Friday, May 27, 2011

Setting the Record Straight on Gluten-Free Eating and Celiac Disease: An Entrepreneur Takes on Washington

Photo by Charles Votaw (
What do you get when a passionate gluten-free baker, entrepreneur, and small business owner goes to Washington? You get Jules Dowler Shepard building a sixteen-tier gluten-free cake at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Convention Center to raise awareness and lobby for gluten-free labeling laws.

Shepard will tell you that this first Gluten-free Food Labeling Summit in Washington was a success, but it’s just the beginning, and she didn’t do it alone.

Shepard partnered with fellow celiac and athlete John Forberger to co-found and host the summit. While Shepard used her own birthday cake recipe and donated the gluten-free flour for the eleven-foot cake, Vance’s Foods donated dairy-free milk powder, and Earth Balance donated the shortening and soy milk.

While the cake, the largest ever gluten-free cake, made a statement of its own, the real statement was the need for gluten-free food labeling laws. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, which legislated the requirement for food allergy labeling guidelines, also required the FDA to implement rules for voluntary gluten-free labeling guidelines by August 2008.

The FDA hasn’t done their job.

This is a big deal for the one in 133 (or three million) Americans who have celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder that damages the intestinal lining and causes a vast array of gastro-intestinal and other symptoms) and are tired of guessing at which products are safe for them to consume.

While Shepard and a team of bakers were building the cake, leaders in the gluten-free community used the opportunity to meet with their Senators and Representatives on the hill to discuss the issue. Members of the team met with the FDA, with help from Congresswomen Nita Lowey from New York and Betty McCollum from Minnesota, to ask them to take action. The team told the FDA, “We are not advocating for a particular standard. We speak with one voice. We need to see it through.”

Large food manufacturers have noticed that sales of gluten-free products have increased 30% in recent years and have introduced gluten-free lines to address the market that includes an additional 18 million Americans with gluten sensitivity. Without consistency in labeling however, there is currently no way to know which products are truly safe.

“We need a standard,” said Shepard, stressing that eating gluten-free is not a choice for those with celiac disease, but a medical necessity. “For the 21 million people needing to eat gluten-free, it never was and never will be a fad. With this grassroots movement we are pushing for the labeling laws to be finalized.”

The leftover cake was donated to a local food bank following the reception.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Women in the Workplace are Just Too Nice

Many of us are pleased when our bosses use words like “team player,” “positive attitude” and, “jumps in and helps others” in our annual reviews. We believe these to be traits that help us succeed.

But is it possible that those characteristics may be holding you back?

Few of us have ever had a boss who complained that we were too nice, yet, being too nice may actually hurt your career.

I remember where I was when I read Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois Frankel. The book was so engaging that I couldn’t put it down. It was so enlightening that I have returned to it over time to remind myself that as women, we tend to fall into roles as support players. It’s one of a few books that I recommend all women in business read.

Now, Lois Frankel has teamed up with Carol Frohlinger to author Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It: 99 Ways to Win the Respect You Deserve, the Success You've Earned, and the Life You Want.

One of those ways is tactic #88: Send Guilt on a Trip

Citing a study published in the Spanish Journal of Psychology, Frankel and Frohlinger note that women are more likely to feel guilty because they are socialized to be considerate of the needs and feelings of others. According to the book, “The problem is, guilt is one of the least productive emotions out there, and often it holds us back from going after the things we really want.”

Or, consider tactic #4: Examine Your Choices

“Nice girls don’t proactively make choices for themselves, because they are unduly influenced by the choices that others have made for them,” write Frankel and Frohlinger.

Think about it. How often do you put your own needs first?

Do you want to find out if you’re too nice? This self-assessment at the Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It website is designed to help you identify the behaviors that may be holding you back from getting the things you most want in life.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

And That's What Happens in the Cloud logoImage by Colin ZHU via FlickrI was frustrated yesterday. Following my usual morning routine I logged on to Blogger and found that my new posts hadn't appeared. To make matters worse, I couldn't read any of my favorite blogs either.

Checking blogger status, I saw that they were having an outage. They had removed posts from Wednesday forward, and everything would be restored soon. Phew!

Well, almost...

As the afternoon went on I found my blog restored -- incorrectly. One post was completely missing and another that was a work in progress for next week had been published prematurely. Yikes!

So I went about fixing things -- deleting and adding back what was lost. What I couldn't restore were comments. And I realized that this is what happens when you rely on cloud services. It's hard to complain, after all they are free.

Nevertheless, I apologize for any confusion, and the extra mailings for e-mail subscribers. Feel free to add your comments back to this week's posts.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Five Things Every Boss Should Know About Food Allergies

This week is Food Allergy Awareness Week in the United States. Started in 1997 by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), food allergy awareness week is now well recognized within the food allergy community as a time to educate and spread the word about food allergies.

When my son was first diagnosed with food allergies I was working fulltime in a corporate environment. I was suddenly faced with juggling work, family, home, and becoming an expert in how to keep my child safe at the same time. I could no longer rely on school lunches and I had to re-think my thrown-together-at-the-last-minute dinners.

