mm496: Blast from the Past! No. 52 – Women at work

September 12, 2008
© Richard Hoffkins | Dreamstime.com

© Richard Hoffkins | Dreamstime.com

I am beginning to be concerned about the lack of blogging motivation I’m feeling this week; you’ve seen my excuse — does it buy me some slack?

Nevertheless, we’re all about doing the right thing here at Left-Handed Complement, and in that spirit we’re recycling some of yr (justifiably) humble svt‘s favorite electrons. And, with nearly 470 fresh daily posts in the past 16+ months, the recycling process has an exceptionally rich vein to mine.

I hereby stop apologizing for observing the prime directive of blogging: Thou Shalt Blog Daily!

And, I’m guessing that most of you weren’t here nine months ago. As one of my favorite paper publications used to say as they flogged unsold back issues: “If you haven’t read it yet, it’s new for you!”

lhc76019043_thumb24_thumb2_thumb2_th

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last fall, originally posted November 12, 2007, and with a woman vice presidential candidate, more germane than ever, titled “mm192: Women at work: A level playing field at last?”

MUDGE’S Musings

We’re still playing catch up with a bulging ideas folder here at L-HC. A recent NYTimes column updates us on the ever-intriguing topic: women in corporate America.

One might ask: why are we still confounded by this? After all, U.S. women began to flood the workplace after the economic shocks of the 1970’s put single income families on the endangered species list. Why would a fact of work life for more than 30 years be cause for comment?

nytimes

By LISA BELKIN  | November 1, 2007 | Life’s Work

DON’T get angry. But do take charge. Be nice. But not too nice. Speak up. But don’t seem like you talk too much. Never, ever dress sexy. Make sure to inspire your colleagues — unless you work in Norway, in which case, focus on delegating instead.

Writing about life and work means receiving a steady stream of research on how women in the workplace are viewed differently from men. These are academic and professional studies, not whimsical online polls, and each time I read one I feel deflated. What are women supposed to do with this information? Transform overnight? And if so, into what? How are we supposed to be assertive, but not, at the same time?

“It’s enough to make you dizzy,” said Ilene H. Lang, the president of Catalyst, an organization that studies women in the workplace. “Women are dizzy, men are dizzy, and we still don’t have a simple straightforward answer as to why there just aren’t enough women in positions of leadership.”

Catalyst’s research is often an exploration of why, 30 years after women entered the work force in large numbers, the default mental image of a leader is still male. Most recent is the report titled “Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t,” which surveyed 1,231 senior executives from the United States and Europe. It found that women who act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes — defined as focusing “on work relationships” and expressing “concern for other people’s perspectives” — are considered less competent. But if they act in ways that are seen as more “male” — like “act assertively, focus on work task, display ambition” — they are seen as “too tough” and “unfeminine.”

Women can’t win.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm199: Blogging — NSFW? The plot thickens…

November 19, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Recently we tackled the topic of blogging in the corporate environment in a two part post. In the first, the singular tale of John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods (which, MUDGE is not too proud to repeat, stubbed its organic tofu), and his wayward blogging ways that ran afoul of the Federal Trade Commission, and later, his board of directors.

The next post explored the subject from the point of view of IBM, an organization of 375,000 global employees that enthusiastically embraces blogging among an entire portfolio of Web 2.0 tools. Indeed, their Lotus division has released the set of applications called Lotus Connections to spread the collaboration gospel to a bemused corporate world.

Now, Computerworld (source of the Whole Foods story) has reopened the issue with a pair of related articles.

computerworld

Mark Boxer wanted to talk to his employees about the top issues at work.

So the president and CEO of operations, technology and government services at WellPoint Inc. sent out weekly e-mails under the header “Thoughts for a Friday” and encouraged his workers to e-mail back.

But while Boxer sought open communication with his employees, there was a problem with his system: He was reaching thousands of workers at the Indianapolis-based health benefits company. The e-mail approach to keeping up the conversation was cumbersome.
Boxer figured there had to be a better way for communicating on such a large scale, so in June 2007 he tried blogging.

The results have been positive. “It’s been a very effective way for building a community,” Boxer says. “It’s a unifying force.”

