Work Futures Daily | Female as the Norm

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Beacon NY | 2019–10–16 | The title today comes from the Ruth Whippman excerpt below, where she writes

Sell the female standard as the norm.


I’m behind in my reading and writing, because I am heads-down on various Gigaom projects. I hope to be back to normal next week, but I make no promises.


Why reinventing organisations is about more than just changing structures | Lisa Gill discusses changes that we need to make in how we think about power in organizations not just throwing out the org chart.

Miki Kashtan, author and international teacher of Nonviolent Communication, describes two other shifts that need to happen (in addition to changing structures) in order for us to achieve a new, more purposeful level of collaboration in our organisations. They are human shifts — in being, in relating, in mindsets.

Or, in my terms, thinking about power:

Firstly, those who have (or have had) structural power, for instance managers, need to unlearn their top-down tendencies, and learn instead to welcome new perspectives and trust others with radical responsibility. Secondly, those who don’t have (or haven’t had) structural power — in this case, employees — need to unlearn their bottom-up tendencies, to overcome fear and deference, and instead ask for what they need, dare to question or challenge or propose. In other words, both managers and employees need to shift their mindset and way of being to one of distributed leadership and shared power. Mary Parker Follett was writing about this as early as the 1920s, calling it a shift from “power over” to “power with.”

These shifts will be challenging because they go against, in some cases, decades of “power over” conditioning from our families, schools, societies, and workplaces. But without shifts occurring in these two places, as Miki describes, any attempts to become an Agile or self-managing organisation (or anything else) will be short-lived and surface level. You could characterise this human shift as transforming the dynamic between managers and non-managers from a parent-child dynamic (where the manager is responsible and the one that problem-solves, decides etc.) to a more adult-adult dynamic (where individuals relate to each other as partners, collectively responsible for the organisation’s outcomes).


Automation’s Slow-Motion Impact on Modern Workers | Brian Merchant reports on new study of the impact of automation on workers:

What actually happens to workers when a company deploys automation? The common assumption seems to be that the employee simply disappears wholesale, replaced one-for-one with an AI interface or an array of mechanized arms.

Yet given the extensive punditeering, handwringing, and stump-speeching around the “robots are coming for our jobs” phenomenon — which I will never miss an opportunity to point out is falsely represented — research into what happens to the individual worker remains relatively thin. Studies have attempted to monitor the impact of automation on wages on aggregate or to correlate employment to levels of robotization.

But few in-depth investigations have been made into what happens to each worker after their companies roll out automation initiatives. Earlier this year, though, a paper authored by economists James Bessen, Maarten Goos, Anna Salomons, and Wiljan Van den Berge set out to do exactly that.

Armed with a uniquely robust dataset — the researchers had access to employee and administrative data, as well as information about expenditures on automation for 36,490 Dutch companies, or around 5 million workers — the economists examined how automation events impacted employees in the Netherlands between 2000 and 2016. They measured daily and annual wages, employment rates, the collection of unemployment insurance and welfare receipts.

What emerges is a portrait of workplace automation that is ominous in a less dramatic manner than we’re typically made to understand. For one thing, there is no ‘robot apocalypse’, even after a major corporate automation event. Unlike mass layoffs, automation does not appear to immediately and directly send workers packing en masse.

Instead, automation increases the likelihood that workers will be driven away from their previous jobs at the companies — whether they’re fired, or moved to less rewarding tasks, or quit — and causes a long-term loss of wages for the employee.

The report finds that “firm-level automation increases the probability of workers separating from their employers and decreases days worked, leading to a 5-year cumulative wage income loss of 11 percent of one year’s earnings.” That’s a pretty significant loss.


So automation continues to unfold, piecemeal, at companies of every size and stripe. After each micro-automation event within a company, employees are forced out. Some workers are terminated, some quit. Now imagine this happening tens of thousands — even millions — of times over the course of a decade, at varying intervals and varying times of economic stability. That, according to Bessen and company’s research, is the social impact of automation on the workforce.

It’s not an apocalyptic sort of scenario, the likes of which Andrew Yang has become notorious for proselytizing about, but a creeping malaise, still massive, that will add millions of workers to the unemployment rolls.

You have to read the whole thing.


Drawn by the Salary, Women Flock to Trucking | Cristina Roca and Dieter Holger review a new trend, women truckers:

Some drivers and women’s advocates say the industry has begun to change to make it more accommodating to women. “New technology and equipment make truck driving a job that’s more geared toward women,” says Lindsey Othmer, 26, who drives for XPO Logistics out of Fife, Wash.

