The week@work – leadership, lawyers, student loans & the economy

What makes a great leader or a great lawyer? What’s the best strategy to retire student debt? This week@work surveys articles that provide some answers, and as the economy continues to strengthen, offers some practical advice on career advancement.

Joshua Rothman wrote ‘Shut Up and Sit Down: Why the leadership industry rules’ for The New Yorker. He gives us a quick tutorial on the history of leadership, why we value the concept, but are so often disappointed in the people. He alludes to the current presidential contest, and then focuses on change in both our expectations of leaders, and the roles they play in contemporary organizations.Print

“In recent years, technological and economic changes like social media and globalization have made leaders less powerful.

Leaders used to be titanic and individual; now they’re faceless guiders of processes. Once, only the people in charge could lead; now anyone can lead “emergently.” The focus has shifted from the small number of people who have been designated as leaders to the background systems that produce and select leaders in the first place.

Leaders, moreover, used to command; now they suggest. Conceptually, at least, leadership and power have been decoupled.

To some extent, leaders are storytellers; really, though, they are characters in stories. They play leading roles, but in dramas they can’t predict and don’t always understand. Because the serialized drama of history is bigger than any one character’s arc, leaders can’t guarantee our ultimate narrative satisfaction. Because events, on the whole, are more protean than people, leaders grow less satisfying with time, as the stories they’re ready to tell diverge from the stories we want to hear. And, because our desire for a coherent vision of the world is bottomless, our hunger for leadership is insatiable, too. Leaders make the world more sensible, but never sensible enough.”

The New York Times profiled two women who chose law as their profession and took divergent, pioneering paths to achieve success. What makes a good lawyer? Meet Kimberley Chongyong Motley and Damaris Hernandez.

David Jolly profiled Ms. Motley, who has been practicing her profession in Afghanistan for close to eight years and was recently the subject of an award winning documentary, ‘Motley’s Law’.

image.adapt.990.high.kimberley_motley_05feb2016_portrait.1454770287607“Ms. Motley, 40, a Marquette University Law School graduate, had never before traveled overseas when she enrolled in a Justice Department program to train Afghan lawyers and flew to one of the world’s more dangerous places.

After her nine-month assignment, she did not return home to Milwaukee, instead hanging out her own shingle in Kabul. She studied Shariah, the Islamic code that lies beneath the fragile new Afghan Constitution, and she established herself as the only foreign litigator in one of the world’s most conservative and male-dominated cultures.

Ms. Motley says she makes a point of closely studying the cultures of both Afghanistan and the courtroom. “I’m a sort of legal archaeologist,” she said. “I try to uncover laws that have not been used, and then use them for the benefit of my clients.”

Damaris Hernandez was recently promoted to partner at the firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, becoming the first Latina to reach that position. Elizabeth Olson tells her story as a first generation college student, who advanced in her career with the support of a unique scholarship at NYU.

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That achievement is an acknowledgment of her talent and hard work. But the story of her route to the top also reveals how much more complex the journey is for minorities and women than for the white men who overwhelmingly dominate the firms. Skill is only one of the keys. Being able to navigate unspoken rules is at least as important.

“When I was the only one of color or the only woman in the room, I had the confidence to believe in my ability,” said Ms. Hernández, 36, describing the advantages of the program to her. “When you are the first, you need someone to have your back.”

Over the last decade and a half, she and 100 others who attended the New York University School of Law received that support from a scholarship program that paid their full tuition and also gave them access to a network of luminaries including federal judges, law firm partners and even Supreme Court justices.”

If you are seeking ways to reduce your student loan obligation, NPR’s Yuki Noguchi offers ‘Strategies For When You’re Starting Out Saddled With Student Debt’. It’s not just about individual liability, but also the long term impact on career choice and economic growth.

“Experts say studies show rising student debt is limiting peoples’ career options. They decide against graduate school. Or feel they can’t afford lower-paying public service jobs or the risk of starting a new business. That’s a problem, because new companies create new jobs.”

