The week@work: three questions, a tree, a word, a phrase (and a rabbit)

It’s almost over. A year of continual brain-numbing ‘breaking news’ and distraction. This week@work the focus is on communication and understanding. A teacher posed three important questions to her students, two journalists tracked the odyssey of a balsam fir tree, Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries selected the word of the year and we found the origin of  the phrase ‘glass ceiling’. (And there’s a rabbit.)

The New York Times investigative journalist and author Jodi Kantor‘s work breaking the Harvey Weinstein story demonstrated the value of solid reporting in a time of fake news. But it was her tweet last week that caught my attention.

These are “excellent questions” to ask when evaluating a news story. They can also be added or modified to our repertoire@work. Questions@work are essential, as Academy Award winning producer Brian Grazer noted in his 2015 book, ‘A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life’.

“If you’re the boss, and you manage by asking questions, you’re laying the foundation for the culture of your company or group. 

You’re letting people know that the boss is willing to listen. This isn’t about being “warm” or “friendly”. It’s about understanding how complicated the modern business world is, how indispensable diversity of perspective is, and how hard creative work is.”

And now, a holiday story: the modern tale of a tree, a farmer, a trucker, a lot owner and a customer.

The American Christmas Tree Association reported “More that 94 million American households, or 79 percent of all households, will display a Christmas tree in their home this holiday season…This represents a slight increase overall in the number of households displaying a Christmas tree this year compared to last year. Of those trees, 80 percent will be artificial trees and 20 percent will be real.”

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In ‘1,000 miles. Five Days. Four Familes. One Tree.’, journalists Tiffany Hsu and Roger Kisby followed the supply chain of a single ‘real’ balsam fir from a Nova Scotia farm to a living room in Queens.

“In Lunenburg County, a chunk of Nova Scotia pockmarked by lakes and patches of balsam firs, Silver’s Farm hugs a hill with 45 acres of farmland splayed out in front and 150 acres of Christmas trees behind, all growing naturally and tightly “like the hairs on a dog’s back,” said Wayne Silver.

His operation is small, felling just 3,000 trees a season. Some Nova Scotia farms cut down tens of thousands of trees annually and even ship some overseas.

Mr. Silver took over the farm in 1991 from his father, who took it over from his father, who began cutting Christmas trees in the 1930s. Trees “are in my blood,” he said.

Help is scarce. In a tight labor market with low unemployment, many other tree farmers are hiring migrants from Mexico and Jamaica. Mr. Silver will likely follow suit next year.

“I just work too many long hours,” he said.”

This ‘must read’ multi-media gem captures the changing world of work in North America for farmers, truckers, small business owners and customers.

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It’s that time of year when those @work in the cataloging of words announce their ‘word of the year’. The Oxford Dictionaries chose “the noun, youthquake, defined as ‘a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people’.”

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“Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2017 is feminism. The word was a top lookup throughout the year, with several spikes that corresponded to various news reports and events. The general rise in lookups tells us that many people are interested in this word; specific spikes give us insight into some of the reasons why.”

And while we’re on the topic, did you ever wonder where the phrase ‘glass ceiling’ originated? This past week, the BBC interviewed management consultant Marilyn Loden who coined the phrase almost 40 years ago.

“I first used the phrase “glass ceiling” in 1978 during a panel discussion about women’s aspirations. As I listened, I noted how the (female) panellists focused on the deficiencies in women’s socialisation, the self-deprecating ways in which women behaved, and the poor self-image that many women allegedly carried.

It was a struggle to sit quietly and listen to the criticisms.

True, women did seem unable to climb the career ladder beyond the lowest rung of middle management, but I argued that the “invisible glass ceiling” – the barriers to advancement that were cultural not personal – was doing the bulk of the damage to women’s career aspirations and opportunities.

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On 24 May 2018, the “glass ceiling” will be 40 years old.

What has changed for working women in that time? The sheer number of female managers has increased dramatically across most industries and yet the metaphor continues to symbolise an enduring barrier to gender equality – one that has been normalised in many organisations where there is now a sense of complacency about the lack of women at the top.”

One last story this week@work: ‘Harvey Is A Great Holiday Movie’ by Jennifer Finney Boylan
“…if the holiday season means anything at all, it’s about believing in things that we cannot actually see. That virtues as shopworn as faith, hope and love can abide, even if others think you’re a crazy person for believing in them. That those we have lost — parents, friends, even our own younger selves — can live on, in us. That there really are spirits that can make us more than ourselves, that can turn our perilous, fallen lives into something sacred.”

 

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The week@work – Olympic stories, author salaries, “what a feminist looks like” & the July jobs report

This week@work the athletes who go to work every day to pursue an Olympic dream are in Rio, Forbes announced their list of top earning authors, President Obama penned an essay on “what a feminist looks like”, and the U.S. labor market grew by 255,000 positions.

The major story of the next two weeks will take place in Brazil as the athletes of the world gather to compete in the XXXI Olympics. Journalists covered two athletes who have travelled diverse paths to reach Rio 2016.

