.
When deciding the book’s timetable for release, set aside some days for Amazon KDP free days and take full advantage of the offering.
Amazon allows authors who sell books exclusively through its platform for 90 days to market their book through KDP free days (for up to five days) during which time readers are allowed to download the book for free. I was a little skeptical of this program’s value and only did it for a couple of days before my book’s official release. I was very happy, however, that I listed #MeToo: A Practical Guide on Amazon KDP’s free days. It was an opportunity for many readers to see and purchase my book at no risk to them. As a result of the additional exposure, I received a number of five-star reviews from readers who consumed the book during this time period and who liked it. This gave me additional affirmation and confidence, as a new author, that I had created a product that many would find value in. Also, by the time that I officially released the book, a wider audience of paid readers were able to gain a credible preview of what others had to say about the guide.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to sit down with Alyssa Milano, Selma Hayek or Tarana Burke given their role in promoting the #MeToo movement. I would also invite a sit down with Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart. As the country’s largest employer of people, sharing my best practices with him or his Chief Human Resources Officer would potentially have a great impact on the way that sexual harassment claims are handled in light of the #MeToo movement.