Of course, as corporations, the concept of blogging needs adjustment…

But companies aren’t replicating the free-flowing exchange that has been a hallmark of the broader blogosphere. Rather, companies are trying to harness that freedom and conform it to business needs, with forward-thinking companies using strategic planning and formal policies to shape the use of blogs and other Web 2.0 tools to drive more communication and collaboration among workers.

Corporate blogging is a minefield that needs to be negotiated with care. So it’s no wonder that the research quoted in the CW story shows that nearly half of the executives surveyed (companies with more than 500 employees) have not embraced this technology, and most of those see no reason to do so.

Those promoting the technology see them as up to date tools of collaboration. The balky executives see blogs as sloppy, undisciplined amateur communication.

The story provides some anecdotal evidence that blogs might provide a substitute for the water-cooler conversation that a typical ginormous corporation’s global footprint makes impossible.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Corporate blogging: Does it really work?

As Computerworld is a trade publication, a related story tackles the topic from the viewpoint of IT executives.

There’s no question that blogs are multiplying in cyberspace. Now they’re infiltrating businesses, too, even if the IT departments haven’t sanctioned their implementations.

“I’ve definitely seen the problem with unsanctioned blogs finding their way into enterprises. It’s happening more than IT would like to believe,” says Oliver Young, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. “Executives realize it’s a losing battle to lock it down, so they’re bringing in official solutions. It’s not everybody, but there are plenty of IT shops that realize this is coming whether they like it or not.”

The movement of blogs from a primarily social technology to a business tool is happening fast. As a result, IT workers are developing best practices for implementing, managing and maintaining this technology. At the same time, corporate IT departments, executive sponsors and the business units that want blogs are trying to build business cases, craft user policies and estimate costs — and even returns on investments — even though there’s not yet a lot of data to define success.

One needs to be suspicious of this element of the story, since it relates blogging infrastructure to that of email, in a way that minimizes the time and attention that email systems cost IT departments.

Blogging technology, like e-mail systems, doesn’t require heavy maintenance. “IT will obviously operate the machinery behind blogs just [as it does] the machinery behind e-mail, but it’s a relatively minimal effort,” Valdes says.

I can think of several managers, and more than 40 grunts in the trenches working near me who might take exception to the characterization of email as requiring minimal maintenance!

And even the company whose anecdote seemed so positive in the first story, has some reservations about whether and how to roll out blogs to everyone.

And that shouldn’t surprise one. Research scientists are highly educated and understand more than most the value of “thinking out loud.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

IT wrestles with workplace blogging

Anyone remember the Keebler cookie commercials? That’s where people believe in elves, not cookie-baking factories.

Corporate email doesn’t get done by elves, people, nor will corporate blogging.

So that may be a clue: like email, blogs seem simple. But, ask John Mackey — the potential for blogs to make life complicated is what is surprisingly simple.

But the vendors are out there, not least of them IBM, with Lotus Connections, as referenced in the second of our previous stories.

The cost of entry for blogging seems incredibly low. Indeed, I have been blogging (not for business, but to share this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© as an avocation) for several months now, and have paid not a sou to WordPress (who certainly deserves our constant appreciation! I bought a wonderfully red tee shirt!), or Microsoft for Windows Live Writer, or Picnik for their free on-line image processing, etc.

Of course, there is quite a significant, if always undervalued cost: my personal time.

Create a blog for business use, keep it relevant and timely — where exactly would the time for that effort come from?

MUDGE is all for corporate collaboration. Too many of us work in our silos, with little idea of what the guy three rows over is up to, much less the woman an ocean away. But maybe they’re doing things that I can find interesting, and perhaps useful. But how will I ever know?

But whatever the answer is, it probably isn’t a corporate blog in my employer’s part of the world. There, a corporate blog seems as likely as Western culture taking the plunge: trading a groom’s tuxedo for cut-offs and a Hawaiian shirt.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm192: Women at work: A level playing field at last?

November 12, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We’re still playing catch up with a bulging ideas folder here at L-HC. A recent NYTimes column updates us on the ever-intriguing topic: women in corporate America.

