by Jaclyn Y. Garver
NCMPR Administrative Services Coordinator
Fort Wayne, IN
This is not news: The nation is a year into a pandemic that still has many community college employees working from home. Neither is the fact that working from home under some form of quarantine is ridiculously lonely work.
This, perhaps, is news: In the midst of that isolation, we can create community.
That’s what Crystal Kadakia is going to talk about at Tuesday’s keynote address for NCMPR’s national conference, which will be the first virtual national conference in its 47-year history.
Kadakia’s elevator-pitch bio would call her an expert in millennials and Gen Z, but her experience is considerably broader. For one, she says, “I’m not someone who’s gonna put every generation in a bucket. I’m about the gray.” For another, her work background is pretty diverse: She started out as a chemical engineer.
“My only dream, as the model Asian, was to have a steady, stable job,” she says in her 2015 TEDx speech, “preferably at one company, for the rest of my life.”
Since then things have changed – and that’s putting it lightly. Kadakia realized that she’s more of a people person than a machine person, so she switched out of chemical engineering over to training engineers. Then, she had some health issues related to the eight hours a day she spent in a cubicle, so she negotiated the switch to “location free,” as she calls it.
Despite the changes, she didn’t see herself with the company long term, and she left. Today, Kadakia runs her own consulting firm. She works with HR execs to help them understand younger employees who feel like she did, then incorporates that info into their onboarding, leadership development and the like.
Her current interests, which intersect nicely with the not-so-nice year we’ve all just had, point to workplace changes in the shift from the industrial age to the information age. Not that anyone thinks this is a new shift, but at least one area of society hasn’t quite made the transition.
“We’re in a digital age, and a lot of our workplaces haven’t caught up yet,” she says. “I spend a lot of time working for organizations and nonprofits trying to make a leap in a particular area” like employee engagement, diversity inclusion, productivity and organizational structure.
Part of that might be because people’s mindsets tend to be slow to change. Another may be about the homogeny in leadership. Historically, she points out, our organizations’ leaders tend to be white males over a certain age, and she references this The New York Times piece from 2018:
“Fewer Republican senators are women than men named John – despite the fact that “Johns” represent 3.3 percent of the male population, while women represent 50.8 percent of the total population. Fewer Democratic governors are women than men named John. And fewer women directed the top-grossing 100 films last year than men named Michael and James combined.”
All together now: Oof.
One positive result to come out of the pandemic is that it’s forced workplaces to understand what is possible, Kadakia says, and it’s made them try something they should have been doing all along, like letting employees work remotely.
“A big shift sometimes needs a forcing mechanism to get you there,” she says. “It’s similar to Black Lives Matter. It’s stuff we already should have been thinking about.”
Kadakia’s goal is to help her clients understand and find a middle ground that feels healthy: It’s not spending eight hours a day in an office, nor is it the isolation that can come from all digital, all the time. It’s about the balance.
Crystal Kadakia is the closing keynote speaker at NCMPR’s 2021 national virtual conference. Attendees, don’t forget to tune in at 1:30 p.m. Eastern on Thursday to catch her speech. Find her bio on page 4 of the conference program.
Jaclyn Y. Garver is the administrative services coordinator at NCMPR and the former communications coordinator at Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne, Indiana.