University Park campus of the University of Southern California

This past week the University of  Southern California announced a tuition increase that will bring the annual bill to over $51,000. Financing college involves loans as part of the  package. Having a repayment strategy is critical to long term career success.

“Chris Costello, CEO of Blooom, a personal finance advice firm targeting lower-net-worth people, advises his firm’s clients to tackle student debt with this strategy.

First, if your employer matches contributions to a retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), max out on the matching contributions.

After maxing out on the matching contributions, pay off the debt with the lowest balance.

Check to see if you can qualify for loan forgiveness, refinancing or debt consolidation.

Do not incur new debts: in other words, live below your means.”

Chico Harlan of The Washington Post reported on the latest figures released by the U.S. Labor Department on Friday.

“U.S. employers continued their rapid hiring in February, new government data showed Friday, a sign of the nation’s economic durability during a tumultuous global slowdown.

The U.S. added 242,000 jobs as the unemployment rate held at 4.9 percent, the lowest mark during the seven-year recovery from the Great Recession.

That pace, consistent with gains over the last year, indicates Americans are returning rapidly to the labor force, helped by steady consumer spending that is bolstering demand and prompting employers to expand their workforces. In data released Friday by the Department of Labor, sluggish wages provided the only disappointing note — a signal that labor market still has room to improve.”

Two other articles of interest this week:

’15 things successful 20-somethings do in their spare time’ by Jacquelyn Smith and Rachel Gillett for Business Insider

‘How to Advance In Your Career Without Becoming A Workaholic’ by Lisa Evans for Fast Company

 

 

 

 

 

 

The week@work – Mark Zuckerberg’s parental leave, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem have lunch, and 29 words to avoid in an interview

The stories selected from this week@work include Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to take two months of parental leave, a conversation between Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem, and advice on words to avoid in an interview.

Mark Zuckerberg’s choice to ‘lead by example’ and step away from work to care for family may signal to Facebook employees and other CEOs that the world is finally changing for dual career parents.

Covering the story for Wired, journalist Julia Greenberg wrote:

“Zuckerberg is perhaps the most prominent chief executive of a major public tech company to take this much time off following the birth of his child. That’s important, because executives set the tone for a company (and, in some ways, the country) when it comes to balancing work and family.

Like some other major tech companies, Facebook already offers new parents a parental leave plan considered very generous by US standards. New parents at Facebook can take four paid months off. They receive benefits such as $4,000 for each child born or adopted. As we’ve written before, however, employees may feel reluctant to take advantage of such plans if their companies don’t have a culture that encourages taking time off. And company culture typically comes from the top.

 Let’s hope more companies will offer new parents more leave, and that dads will be able to follow his lead.”

One of the highlights of The New York Times Sunday Style section is the ‘Table for Three’ feature. This past week, Philip Galanes shared the conversation between Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem.

I recommend reading the complete interview, if for no other reason than to provide a historical context for the current conversation on gender discrimination in the workplace. Here is a short excerpt.

PG: One of the cleverest things you did as a litigator was demonstrate how rigid gender roles harm men as much as women.

RBG: There was an interesting case this court decided in the first year Justice O’Connor was on the bench, about a man who wanted to go to the best nursing school in his area, but it was women-only. You could read between the lines what she understood: There was no better way to raise pay for women in nursing than to get men to do it.

GS: Equal pay for women would be the biggest economic stimulus this country could ever have. Big-time profits are being made from gender roles as they exist. It would also be win-win because female-headed households are where children are most likely to be poor.

PG: Last subject: You are both bridge builders. Justice Ginsburg on the court; and Gloria, with a sea of men and women over the years. Any advice for getting along with people who disagree with us to the core — like Justice Scalia?

RBG: Last night, my daughter and I got a prize from a women’s intellectual property group, and Nino [Scalia] was in the video, saying his nice things about me. He’s a very funny man. We both love opera. And we care about writing. His style is spicy, but we care about how we say it.

