Summer 2019@work: Cathedral Thinking, Blue Oceans and Redefining the Purpose of a Corporation

While you were away, the U.S. commemorated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the effort to rebuild Notre Dame began in Paris. In New York, members of the Business Roundtable considered a new definition of the purpose of a corporation and Ava Duvernay continued to challenge conventional wisdom. It was a summer of cathedral thinking, blue oceans and questioning expertise.

These are the stories of folks who went to work every day, extending the definition of work and workplace beyond traditional boundaries to solve problems and create a vision of the future.

Here’s a sampling of articles from the Summer of 2019:

‘Why the Moon Landing Matters’ David Lidsky, Fast Company – June 1, 2019

In this moment when government is viewed by so many Americans as being unable to dream as big as it did in the 1960s, whether the dream is traveling the solar system or forestalling the calamitous effects of climate change, understanding how NASA got us to the Moon the first time is both important and inspirational. The Apollo Moon landings were an extraordinary undertaking, but they were the work of ordinary people back on Earth. We need exactly that kind of effort to tackle some of the problems we face today, from economic inequality to climate change. The Moon can show us the way.

‘Two Magical Places That Sent Apollo 11 to the Moon and Back’ Kenneth Chang, The New York Times – July 13, 2019

The two key pieces that were the astronauts’ home during their lunar trips were built on opposite sides of the country.

The Apollo capsules rolled off the assembly line in Downey, Calif., a small city 15 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Fifty years ago, NASA owned a 160-acre swath of Downey — the size of two Disneylands — that was home to factories, offices and test facilities.

The story was almost the same in Bethpage, N.Y., on Long Island. That was the headquarters of Grumman Aircraft, which won the contract to build the spindly spacecraft that took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the moon.

In April, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris came close to being destroyed by fire. This summer The New York Times created an interactive site to document the event and the story of those who saved the cathedral.

‘Notre Dame came far closer to collapsing than people knew. This is how it was saved.’ Elian Peltier, James Glanz, Mika Grondahl, Weiyi Cai, Adam Nossiter, and Liz Alderman. July 18, 2019

That Notre-Dame still stands is due solely to the enormous risks taken by firefighters in those third and fourth hours. 

Disadvantaged by their late start, firefighters would rush up the 300 steps to the burning attic and then be forced to retreat. Finally, a small group of firefighters was sent directly into the flames, as a last, desperate effort to save the cathedral.


“There was a feeling that there was something bigger than life at stake,” said Ariel Weil, the mayor of the city’s Fourth Arrondissement, home to the cathedral, “and that Notre-Dame could be lost.”

On August 19, the Business Roundtable issued a new statement on the purpose of the corporation.

‘Business Roundtable Redefines the Purpose of a Corporation to Promote ‘An Economy That Serves All Americans’

While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders. We commit to:
–  Delivering value to our customers. We will further the tradition of American companies leading the way in meeting or exceeding customer expectations.
–  Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.
–  Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers. We are dedicated to serving as good partners to the other companies, large and small, that help us meet our missions.
–  Supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.
–  Generating long-term value for shareholders, who provide the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate. We are committed to transparency and effective engagement with shareholders.

We learn from the wisdom of others and this summer, writer, producer and director Ava DuVernay leads on innovation.

‘How Ava DuVernay Is Finding Blue Oceans in Hollywood’ Nilofer Merchant, Harvard Business Review – August 7, 2019

“Conventional thinking in red oceans is why blue oceans go undiscovered.

New markets are found when someone stands in a spot that gives them a point of view distinctly their own.


DuVernay has shown us what the work of discovering blue oceans looks like: It is claiming that spot in the world where only you stand, even if that means leaving rooms where you’re being dismissed and marginalized. It is gathering your crew, those who share your commitment and purpose and will work to create new truths. It is finding the communities that can share your vision and scale it. These are unconventional ways to lead. Leaving. Social. Sharing. They seem counterintuitive and even wrong to those who lead red oceans. But they are how growth and progress and innovation happen. It’s what explorers do to chart new territory.”

The last article from the summer continues the conversation on expertise and how we are all being asked to ‘do more with less.”

