Entries for July 2005

Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and the United States

What does the US have in common with Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland? No guaranteed paid maternity leave. Read all about it in an Associated Press article by Peter Svensson, reprinted on the front page of the business section in today's Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Perhaps if Ohio wants to address the poverty level of its citizens, particularly in cities like Cleveland, we could follow the example of California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. They require employers to offer short-term disability insurance, which covers six weeks of postpartum income replacement for new mothers. Or maybe not... maybe we are content with the thought that a waitress or a cashier might have given birth three weeks ago, and returned to work as fast as she could in order to ensure that she can pay rent to keep a roof over her new baby's head.

It's probably too much to ask that we follow the example of California, which introduced paid family leave at 50% of workers' income levels last year, funded by a small tax on all employees. And we certainly aren't likely to follow the example of Canada, where the maximum paid leave for new mothers was extended from six months to one year in 2004, up to a maximum of C$413 per week.

No wonder that the modal number of children born to a mother in the US has dropped from 4 in 1976 to 2 in 2000, and the percentage of women without children has grown from 10% to 19%. With 55% of new mothers participating in the workforce within a year after their child's birth, the lack of paid parental leave has a dramatic effect on women in the United States. (See this census report for details.)

voluntary collaborations on the web

Every time I run across an example of a large-scale voluntary collaboration on the WWW, my optimism for the future is reinforced. These types of projects often have the feel of an open source computer programming effort, in that their aim is to produce a collective good by involving anyone who wished to be involved in the production process. In many cases, they also aim to make the product or service available to all for free. They are not always focused on computer programs, though -- Wikipedians, for instance, are focused on building a storehouse of knowledge for future generations, in over 200 different languages.

The desire to share knowledge with others, accurately, and from a neutral point of view, embodies a set of values that are close to my heart (and are shared by most university professors, I would hope). Indeed, the challenge of teaching individuals how to distinguish between established facts and research conclusions on the one hand, and hypotheses and opinions on the other, is central to a university's teaching mission. Sorting through those hypotheses and opinions and making judgments about which can be moved into the category of facts and conclusions is central to a university's scholarly mission.

I'm thrilled and inspired by the idea of a Wikipedia, and even the idea of Wikibooks is appealing. When I encountered the fledgling Wikiversity, though, I realized that the publishers of encyclopedias and books must be somewhat less than thrilled by these potential free competitors. What will become of universities if the Wikipedians are able to expand their success with their online encyclopedia into the realm of university courses? Will everyone choose to pursue their higher education online, rather than attending courses in person on an old-style university campus? I doubt it, based on my belief that many things (particularly in my field, the study of human interaction in organizations) cannot be understood merely by reading about them.

I do wonder whether anyone in organizational behavior is studying what makes these open source efforts work. Efforts like Drupal, for instance, combine long periods of work coordinated via the web and email with face-to-face conferences, and my hypothesis is that when online communication leads to face-to-face communication, the effort will be more likely to sustain itself and achieve goals for progress defined by the participants. Understanding how these voluntary collaborations which make use of the web work would help contribute to our understanding of transformative cooperation more generally.

I'm off to work on the introductory chapter of our forthcoming book, A Handbook of Transformative cooperation: New Designs and Dynamics, to be published in the traditional mode next year. (I'm not sure my colleagues would consider something published on Wikibooks to be a valuable contribution, yet!) Still, I hope that my colleagues in the blogosphere will let me know if they run across any research about what makes open source collaborations effective!

new ways of organizing work time

When I called for new ways of organizing careers in my previous post, I neglected to mention the desirability of new ways of organizing the work day. Both will help to address the underrepresentation of women in the upper echelons of business. For one interesting idea about reorganizing the work day, check out a recent article in Time magazine that talks about Best Buy's ROWE (results-oriented work environment) which sounds like the next generation of flextime. Yesterday on Talk of the Nation, Phyllis Moen (a prominent scholar of work-family issues) and two other guests discussed why so few workers are eligible for flextime and Best Buy seems to be finding a way of addressing those inequities -- their ROWE initiative is implemented for a whole work group at a time.

Aaron Shaffer commented on my previous post on the glass ceiling, asking how much of a change I would find reasonable, given the differences in testosterone levels between men and women (he linked to this 2000 article from the NYT magazine by Andrew Sullivan). I think the argument here is that men (with higher levels of testosterone) are more likely to aspire to win at all costs, and thus may have higher ambitions or more persistence in pursuing their ambitions, even in the face of competition from others who also aspire to sit in the CEO chair. However, there are specific elements of Sullivan's article that might contradict that argument -- in particular, his finding that blue-collar workers have higher levels of testosterone than white-collar workers. He offers no specific evidence that testosterone levels of successful venture capitalists or business leaders in other sectors are higher than they are for school principals or directors of nursing. In an unpublished draft of a chapter by Linda Dunn-Jensen and Linda Stroh, they present evidence from several studies that women's levels of ambition are as high as men's at the beginning of their careers, but may lessen over time. This is much more consistent with the notion of ambition being constrained by socialization as it is by the notion that ambition might be determined by hormones. Testosterone may be an influence, but I would expect it to be a small one.

What is most important to me is to see women rise to the top of the corporate world in sufficient numbers that they will be treated as individuals, and not as tokens. Here's a good summary of Rosabeth Moss Kanter's ideas about tokenism. With women representing less than 8% of top managers in the US workforce (as documented by the Economist article which prompted my comments yesterday), we are definitely still in the token role. We may not need that number to rise all the way to 46%, to be exactly proportional to women's representation in the overall workforce, but I think it's reasonable to expect it to rise to 30% or more.

Speaking of glacial change...

... last week the Economist published an article about the conundrum of the glass ceiling, stating that although "research by Catalyst found a strong correlation between the number of women in top executive positions and financial performance among Fortune 500 companies between 1996 and 2000" the following facts still hold true:

  • Women account for 46.5% of America's workforce and for less than 8% of its top managers, although at big Fortune 500 companies the figure is a bit higher.
  • [In a] large sample of British quoted companies, 65% had no women on their board at all in 2003.
  • Female managers' earnings now average 72% of their male colleagues'.
  • The management-consulting business.... loses twice as many women as men from the middle rungs of its career ladder.

How do they explain the persistence of the glass ceiling? They mention women's inability to access informal social networks, stereotyping of women as less capable of leadership, a lack of visible female role models, the flattening of corporate structures (which may make it more difficult to get promoted), and women's greater struggle with work-life issues (including taking time off to care for children, parents, and household demands). They also explore the possibility that women are less ambitious for top jobs, and that corporations are losing their best women to the more flexible world of entrepreneurial businesses.

What leverage do we have as a society to change this finding? And no, I don't believe the finding that diversity is associated with increased performance will be enough on its own to overcome stereotypes and unconscious patterns of informal social networking. We need to work from at least three angles:

  • We have to start young, and we have to work on males' beliefs about themselves, not just women's beliefs about their capacity. Some of that work is already being done -- my husband, for example, pulls his weight with the "second shift" tasks in our household. Still, he's uncomfortable with the idea of taking a paid paternity leave, even though his company offers one, and women will never make it to the top in large numbers if men continue to believe it's their responsibility to take care of their households only through paid work.
  • We have to find new ways of organizing careers that appeal to many (rather than being relegated to minority status as mommy tracks) and that allow people to move into and out of full-time work. In the US, that may mean moving away from associating health insurance with employment -- a huge political task.
  • And we have to build networks of supporters for these initiatives which include members of the current, largely male, elite. This probably involves appealing to the generational protectiveness of CEOs and corporate directors who are fathers of daughters.

This is a much bigger change than simply aiming to raise breastfeeding rates in Northeast Ohio. It will probably still be underway when my daughter gives birth to her first child. Nevertheless, the same principles apply, beginning with Margaret Mead's axiom ("never doubt that a small group...") and including some of the additions recently suggested by Zaid over at WorldChanging. He suggests this addendum to Mead's famous quote:

"For a small group of thoughtful and committed people to change the world, they must believe that change is possible. They must be ready to act the moment a stuck system becomes liquid. They will only be effective if they display collective intelligence. Finally, they must live in a small world."

great things happen slowly, like glaciers

I'm still stumbling around trying to reorganize my to-do list now that the NEOBEAN workshop is officially postponed, beating myself up a bit because we couldn't make the event come together with a big impressive guest list like we wanted.... so it is with a strange sort of relief that I read Dave Pollard's apology in the wee hours of the morning when a thunderstorm woke me. Dave Pollard is someone whose writing I admire a great deal, who keeps me uncomfortable with my big house and suburban lifestyle with his environmental activism, and who has big plans for a cause he believes in (as I do with breastfeeding advocacy). It's such a comfort to know that I'm not the only one struggling with how to turn dreams into reality.

Whenever I look at cases of transformative cooperation, one of the first commonalities that leaps out across the cases is the long timeframe. ACEnet developed over a decade or so... Tarun Barat Sangh developed over two decades... the Quattro Varas community evolved over many, many years. It's an easy point to make, and conceptually it's not that interesting, so my theorizing skips over it quickly, to think about more complex issues about the interplay between leaders and followers, the particular elements of context that can support the emergence of transformative cooperation, and other more intellectually stimulating but perhaps esoteric points. What I am learning from my experiment in creating transformative cooperation -- the NEOBEAN project -- is that the long timeframe is primary in the experience. I'm not going to melt a glacier and create a waterfall in one summer. If I keep working at it, though, the glacier will start to move downhill, slowly, an inch or two each year.

It remains my hope that by the time my daughter and her preschool classmates are giving birth to their first children, the support available to new mothers for establishing strong breastfeeding relationships will be much stronger than it is now.

graduation speeches and the value of college

I have been waiting for Case to post a transcript of Chris Matthews' speech to the graduating class of 2005, which was delivered in the Veale Center on May 16... but apparently, we how only post a video archive of the event, which is no longer available online. It was an interesting speech, focusing on Matthews' experiences in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, marred only by his extremely rapid delivery.

(Robin Dubin, the University Marshall and a professor of economics, told me afterwards that she was afraid that he took her too literally when she told him that he really needed to keep his speech to 15 minutes. Anyone who finds it implausible that the very tall and accomplished Mr. Matthews might be intimidated by the very petite Professor Dubin has not spent very much time with her. She is a powerful thinker, and inspires great effort in her students; when in academic garb and wielding her ceremonial scepter at graduation, she becomes an imposing guardian of ceremony despite her short stature.)

My friend John Ettorre recently posted the text of David Foster Wallace's speech to Kenyon's graduating class, and it is definitely worth a read. He discusses what we mean when we say that college is meant to teach young people how to think in a very humorous and yet also a very meaningful way.

Both speeches provide some good answers to the query "Does college matter?" but perhaps not in a way that would convince a high school student like Ben Casnocha to enroll immediately, rather than taking a year or two off first. Ben is an entrepreneur, and reminds me a little of Stan Garber, who took MGMT 250-251 over the past year while serving as CFO and Senior Sales Manager for O-Web Technologies. Ben did not visit Case during his spring break college visiting tour, though I think he might find us a pretty good fit. Who wouldn't get excited about the idea of studying with Scott Shane and Richard Boland?

Should all high school graduates with the intellect to handle college attend? Only if they want to, is my answer. There's nothing more frustrating to me as a professor than a semester of interactions with a student who is only in my class because that's what everyone else was doing, or because he couldn't think of anything else to do, or because his parents told him he has to be there. Students will not learn much, no matter how skilled the professor, if they do not want to learn. Students who have no passion for learning should work for Starbucks or the post office or in some kind of job where they might discover what they still want to explore for a year or two.

As David Foster Wallace says in his speech, "The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in day out" really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration." Sometimes it is only once young people have experienced the numbness that can result from those parts of life that they begin to hunger for what a college education, approached with enthusiasm, can give them: an appreciation of their own freedom and potential within society, and the desire to exercise and develop it responsibly.

"The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."

"The real value of a real education... has... everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over... to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out."

internet soap operas and academic integrity

I have not been involved in new student orientation this year, for the first time in several years, and it feels strange to be denying myself the pleasure of advising incoming first-year undergraduates about course selections. So it is that I learned by reading my RSS feed of Planet Case that incoming students like Colin Slater are being introduced both to Blog@Case and to conversations about academic integrity by watching tv or movie excerpts (48 Hours for Colin, and Cheaters for one of the other new students who commented on Colin's post).

I came across Colin's post on Saturday, and when I came back to it this morning, it was after reading this old Wired article from May 1997 about the internet soap opera that was the early years of the WELL. The article is looooong, with hints of the essence of more recent internet phenomena like Meetup, Livejournal, and delicious, and it made me long for the same kind of rich insider history to be written about the Cleveland Freenet, which was a part of my online initiation back in the late 80s when I was a Case undergraduate. (There's a brief history of CFN here.) What I realized is that the history of another online community is being made as you read and comment -- the history of Blog@Case, which allows a management professor to welcome a new freshman to campus without even meeting him in person.

One of the premises of the early life of the WELL community is that electronic conversation flows better when the people engaging in the conversation online occasionally meet in person also. I hope that Colin and I will run into one another on campus sooner or later... we might discuss academic integrity, or what it takes to make a healthy blog community. Perhaps he'll share his opinion on Bruce Katz's statement (commenting on his firing of a prominent WELL employee) that "I do not believe that everyone knowing everything about everyone is a necessary condition for community." I expect that the incoming class of 2009 can teach older generations like mine a fair amount about the finer points of participating in the blogosphere and other online communities.

I am pleased to learn that we are introducing our newest students to the principles of academic integrity via a conversation, rather than a simple statement of expectations. This choice makes clear that there is more to academic integrity than avoiding plagiarism or cheating. It suggests that students are our partners in upholding a key value of our academic community -- the value of honoring the contributions that others make to our learning, by giving credit to them for the ideas they have authored, and not claiming authorship for ideas that are not our own. I hope that students will also learn that part of demonstrating academic integrity is refraining from expressing ideas as your own if you do not actually believe them. Holding onto a dissenting opinion and elaborating on it in a constructive way is part of how knowledge grows... saying what you think the teacher wants to hear just to get a good grade is not.

student bloggers must learn filtering

This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that blogs can be a hindrance to their writers in the job search process. The premise of the article is that blogs are a place for posting unfiltered thoughts and rants, and that bloggers can forget that someone is reading.

I think this is a very important lesson for students to learn -- not just about blogs, but about corporate email and any kind of professional communication. In this way, experimenting with blogging is a way of learning self-control, and learning to be your own editor.

Still, I could be wrong... I could be leading my students down a path into danger. I was always surprised, when I asked students to blog on livejournal, how few of them followed instructions about protecting their posts so that only their designated friends could read them. Some even used some variant of their real name as their username, despite my instructions not to do so.

What guidance should we be offering to Blog@Case users about their blogs?

my heart goes out to Londoners

The story about the terrorist attacks in London has held my attention for much of the day. I have vivid memories of distracting Julia, only 9 months old, from the television coverage of the 9/11 attacks. The Madrid attacks last year brought equally horrific images. It would appear that we have entered the age of terror, and for the good of humanity, I hope the age will be brief. Perhaps I have been reading too much Octavia Butler recently, but I'm finding it hard to be optimistic.

Why can't we resolve our differences through dialogue?

My heart goes out to the victims and their families today.

a culture of dialogue

This little snippet from Fast Company online does a great job of highlighting what it takes to create a culture where people can really learn from one another. I'm going to remember these tips when I go back into the classroom, and I hope that by modeling these behaviors, my students will learn by observation how to contribute to such cultures in their workplaces.

It's very easy for legal concerns, fears about competitors, and lack of trust to get in the way of building a culture of dialogue. The downside is not always so easy to see at first -- but eventually, the culture of posturing and self-censorship which is the alternative to a culture of dialogue becomes corrosive.

Vanderbilt follows my lead

The dean of Vanderbilt's business school invited all his MBA students to read Tempered Radicals this summer, according to this Business Week article. The book is based on interviews conducted and analyzed by Debra Meyerson with individuals who exerted quiet leadership within corporations, finding ways to express their personal values and identity within businesses' supposedly impersonal domains.

The spring of 2004 is the last time I offered students the option to read this book for class credit, and their reactions were very interesting. Some students were surprised that the businesspeople interviewed in the book were willing to stay with their company because of the small battles they had to fight to have their beliefs recognized as valid. Others were unable to imagine being in the minority for any reason. Undergraduates truly do span a range in their desire for conformity or uniqueness.

The theme of changing an organization based on principled action from the inside is an important one, and I'm glad to know that Meyerson's book is still receiving endorsements in high places.

Basic Lessons in Management

There's nothing quite so humbling as the realization that little of what we teach actually sticks. I was reminded of this recently when I reviewed a post on "five things I learned in business school" written by a Wharton MBA which mentioned only financial lessons. Sam Tingleff's post about six things (which references the post by the Wharton grad) at least mentions different business disciplines. However, his basic management lesson learned seems misguided, placing too much emphasis on the power of incentives to influence individual behavior. It makes me wonder what students at Wharton or Cornell are assigned to read on the topic of motivation and rewards. Didn't they read anything about the limitations of rewards? Don't they remember anything about matching individuals' intrinsic interests to their job assignments?

Josh Kaufman's personal MBA reading list gives much more depth to the content of an MBA, with 113 books included. I found some validation in noting that he includes both Jim Collins' Good to Great and Ricardo Semler's Seven Day Weekend, which have been included in book discussions in my courses in years past. I certainly hope that my students don't all walk away from their introductory management classes with the notion that incentives are everything.