For example, XPO trucks now have a more modern transmission system that makes them less strenuous to drive, says Meghan Henson, chief human-resources officer at XPO, one of the largest transportation and logistics companies in the U.S. And at many companies, drivers, regardless of sex, don’t physically load and unload goods anymore.

“The industry has changed,” says Ellen Voie, president and chief executive of Women in Trucking, a nonprofit that encourages women to join the profession.


Enough Leaning In. Let’s Tell Men to Lean Out. | Ruth Whippman wants to reframe the discussion about assertiveness, and spin it on its ear:

For women in this cultural moment, assertiveness is perhaps the ultimate in aspirational personal qualities. At the nexus of feminism and self-help lies the promise that if we can only learn to state our needs more forcefully — to “lean in” and stop apologizing and demand a raise and power pose in the bathroom before meetings and generally act like a ladyboss (though not a regular boss of course; that would be unladylike) — everything from the pay gap to mansplaining to the glass ceiling would all but disappear. Women! Be more like men. Men, as you were.

There are several problems with this fist-pumping restyling of feminism, most obviously that it slides all too easily into victim blaming. The caricature of the shrinking violet, too fearful to ask for a raise, is a handy straw-woman for corporations that would rather blame their female employees for a lack of assertiveness than pay them fairly.

There’s also the awkward issue that it turns out to be untrue. Research shows that despite countless attempts to rebrand the wage gap as a “confidence gap,” women ask for raises as often as men do. They just don’t get them.


After all, one man’s “assertive” is often another woman’s abrasive, entitled or rude. Surely many of our most pressing social and political problems — from #MeToo to campus rape, school shootings to President Trump’s Twitter posturing — are caused not by a lack of assertiveness in women but by an overassertiveness among men. In the workplace, probably unsurprisingly to many women who are routinely talked over, patronized or ignored by male colleagues, research shows that rather than women being underconfident, men tend to be overconfident in relation to their actual abilities. Women generally aren’t failing to speak up; the problem is that men are refusing to pipe down.


Indeed, many of our problems with male entitlement and toxic behavior both in the workplace and elsewhere could well be traced back to a fundamental unwillingness among men to apologize, or even perceive that they have anything to apologize for. Certainly many emails I have received from men over the years would have benefited from a Gmail plug-in pointing out the apology-shaped hole. The energy we spend getting women to stop apologizing might be better spent encouraging men to start.


So H.R. managers and self-help authors, slogan writers and TED Talk talkers: Use your platforms and your cultural capital to ask that men be the ones to do the self-improvement for once. Stand up for deference. Write the book that teaches men to sit back and listen and yield to others’ judgment. Code the app that shows them where to put the apologies in their emails. Teach them how to assess their own abilities realistically and modestly. Tell them to “lean out,” reflect and consider the needs of others rather than assertively restating their own. Sell the female standard as the norm.



Can a Machine Learn to Write for The New Yorker? | John Seabrook considers the implications of writing AI, and looks into how we do it, starting with cuneiform in Mesopotamia in the fourth millennium BCE, and Socrates disdain for written language:

A more contemporary definition, developed by the linguist Linda Flower and the psychologist John Hayes, is “cognitive rhetoric” — thinking in words.

In 1981, Flower and Hayes devised a theoretical model for the brain as it is engaged in writing, which they called the cognitive-process theory. It has endured as the paradigm of literary composition for almost forty years. The previous, “stage model” theory had posited that there were three distinct stages involved in writing — planning, composing, and revising — and that a writer moved through each in order. To test that theory, the researchers asked people to speak aloud any stray thoughts that popped into their heads while they were in the composing phase, and recorded the hilariously chaotic results. They concluded that, far from being a stately progression through distinct stages, writing is a much messier situation, in which all three stages interact with one another simultaneously, loosely overseen by a mental entity that Flower and Hayes called “the monitor.” Insights derived from the work of composing continually undermine assumptions made in the planning part, requiring more research; the monitor is a kind of triage doctor in an emergency room.


