The week@work – The Fed raises rates, Martin Shkreli is arrested, ‘The Big Short’ premieres and so does a small film about a galaxy far, far away

It’s that time of year when the world of finance takes center stage, only to be bested by the creativity of those who work in Hollywood. This week@work the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark rate, pharmaceutical executive, Martin Shkreli was arrested on securities fraud and the 2008 financial crisis originally chronicled by Michael Lewis, made its way onto the big screen in ‘The Big Short’. And that small movie from Disney? ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ set new records with a $238 million weekend opening.

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported on the decision by the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates for the first time in seven years.

“The Fed’s decision today reflects our confidence in the U.S. economy,” Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said Wednesday in a press conference after a two-day policy meeting. “We believe we have seen substantial improvement in labor market conditions and while things may be uneven across regions of the country, and different industrial sectors, we see an economy that is on a path of sustainable improvement.

New projections show officials expect the fed-funds rate to creep up to 1.375% by the end of 2016, according to the median projection of 17 officials, to 2.375% by the end of 2017 and 3.25% in three years. That implies four quarter-percentage-point interest rate increases next year, four the next and three or four the following. It depends on whether the Fed’s forecasts for the economy—which have frequently been wrong in this expansion—hold up.”

The Fed rate increase was one of the ‘Four Charts That Defined the World in 2015’.

2014_Charts_Federal-690

Vauhini Vara writing in The New Yorker listed the other three:

“For the first time, fewer than ten per cent of people in the world were living in extreme poverty.

Facebook took over the world.

Greece’s economy started growing again—and then shrank.”

On Thursday, Bloomberg Business noted the arrest of Martin Shkreli, the infamous pharmaceutical head, and everyone’s leading candidate for this year’s Scrooge. You may remember Shkreli from his multiple media appearances after raising the price of the drug Daraprim from $13.50 a pill to $750. Apparently he not only violated the golden rule, but also an unspoken pact among those in financial services, not to draw attention to themselves or their activities.

“While the 32-year-old has earned a rare level of infamy for his brazenness in business and his personal life, what he was charged with had nothing to do with skyrocketing drug prices. He is accused of repeatedly losing money for investors and lying to them about it, illegally taking assets from one of his companies to pay off debtors in another.

“Shkreli essentially ran his company like a Ponzi scheme where he used each subsequent company to pay off defrauded investors from the prior company,” Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said at a press conference.”

He was released on bail on Friday and did what we would all do after being publicly shamed, began live streaming, chatting with ‘supporters’.

“Which brings me to a new movie the enemies of financial regulation really, really don’t want you to see.” writes nobel prize winner, Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

“But you don’t want me to play film critic; you want to know whether the movie (The Big Short) got the underlying economic, financial and political story right. And the answer is yes, in all the ways that matter.

I could quibble over a few points: The group of people who recognized that we were experiencing the mother of all housing bubbles, and that this posed big dangers to the real economy, was bigger than the film might lead you to believe. It even included a few (cough) mainstream economists. But it is true that many influential, seemingly authoritative players, from Alan Greenspan on down, insisted not only that there was no bubble but that no bubble was even possible.

And the bubble whose existence they denied really was inflated largely via opaque financial schemes that in many cases amounted to outright fraud — and it is an outrage that basically nobody ended up being punished for those sins aside from innocent bystanders, namely the millions of workers who lost their jobs and the millions of families that lost their homes.”

Need a holiday escape from everyday villains and economic reality? The folks at the ‘house the mouse built’ offer a 135 minute visit to an alternate universe.

“Chewie, we’re home” teases the plot in the trailer for the new Star Wars movie. This week the cast of the seventh installment of the intergalactic saga walked the red carpet, four blocks long, at the Hollywood premiere.

Variety covered the opening weekend box office results.

“Director J.J. Abrams’ nostalgic take on the series of space operas George Lucas created four decades ago was a hit with critics and fans, earning strong reviews and an A CinemaScore. Its opening soared past the previous high-water mark of $208.8 million established last summer by “Jurassic World.” It more than doubles “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s” December record debut of $84.6 million.

Globally, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” scored the second-biggest opening in history, earning $517 million worldwide, behind only “Jurassic World’s” $525 million bow. Unlike “Jurassic World,” the seventh film in the “Star Wars” franchise did not have the benefit of showing in China on its inaugural weekend. It opens there on Jan. 9.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Top10Fears-740x572

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.