GS: I think Ruth is better at getting along with people with whom we profoundly disagree. I feel invisible in their presence because I’m being treated as invisible. But what we want in the future will only happen if we do it every day. So, kindness matters enormously. And empathy. Finding some point of connection.

Moving to the job search, Jacquelyn Smith writing for Business Insider provides us with a list of ’29 words you should never say in a job interview’. Drawing on tips from Michael Kerr, here’s a sample:

“‘Money,’ ‘salary,’ ‘pay,’ ‘compensation,’ etc.  Never discuss salary in the early stages of the interview process, Kerr says. “Focusing on the salary can raise a red flag with potential employers that you are only there for the money and not for any deeper reasons,” he says. “More and more, employers are looking for people who align with their mission and values.”Negotiations can and should be done after — or at the end of — the interview phase.

‘Weaknesses’ or ‘mistakes’   Never voluntarily talk about your weaknesses unless they ask you with the standard interview question, ‘What’s your biggest weakness?'” says Kerr. And don’t bring up mistakes you’ve made at work, unless you’re talking about them to show how you’ve made significant improvements.”

Two other articles of interest were published on the Fast Company site this week:

‘Where Google, Apple and Amazon employees want to work next’Lydia Dishman

‘The World’s Five Biggest Employers Aren’t Who You Think’Charlie Sorrel

One more thing…

This past summer I celebrated July 4th in Brussels. It’s one of my most favorite cities in the world. The people I met in shops and restaurants are in my thoughts this weekend. Be safe.

The week@work – writer’s rooms and publishing lack diversity, alternatives to academia, what scares us most and the number one mistake job seekers make

As the world turned this week@work, journalists continued to highlight the lack of diversity in the workplace: in the writers rooms of TV, the publishing industry and tech. The National Endowment for the Humanities announced a grant initiative to align graduate education with employment prospects.  A survey from Chapman University identified our top fear as corruption of government officials (unemployment and public speaking being way down on the list). And a CEO offered advice on the one mistake job seekers make.

Things are not looking good on the diversity front. Aisha Harris reporting on Slate.com, investigated the lack of progress on diversity behind the camera, in the rooms where plot and dialogue are created for your favorite TV shows.

“A Writers’ Guild of America report released earlier this year noted that staff employment for people of color actually decreased between the 2011–12 season and 2013–14 season, from a peak of 15.6 percent to 13.7 percent. The number of executive producers of color also decreased in those seasons, from 7.8 percent to 5.5 percent. While the 2014–15 season may have seen those numbers increase thanks to the addition of a few shows with diverse casts, such sharp declines demonstrate how tenuous progress in Hollywood can be.

…the television industry, like most creative industries (including journalism), pays lip service to “diversity” while very little actually changes. Even as the hottest show on TV boasts a majority-nonwhite writing staff, the work of vigorously recruiting non-white writing talent is still confined to a narrow pipeline: Diversity departments and fellowships help to fill one or two designated diversity slots on each staff. And that’s just the start of the problem: As writer after writer revealed, even when writers of color make it into that pipeline, the industry hasn’t gotten much better at making them feel as though their voices matter.”

Jim Milliot, the editorial director for Publishers Weekly, reported on their annual publishing industry salary survey. While the results indicated younger employees may be replacing the old guard, the workforce is still predominantly white.

“If publishers are indeed recruiting a new generation of employees, they do not appear to be hiring minorities. The share of survey respondents who identified themselves as white/Caucasian was 89% in 2014, the same as in the previous year. Asians remained the second-largest ethnic group within publishing, accounting for 5% of respondents in 2014, up from 3% the previous year. With the survey finding no real change in the racial composition of the workforce, it is no surprise that only 21% of respondents felt that strides had been made in diversifying the industry’s workforce in 2014. A much higher percentage, however, said they believe the industry has made progress in publishing titles by nonwhite authors and titles aimed at more diverse readers.”

One other article of interest on the diversity topic was written by Vauhini Vara for Fast Company and details Pinterest’s efforts to “fix its diversity problem”. She chronicles the various efforts to identify recruitment channels over the past two years and the lack of progress in diversifying the workplace. “There is lots of hope but little certainty about what works.”

The common thread in all of these ‘lack of diversity’ conversations is the ‘wishful thinking’ for a quick fix. The majority of the careers covered in these articles are filled by ‘contract’ employees. The hiring is tied to a project. When the next project begins, folks hire their trusted colleagues from previous gigs and there are few openings for a newbie. Diversity requires a long term investment in education, internships and mentoring – creating a new career pipeline.

One solution I personally observed in my corporate life was when a senior exec tied business unit management compensation to diversity targets. If you are rewarded for diversity – hiring and retention – there is a better chance for success. It’s not brain surgery; it’s a matter of priorities.

Academia is another workplace that has continued to struggle with diversity issues, driven in part by an outdated tenure process and lack of career transition in senior faculty ranks. As students continue to enroll in PhD programs, their predecessors compete for the few faculty openings and get by cobbling together a mosaic of ‘contract’ adjunct positions. Until now, it was taboo for a grad student to speak out loud about pursuing a career outside the ivory tower.

Colleen Flaherty reports for Inside Higher Education on the National Endowment for the Humanities recognition of diminishing tenure-track options and a proposal to explore alternatives.

“Critics have long complained about doctoral education in the humanities, saying that it takes too long and no longer reflects the realities of graduates’ employment prospects. In other words, graduate humanities programs are still largely training students to become professors at major research universities, when the vast majority won’t, given the weak tenure-track job market.

“We know that the traditional career track in the humanities, in term of numbers of available positions, is diminished — that scenario has changed quite dramatically over time,” William D. Adams, NEH chairman, said in an interview. “So we’re reacting to that in trying to assist institutions in providing a wider aperture for their students to think about careers beyond [academe].”

Based on the workplace issues we experience and read about, it may come as a surprise that workplace concerns are not at the top of this year’s Chapman University survey ‘America’s Top Fears 2015’.

Cari Romm summarized the survey methodology and results in an article for The Atlantic.

“For the survey, a random sample of around 1,500 adults ranked their fears of 88 different items on a scale of one (not afraid) to four (very afraid). The fears were divided into 10 different categories: crime, personal anxieties (like clowns or public speaking), judgment of others, environment, daily life (like romantic rejection or talking to strangers), technology, natural disasters, personal future, man-made disasters, and government—and when the study authors averaged out the fear scores across all the different categories, technology came in second place, right behind natural disasters.

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In the last article of the week, Business Insider writer Jacquelyn Smith, interviewed Liz Wessel, CEO and Co-founder of WayUp and discovered the biggest mistake job seekers make.

“People are generally far too modest,” she says. “If there’s ever a time to brag, it’s during your job search and interviews. You need to state your accomplishments and show how your work led to awesome outcomes for your companies. Remember, you need to convince your interviewer that, out of all the applicants the company is considering, you’re their best bet.”

If you don’t take credit for your work and accomplishments, no one is going to give you the benefit of the doubt for being modest, Wessel adds. “And if you don’t show proof of your accomplishments, you won’t stand out.”

The reason this “mistake” is so common, she says, is that a lot of people are good at being “team players,” and therefore try to share the credit. “In a lot of cases, this is a great instinct, and while it’s obviously important to work well in a team setting, it’s also important to convince an employer to hire you, not your entire team.

The message in the week@work themes: those who are confident in their talent and able to articulate their value to an organization have the potential to contend for work in writing, publishing, tech and academia. But the playing field is not level and winning the coveted spots will ‘take a village’: committed employers, dedicated mentors, paid internships, educational outreach and community visibility.