One might ask: why are we still confounded by this? After all, U.S. women began to flood the workplace after the economic shocks of the 1970’s put single income families on the endangered species list. Why would a fact of work life for more than 30 years be cause for comment?

nytimes

By LISA BELKIN  | November 1, 2007 | Life’s Work

DON’T get angry. But do take charge. Be nice. But not too nice. Speak up. But don’t seem like you talk too much. Never, ever dress sexy. Make sure to inspire your colleagues — unless you work in Norway, in which case, focus on delegating instead.

Writing about life and work means receiving a steady stream of research on how women in the workplace are viewed differently from men. These are academic and professional studies, not whimsical online polls, and each time I read one I feel deflated. What are women supposed to do with this information? Transform overnight? And if so, into what? How are we supposed to be assertive, but not, at the same time?

“It’s enough to make you dizzy,” said Ilene H. Lang, the president of Catalyst, an organization that studies women in the workplace. “Women are dizzy, men are dizzy, and we still don’t have a simple straightforward answer as to why there just aren’t enough women in positions of leadership.”

Catalyst’s research is often an exploration of why, 30 years after women entered the work force in large numbers, the default mental image of a leader is still male. Most recent is the report titled “Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t,” which surveyed 1,231 senior executives from the United States and Europe. It found that women who act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes — defined as focusing “on work relationships” and expressing “concern for other people’s perspectives” — are considered less competent. But if they act in ways that are seen as more “male” — like “act assertively, focus on work task, display ambition” — they are seen as “too tough” and “unfeminine.”

Women can’t win.

So, take a look at the balance of this well written story, and then come back for MUDGE‘s take.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Feminine Critique – New York Times

Of course, MUDGE has a story. It’s what blogging is all about, isn’t it? Storytelling?

Some years ago, at an agonizing time in my work life (too much agony because of not much work), to get some cash flow, meager as it was, I took a job as a temporary secretary, a temp.

My first position in this role was one that lasted several cash-flow beneficial months, as an assistant to the VP of training for a mid-size public company.

Interesting role reversal, this, as she and I both had some adjusting to do. Here I was, perhaps five to eight years older, a guy in a position usually filled by a woman. Here she was, a high flying corporate vice president, probably the first women to fill that role at her very traditional organization.

So, to thicken the broth a bit, imagine one of my regular duties, when not keying revisions to PowerPoint training courses on diversity. I was keying revisions to my employer’s Ph.D. dissertation.

The topic: why women in the corporate life find it so challenging.

Did a lot of typing, so I ended up doing a lot of reading. Her thesis: the language of corporate life is male, and so, just to learn the job, just to advance beyond entry level, women need to learn an entirely new language. To act in a way totally foreign to how girls grow up in this country.

So, let’s assume that some times have changed since 1995. That today’s young women entering the workplace have played team sports in greater numbers than their predecessors ever did. Girls in school are not only playing sports, but are excelling in technical courses and the sciences.

It’s a different world than 12 years ago, and maybe it was different then also. My boss’s career melted down very suddenly for reasons that the drones (and this particular drone was back in the temp agency’s pool in mere hours) weren’t made privy to.

Who knows, it could have been political. Who knows, perhaps her boss decided that having her secretary work on her school work during office hours on the office clock was inappropriate. Who knows, maybe she never was able to successfully defend her dissertation; obsolete before she finished.

What MUDGE does know is that for a great many of the intervening years from then to now, he has very cheerfully worked for several different women. Different from men he’s reported to over the years, but not in substantive ways. The foreign language has apparently been learned, at least in the parts of the world MUDGE occupies during his work day.

Maybe sometime in the next few years even MUDGE‘s stolid employer will welcome its first female CEO. Ability won’t be the issue; toughness, quick thinking, the ability to effortlessly work 20 hour days, and a respectable golf game might be.

I’ve worked for good men, and the very scum of the earth. I’ve worked for highly competent leaders, some of whom were women, and some highly competent women in their field who were still learning how to be leaders. They’ll learn.

It’s all good. Beats the temp pool by a mile. By the way, I’ve long been convinced that temp is the natural contraction for contempt.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE