Grandparenting and the club sandwich

An interesting piece in yesterday’s Financial Times on grandparents (in the main, grandmothers) who find themselves an essential part of their children’s (mainly daughters) childcare arrangements.  This is, often, at the expense of their own career, which may have just been taking off again.

The lead story (for those of you who aren’t behind the FT’s paywall) is about an accountant, Tracey Conway, who had moved up from 2 days a week to 5 days – and has now gone down again to help look after her grandson, as her daughter pursues her career at the bank.  She finds much to be happy about it, especially her strong link with the little boy, but it’s meant that her professional skills at yet again in semi-limbo.

The FT gives useful information on how grandparents can get leave for this kind of thing in various countries, and various organisations such as Santander.  In the UK the government recently ‘announced a plan’ to change the rules on parental leave so some of it can be transferred to grandparents.  It’s not clear if that plan will actually happen.   It has happened in Germany.

The impact of demography on skills is gradually attracting more attention.  A recent Institute of Directors report gives  much-needed plug for lifelong learning – hurrah.  It says:

“just 69 per cent of 50 to 64-yearolds today are in paid work compared to 83 per  cent of their younger counterparts. Ominously, by 2025 there will be 750,000 fewer people aged between 16 and 49, but 3.7 million more people aged between 50 and 64…. The UK economy will have to make adjustments to provide and then to capitalise upon a greater supply of educated older labour.”

The IoD report doesn’t mention that an increasing proportion of these will be well-qualified women, but I hope they’d see the logic of supporting grandparental leave.

The demographic reach goes further.  We know about the sandwich generation.   But the FT piece gives us a new variant:  the ‘club sandwich generation’ – signalling the growth of 4-generation families.  This gives rise to some fairly mind-boggling permutations, e.g. member of G2 looking after elderly member of G1 and at the same time G3′s small G4 member…

Why any skills assessment can’t ignore older women

Older women are habitually treated as marginal figures in the labour force .   I’ve just come across some figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that really drive home why this should no longer be the case.

Here are the key points:

1.  The participation rate for women aged 55+  is already over one-third.  That, if I’ve understood the figures correctly, is of all women aged 55+, i.e. including centenarians and beyond.

2.  Nearly one third (32.8%) of F aged 65-69 will be in work by 2024.  So much for conventional ways of giving us the labour force figures, stopping at 65.

3.   Nearly one quarter  (22.4%) of all F aged 65-74 are already in work, rising to 26.2%  by 2024.   This amount to 4.9 million women.

More figures, if you want them, below.   I’m going to look now for the UK equivalents, where the trend is surely similar.   The point of course is that this segment of the labour force will be increasingly highly qualified, and will have accumulated massive experience as well.  Just as importantly, it means that even if women take a partial or total career break to bring up children, they will very often have a full 30 years or so of working life ahead of them after that.

This radically affects the kinds of  calculation to be made over the costs of jettisoning or ignoring all those skills.  I recall one friend telling me that at age 55 or so she had decided against going back to do a Masters, in part because she wouldn’t have enough time to put the new qualification to work.  This was 8 or 10 years ago, and even then she began to think it might have been a wrong decision.  We can see from the figures just how the horizons have extended.

 

Workers 55 years and older. In contrast to the declining trend of the youth labor force, the number of workers 55 years and older in the labor force grew from 15.5 million in 1994 to 23.0 million in 2004. Then, in 2014, their number climbed to 33.9 million, nearly 11 million more than in 2004. The group’s share of the total labor force also increased, from 11.9 percent in 1994, to 15.6 percent in 2004, to 21.7 percent in 2014. The 55-years-and-older age group is projected to increase its number in the labor force to 40.6 million in 2024, and its share is expected to reach nearly 25 percent that year. Within the group, the labor force share of the 55-to-64-year-olds increased from 8.9 percent in 1994, to 12.2 percent in 2004, to 16.4 percent in 2014.The group’s share of the total labor force is expected to grow to 16.6 percent over the next decade, and within the 55-years-and-older group, the older subgroups will increase their shares faster than the younger ones.  [my itals]

 

 

Adam Smith’s dinner: man-made?

Two PP-relevant books to report on.

Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner has a chirpy title  and a distinctive style.  Katrina Marçal is a Swedish journalist who lays about her with relish.  Her main target is homo economicus, beginning with the eponymous Scottish original.  The answer to the title’s question is ‘his mother’, and Marçal’s treatment of AS is characteristic of her general approach:  vigorous, often amusing, landing some good heavy punches, but not exactly even-handed.  Old Adam gets labelled as an advocate of every=man-for-himself, with not much nuance about it, which is a tad simplistic.

It’s an enjoyable and stimulating book, and many economists deserve the mauling they get.  When it comes to skills, Marçal observes:

“Who says that you don’t become a better boss by getting a household to run smoothly?  Who says that one can’t become a better analyst by taking care of children? As a parent you’re an economist, diplomat, handyman, politician, cook and nurse.”

It’s not a wholly original point, but we are now getting more of a discussion on what types of skills are required in different jobs, and the question of what makes a good economist is certainly worth more than a long dinner conversation.  Conversely, how we define and reward the skills demanded of care workers is also moving up the agenda, and Marçal points out how big the projected recruitment deficits are for these workers: 130,000 in Sweden, which rewards them better than most.

Finally, I enjoyed another thought-provoking point from George Soros (whose solution to the Eurozone crisis – that Germany should leave it – I have find totally convincing, and have never met anyone who could argue against it).  He is quoted is saying that the market is not always right; in fact it’s always wrong –  it has to be wrong for people to play it.

Who Cooked AS' dinnerman-made

The other book is Man-Made, by Eva Tutchell and John Edmonds.  This is based on 100 interviews with successful people, almost all women and mostly from the UK.  It makes many good points, including several that cover the PP ground: the importance of self-confidence, the role of networks, the persistence of discrimination.   They also deal with the issue of just how far women should, or should be expected to, model themselves on male patterns.  One of their interviewees reports herself as having at one point ‘fallen into the trap’ of wearing a black trouser suit and adopting a generally sharp and unsympathetic style, until she realised this was not doing her of her colleagues any good.

Man-Made is clear, applied and readable.  It forcefully reminds us of the overt sexism that still exists in the workplace, in different forms.   Tutchell is the lead author but it’s good to see a man joining in the debate.  The book focusses only on top people, which is fair enough but limits its scope.  My main beef with it is the unexamined assumption that equality means exactly 50/50.  The authors scoff at unambitious thresholds of 30% participation levels.  They discuss quotas, but  not the difficulties around an exact split.  How does this square with most thinking on gender, which does not see it is a binary split?   What is wrong with 60% women on boards?  What  (seriously) would they do about transgenders or those who would like to refuse a gender allocation?  The assumption is the equality is to be understood in the simple numerical sense.  A pity ( all the more important since they argue that the business case for greater equality is not that strong; it’s the fairness one that counts). 

So, what sort of chef cooks Christine Lagarde’s dinners?

A really strong Select Committee report

The Select Committee on Women and Equalities has just published a hard-hitting and very well argued report on the Gender Pay Gap.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 11.14.55

 A particular virtue is that it gives due attention to age, showing how the gender pay gap (GPG) increases over the life course.  This leads it to a number of really interesting reflections and recommendations on how to improve the position of older women.  The opening para gives a good flavour of the report’s forthright style:

“The UK’s gender pay gap of 19.2% represents a significant loss to productivity. Women are better educated and better qualified than ever before, yet their skills are not being fully utilised. Women over 40 are most affected. For those aged between 50 and 59 the gender pay gap currently stands at 27.3%. Yet the Government does not have a coherent strategy to address the issues underlying this gap and ensure younger women do not encounter the same difficulties as they age.”

 It makes a strong case all round, on equity grounds but also economic ones:

“The under-utilisation of women’s skills costs the UK economy between 1.3 and 2% of GDP every year. Other estimates of the potential benefit of fully tapping into female talent in the economy are that raising the level of women’s employment to the same as men’s could lift GDP by 10% by 2030, while eradicating the full-time gender pay gap would contribute additional spending into the economy of £41 billion each year.”

There is a wealth of detail in the report, but two particular aspects stand out for me.  First, the report gets down to the nitty-gritty of how to encourage flexible working, which it sees as key to the better utilisation of women’s competences.  It recognises the merits of the right to request flexible working.  But it goes well beyond this, to arguing that the default position is for jobs to be advertised on a flexible-working basis, unless there is good business reason for not so doing.  It pulls no punches:

 “The lack of leadership shown by Ministers in addressing the question of flexible hiring is deeply disappointing. The benefits of flexibility are fully accepted by Government, yet policies encouraging employers to create more opportunities for flexible working are not forthcoming. By refusing to act, the Government is complicit in a system that is undermining productivity and perpetuating the gender pay gap. ”   (The bold is in the original, as a strong recommendation.)

The only quibble I’d have on its treatment of flexible working is that it does not question the simplistic binary division into full-time and part-time work.  We need to get beyond that, so that not all ‘part-time’ is lumped together.

The second area is apprenticeships versus other forms of training.   A separate UKCES report on the Opportunities and Outcomes in Education and Work shows that women are ahead of men even in this field of learning, though the areas of apprenticeships are of course heavily gendered, with men dominating the better paid ones.  It’s undoubtedly an important field.  But the government is obsessed with ‘apprenticeships’;  no one thinks its target of 3 million of these by 2020 will be achieved, nor will they even get anywhere near it except by some very vigorous relabelling of existing training.  The Select Committee report wryly notes that the Minister for Skills, Nick Boles, “ placed significant emphasis on the role of apprenticeships in tackling the gender pay gap and helping older women return to work. He referred to “apprenticeships” 30 times during the course of giving oral evidence to us. ”

The Select Committee, by contrast, puts a lot of weight behind what sounds like an excellent proposal:

“Our key recommendation is that: The first task of the Government’s new ministerial group on the gender pay gap should be to create a National Pathways into Work scheme for harnessing the skills and experience of women over 40.” 

All power to this particular elbow.

 

 

 

Careers and pay: findings from CIPD and Bank of England

The CIPD has just published its 2016 Employee Outlook.  This reports the views of over 2000 men and women on what is going well, and less well, with their careers.    A number of findings are very relevant to the Paula Principle.

The very first table shows that 35% of women report themselves as overqualified for the job they are in, compared with 27% of men.  This looks like fairly direct evidence in favour of the PP.  It could be that women are disposed to pay more attention to their level of qualification and so are inherently more likely to notice any discrepancy between this and the job they are doing.  But this doesn’t square with the fact that they express a rather higher level of satisfaction than men with their careers to date (Table 9).   So it looks as if women notice that they are overqualified but don’t let that colour their view of whether what they are doing gives them satisfaction – plus maybe a tendency to underaspire.

Several of the other results confirm what we know:  women are less motivated by wealth, and more by job satisfaction and who they work with.  But here’s a result that I found interesting:  men are far more likely (52:40) to attribute their success to an element of luck; and also to attribute a lack of success to bad luck (32:20).  I might have expected the latter, but not the former – in my experience, men are more likely to believe that they have the talent for the job, and so it’s down to their own efforts and qualities if they succeed.  Here it looks as if they believe more in chance effects on both sides.   I suppose that this fits generally with men as risk-takers;  but I found their greater willingness to acknowledge luck as a factor in success interesting.  The other part of the explanation is that women are more likely to have done the planning, and so leave less to luck.

When it comes to barriers to progression, children and  family responsibilities figure much more for women (31:8), entirely predictably.  But the other big difference is in not being able to afford to invest in getting new qualifications;  the gap here was a full 10 points (31:21), bigger than difficulty in getting the time (23:20).   Is that because women have less disposable income?  or because they have other priorities?

 

The Bank of England has also published a report which I thought might be relevant to the PP, on the changing composition of the workforce.  It was flagged in the press as showing a decline in the returns to graduate qualifications.

“Since 1995, the effect of having a degree on pay has fallen substantially. In 1995, a degree would on average increase wages by 45% relative to having no qualifications at all; by 2015 this premium had fallen to 34%. Over the same period, the wage premium for A-levels and GCSEs also fell, but by far less.”