‘At Work, Expertise is Falling Out of Favor’ Jerry Useem, The Atlantic – July, 2019

“By 2020, a 2016 World Economic Forum report predicted, “more than one-third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations” will not have been seen as crucial to the job when the report was published. If that’s the case, I asked John Sullivan, a prominent Silicon Valley talent adviser, why should anyone take the time to master anything at all? “You shouldn’t!” he replied.

As a rule of thumb, statements out of Silicon Valley should be deflated by half to control for hyperbole. Still, the ramifications of Sullivan’s comment unfurl quickly. Minimal manning—and the evolution of the economy more generally—requires a different kind of worker, with not only different acquired skills but different inherent abilities. It has implications for the nature and utility of a college education, for the path of careers, for inequality and employability—even for the generational divide. And that’s to say nothing of its potential impact on product quality and worker safety, or on the nature of the satisfactions one might derive from work. Or, for that matter, on the relevance of the question What do you want to be when you grow up?

Summing up the summer recap: ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. You just need to find your unique scenic view of the world, an employer who values your contribution, and an ability to adapt.

Photo credits: Moon Landing – NASA, Notre Dame worker – Patrick Zachmann for Magnum Arts

‘Not in the job description’

How many times have you heard that those who succeed ascribe their advancement to going beyond the parameters of their job description? What does that mean?

In some cases it might be asking for additional responsibility or supplementary assignments. But if we step back from a particular job, maybe it’s about being prepared for the bigger picture of your career. It’s the curiosity/lifelong learning thing that connects the dots as you progress as a professional. It’s recognizing a painting in a new client’s office and beginning a conversation, not based on a sale, but a shared interest.

It’s about being multidimensional.

To help on this aspect of professional development, we add a new category this week to ‘workthoughts’ – ‘Not in the Job Description’.

To begin, we follow the advice of The New York Times’ chief classical music critic, Anthony Tommasini. ‘Curious About Classical Music? Here’s Where To Start.’

“Over my many years of reviewing, I’ve often been asked for advice from newcomers to classical music, people excited by what they’ve heard, and eager to hear — and to learn — more.

Naturally, I urge those exploring classical music to find out whatever they can. Yet I’ve found that many people assume that knowledge of the art form is a prerequisite to appreciation. Newcomers to other performing arts, like theater or dance, don’t seem to feel this level of intimidation. I’d encourage those who are curious to just go to a performance and see what they think. A symphony orchestra program — or an opera, or a piano recital — is not an exam. It’s an escape, an adventure, an enrichment.”

Just to emphasize his point. When adding a new dimension to your portfolio think of it as “an escape, an adventure, an enrichment”.

Mr. Tommasini goes on to answer questions in his article, including his definition of ‘classical music’.

“Labels can be problematic in any field; “classical music” especially so. One complication is that music history refers to the years from roughly 1750 to 1825 as the “classical” period, when Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven achieved their glory. But in a broader sense the term classical music has been adopted as a way to describe the continuing heritage of music mostly written to be performed in concert halls and opera houses by orchestras, singers, choruses, chamber ensembles and solo instrumentalists. Another characteristic is that composers in this tradition have been drawn to larger, structured forms. Still, the term is far from ideal, but no one has come up with a good alternative — yet.”

The article includes links to sample recordings to get you started, including clips of Maria Callas’ 1953 performance as Tosca at Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

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In addition to following the dots presented by Mr. Tommasini, add a visit to an opera house or concert hall the next time you are planning a trip out of town or out of the country. Identify reviewers and critics that seem to match your tastes and follow them on social media. You will be amazed and delighted as you trace the links connecting the variety of performance.

Where will you begin your new adventure – ‘not in the job description’?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The week@work: “The Education of Silicon Valley”, Gen Z@work, mid-career sabbatical, & a new era of human spaceflight

This week@work a NY Times Op-Ed contributor wonders if Mark Zuckerberg should have taken more humanities courses, Gen Z begins to enter the workplace, while millennials take sabbaticals, and NASA introduces the next crew for commercial human spaceflight.

