Jazz gigs and stag parties: fresh approaches to long hours

In the past week I’ve had two conversations closely related to the Paula Principle, and to each other, in rather unlikely settings.   Both dealt with the issue of whether professional occupations such as lawyers and surveyors needed to require people to work 12-14 hours days in order to make progress up the professional ladder.

Nigel plays baritone sax in the the band where I also play (the South London Jazz Orchestra, since you ask, see www.slcm.org.uk).   We were waiting for our gig to kick off in a pub in Tulse Hill on a rather damp Sunday afternoon recently, and so started chatting about non-band things.   Nigel has been a successful chartered surveyor, working hours which were way beyond normal.  He actually enjoyed the pressure and managed the hours, but he did not accept that clients should always expect to have the same person available – with the corollary that high-performers should be permanently available.  This requirement is often the one that prevents women from moving up the ladder.  So Nigel made a point of carefully introducing colleagues to clients as people he had faith in, and whom they could contact with as much confidence as if he himself were there.  The aim was to get out from under the assumption that he and only he would do;  and so reduce the need for omnipresence.

On to my wife’s nephew’s stag night, last week (yes, there’s nowhere the Paula Principle doesn’t reach).  One of his friends, Nico, co-manages  a  legal property partnership.  But the partnership  does not employ a set of lawyers and other professionals, with all the obligations that would go with this. Instead, their lawyers  offer no commitment of time and are not required to come into the office.  They are responsible for bringing in their own work – whenever they bring in work they are paid a fixed percentage of the fee for that work, and can decide how many cases/deals they want to take on, and manage their workload accordingly  There is no guarantee of work;  but when there is work it is well paid, in part because overheads are much lower.  The interesting thing is that their first three principal consultants are women who did not want to work ridiculous hours by committing themselves to a conventional law firm (Nico himself had done that for a while, and had enough).

I know that at a general level there are lots of issues around agency work (Nico’s arrangement being a high level version).  But it shows that with imagination and commitment there are new models of professional management and working practices to be developed, which could make much better use of all those competences out there.


I’ve been reading a couple of stimulating books which deal, from very different angles, with the future of work.  Martin Ford’s The Rise of the Robots sets out some pretty scary pointers to just how much work might be handed over to automated processes: not just routine manual processes but quite a lot of what we now consider to be intellectual and non-routine.  He suggests that we may be heading quickly towards the scenario sketched out by Keynes, where people will work far far fewer hours – the difference being that in the modern version there will be colossal inequalities as the benefits of automation will go to a very small segment of the population.

Working time is also a central theme of The 100-Year Life by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott.  They are mainly concerned with how we might move away from a traditional 3-stage model of life.  Their book opens up a huge range of issues, from the essential but depressing challenge of how we plan financially for greatly extended longevity to the much more exciting prospect of new stages of exploration and independent life.  The changing shape of the life course, and how and when we start and stop work, will be the main theme of my next book, once  The Paula Principle is off my hands.

In both books,  skills of very varied kinds, from occupational to interpersonal, are quite central.  They made me think more about teamwork as a desirable competence.  Teamwork is often identified as a soft skill that will become increasingly important in future workplaces.  It may be one of the means by which humans are still able to outdo even the most powerful of computers.   The collective capacity of their different competences interacting with each other  will be much more than the  sum of the individual parts – especially if they can draw on technological support.   Gratton and Scott relate how a group of amateur chess players, augmented by mid-level machines, were able to beat both Grand Masters and supercomputers working separately.

So team work may become more and more important in an age of increased automation.  The question is, how is it rewarded?  Women, typically, are seen as more likely to possess teamwork skills.   One of my interviewees put it this way:

“Women are interested in ‘getting stuff done’; they hate game-playing and internal politicking; they only build networks if they see them as a genuine vehicle for getting things done, and not for the same reason as men do, ie personal advancement. Their language is about ‘we’, about looking for complementary skills in a team, recognising that they themselves cannot do it all.  For men it is about ‘I’; competitive; their personal career.”