Is there a gender angle on this? The BoE notes that the share of women in employment has gone up from 41% in the mid-1980s to 47% in 2015, and that there is a gender pay gap faced by women relative to men which is unexplained by socioeconomic factors like education and the industries in which they work. But they don’t make the point that these increasing numbers of women are more and more qualified relative to men.  This is the the driver which really needs attention – and from which the simple ‘equality’ debate tends, unconsciously, to divert attention.

OECD says it: rebalance the system in favour of FE

My former colleagues at OECD have just produced an excellent report which should disturb, and which deserves really wide discussion – especially as I agree wholeheartedly with one of their major, and radical, recommendations.

Building Skills for All: A Review of England looks at the problem of low skills.  A familiar issue, you may see – haven’t we heard it all before.  Well,  try this:

“Around one in five young English university graduates can manage to read the instructions on a bottle of aspirin, and understand a petrol gauge, but will struggle to undertake more challenging literacy and numeracy tasks.”

This is based on PIAAC evidence – an international survey based on direct testing of people’s competences (Hence the aspirin bottle and petrol gauge – real-life tasks sued for the tests).  These are graduates in the standard English sense – people with degree qualifications.  Makes you think, whether or not you’re a Daily Mail reader.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 17.46.34

 

England is in the top right quadrant:  high proportions of graduates, but unusually high proportions of them with low skills.  Not where you want to be.

I’m not happy about that.  But I am happy about the conclusions that the OECD draws:

  “Those with low basic skills should not normally enter three-year undergraduate programmes, which are both costly and unsuited to the educational needs of those involved, while graduates with poor basic skills undermine the currency of an English university degree. These potential entrants should be diverted into more suitable provision that meets their needs. Such students need postsecondary alternatives that will address their needs andtackle basic skills. Such alternatives need further development in England. Resources diverted from university provision should be redeployed, particularly in the FE sector, to support this.” (p16)

 

Some of us have been arguing for some time for such redeployment, though not on the basis of the evidence that the OECD have now been able to adduce. Alison Wolf is one who has powerfully pointed out the almost grotesque imbalance in the way the FE sector is treated compared to HE.  I know that my former university colleagues (yes, I’ve been around, so have quite a variety of former colleagues) will rush to say that the two should not be pitted against each other.  I accept that there is no necessary zero sum gain;  but the imbalance stands to be corrected.

Why should HE students be funded at twice the rate of their FE equivalents?  FE caters for a poorer student population, who generally have less in the way of family support as well as qualifications and money.

There’s a further wrinkle.  HE students now take out big loans, paying £9K fees to universities, who are now cash-rich.   Mostly, university graduates will go on to earn higher incomes, and pay back the loans.  That’s the theory, and some of the public money lent out will come back (though not nearly as much as the government originally said).  But it’s much less likely to come back from graduates with low skills.  So the public purse is particularly being used to support the graduates with low skills.  I’m all in favour, – very much so – of supporting people with low skills;  but the finance for this does not need to go on high fees for university study.  It seems to me unarguable that many of these would be far better off in a college – especially if that college were more adequately  funded to give them the support they need.

One other item from the OECD report:

“Over the period 2011-13 the number of staff receiving training increased, but overall spending declined (UK Commission for Employment and Skills, 2014). According to a 2012 survey among UK employers 27% of all the time spent on continuing vocational training2 courses was devoted to mandatory training, often related to health and safety (BIS, 2013). Such mandatory training is often common among low-skilled workers, but in it nature it may not contribute much to basic skills development. ” p79

In other words, our training effort is declining;  and a significant chunk of this goes on activities which  may be important (as safety is) but which don’t do much to address the issue of low skills.

 

 

 

 

An update on the PP

New Year’s Day, and the chance to take stock on the Paula Principle.  I finished the book a year ago but still haven’t managed to find a publisher.  I’ll have in any case to update it (once I finish what I’m currently doing, a report for Unesco on the state of play on adult learning across the world), partly because some of the statistics need it but also because some of the debate on gender issues has moved on.  I still don’t claim to be a gender specialist, but writing the book has meant that my eye is caught by gender items in the media, and this has prompted some further thoughts.