In her first Op-Ed for The New York Times, tech journalist Kara Swisher applied her expertise to explore ‘The Education of Silicon Valley’.

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“All these companies began with a gauzy credo to change the world. But they have done that in ways they did not imagine — by weaponizing pretty much everything that could be weaponized. They have mutated human communication, so that connecting people has too often become about pitting them against one another, and turbocharged that discord to an unprecedented and damaging volume.

They have weaponized social media. They have weaponized the First Amendment. They have weaponized civic discourse. And they have weaponized, most of all, politics.”

What’s it like to be a member of the Facebook corporate family today? You signed up to follow the Pied Piper of Menlo Park into the new world of global connectivity and you find yourself in the midst of global propaganda wars.

“At a recent employee Q. and A. I did at YouTube, for example, one staffer told me that their jobs used to be about wrangling cat videos and now they had degenerated into a daily hell of ethics debates about the fate of humanity.”

All companies evolve over time. Founders adapt or abdicate. Mr. Zuckerberg has done neither.

“Mr. Zuckerberg stuck with this mix of extreme earnestness and willful naïveté for far too long.

Because what he never managed to grok then was that the company he created was destined to become a template for all of humanity, the digital reflection of masses of people across the globe. Including — and especially — the bad ones.

Was it because he was a computer major who left college early and did not attend enough humanities courses that might have alerted him to the uglier aspects of human nature? Maybe. Or was it because he has since been steeped in the relentless positivity of Silicon Valley, where it is verboten to imagine a bad outcome? Likely. Could it be that while the goal was to “connect people,” he never anticipated that the platform also had to be responsible for those people when they misbehaved? Oh, yes. And, finally, was it that the all-numbers-go-up-and-to-the-right mentality of Facebook blinded him to the shortcuts that get taken in the service of growth? Most definitely.”

Corporate impact on society is not benign. Leadership is about understanding impact and nimbly responding to lights blinking red. There’s a Harvard Business School case here with implications far beyond the impact on share owner revenue. And for those who work@Facebook, it may be time to evaluate the ‘values fit’.

On the subject of ‘values fit’, journalist Ryan Jenkins identified the ‘Top 25 Employers Preferred by Generation Z’.

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“More than 60 percent of Generation Z’s top employers are global entities which is consistent with the 74 percent of Generation Z stating international experience (e.g., travel and working with global clients/colleagues) is an important aspect of potential employers. 

The presence of technology companies on the list isn’t a surprise especially since three-quarters of recent college graduates report having majored in a STEM-related field. Generation Z is the first generation to shift the tide toward STEM-related fields of study and seem poised to close the STEM gap.”

The top five in the survey: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Google, Local Hospital, Amazon and Walt Disney Company.

While Generation Z plans their workplace entry, millennials are contemplating mid-career sabbaticals. Ben Steverman shares ‘Why It’s Time to Quit Your Job, Travel the World’.

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“Millions of Americans obsess over their careers and fret about saving, terrified they won’t have enough to ever retire. The advice not being offered by some experts may surprise these worried souls: Take months or years off from work, travel the world, and enjoy yourself.

There’s prudent logic behind a relaxing mid career break. With longer lives come longer careers and longer retirements – the first so that you can afford the second. But a 40-year career, ending at age 60 or 65, is a very different prospect from a 50-year career ending at 70 or 75.

Taking a break to travel isn’t a crazy move, especially for millennials, because it can help give workers the stamina for longer, more sustainable careers, says Jamie Hopkins, a professor and director of the retirement income program at the American College of Financial Services. The prospect of a future trip also give young workers an extra reason to save, live within their means, and pay down debt – an incentive that’s far stronger than the dream of retiring in several decades’ time.”

Where to travel on your mid-career sabbatical? Perhaps the galaxy and beyond…

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This past week NASA introduced the next generation of astronauts, ‘NASA Assigns Crews to First Test Flights, Missions on Commercial Spacecraft’. (Which has got to be good news for those who go to work in space, where the commute today begins and ends in Kazakhstan.)

“Today, our country’s dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight. Today’s announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation’s leadership in space.”

The agency assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. NASA has worked closely with the companies throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet NASA’s safety and performance requirements. 

