The Year@Work: 2017

The workplace took center stage in the global news of 2017. This was the year of the journalist, women@work, side-hustles and maintaining focus. It was also the year that we, as a society questioned expertise.

Two quotes summed up 2017 for me:

“I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me”
Cecily Strong  (2/12 SNL skit )

“How do we measure ‘fulfillment’ in work, and where do we find it when the traditional channels have given way to a round-the-clock hustle?”
Meghan Daum (9/15 NYT Book Review)

It was a year of constant distraction, disruption and fake news. The workplace became a refuge, and activism an essential ‘after hours’ pursuit. Low unemployment rates held, while wages stagnated. The income inequality gap widened.

An overheard conversation on the street this week: “I haven’t had a day off since September 1, with the three jobs I’ve been juggling.” This is the new American workplace.

The year@work was the year of the journalist. Although many were bullied and threatened, the coverage of workplace issues was stellar. For this year in review, I recommend some of the best writing of the year, suggest a book from the new genre ‘UpLit’ and share a few random thoughts.

IMG_8149.jpgWomen@work
On a cool Saturday morning in January we headed downtown to join a protest march. The plan had been to park the car and take the light rail. There were no parking spaces. There are always parking spaces. Something was different.

What was different was this wasn’t a march, it was a ‘standing in place’ because there were too many people and nowhere to go. In downtown LA the crowd was a mosaic of SoCal demographics. It wasn’t a ‘woman’s march’, it was a ‘families march’ in support of women. I think that may be the one thing the press missed this year.

IMG_8191.jpgAt the time many were skeptical.  The Los Angeles Times reported: “New protest era may be emerging, but sustaining unity could prove difficult.”

Yes, it has been difficult, but subsequent elections on local, state and federal levels demonstrated an ongoing commitment to civic engagement. The gig economy has a new ‘side-hustle’ and it’s called involvement.

I believe the seeds for #MeToo were planted on January 21, 2017.

Workplace Harassment

On February 19, former Uber employee, Susan Fowler posted a blog about her experience as a software engineer. “It’s a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story that deserves to be told while it is still fresh in my mind, so here we go…”

On December 11, Ms. Fowler was named the Financial Times’ Person of the Year.
“Women have been speaking up for many, many years, but were very rarely believed, and there were almost never any real consequences for offenders,” Ms Fowler told the Financial Times. “This year, that completely changed.”

Two other stories of note broadened the narrative of women@work in Silicon Valley:
‘The Ellen Pao Effect Is What Happens After Lean In’Jessi Hempel for Wired, September 20, 2017
‘Why is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?’Liza Mundy for The Atlantic, April 2017

fearless girl.jpgOn October 5 the first major story on workplace harassment in Hollywood was reported in The New York Times.  Since then, some of the best journalists have both reported and reflected on the relationship between men, power and women@work.

Here’s a sampling of the best:
‘Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades’Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey for The New York Times, October 5, 2017
‘From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories’Ronan Farrow for The New Yorker, October 10, 2017
‘Your Reckoning and Mine’Rebecca Traister for The Cut, November 12, 2017
‘The Cost of Devaluing Women’Sallie Krawcheck for The New York Times, December 2, 2017

rose reading room.jpgThe questioning of expertise

At work, you know the value of the expertise you bring to your organization. You may be a generalist, a specialist or a combination. You bear the scars and carry the laurels of hard won achievement, and you are compensated for your talent. Colleagues ‘pick your brain’ to complement their own skill set. Customers rely on your advice.

That’s why ‘How America Lost Faith in Expertise’ by Tom Nichols is required reading.

“I fear we are moving beyond a natural skepticism regarding expert claims to the death of the ideal of expertise itself: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople, teachers and students, knowers and wonderers — in other words, between those with achievement in an area and those with none.

A modern society cannot function without a social division of labor. No one is an expert on everything. We prosper because we specialize, developing formal and informal mechanisms and practices that allow us to trust one another in those specializations and gain the collective benefit of our individual expertise…The relationship between expert and citizens rests on a foundation of mutual respect and trust.”

IMG_8367.jpgThe gig/side-hustle career

The world of work has changed. We’re not going to time-travel back to a magical place where work fit neatly into single employer; 9-5, five-day a week increments. Whatever you choose to label the current paradigm, it’s a patchwork of assignments, for a variety of employers: some resulting in valuable skill development and others providing the means to an end. And it’s exhausting.

Jia Tolentino examined the consequences of our new work/life for the New Yorker.
‘The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself to Death’ March 22, 2017. “It does require a fairly dystopian strain of doublethink for a company to celebrate how hard and how constantly its employees must work to make a living, given that these companies are themselves setting the terms. And yet this type of faux-inspirational tale has been appearing more lately, both in corporate advertising and in the news.

“There’s a painful distance between the chipper narratives surrounding labor and success in America and the lived experience of workers.”

IMG_9786.jpgUp lit: A new genre emerges in publishing

In the September article for the NYT Book Review, Meghan Daum reviewed three memoirs.“I’ve always believed some of the best material comes from the workplace…it’s the job site, the place where our skills are honed and our labors converted to currency, that truly defines not just our proficiencies but our element.”

