The year @work – equal pay, organization culture, Mark Zuckerberg’s books, the widening class divide, space exploration & Hamilton

Topics of work and the workplace often captured the headlines in 2015. And some of those headlines seemed to echo the 1970’s. As the economy improved, the wage gap between rich and poor increased. And we are still talking about equal pay for equal work.

One flashback was posted on the NPR website on January 2 in tribute to former New York governor, Mario Cuomo, who died on New Year’s Day. The post included the text and video of his speech to the Democratic National Convention in 1984, two years after the Equal Rights Amendment  failed to gain support from the 38 states required to pass.

“We speak for women who are indignant that this nation refuses to etch into its governmental commandments the simple rule “thou shalt not sin against equality,” a rule so simple —

I was going to say, and I perhaps dare not but I will. It’s a commandment so simple it can be spelled in three letters: E.R.A.”

Even though this year’s slate of Presidential candidates includes two women, the legacy of Cuomo’s passion is largely ignored.

Two stories in the past year served to visibly illustrate the continuing inequity.

In Hollywood, major studio, Sony was hacked, revealing, among other things, the disparity between the compensation of lead actress Jennifer Lawrence and her male co-stars. Madeline Berg covered the story for Forbes

“More frequent are anecdotes of discrimination like those recently related by Selma Hayek, Gwyneth Paltrow and even Streep.

All of these women have echoed the sentiment of Patricia Arquette, who brought the issue to the world’s attention at last year’s Oscars when she said in her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress, “It’s our time to have wage equality for once and for all.”

But it is not only the number on the paycheck that is the problem: Women are also greatly underrepresented on the big screen, leading to fewer opportunities to make money, an issue that Reese Witherspoon brought up at the American Cinematheque Awards in October: “Women make up 50% of the population, and we should be playing 50% of the roles on the screen.”

That is a dream that is far from a reality. According to a report by the Annenberg School at USC’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative released in August, only 28.1% of characters in 2014’s top 100 films were female and of that percent, only 21 had a female lead or co-lead.”

The misrepresentation is even worse behind the camera: Of the same films, women made up only 1.9% of directors, 11.2% of writers and 18.9% of producers. This only aggravates the problem. The report found that in productions where women held key positions off-screen—as directors, writers and producers—the films featured women more often, and in less sexualized roles.”

We may find it hard to garner sympathy for those who earn millions @work for acting or competing in sport. But those are the visible workers who set the bar for the rest of us on the lower rungs of the career ladder.

The year in sport was dominated by the FIFA scandal, but women who work in sport created the memorable moments of the year. Christopher Clarey, summarizing the year in sport for women noted ‘Women Surge On Playing Field but Fall Behind in Boardroom’.

“As visible as female athletes were in 2015, women lost prominence and power in another key domain in the sports world: the boardroom.

Stacey Allaster, chief executive of the WTA Tour, stepped down citing burnout and the desire to spend more time with her young children. Debbie Jevans, a Briton who was perhaps Europe’s leading women’s sports executive, also cited personal reasons for resigning as chief executive of England Rugby 2015 less than six months before the start of the Rugby World Cup that she had been instrumental in organizing.

Another industry leader, Mary Wittenberg, who oversaw the New York City marathon as chief executive of New York Road Runners, resigned to lead a start-up lifestyle company, Virgin Sport.

Allaster, Jevans and Wittenberg were all replaced by men, and by year’s end there was no woman leading a major professional sport, not even one for women. Steve Simon is in charge of the WTA, Michael Whan is in charge of the L.P.G.A., Jeff Plush runs the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States and Mark Tatum oversees the W.N.B.A., the most prominent women’s professional basketball league, on an interim basis after Laurel J. Richie stepped down after five seasons in 2015.

Considering the scandals and governance crises that enveloped leading male-dominated federations like FIFA and the I.A.A.F. in 2015, more women in power looked very much like part of the solution. The men could clearly benefit from new perspectives.

“For me, the most important thing about diversity in a workplace is definitely making everyone feel included,” Wittenberg said. “But the diversity that comes from diversity of thinking is also invaluable, and if you don’t have diversity around your executive table or any table, I think you really run a risk today. Organizations, and especially political organizations that lack diversity in any number of ways, including gender — you’re not coming close to representing a world view. Leadership today should be challenged at every turn.”

The topic of work/life balance continues to dominate the water cooler conversations from Silicon Valley to Wall Street. And the conversation is at the heart of defining organizational culture.

In mid-August The New York Times published a story, ‘Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace’ with the following sub-heading: “The company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push
white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions.” 