“The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight,” said Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can’t wait to see them aboard the International Space Station.” 

With this ‘week@work’, the workthoughts blog returns after a two month hiatus. Stay tuned for new categories and join the conversation on work & workplace.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits: NASA Commercial Flight Crew courtesy NASA, St. Jude Marathon Weekend courtesy of Biomedical Communications

The week@work – @AMarch4OurLives, Evolve Entertainment Fund, ‘Wonder Boys’, Facebook & “always a little further”

It happened again this week@work: violence@work – another school shooting, this time in Florida. In Los Angeles a new entertainment industry diversity initiative was announced by Ava DuVernay and Mayor Eric Garcetti. And three ‘long reads’ on creative partnerships, Facebook’s identity, and a polar journey.

Violence@work
The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school are grieving for their colleagues and teachers who were murdered in another incident of workplace violence on Valentines Day. Since Wednesday, a remarkable group of student representatives have  given voice to the anger at adults who have failed to keep students safe in their schools. This time, high school students organized @AMarch4OurLives for policy & change vs. thoughts & prayers.

“Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last. We live in fear.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Change is coming. And it starts now, inspired by and led by the kids who are our hope for the future. Their young voices will be heard.
Stand with us on March 24. Refuse to allow one more needless death.”

It may not be a surprise that this group, from this high school, seized the moment and demanded change. Their school namesake, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was an author, editor, environmentalist and early advocate for women’s right to vote. gettyimages-112963085-e1518738141248.jpgJournalist Mary Schmich interviewed Ms. Douglas. “She was 95 by the time we met, hard of hearing, almost blind and as opinionated as ever.
I’d gone to visit her because finally, after decades of crusading to save the Everglades from being turned into subdivisions and shopping malls, she’d begun to see the fruits of her labors.
She had battled governments, developers, engineers, sugar cane industrialists and the apathy of normal people. She had pushed so hard and for so long that the state had finally committed to preserving one of the world’s great wetlands. We have her to thank for Everglades National Park.
Had she ever been discouraged, I asked?
“What does it matter if I’ve been discouraged or encouraged over the years?” she said, brusquely. “This thing’s got to be done. It’s not a question of how I feel from moment to moment.”

Inclusion@work in Hollywood
Speaking of thing’s got to be done. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, and producer Dan Lin announced the creation of the Evolve Entertainment Fund to promote inclusion @work in Hollywood.

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Journalist Dave McNary reported on the new initiative. “The Evolve fund is an alliance between the City of Los Angeles, industry leaders in entertainment and digital media, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions. The EEF has already secured 150 paid summer internships for students participating in the Hire LA’s Youth program — partnering with leading entertainment and digital media organizations that include DreamWorks Animation, Ryan Murphy Television, Film Independent, WME, CAA, Kobe Bryant’s Granity Studios, and Anonymous Content.

That number is expected to grow to 250 by the end of 2018, with a goal of 500 placements by 2020.

“As we radically reimagine Hollywood, it is critically important that young people are included in our vision,” said DuVernay, founder of Array Entertainment and EEF co-chair. “Real change happens when we take tangible action — and that means giving young women and people of color opportunities in the industry early on, so they have the chance to shape its future.”

‘Wonder Boys’
The next three articles fall into the category of ‘long reads’. The first, from reporter Laura Jacobs recounts the creative partnership of Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins. In 2018 we celebrate the centennial of both the composer and choreographer.

IMG_0443.jpg“Both these men were about energy—positive, negative, generative—and while they racked up stunning achievements separately, they were elevated when joined. Put them together in collaboration—in masterpieces such as the joyous ballet Fancy Free, the breakaway musical On the Town, and the electrifying experiment West Side Story—and you had an ongoing theatrical Manhattan Project, work kinetically detonated, irreducibly true, and oh so American.

They met in October of 1943, the beginning of what Bernstein would call “the year of miracles.” Bernstein was living in New York City, marking time as the assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and Robbins was in the classical company Ballet Theatre. Both were hungry for the Big Break, but it was hard to see anything on the horizon. Bernstein’s would come a month later, when on November 14 he took the podium at Carnegie Hall—without rehearsal!—and conducted for the ailing Bruno Walter. This kiss of fate allowed him, in one afternoon, to loosen forever Europe’s grip on the conductor’s baton. His debut made the front page of The New York Times, and the skinny kid, soon dubbed the Sinatra of the concert hall, soared to stardom. Two months later his Symphony No. 1, Jeremiah, was premiered.

Robbins had to make his own luck. Though a dazzling mimic and scene-stealer in character roles, he was tired of dancing courtiers and exotics in the corps. He wanted to choreograph ballets that were immediately American. After inundating company management with over-ambitious ideas for ballets, Robbins finally offered up a timely, simple scenario—three wartime sailors on shore leave in Manhattan. Management bit. All he needed was a score, which took him to Bernstein’s studio in Carnegie Hall.”

When Vision and Reality Collide @Facebook
Next, Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein take the reader ‘Inside The Two Years That Shook Facebook – And The World’

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“The stories varied, but most people told the same basic tale: of a company, and a CEO, whose techno-optimism has been crushed as they’ve learned the myriad ways their platform can be used for ill. Of an election that shocked Facebook, even as its fallout put the company under siege. Of a series of external threats, defensive internal calculations, and false starts that delayed Facebook’s reckoning with its impact on global affairs and its users’ minds. And—in the tale’s final chapters—of the company’s earnest attempt to redeem itself.”

“Always a little further…”
On Sunday, January 24, 2016 British polar explorer, Henry Worsley died in hospital in Punta Arenas, Chile. He had been attempting to cross Antarctica on foot, unassisted and unsupported. He had traveled 913 miles since November 13, 2015 and was 30 miles short of his destination.

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On Friday, January 22, Henry Worsley called Antarctic Logistics and Explorations to request a rescue.

“When my hero, Ernest Shackleton, stood 97 miles from the South Pole on the morning of Jan. 9, 1909, he said he’d shot his bolt,” the British adventurer Henry Worsley said in the message. “Well, today, I have to inform you with some sadness that I, too, have shot my bolt.”

“My journey is at an end,” Mr. Worsley said. “I have run out of time, physical endurance and a simple sheer inability to slide one ski in front of the other to travel the distance required to reach my goal.”

Writing for The New Yorker, staff writer David Grann takes us on the journey behind the headlines into ‘The White Darkness’.

“Worsley was a retired British Army officer who had served in the Special Air Service, a renowned commando unit. He was also a sculptor, a fierce boxer, a photographer who meticulously documented his travels, a horticulturalist, a collector of rare books and maps and fossils, and an amateur historian who had become a leading authority on Shackleton. On the ice, though, he resembled a beast, hauling and sleeping, hauling and sleeping, as if he were keeping time to some primal rhythm.

Worsley’s journey captivated people around the world, including legions of schoolchildren who were following his progress. Each day, after trekking for several hours and burrowing into his tent, he relayed a short audio broadcast about his experiences. (He performed this bit of modern magic by calling, on his satellite phone, a friend in England, who recorded the dispatch and then posted it on Worsley’s Web site.) His voice, cool and unwavering, enthralled listeners.

By the middle of January, 2016, he had travelled more than eight hundred miles, and virtually every part of him was in agony…”

“Always a little further”—a line from James Elroy Flecker’s 1913 poem “The Golden Journey to Samarkand.” The motto was painted on the front of Worsley’s sled, and he murmured it to himself like a mantra: “Always a little further . . . a little further.”

 

 

The week@work: smart people, perfectionists & the future of work

Have you ever worked for a person who’s an expert in one field and automatically believes that expertise extends to all other areas of competence? You know, the person who’s constantly reminding you where they went to college?

This past week@work, the first of the new year, stories ranged from the definition of genius, to a new study on millennials and perfectionism, and an analysis of the ‘real’ future of work.

James Fallows shared his experience with ‘How Actual Smart People Talk About Themselves’. The article was inspired by a series of tweets, but the message is one all of us can translate to our behavior@work.

“Here are three traits I would report from a long trail of meeting and interviewing people who by any reckoning are very intelligent.

They all know it. A lifetime of quietly comparing their ease in handling intellectual challenges—at the chess board, in the classroom, in the debating or writing arena—with the efforts of other people gave them the message.

Virtually none of them (need to) say it.

They know what they don’t know. This to me is the most consistent marker of real intelligence. The more acute someone’s ability to perceive and assess, the more likely that person is to recognize his or her limits. These include the unevenness of any one person’s talents; the specific areas of weakness—social awkwardness, musical tin ear, being stronger with numbers than with words, or vice versa; and the incomparable vastness of what any individual person can never know. To read books seriously is to be staggered by the knowledge of how many more books will remain beyond your ken. It’s like looking up at the star-filled sky.”

“The clearest mark of intelligence, even “genius,” is awareness of one’s limits and ignorance.”

One of those ‘smart people’, who traveled across the star-filled sky, Astronaut John Young, died this past week at the age of 87.

john-young-astronaut.jpg“Mr. Young joined NASA in the early years of manned spaceflight and was still flying, at age 53, in the era of space shuttles. He was the only astronaut to fly in the Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs. He was also chief of NASA’s astronauts office for 13 years and a leading executive at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

When he was honored by the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum upon retiring from NASA in December 2004, after 42 years with the agency, Mr. Young played down his accomplishments. “Anybody could have done it,’’ he told The Orlando Sentinel. “You’ve just got to hang in there.”

I imagine being an astronaut requires a certain level of detail – being precise vs. being perfect. Kimberly Truong reports on a concerning trend for our workplace future, ‘Yes, Millennials Really Do Struggle With Perfectionism More’.

“According to a new study released in the journal Psychological Bulletin, millennials are more likely than previous generations to put pressure on ourselves — and others — to be perfect, possibly to the detriment of our mental health.

In every phase of our lives, we’re actively being encouraged and rewarded for striving towards perfection, whether that means getting high enough S.A.T. scores or racking up a certain number of Instagram likes or followers. Millennials, it seems, have more metrics to measure success — and therefore failure — than their parents.

Of course, there’s no such thing as “perfect,” which means it’s nearly impossible to strive for perfection and feel anything but disappointment and self-doubt. The question is: Can millennials step out of this vicious cycle?”

The last article of this first week of 2018 is Danny Vinik‘s analysis of ‘The Real Future of Work’.

“Over the past two decades, the U.S. labor market has undergone a quiet transformation, as companies increasingly forgo full-time employees and fill positions with independent contractors, on-call workers or temps—what economists have called “alternative work arrangements” or the “contingent workforce.” Most Americans still work in traditional jobs, but these new arrangements are growing—and the pace appears to be picking up. From 2005 to 2015, according to the best available estimate, the number of people in alternative work arrangements grew by 9 million and now represents roughly 16 percent of all U.S. workers, while the number of traditional employees declined by 400,000. A perhaps more striking way to put it is that during those 10 years, all net job growth in the American economy has been in contingent jobs.

IMG_9942.jpgThe repercussions go far beyond the wages and hours of individuals. In America, more than any other developed country, jobs are the basis for a whole suite of social guarantees meant to ensure a stable life. Workplace protections like the minimum wage and overtime, as well as key benefits like health insurance and pensions, are built on the basic assumption of a full-time job with an employer. As that relationship crumbles, millions of hardworking Americans find themselves ejected from that implicit pact. For many employees, their new status as “independent contractor” gives them no guarantee of earning the minimum wage or health insurance.”

Maybe unemployment statistics from the Labor Department aren’t the right metric to view our economy. The December report, out last Friday, showed an increase of 148,000 jobs in the final month of 2017. “Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, argues that ten years after the Great Recession, the economy has still not returned to 2007 benchmarks or the healthier levels of economic indicators in 2000.”

 

 

Photo credit: The Telegraph

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.”

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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: Person of the Year, Pantone color of the year, unemployment and Colin Kaepernick

This week@work Time Magazine announced their Person of the Year for 2017 and Pantone launched the annual color for 2018. The unemployment rate remained at 4.1% and Colin Kaepernick received Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award.