In other words women are – as a generalisation – more likely to behave in ways which maximise the overall capacity of the group   But how are these teamwork skills recognised?  For the organisation this is obviously good news, but who benefits as a result?  I’d love to see some evidence on how this ‘invaluable’ skill is actually valued – especially since it might help us reach a better accommodation with the robots.


I confess I’d never heard of womenomics before, but an interesting piece in last weekend’s Financial Times put me right. It’s based on a profile of Miho Otani, a Japanese woman who commands a 3500 tonne warship.  She is intended to represent Prime Minister Abe’s drive to have women occupy 30% of the country’s management position by 2020 .  (‘Abenomics’ was coined to describe the PM’s economic strategy, hence the fellow-neologism.)  The initiative, apparently, stands little chance of reaching its target.

In a way Japan, with Korea, encapsulates the Paula Principle more than any other country.  Japanese women are highly educated.  Young Japanese women enter the labour market in large numbers.  But their career patterns show how poorly used their competencies are, at least as measured by pay.

The first chart below shows that some progress has been made on the overall gender pay gap in Japan.  It shrunk by about six points in the first decade of the century;  but it remains very high by international standards.

The second pair of charts tell a story that is both very simple and quite complex.  On the one hand in Japan, as elsewhere, the pay gap increases very significantly as people get older.  This is well-known, crucial but very often overlooked in the discussion.  I guess we could say ‘intersectionality’ is at play here – i.e. age combines with gender to magnify the effects. But Panel A presents only cross-sectional data.  Older women have fewer qualifications, especially in a society such as Japan where women’s education has progressed so quickly in recent decades.  So we would expect a big difference in the pay gap between different age groups.

This is where Panel B introduces interesting information.  It compares the position for the same cohort, at two different time points.  The cohort was born in the first years of the 1970s, and the pay gap was measured when they were in their late 20s and again when they were in their 30s.    As young women starting out on their careers they experienced a sizeable gap but one that was not that much above the OECD average (and well below some countries from eastern Europe).  But ten years on Japanese women, along with their Korean counterparts , experience the highest pay gap of all OECD countries.


Commander Omani is obviously making her way in what would be a very tough environment in any culture or country.  The territorial tensions in the Pacific area are hotting up, with very real possibility of maritime clashes.  She is in a very big job.  She may not have many female equivalents in other parts of her country’s economy.






We went on Saturday to the Turkish film Mustang , which tracks the passage from childhood of five girls.  The girls live with their uncle and grandmother (the parents have disappeared, perhaps dead) in quite a rural area, 1000 km from Istanbul.  In the first phase of the film they are carefree and vivacious, larking around with boys at the end of school term and chattering non-stop with each other.

Gradually the tenor of the film changes, as the older people assert traditional cultural mores.  Two of the girls are married off to boys they only meet on the day of the betrothal.  The others resist in various ways, but the house is turned literally into a prison, as bars are nailed across the windows, and locks turned.  The atmosphere of the film turns steadily darker, as the clash of generations and cultures catches the girls in its grip.


The film is far from perfect (though we differed in our ratings).  I found the girls too beach-Californian in appearance, and there are several points of total implausibility – indeed the film doesn’t really pretend to plausibility, but this makes it quite hard to gauge the strength of its critique.  But it’s a very powerful insight into the stresses of growing up in a country where there are such conflicting pressures.

Turkey is right at the crossroads of a number of huge tensions – military, political and cultural, as well, obviously, as the enormous stress provoked by the Syrian crisis.   I have no detailed knowledge of the country,  or sympathy for the current regime there, but my perception is that its treatment at the hands of the West has been exploitative and often duplicitous, most notably a decade or more ago on its supposed access to the European Union.

Education may be helping them cope with these stresses;  but it may also drive some of them.  Women in Turkey have not yet quite caught up with men in their educational achievement.  But is in other OECD countries, that is the  inevitable trend.  Girls of the Mustang generation will be outperforming their male equivalents.   Their parents and grandparents may seek to maintain the old traditions, but it will be a rough ride.











Graduates and non-graduates: RF & HEPI

Two reports have come out in the last few days which complement each other well.

The first is from the Resolution Foundation, and focuses on the much-neglected group of people who have some qualifications but are not graduates.  This is the RF exactly fulfilling its remit of shedding light on what is happening to the middle segments of our society – squeezed or not.   Given the number of people who hold vocational qualifications, and the number of times we hear about the UK’s lack of intermediate skills, it’s absurd that we pay so little attention to them.

The report produces quite a neat typology of non-graduates:  from ‘ladder climbers’ , who have reasonable career prospects, through ‘no way up’ to ‘needing a boost’.  The most PP-relevant group are the  “Skilled-but-stuck – Overqualified mums in part-time work”.  They are:

o 16% of non-graduates

o Mostly mothers working in low-paying occupations like sales & customer service

o Their route has not made the most of their education: over-qualified for their sector, more likely

to work part-time

o Their median hourly wage is £10.50; £8.25 for part-timers.

This is a big group of women whose competences are often heavily under-utilised.  The part-time effect is very strong – see PP posts passim.  One very interesting consequence is that the graduate premium – the amount graduates are paid more than non-graduates – is higher  for women than men: not because women graduates are paid better than men (indeed not) but because women non-graduates are paid so much less than their male equivalents.

The report makes excellent use of cohort data.  This reveals how the pattern of younger generations earning more than their predecessors has broken down.  Those born in 1983 were earning less at age 30ish than those in the previous generation.  And the typical graduate from the 1980s cohort – now in their mid-thirties – earns 15 per cent less than the typical graduate from the 1970s cohort did at the same age.

Unsurprisingly, graduates displacing non-graduates is a particularly strong reason for the difficulties the latter encounter.  Here a sectoral breakdown is important. Non-graduate displacement  happens particularly in public administration and health – exactly the sectors where women work most.

The RF report dovetails well with the recent analysis from the Higher Education Policy Institute of male underachievement in higher education.  This chronicles exactly the phenomenon which first prompted me to work on the PP:  the consistent, and now long-standing, pattern of male underperformance in education.

” UCAS’s latest End of Cycle report shows the entry rate for men increased by much less than for women in 2015, widening the gap between the sexes to a record 9.2 percentage points at age 18, meaning young women are now 35 per cent more likely to go to university than men. If this differential growth carries on unchecked, then girls born this year will be 75 per cent more likely to go to university than their male peers.”

On current trends, the gap between rich and poor will  be eclipsed by the gap between males and females within a decade.  Moreover males are more likely to drop out;  and get lower grades if they finish.

HEPI is admirably clear that this is not a matter of moral panic over male failure

 “Policymaking is not a zero-sum game in which you have to choose between caring about female disadvantage or the socio-economic gap or male underachievement. All three matter.”

But, as we know, the payoff to this higher achievement is not there.  Men still go into better paying work.  The report suggests a number of reasons:

work. Compared to female undergraduates, male undergraduates typically:

•• start their job search earlier;

•• are more confident about their prospects;

•• are less daunted by approaching employers;

•• are less concerned about many of the steps in making a job application;

•• are less likely to seek job security;

•• are less likely to desire work for ‘a cause they feel good about’;

•• believe job stereotypes less; and

•• are not as keen on careers with less structured entry procedures (such as cultural, charitable and media jobs as opposed to financial, engineering and information technology roles).

In short, putting these two studies together helps us to look at both graduates and non-graduates; to get a sense of just how deep the impetus is behind women’s outdoing men educationally;  and to get a firmer grip on the need to how what happens in one part of society (gender patterns of entry into HE) interacts with other parts (career blockage for female non-graduates).  These relationships are not easy to grasp in a single frame, but we need to try to keep them in some kind of focus.


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.