Definitely not a ‘puff piece’, but an important piece of journalism that ignited a dialog not only between the Amazon PR machine and the editors of The NY Times, but among workers in a variety of work settings about organizational values and personal tradeoffs. How an individual’s values mesh with those of their employer will determine ultimate success or failure. Who will you become? is a far more important question to ask than   What is the salary offer?

This was also the year that Mark Zuckerberg encouraged others to follow his example, and read a recommended book every two weeks. The final recommendation in  ‘A Year of Books’ was announced today, number 23, ‘The Beginning of Infinity’ by David Deutsch.

Richard Feloni compiled a list of the first 20 recommendations.

“Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made a tradition of dramatic New Year’s resolutions, and this year he decided that he’d read a book every two weeks.

He wanted his selections to focus on “different cultures, beliefs, histories, and technologies.”

“Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today,” Zuckerberg wrote on his personal Facebook page. “I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.”

Hopefully, we have all met our resolutions from January and shifted our media diet to include some ‘long reads’ outside our comfort zone.

As the economy continued to improve, the gap between rich and poor widened. Claire Cain Miller examined the impact of differences in child rearing on growing class divisions.

“Children were not always raised so differently. The achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families is 30 percent to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than those born 25 years earlier, according to Mr. Reardon’s research.

People used to live near people of different income levels; neighborhoods are now more segregated by income. More than a quarter of children live in single-parent households — a historic high, according to Pew – and these children are three times as likely to live in poverty as those who live with married parents. Meanwhile, growing income inequality has coincided with the increasing importance of a college degree for earning a middle-class wage.”

And for awhile, a movie about space, not that one, the other one – ‘The Martian’, seemed to re-energize NASA’s plan to restart manned space exploration beyond the International Space Station.

Doug Bolton of The Independent reported on last week’s suspension of a proposed mission to the red planet.

“NASA has decided to suspend a mission to Mars scheduled for March 2016, due to the lander springing a leak.

The InSight Mission, which would have seen a rover analysing seismic activity and the interior structure of the red planet, was called off by Nasa bosses after technical staff failed to repair a leak in one of the rover’s prime instruments.

John Grunsfeld, the associate administrator for Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said: “We push the boundaries of space technology with our missions to enable science, but space exploration is unforgiving, and the bottom line is that we’re not ready to launch in the 2016 window.”

Which leaves our space efforts to two remarkable American entrepreneurs, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. In May, Jessica Orwig expressed optimism in the future of private space exploration.

“This year is shaping up to be an extremely exciting time for the future of commercial spaceflight, which will be built upon the backbone of revolutionary 21st-century rockets. The private American space companies Blue Origin and SpaceX are paving the way.

Blue Origin, which was founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2000, successfully launched its “New Shepard” space vehicle for the first time on April 29. The vehicle was named after Alan Shepard, who became the second human and first American to enter space 44 years ago. It is designed to eventually boost six people to space, where they can experience weightlessness for 10 minutes before returning to Earth. The ride is for entertainment and therefore not exclusively for astronauts, but these kinds of temporary spaceflights could become a new way for astronauts to train for coming space missions.

Two weeks earlier, on April 14, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, founded in 2002, attempted to land one of its Falcon 9 rockets on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets are designed to boost spacecraft to greater heights than Blue Origin’s and are therefore involved in other missions outside of commercial spaceflight, including supplying the International Space Station, launching satellites into orbit, and aspirations to reach Mars.”

On December 22, NBC News reported “SpaceX completed an historic vertical landing of its Falcon 9 rocket on Monday night — the first time such a feat had been achieved.

The launch and landing in Cape Canaveral, Florida, were the first from the private U.S. spaceflight company since its rocket exploded on liftoff in June.

SpaceX has come close to landing a rocket but until now, never actually pulled the feat off. Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, stuck a landing last month — but Musk pointed out that was a suborbital trip, the requirements for which are considerably different.”

And then there was ‘Hamilton’ the musical. Just as the founding father was about to be replaced on the U.S. ten dollar bill, his story took center stage this summer on Broadway. In a 2015 recap article, ‘Surprises from 2015 and Reasons for Hope’, Gina Bellafante examined the ‘Hamilton effect’ on five year olds.

“As if it weren’t surprise enough that a hip-hop musical about the life of the country’s first Treasury secretary would become a Broadway sensation, finding impassioned fans in both President Obama and Dick Cheney, “Hamilton” has found an unlikely cohort of obsessives among 5-year-olds in New York, thanks to the cast album and scenes available on YouTube. At least one kindergartner in Brooklyn is regularly going to school with white socks pulled up over his pants. Some children are demanding quill pens, and many are singing the songs at home over and over and over.

“This is the new ‘Frozen,’” one already fatigued mother observed. Expect heated arguments about the limitations of Federalism among first graders next year.”

 

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