On Wednesday morning Time Magazine announced the 2017 Person of the Year: ‘The Silence Breakers’. Chosen from a group of ten finalists, the magazine recognized a group of people who came forward to unmask workplace harassment.

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“This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist. They’ve had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose. They’ve had it with the code of going along to get along. They’ve had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women. These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought.”

“The women and men who have broken their silence span all races, all income classes, all occupations and virtually all corners of the globe. They might labor in California fields, or behind the front desk at New York City’s regal Plaza Hotel, or in the European Parliament. They’re part of a movement that has no formal name. But now they have a voice.”

In the workplace, everyone loses  when women are devalued. Sallie Krawcheck tallied the cost in one of the most widely read articles last week.

“What we are only beginning to recognize is that demeaning and devaluing women is an insidious, expensive problem. It’s not just the eye-popping settlements in some cases, like the $32 million paid by Bill O’Reilly to settle a harassment claim. Nor is it just the high salaries network stars have been making while allegedly assaulting subordinates, like the $20 million, or more, for Matt Lauer. It only starts there.

The bigger cost derives from how women’s ideas are discounted and their talent ignored. I have seen it up close in the two worlds I know best: Wall Street, where I was chief executive of Smith Barney and of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, and in Silicon Valley, where I’ve raised money to run my start-up, Ellevest. These places are perhaps the purest microcosms of capitalism, and their lessons are instructive for all of us.”

While we’re on the topic, Katie Rogers explored the bias ‘When Our Trusted Storytellers Are Also the Abusers’.

“For decades, the journalists Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly and Mark Halperin appeared in front of cameras and tried to help Americans understand the country and one another. Now that they’ve lost their jobs after multiple accusations of sexual abuse, we are left wondering what they taught us.

How much did the abuse of women — often younger, subordinate or not famous — by powerful male journalists factor into the stories they told us? What did we learn about power, politics, accountability, elections — or even about Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential candidate from a major party?”

On a lighter, more regal note, Pantone has announced its color choice for 2018, moving away from 2017’s ‘Greenery’ to ‘Ultra Violet’, just in time for holiday shopping.

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Camila Domonoske reported on the shift. “Each color of the year encompasses something about fashion, decorating and design trends while also reflecting “what’s needed in our world today,” the Pantone Color Institute’s vice president, Laurie Pressman asserted in a statement.

So. What does purple have to say about our planet in 2018?

It’s “a dramatically provocative and thoughtful purple shade,” Pantone says, one that “communicates originality, ingenuity, and visionary thinking that points us towards the future.”

Purple is often associated with royalty, nobility, luxury, power, and ambition. Which now may be attainable with a simple wardrobe update. Or, hard work; which more of us are doing as the Labor Department released the new unemployment report showing an unexpected addition of 228,000 jobs in November. “Economists expect that in time, wages will post a sustained pickup, which has remained elusive in this expansion even though labor-market slack is steadily disappearing.”

One of the finalists for Time’s Person of the Year, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, received the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award from Sports Illustrated on Tuesday night.

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“Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem last season to protest racial inequality and police brutality. The demonstration sparked a wave of protests by NFL players during the anthem that repeatedly have been denounced by President Donald Trump.

He spoke Tuesday about continuing Ali’s legacy of fighting social injustice, saying the boxing great “mentored me without ever meeting me.”

Kaepernick has not had a contract since leaving the 49ers in March and recently filed a grievance vs. the NFL. Ken Belson provided an update, ‘Explaining the Grievance Case That Kaepernick Filed Against the NFL’.

“You may not have heard much about it lately because it is transpiring behind closed doors. And it is unlike any legal proceeding you might have seen before, not really a trial but with elements of one.

The rules on how the investigation is conducted and by whom — and all the quirks of what evidence is allowed — are detailed in the byzantine labor agreement between the league and players.

It was designed with due process in mind, but as often happens with cases involving the N.F.L., the decisions are appealed and end up in federal court.”

If he is successful, “Kaepernick would receive twice what he might have earned if he was playing. However, “The league cannot force a team to assess or sign Kaepernick.”

To all the ‘silence breakers’, this was your week@work.