One development is the way a whole plethora of new gender-related terms is emerging: cisgender, intersex, third gender and so on.  Transsexuals and transitioning have been much in the news.  I don’t know what the best estimates are for what proportion of the population are transsexual, but it seems as if it is more than any.   I read somewhere that there are now over 50 ways in which you can answer a question about your gender.  So much for a tidy gender divide.

I find this particularly important because it reinforces my opposition to 50/50 solutions, which seek ‘balance’ by putting all women in one category and all men in the other.  I can maybe accept this kind of proposal as an interim measure to break a mould, but the proliferation of gender categories underlines how unsatisfactory it is.   Which is why I can’t fully support the new Women’s Equality Party, much though I sympathise with most of their goals.

Anyway, here’s the summary update on the PP:

1.  Women continue to outpace men in educational achievement.  The gap is growing across the developed world.  In fact Unesco is now thinking about abandoning its goal of ‘gender parity’ because although women in poor countries still suffer greatly more than men from lack of literacy, this is balanced under the current metric by women in developed countries outperforming men – so the overall ‘parity picture’ is completely misleading.  In the UK, women are further ahead than ever generally in education.  They do far better than men in securing access to university ( now heading for a 2:1 ratio as undergraduates),  including doing relatively better from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Women continue to dominate the ranks of adult education classes.   So the picture on that half of the PP is very clear.

2.  The other half of the picture – the rewards for greater educational achievement, in terms of pay and careers – is more complicated.  For full timers the pay gap is closing, though slowly, and for young full-time professionals it has more or less closed altogether, as Alison Wolf has argued.  I But over time the careers (and pay) gap opens up, and gets much wider  for older age groups.  So it’s crucial to look at careers in a life course perspective:  how well are people able to use their competences over the full 50 years of the future working life?   And, as regular readers of this blog will know, I think we cannot go on consigning part-timers to a peripheral position as if they didn’t really count.  It’s timely also to emphasise that the PP applies not only to senior professionals of the Lean In variety, but to women at all occupational levels.  The administrative officer aiming to move up a grade matters as much as the lawyer aiming for judgeship.

3.  It’s the combination of these two trends – a fast-growing female/male qualifications gap, and a slowly-if-at-all declining careers gap –  that give the Paula Principle such originality as it may have.   Higher qualifications/competences should lead to better rewards – and they don’t, at least not as much as they should if you follow a meritocratic line of thinking.   But the political  implications of the two trends need some unpacking, and may overturn some of the usual approaches. For example,  the educational superiority of women gives the debate on equality a rather different slant.  There are some subjects – notably engineering, at all levels including apprenticeships –  where women still do worse, and there is a lot of action on various fronts to change this.   But the equality issue in the PP context is not about educational achievement, but about what happens at work.

The PP is fundamentally an argument for meritocracy – that women’s competences should be recognised and rewarded fairly.  But, as Michael Young so acutely pointed out when coining the term, meritocracy brings with it its own dangers.  Without socially agreed measures to prevent gross inequality, reward systems can produce some grotesque outcomes.  The PP is also about the limitations of education in bringing about social change;  this is why I think putting so much emphasis on social mobility through schools and access to higher education is a flawed strategy  (as the New Economics Foundation observes, in a telling report on inequality).

Equality + meritocracy =? :  a good formula for a lively political discussion?

4.   The implications  of the PP spread across countries, and play out differently in different cultural contexts.   Education generates pressures which can transform  societies.  If these pressures are denied outlet,  the results are unpredictable.  At one extreme we have Saudi Arabia:  how much longer will highly educated women put up with being segregated at work and denied access to senior positions (to say nothing of the rest of that country’s politics)?  But more civilised countries such as Japan and Korea are experiencing similar, if less extreme, tendencies: women’s educational levels soaring, but very little corresponding change in the world of work.  Korea’s gender pay gap is stuck around 40%, in spite of Korean women being amongst the most highly educated in the world.  The UK’s position is much more favourable, but the pressures are still there.  How will societies handle these pressures over the next 5 years?