In recent years, neuroscientists using imaging technology have begun to rethink some of the underlying principles of the classic model. One of the few imaging studies to focus specifically on writing, rather than on language use in general, was led by the neuroscientist Martin Lotze, at the University of Greifswald, in Germany, and the findings were published in the journal NeuroImage, in 2014. Lotze designed a small desk where the study’s subjects could write by hand while he scanned their brains. The subjects were given a few sentences from a short story to copy verbatim, in order to establish a baseline, and were then told to “brainstorm” for sixty seconds and then to continue writing “creatively” for two more minutes. Lotze noted that, during the brainstorming part of the test, magnetic imaging showed that the sensorimotor and visual areas were activated; once creative writing started, these areas were joined by the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the left inferior frontal gyrus, the left thalamus, and the inferior temporal gyrus. In short, writing seems to be a whole-brain activity — a brainstorm indeed.

Yes, writing requires the whole brain for us meat puppets.

Lotze also compared brain scans of amateur writers with those of people who pursue writing as a career. He found that professional writers relied on a region of the brain that did not light up as much in the scanner when amateurs wrote — the left caudate nucleus, a tadpole-shaped structure (cauda means “tail” in Latin) in the midbrain that is associated with expertise in musicians and professional athletes. In amateur writers, neurons fired in the lateral occipital areas, which are associated with visual processing. Writing well, one could conclude, is, like playing the piano or dribbling a basketball, mostly a matter of doing it. Practice is the only path to mastery.

A great takeaway. The whole thing is well worth reading.

Quote of the Day

Each technological revolution brings with it, not only a full revamping of the productive structure, but eventually a transformation of the institutions of governance, of society, and even of ideology and culture.

| Carlota Perez


How a new guard of economists wants us to think more about inequality | Jared Bernstein is inspired by the new economics:

There’s a new economics that’s increasingly ascendant, one that rejects the market-centric framework and its conservative policy tools on behalf of [Binjamin] Appelbaum’s simple but profound conclusion: “Communities can decide what they want from markets.”


The new economics isn’t arising just because we want “better” outcomes from our markets. It’s also arising because a lot of the old stuff has turned out to be just plain wrong. The best way to learn more about this new strain of work is to briefly highlight some examples.

To start with the most obvious, in recent years, inequality has become a subject of legitimate study and attention in the profession. Spearheading this shift have been Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, who brushed away the dire warning by 2004 Nobel laureate Robert Lucas: “Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution.”

And they’re not alone. Raj Chetty and company’s highly influential work on mobility sits firmly in this camp. Think tanks like the Economic Policy Institute (which, for the record, predated the researchers named above), the Roosevelt Institute, the Institute for New Economic Thinking, and especially the Washington Center for Equitable Growth put inequality and broadly shared growth at the core of their work, implicitly rejecting the old-economics’ precept that growth can be either efficient or equitable, but not both. Moreover, these economists’ work is now feeding directly into policy proposals, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax.

Many who elevate and practice new economics are card-carrying members of the profession’s mainstream. The chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, may be a lawyer by training, but he’s also the nation’s chief economist. He and the large staff of economists he oversees have taken a data-driven, critical look at the old monetary policy rulebook. For years, those rules militated against letting unemployment fall to levels where working people might gain a bit of the bargaining power they sorely lacked in slack labor markets. But the rulebook said that to allow this to occur would lead to runaway inflation.


There is now a robust research agenda exploring and identifying long-term gains to society from investing in a variety of supports to the poor (especially children), including nutrition, housing, income and education. My own colleagues at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities deserve credit for this turn, as do many others like Diane Schanzenbach, Hilary Hoynes, and Nathan Hendren.

Finally, the practitioners of new economics have challenged the old notion that interventions in international trade kill the golden goose of “comparative advantage” (the theory behind the benefits of trade).

We’ve argued for much stronger safety nets to help those hurt by trade, currency interventions, trade deals that represent a very different set of stakeholders (workers, consumers, environmentalists), and industrial policies to shape the outcomes of global trade is ways that violate the norms of a status quo long embraced by international economists and politicians from the center-left to the center-right. Some of the folks you want to listen to on this front include Thea Lee, Dani Rodrik, Michael Pettis, Dean Baker, Joe Gagnon, Lori Wallach, Brad Setser, and Rob Scott.


While we won’t know it until we see it, there’s a good chance that the next president will staff her economics team with non-usual suspects who are more than willing to shape market outcomes on behalf of the majority on the wrong side of the inequality divide.

Any form of social analysis that aims to be useful to society must evolve in ways that enhance social welfare, equity, racial and gender justice, and environmental sustainability. For too long, much of economics failed that test — yet its interaction with the ruling class elevated it to a powerful perch. As Appelbaum documents, the pervasive damage of this interaction has cleared a path for a growing number of economists who are busy knocking the old school off its privileged perch.

To which I say: It’s about time.

Hear, hear.


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