I would agree.

Danuta Kean reported for the Guardian: ‘Up lit: The new book trend with kindness at its core’ “A bruising year dominated by political and economic uncertainty, terrorism and tragedy has, publishers say, kickstarted a new trend they have have branded “up lit”…bookbuyers are seeking out novels and nonfiction that is optimistic rather than feelgood.”

One of her favorites was also mine. ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman, a perfect example of how fiction can outdistance non-fiction when it comes to our relationship to work and our colleagues.

IMG_9162.jpgIt begins: “When people ask me what I do – taxi drivers, hairdressers – I tell them I work in an office. In almost nine years, no one’s ever asked what kind of office, or what sort of job I do there. I can’t decide whether that’s because I fit perfectly with their idea of what an office worker looks like, or whether people hear the phrase work ‘in an office’ and automatically fill in the blanks themselves – lady doing photocopying, man tapping at a keyboard. I’m not complaining, I’m delighted that I don’t have to get into the fascinating intricacies of accounts receivable with them.”

One other recommendation, looking at work from a different life cycle perspective:
‘Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk’ by Kathleen Rooney.

“Now I don’t work anymore, and the world is uncomfortable.”

The world is uncomfortable, for many reasons. As 2017 merges into 2018 the question remains for all @work: How will we find fulfillment @work in the new year, amidst a shape-shifting environment where the familiar has been replaced by a round-the-clock hustle?

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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.”

nypl tree.jpg

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.

WOTY-youthquake-banner-760x220.jpg

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 – A tipping point @work?

There was only one major story that stood out this week@work: sexual harassment allegations against one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. It incorporated all the elements of stories reported earlier this year, in Silicon Valley and at Fox News. Will 2017 be the end of “the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment” ?

Time will tell. The common thread to all – the responses: “It’s about time.” “Nobody is surprised.” It doesn’t matter where you work. Women know the story. Women professionals relate to the description of the work environment: an unsafe place. A workplace absent of values and respect.

On the front pages of major newspapers, it’s Hollywood. In the neighborhood, it’s the local fast-food restaurant.

Alexandria Symonds provided a window into the ‘story behind the story’ of The New York Times journalists who covered “three major investigative reports about sexual misconduct across the media, tech and film industries” this year.

“It starts with a whisper. A prominent man has used his wealth and power to harass or abuse a woman — or worse — and then to intimidate her, or to buy her silence.

As several reporters at The New York Times have learned this year, it rarely ends with a single woman, a single whisper.”

On October 5, The New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey reported ‘Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades.’

“Dozens of Mr. Weinstein’s former and current employees, from assistants to top executives, said they knew of inappropriate conduct while they worked for him. Only a handful said they ever confronted him.

Mr. Weinstein enforced a code of silence; employees of the Weinstein Company have contracts saying they will not criticize it or its leaders in a way that could harm its “business reputation” or “any employee’s personal reputation,” a recent document shows. And most of the women accepting payouts agreed to confidentiality clauses prohibiting them from speaking about the deals or the events that led to them.”

On October 10, journalist Ronan Farrow described the results of his ten month investigation, ‘From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories’.

“For more than twenty years, Weinstein, who is now sixty-five, has also been trailed by rumors of sexual harassment and assault. His behavior has been an open secret to many in Hollywood and beyond, but previous attempts by many publications, including The New Yorker, to investigate and publish the story over the years fell short of the demands of journalistic evidence. Too few people were willing to speak, much less allow a reporter to use their names, and Weinstein and his associates used nondisclosure agreements, payoffs, and legal threats to suppress their accounts.

In the course of a ten-month investigation, I was told by thirteen women that, between the nineteen-nineties and 2015, Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted them. Their allegations corroborate and overlap with the Times’ revelations, and also include far more serious claims.”

In a podcast conversation on Thursday, The New Yorker executive editor, Dorothy Wickenden and staff writer, Jia Tolentino discussed ‘The End of the Weinstein Era’ and the effect the revelations might have on modern workplace culture.

“Over the last year women have started coming forward because there is an obvious, absolute need to. There is support in the media. It’s all of a sudden seeming both infinitely more possible and more necessary to come forward.”

Ms. Symonds also detected an inkling of change in the outcomes of the three NY Times investigations.

“…the investigations are beginning to have powerful real-life consequences. Mr. Weinstein was fired by the Weinstein Company three days after The Times’s first report was published. Mr. O’Reilly was ousted by Fox News on April 19. And the venture capitalist Dave McClure stepped down from his company, 500 Startups, several days after Ms. Benner’s report.

The journalists agreed that there has also been an accompanying shift in the culture around disclosure. “I think that what you saw almost immediately was a growing safe space for more women to come forward and tell their stories,” Ms. Twohey said.”

This past week also marked the one year anniversary of the release of the infamous ‘Access Hollywood’ tapes. The risk of not speaking up has become a risk beyond our individual workplace.