5.  One important challenge offered by the PP, it seems increasingly to me, is how to review the ways in which jobs and occupations are defined, and therefore the competences needed to do them.  Many of them are of course defined by those who have done them up to now, who naturally find it hard to think that the definition might be out of date.  This could  be because it never really matched what was needed, or because technical or other innovations have changed the job, to a greater or lesser extent. In any case, questions need to be asked.   Do lawyers really have to work 14-hour days?  Are we serious about valuing ‘soft’ skills, at all levels?   Does the presence of women impair the quality of a front-line military unit?   What effect do social networks have on the promotion process?  The answers are more obvious in some cases than others, but such questions a need to be asked – and answered.  (For an interesting example on how we define successful philosophising, see bit.ly/1CHrpx7, especially the penultimate paragraph.)

5.  There is now mounting evidence on the ways in which diversity helps groups to function better – and not only at board level.  This is not just a question of adding in more women (or other underrepresented groups).  It’s about thinking about skills and competences in collective terms, so that its members complement each other.  (As chair of a college’s governing board I think about this from time to time, recognising, for example, that we need the stickler who pulls us up on details – up to a point).  But we’re too used to recognising and rewarding individuals alone.  It would be good to know more about systems that are designed to do that for collective competence.

6.   I remain convinced that of the 5 PP factors, choice is the most interesting:  where women positively choose not to continue up the ladder, for good reasons.  As conventional career patterns disintegrate in the wake of the recession – and, to some extent – as computers/robots move into previously human-dominated occupations – some of us at least have the opportunity to rethink how much to work, when and what for.   The more examples there are of men choosing to deviate from the straight vertical career ladder – whether that is to take a greater share of childcare, or do other creative things –  the quicker both Principles –  Peter and Paula – will fade away.

And with that, a happy 2016 to you.

 

 

The divergence continues

Two separate items from this week which exactly confirm the divergence that is at the heart of the Paula Principle.

First the ‘End of Cycle’ report from UCAS shows women moving even further ahead.   (By the way, what does “UCAS’ stand for?  Universities Commission on Admissions and Statistics?  I couldn’t find it on their site.)    The entry rate for 18 year old women is 9.2 percentage points higher than for men, making them 35 per cent (proportionally) more likely to enter than men. These differences, both proportional and in percentage points, are the highest recorded.

Here’s the chart:

UCAS2015Another very significant point is that this effect is even stronger when it comes to disadvantaged groups.  Women from poorer backgrounds were 52 per cent more likely to enter than men in 2015.

On almost the same day, Ann Francke of the Chartered Management Institute gave evidence to the Commons Select Committee on Women and Equality.  She pointed out that the gender pay gap for women over 40 is 35%.  Not only that, but it’s going in the wrong direction – it’s higher now than it was 10 years ago.   Gender equality is low when young women and men enter the labour market.  But it grows as they get older – and leaps up after a couple of decades.

These two trends encapsulate what the PP is about.

 

 

EQ and PP

Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, caused quite a stir last week with his speech to the TUC on how many jobs might be taken over by robots.  This was a typical report, from The Times:

“The robots are coming – and they may take 15 million British jobs, says the Bank of England’s chief economist. Andy Haldane told the Trade Union Congress yesterday that millions of jobs could be at risk of automation, with those most vulnerable working in the administrative, clerical and production sectors and among the low paid.”

Having also scared the accountants in the audience (though not many owned up to being in this profession), Haldane tempered his projections by reminding us how adaptable economies and labour forces had proved in the past.However, the TUC’s ‘storified’ version of Haldane’s talk, nifty though it is, gave only a partial account of what he said.  I was particularly struck by his comment on the changes in skill requirements which are likely to go along with the increasing presence of robots.

The areas where our mechanical friends are least likely to take over are the caring professions.  Even though (as the Japanese have shown) robots can help with some of the more mundane caring tasks, uncomplainingly, in general caring proprement dit requires humans, and humans with caring skills.  But it’s not only in these areas that we may see a change in the standard kinds of skills required.  Andy Haldane predicted a shift from IQ to EQ – not a wholesale shift, but a shift in the balance of skill packages.

EQ may still be a poorly understood concept (as, arguably, is IQ….).  I checked out how EQ is defined, and found this list on a HelpGuide, useful charity website devoted to mental health issues:

  • Self-awareness – You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior, know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence.
  • Self-management – You’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Social awareness – You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.
  • Relationship management – You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.

