Students subverting students: The Corp must prioritize employee empowerment

February 17, 2023

Design by Elyza Bruce

Toward the end of January, I, alongside a few other Corpies, spent a weekend in and out of interviews as The Corp underwent its annual hiring session for its executive leadership, called the C-suite. Though my rejection call later that weekend marked the end of my C-suite journey, the experience revealed to me institutional flaws in the organization. Specifically, The Corp’s institutional design favors—and will continue to favor—the status quo over true, progressive changes.

I applied to The Corp last fall because I wanted to engage with my passion for coffee, make some money, and also find a community on campus. I felt very out of place upon returning to Georgetown after spending a year online and another on a medical leave of absence. When I was eventually hired at the Midnight MUG, I noticed operational and cultural issues. To fill in for insufficient barista training, a fellow new hire and I hosted office hours to improve bar skills and create a unique bonding event with our service’s hiring class. We also worked with the current COO and the head of training and facilities to standardize procedures for coffee and tea preparation. Following these successes, I felt that being in the C-suite would give me more sway in further advocating for measures like these.

But I was a flawed candidate. Maybe I was too focused on my coffee background during my interviews and came across as uninterested in The Corp’s other services. Looking back on the process, I realize I am not suited for the role, and think my rejection was for the best. My disillusionment instead arises from the fact that the part of my platform that faced the most intense criticism in the interview room was the empowerment of non-managerial employees.

Part of the final interview is dedicated to pointing out shortcomings in applicants’ proposals. My suggestion that The Corp introduce a semi-democratic system of electing service management—whereby the upper management vets applicants and sends a shortlist so Corpies can vote on their service’s next leadership team—was met with disapproval by upper management. My interviewers pointed out that this is not how typical businesses operate. However, The Corp is not a typical business; The Corp not only provides employment opportunities but also markets itself as a social community. Because individual service managements are integral to defining Corp culture—and the director of each service serves on the upper management—it is vital for non-managerial Corpies to have a say in at least choosing who they feel can best understand, represent, and advocate for their needs. 

The ideas of non-managerial Corpies haven’t gone completely unheard, especially in regard to diversity hiring, but this hasn’t been enough. This semester, The Corp shifted its hiring outreach strategy so that affinity groups like Qorp, which represents LGBTQ+ Corpies, could lead information sessions. But to ensure a more diverse Corp actually reflects meaningful change, the mechanisms that determine leadership roles must change as well. If not, The Corp risks continuing to hire individuals who mainly cater to the views of current leadership instead of those who are honest about how The Corp should operate. 

If The Corp doesn’t partially democratize the mechanisms governing upward mobility within services, it will continue to create management bodies that are out of touch with the needs of non-managerial employees. While The Corp touts the benefits they give their employees—like allocating tips to HR funds for social events—they don’t understand how these may not be seen as benefits to all Corpies, especially those less interested in the heavy party culture that has historically dominated the organization. Although HR funds are allegedly used for purchases besides alcohol, some Corpies abstain from attending Corp socials due to the tradition of substance use at these events. My suggestion of alternative benefits, such as free shift drinks, however, were met with vitriol; this is just one example of how The Corp’s leadership makes decisions that don’t cater to all members.

And to label tips a “benefit” may be a misnomer given recent events; on Jan. 31, The Corp upper management revealed that it was uncertain what tips have been used for. According to a Corp-wide email, “[tip] tracking was lost in operations and transparency was an issue.” Because upward mobility currently depends on gaining the favor of those in positions of power, unethical practices like tip mismanagement go unquestioned for far too long. We need mechanisms for feedback to prevent the glaring lack of transparency. 

One might ask, since management teams in the real world often don’t want to transfer power to non-managerial employees, why would you expect The Corp to be any different? My response to that is: Why not? In a business where two new hires could guide corrective operational and cultural measures, why not prioritize feedback mechanisms that create a more fluid dialogue between the upper management and non-managerial employees? 

By refusing to take advantage of and expand on The Corp’s greatest strength—the relatively short distance between a non-managerial employee and the upper management—The Corp also holds itself back from implementing meaningful cultural changes and maximizing its potential as a business. As an organization run solely by students, why emulate the real world when we can instead experiment with non-traditional solutions that can serve as a blueprint for designing more equitable workplaces outside of Georgetown? 

I truly look forward to seeing what changes the incoming C-suite makes and am glad they represent a more diverse set of backgrounds than C-suites in the past. I hope the new upper management takes the changes I have proposed seriously; it is only by prioritizing worker empowerment that we can envision a more equitable Corp. As for me, I know I will not pursue other leadership opportunities in The Corp and am uncertain whether I will remain an employee after the publication of this piece. My hope is I can stay and continue bar office hours to promote the change for which I advocated so dearly.

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