 Kianoosh Hashemzadeh introduced us to equestrian, Lauren Kieffer, ‘An American Rider Trying to Beat the Boys in Rio’, for The New Yorker

“There are two Olympic-level athletic endeavors in which men and women square off head to head: sailing and equestrian sports. Eventing, an equestrian sport in which horse and rider compete in three phases—dressage, cross-country, and stadium jumping—has been called the most dangerous competition in the Olympics. That danger has never deterred female riders: they have competed alongside men since the field became open to them, at the 1964 Games, in Tokyo. Women do well in the sport, but they have struggled to reach its uppermost echelon: the current top-ten list of the Fédération Équestre Internationale, the sport’s governing body, is made up of eight men and two women. There are, however, six women in the following ten spots—and sitting at No. 12, eager to crash the old guard, is the top female eventing athlete in the United States, twenty-nine-year-old Lauren Kieffer.”

lauren kieffer.jpg“No woman has ever won an individual gold medal in the sport, and, while Kieffer’s focus is to bring home a team medal, an individual victory would be particularly sweet. Women are contenders in eventing, but few have made it to the very top. As Kieffer told me, “Someone has to beat the boys.”

If you’ve seen the Visa commercial that has been running during the NBC Olympic coverage, you may recognize the name Yusra Mardini, a member of the refugee team competing at the Olympics.

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Charly Wilder profiled her heroic story from her training facility in Berlin for The New York Times, ‘She Swam to Escape Syria. Now She’ll Swim in Rio’.

“Yusra Mardini, an Olympic swimmer, was an hour and a half into her first training session of the day, butterfly-kicking down the length of a pool with a yellow rubber duck balanced on her head.

Last August, Mardini and her sister Sarah fled war-torn Syria and embarked on a harrowing, monthlong journey through Lebanon, Turkey and Greece, up through the Balkans and Central Europe, to Germany, narrowly dodging capture and death. When their crammed dinghy broke down between Turkey and Greece, she and her sister, also a swimmer, jumped into the water and helped guide the boat to safety.

Mardini’s story came to public attention in March when she was identified by the International Olympic Committee as a candidate to compete on a new team of refugees, made up of athletes who are stateless or would otherwise be excluded from the Games. She was thrust into the spotlight, celebrated by the news media as a fresh-faced example of Germany’s so-called welcome culture — a story of uplift at the center of the global refugee crisis.”

Robert Kitson updated the story from Rio after the first day of Olympic competition, ‘Yusra Mardini delights with butterfly heat win for Refugee Olympic Team’

“For those minded to complain about minor irritations in Rio such as humidity in the aquatics centre or a few nibbling insects, the 18-year-old’s story should serve as a timely reminder of life’s more pressing issues.

The venue may have been far from full and her heat loaded with competitors entertaining nil hope of reaching the final but Mardini was the most popular of winners in a time of 1min 9.21sec, just over a second faster than her nearest heat rival. Afterwards she could scarcely contain her joy: “Everything was amazing. It was the only thing I ever wanted was to compete in the Olympics. I had a good feeling in the water. Competing with all these great champions is exciting. I’ve only been back swimming for two years so we’re only now getting back to my levels of before.”

The next story this week@work is for all of you commuting to work, considering a career change. Forbes announced their annual ranking of the world’s highest paid authors this week and new to the top ten was commuter, former journalist and ‘near broke’ novelist, Paula Hawkins.

Natalie Robehmed reported on ‘The World’s Highest-Paid Authors 2016: James Patterson, Jeff Kinney and J.K. Rowling Top Ranking’.

“These well-heeled wordsmiths earned a combined $269 million over the last 12 months, proving that the written word isn’t dead–although television and movie adaptations often help drive sales.

Patterson topped our list for the third straight year, earning $95 million pretax, while children’s author Jeff Kinney placed a distant second, earning $19.5 million.”

hawkins.jpgThe only newcomer to the ranking: Paula Hawkins. After “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Gone Girl,” her novel “The Girl on the Train” is the latest literary phenomenon with a calculating female character to hit the bestseller list. It sold 11 million copies worldwide; a movie version hits theaters in October.”

President Barak Obama wrote an essay linking his upbringing by strong women, his role as a father of two girls, and the nomination of Hillary Clinton, to describe “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” for Glamour magazine.

“In my lifetime we’ve gone from a job market that basically confined women to a handful of often poorly paid positions to a moment when women not only make up roughly half the workforce but are leading in every sector, from sports to space, from Hollywood to the Supreme Court. I’ve witnessed how women have won the freedom to make your own choices about how you’ll live your lives—about your bodies, your educations, your careers, your finances. Gone are the days when you needed a husband to get a credit card. In fact, more women than ever, married or single, are financially independent.

malia-sasha-obama.jpg…the most important people in my life have always been women. I was raised by a single mom, who spent much of her career working to empower women in developing countries. I watched as my grandmother, who helped raise me, worked her way up at a bank only to hit a glass ceiling.

So I’d like to think that I’ve been pretty aware of the unique challenges women face—it’s what has shaped my own feminism. But I also have to admit that when you’re the father of two daughters, you become even more aware of how gender stereotypes pervade our society. You see the subtle and not-so-subtle social cues transmitted through culture. You feel the enormous pressure girls are under to look and behave and even think a certain way.

…we need to break through these limitations.” 

Finally, this week@work, the U.S. Labor Department released the July 2016 jobs report. Jeff Cox covered the news for CNBC.

“Job creation crushed estimates in July as the economy added 255,000 positions, according to the Labor Department.

The headline unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent, though a more encompassing measure that includes those not actively looking for work and those working part-time for economic reasons moved up a notch to 9.7 percent. Though still mired near generational lows, the labor force participation rate ticked up one-tenth to 62.8 percent as those counted as not in the labor force decreased 184,000 to 94.3 million.

Hourly wages also moved higher, increasing by 8 cents or an annualized pace of 2.6 percent, while the average work week edged up to 34.5 hours.”

Photo credits: Lauren Kieffer – Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post, Yusra Mardini – Michael Sohn/AP, Paula Hawkins – The Daily Beast, President Obama – The Daily Mail