 

Pretty similar, in other words, to the ‘soft skills’ which we have been told for a long time now will be increasingly prized by employers.

The PP question, of course, is how far EQ/soft skills are more likely to be found in women than men – a question inviting stereotype-based responses, but the general conclusion is likely to be, quite a lot.  In other words, as well as women acquiring more of the formal qualifications signalling cognitive competence, they are more likely to be able to add to those the kinds of skills that the robots can’t get to. Ho hum.

Silos and Slaughter

I’ve been reading Gillian Tett’s new book, The Silo Effect. The basic argument is very simple: organisations fail because people work in silos which prevent them from sharing knowledge and ideas.  Tett illustrates this with examples from diverse corners of the business world:  the New York Fire Department, Sony, Apple and the Bank of England.

Her overall argument is compelling, and most of us who have worked in organisations will recognise its application. ( This is one of the reasons why the Peter Principle was so successful – people nod their heads in acknowledgement of a broad generalisation to their own experience.)   Sometimes, the silo construction is deliberate.  This does not only occur because there may be financial or career incentives for staff  to keep things to themselves. People refuse to share information because they are cussed, lazy, or just enjoy putting one over on their fellows.

Silo Effect

   Tett’s book is also a brazen plug for anthropologists.  As she explains, she was herself a fully trained anthropologist working in Tajikistan before she was, rather implausibly, recruited to the Financial Times.  She realised how her anthropological training – observing the ‘other’ – brought her insights into the ways the world of finance works – or doesn’t work.

   I buy almost all of her arguments.  Sometimes think she does a little too much of a selling job for her discipline ; it’s almost as if she’s constructing boundaries to mark it out as superior, which would be a little paradoxical, would it not…

I also think she lets off our financiers too lightly.  She makes the story of their involvement in selling huge excesses of sub-prime mortgages sound like an organisational issue, as if it had nothing to do with gross greed and arrogance.

But the PP-relevant question raised by her book is this:  is there any case for thinking that women are more likely to be silo-crossers than men are?   Of course this would be a crude generalisation.  You could argue  just the contrary, that men are more disposed  to risk crossing boundaries and breaching conventional divisions.  And yet I think there is a case to be made that women don’t naturally put things in separate boxes (e.g. their apparent distaste for binary, hard-logic divisions, and greater tolerance of ambiguity).  They are, maybe, more likely to think of  sharing information with colleagues.  They are, almost certainly, less driven by personal incentives.

.Slaughter book

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family, is a very different book, but with interesting connections to Tett’s thesis.  Slaughter was already a high-flying professor at Princeton University when Hillary Clinton asked her to be director of policy planning at the State Department in 2009.  She served for two years, and then decide to return to Princeton at the end of her leave of absence.  So far so glittering, career-wise.  But Slaughter then wrote an article in Atlantic magazine, ‘”Why Women Can’t Have It All”, in which she said that a, perhaps the, main factor in her decision to return to academic life was the need to be with her teenage boys.  The older boy was showing signs of going off the rails, and the younger was not happy with her absence.  Despite having a husband who had the time, capacity and willingness to take on the main caring role, Slaughter decided her priority lay with her children.

The gender roof more or less fell in on her, with accusations of betraying her sex, setting the cause back and so on.  So she’s written this book, not so much as self-justification but in order to help others wrestling with decisions which, if not at the same exalted level, are nevertheless similar enough.  She draws on the very wide responses she had to her article and her subsequent speaking engagements to broaden out her arguments.   It’s a good read, with many telling insights.

There are direct connections with PP  and with the Tett book.  Chapter 5, ‘Is Managing Money Really Harder Than Managing Kids?’  is not a simple comparison of which type of activity is harder but explores what you might call the transferable skills involved in bringing up a family.   Slaughter is, naturally, arguing that men can learn to do more of the kid-management, just as women are doing more of the finance-management.  She cites studies showing that in finance especially male traders focus on short-term gains, whereas what is needed is long-term strategic thinking.  This is exactly the same line of thinking as Tett’s:  how organisations (public or private sector) can get a better balance in the range of skills they deploy.