 

 

 

The week@work – why the world comes to NY, the last ‘corner office’,”the things I shrugged off” & Shalane Flanagan

This week@work we remember the victims of terrorism on the bicycle path in Lower Manhattan and reflect on why the world comes to New York. On Sunday, the weekly ‘Corner Office’ column came to an end, a journalist shared her experience in the ‘gray area’ of sexual harassment and an American woman won the New York Marathon.

Memory
“I remember so well the first time I visited New York.” Contributing Op-Ed writer, Aatish Taseer shared his personal connection to the city as he honored Tuesday’s victims. “Most of the eight people killed in the terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday were foreigners visiting New York. One group, especially — five friends from Argentina celebrating the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation — had been planning their trip for years. They were part of a great unorganized commonwealth of people, out in the world, whose imagination New York has captured. It is heartbreaking to think that those for whom the dream of New York is most alluring should be the victims of so vivid a nightmare.”

Leadership
After 525 ‘Corner Office’ columns, journalist Adam Bryant ended his series with ‘How to Be The Big Boss’.

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“It started with a simple idea: What if I sat down with chief executives, and never asked them about their companies?

The notion occurred to me roughly a decade ago, after spending years as a reporter and interviewing C.E.O.s about many of the expected things: their growth plans, the competition, the economic forces driving their industries. But the more time I spent doing this, the more I found myself wanting to ask instead about more expansive themes — not about pivoting, scaling or moving to the cloud, but how they lead their employees, how they hire, and the life advice they give or wish they had received.

My vote for career advice goes to something I heard from Joseph Plumeri, the vice chairman of First Data, a payments-processing company, and former chief executive of Willis Group Holdings. His biggest career inflection points, he told me, came from chance meetings, giving rise to his advice: “Play in traffic.”

“It means that if you go push yourself out there and you see people and do things and participate and get involved, something happens,” he said. “Both of my great occasions in life happened by accident simply because I showed up.”

Harassment
“What do you do when the big bank CEO calls your hotel room at 11 p.m.? Journalist and radio host Lizzie O’Leary reflected on a career of compromises and broadened the audience who might identify with #MeToo.

“Over the course of my career, I have shrugged off things that horrify me now. I learned to push through the routine humiliation. As an ambitious woman, I often ran an internal calculation about how much “trouble” I was willing to make. Should I fight about the story I want to do or the unwelcome remark about my legs? Time and time again, I went with the former. If I hadn’t, I don’t know if I would have been as successful. I’m not ashamed about wanting a career, but I can’t look back at some of my actions without wincing.

Now, in a senior position, I look at my brilliant younger colleagues, and I never want them to endure what for years I told myself was “gray stuff.” Ignoring it, as I’d learned to do, only lets it fester and continue.

I don’t know how to change centuries of conditioning. How to make men see women as peers. To let us just do our jobs. But maybe acknowledging that we live in a culture that doesn’t do that, is a start. I’m a radio host now. I believe strongly in the power of conversation. It is incumbent on everyone to talk about this.”

Career
What did you do on Sunday for two hours and 26 minutes? Shalane Flanagan ran through the streets of New York to become the first American woman in 40 years to win the New York Marathon.

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Bonnie Ford reported on the athlete and the race.
“How my career ends is super important to me,” she told me in early April, still recovering from an iliac fracture that kept her out of her hometown Boston Marathon and unsure when she’d be able to resume high-volume training. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to win a major, but at least I’m going to try to win a major marathon in the U.S., and I need at least two more events.”

She said it again and again and again, right up until the ever of Sunday’s race. She’s also savvy enough to recognize that happy endings are especially hard to come by for marathoners, who generally have just two chances per calendar year in the window between their mid-20s and mid-30s, if they stay healthy.

Will New York be Flanagan’s walk-off run? The emotional lure of Boston is still out there, not to mention her instantly increased marketability. But her business, in a deeper sense, is finished. “This means a lot to me, to my family, and hopefully inspires the next generation of American women to just be patient,” Flanagan told reporters Sunday. Patient until the road starts to run out, and it’s time to make a move.”

 

Photo credit: Shalane Flanagan – AP Photo/Seth Wenig

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.