I have managed my son’s food allergies through the school years and into college. And now, as he is about to enter the workforce, I find myself worrying about a new set of issues. I’ve stopped worrying about ingredients and recipes – he is quite capable of looking out for himself. I worry now about the workplace, and how his food allergies will affect his ability to be successful.

In the spirit of awareness, I’d like to share five things every boss should know about food allergies:

1. Food allergy is a disability you can’t see
. An employee with a physical disability is usually easy to spot, and most of us are willing to hold the door open for him. The employee with food allergies does not appear to have a disability, and that makes it too easy to dismiss.

2. There are more people with food allergies than ever before, and some of them will be your employees. More than 12 million Americans have food allergies. That’s one in 25, or four percent of the total population. Because food allergies are more prevalent in younger generations, as Gen Y enters the workforce, the number of employees with food allergies will increase.

3. Food allergies are not a choice. It’s not about preference or lifestyle.
When an employee is allergic to a food, contact (even accidental contact) with that food causes an autoimmune response. The body attacks itself in an effort to rid itself of the invading allergen. Reactions can vary, but the most severe are life threatening. No one chooses to have food allergies.

4. Food allergies can affect employee morale and productivity. Employees with food allergies may not be able to eat lunch in the cafeteria with their colleagues. They may need to brown-bag it instead of going out for Chinese food once a week. They may feel left out when the cake for the office birthday party is one they can’t eat. These employees will miss out on key informal discussions, causing them to feel isolated from the team.

5. Working parents are more likely to have a child with food allergies today than fifteen years ago. From 1997 to 2007, the prevalence of food allergies increased 18% in children less than 18 years of age. Three million children under age 18 have food allergies. Five percent of children under age five have food allergies. If you have a team of with twenty parents, chances are at least one has a child with food allergies. While all working parents worry about their children, food allergy moms and dads have the added stress of managing their child’s illness. Some will make career choices to stay closer to home, choose roles with less responsibility, or even drop out of the workforce entirely.

If you’re the boss, what can you do?

Ask. Make it your job to find out about your employees food allergies or restrictions. There’s no need for you to become an expert – you already have the expert on your team. If you’re planning a team outing, gathering, or celebration that involves food, ask the employee what will work for them and make the appropriate accommodations.

Make sure the employee’s office environment is safe. Depending on the specific food allergy and the severity, this could mean asking employees not to eat in their office, not to pass doughnuts around the conference room table, or not to leave dishes of peanut M&Ms on their desks. If you do use the conference room table to serve food, be sure to clean it thoroughly afterwards. Even a few crumbs left behind could cause a potentially life-threatening reaction.

Be supportive.
Food-allergy moms and dads may need to make extra visits to school to arrange appropriate accommodations. They may require flexible work schedules or other accommodations. You may need to make an extra effort to include your food-allergic employees in key team discussions.

The bottom line is, employees with food allergies may need some accommodations to ensure a safe and effective working environment. Likewise, employees who are parents of food-allergic children may need extra support and access to resources to help them with the issue.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Galleon Trial: Rajaratnam Found Guilty

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 08:  Billionaire Galleon ...After more than a week deliberating, an excused juror, a re-start of deliberations with an alternate juror, and another week and a half of deliberations, there is a verdict in the Galleon insider trading trial.

Raj Rajaratnam is guilty on all 14 counts of fraud and conspiracy.

I have watched this story unfold
since October 2009, when Rajaratnam and four others, including senior executives from IBM, Intel, and McKinsey & Company were arrested.

This verdict proves that the law applies to everyone, even the rich and powerful. It’s also a landmark case from an insider trading perspective; it was the first of its kind to utilize wiretapped conversations as evidence.

While attorneys for Rajaratnam built their defense by questioning whether the information he traded on was public, I am happy to see that corporate secrets shall (legally) remain protected.

Rajaratnam is scheduled for sentencing on July 29th. He could serve up to 25 years in prison. Danielle Chiesi, the femme fatale in this drama, has pleaded guilty and faces sentencing later this month.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I Want it Now – On Demand (Finally) Resonates

Mplanet - Keynote - Sam Palmisano, IBMImage by hyku via FlickrIn 2002, IBM announced a new strategy centered on a concept called “On Demand.” As a marketing manager involved with the announcement at the time, I can tell you that it caused some confusion.

The concept of “On Demand” didn’t always resonate.

Industry analysts were confused. Not used to an announcement from IBM that wasn’t about a new product, IT industry analysts had no idea how to evaluate it, or what to tell their clients.

The press was confused. They had no idea what to write about this thing called “On Demand.”

The market was confused. Customers wanted to be able to buy it, even though they weren’t quite sure what “it” was.

Employees were confused. I recall many conversations with employees where I explained that what we had announced was a strategy. It was not a product per-se, but a vision for how information technology would support the need for “on demand” services, and how IBM would play a key role.

Less than a decade later, even a five-year-old can tell you what “On Demand” is. It’s a button that you push (on your computer, on your TV remote, or on your mobile device) so you can watch any TV show or movie you want, whenever you want. Of course, the on demand concept is not limited to video, but due to that simple example, everyone now understands what IBM and other technology companies envisioned just a short time ago.

Was IBM ahead of its time, or brilliant and right on target?