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Do you really know what you think you know?

Recalling unique events and people from American History Photo: K Mitch Hodge

Or sometimes are your ideas as tangled as these branches?

What do you know about these topics?

  • What job did Walt Disney have before he drew Mickey Mouse?
  • On which spaceflight humans first laid eyes on the Great Wall of China?
  • Why women were burned at the stake in Salem?
  • Why eating candy affects how kids behave?

Easy enough, right? I got them all wrong. I’ll keep you thinking until the end. Adam Grant set us up. He points out we don’t always KNOW what we think we do. Sometimes it can be dangerous. Or at least put us off our game by leading us to make the wrong decisions or not allowing others to help us make better ones, which he explains in Think Again. He’s an organizational psychologist at Wharton. He’s got some unstuffy ideas about how we make decisions.

Grant points out that if we’re certain we know something, we think there’s no reason to look for gaps in our knowledge. But we all have moments when we overestimate what we know. You can call it overconfidence, which comes easily when we judge our driving or our trivia knowledge.

If there’s something we truly don’t know anything about, say driving a race car, we tend not to exaggerate what we know. But when we’re moving on to amateur status that’s where we can easily cross the line. These are the areas where we might not consider that others could know more than we do. As Grant says, we can easily climb to the top of Mount Stupid. As we gain experience—move from novice to amateur—humility slips, too. Moving us into the “beginner’s bubble” of flawed assumptions. Here we could be ignorant of what we don’t know.

Humility has gotten a bad rap in modern society, being tangled with low self-confidence. Actually. Grant points out it should be linked with its Latin root “from the earth”—being grounded, knowing our fallibility. With a little dash of humility, it’s easier to admit what we don’t know or to draw upon curiosity to learn a bit about what could enlighten our decision-making.

Confident Humility is a sweet spot for us because we don’t tip over into overconfidence , have faith in our ability, but we have just enough doubt that we are willing to re-examine our existing knowledge. Finally, we have enough confidence that we are willing to investigate further.  By the way, the most effective leaders score high in both confidence and humility, according to Grant. They know their strengths, but are aware of their weaknesses.

Life comes complete with biases. Whether we investigate our differences or fall upon a philosophy of  “agreeableness” makes all the difference. Doesn’t matter if we are inside a family, a hospital addressing critical care, a team building an airplane, or creative types trying to create a movie.

On the surface it would seem harmony should rein at the dinner table. Civility might be a better take on the family meal. But “productive disagreement,” where each person voices his or her take on a particular idea, could provide life-lessons about how to address questions not just within the family but in the outside world.

Hospital doctors and staff have been faced with overwhelming challenges that have required each member to call upon their muscle memory to match wits with overwhelming odds. Sometimes medical questions seem impossible to solve or staff are too exhausted to summon critical thinking. If the Pandemic has taught medical centers anything, it is that new ideas can come from any part of the team paying attention to the critical issues and thinking again to develop workarounds with the potential to save lives.

Grant points out that the Wright Brothers were able to be successful not because they agreed with each other about how to get an airplane off the ground. They didn’t. Instead they wrangled for years, grappling with each other’s ideas, which helped bring them forward solutions. But there’s another important aspect that might be forgotten in modern teams. The Wrights respected each other (even flipping a coin to determine that Wilbur would pilot the first flight) and based their work on a collegial foundation, even while they could disagree on the scientific details.

A modern example: Brad Bird, fired from Disney because they thought his ideas were too expensive and unworkable. He went over to Pixar, where his reputation as a pirate, even a black sheep, won him support. He worked to create a team that developed comradery and respect for each other’s talents. This helped because team members were not agreeables—they could be skeptical and critical when their ideas clashed. But they developed productive disagreements that led to creative solutions to complex digital movements. Four years later their Incredibles yielded an Oscar for animation and $631 million worldwide.

I’m not promising you health, wealth and happiness if you check out Adam Grant’s Think Again, but it might start a discussion with your family, colleagues or your fellow creatives that could instigate solutions. Maybe new thinking might stimulate a whole new idea!

Response to the opening questions:

  1. Walt Disney didn’t draw the characters; he hired someone else to draw Mickey
  2. The Great Wall of China is not visible from space.
  3. The women were hung, not burned in Salem, as we think we know.
  4. According to Grant, sugar does not impact the behavior of children. Here I will be the devil’s advocate. Don’t know if he has children, but when the kids return from a birthday party in the late afternoon, bedtime can be challenging! Just saying.

Adam Grant, Think Again, New York: Penguin House, 2021.

Let’s Not Languish!

Andreas Weiland/Unsplash

Let’s not Languish!

A century ago when the planet went through the last global Pandemic, folks that recovered were just joyful if they survived. * Today many of us are moving past survival of the trauma, isolation, and grief of 2020. Now we want a joyous, fulfilling life.

Some of our bodies and our minds say: “Not so fast. You’ve got steps, maybe a little penance for ‘stayin’ alive!”

The Pandemic fog, depression, burnout or blahs, the feeling of not being productive, an aimless, boring, joyless state has fallen upon some survivors. It is more of a valley between depression and burnout. Some might equate it with ruminating—mimicking the senseless, continuous review of a single bite of hay by a country cow.

Adam Grant from the Wharton School of Business, a psychiatrist by trade, says its important to think back to what gave us joy in the Before Times. Actively thinking about when people were moved by what you did—when you had/have an impact. In his interview with Anderson Cooper, the CNN host of Full Circle, admitted he sensed he was “languishing.” He’d binged as many Netflix movies and TV series as he could manage. Because of the Pandemic he wasn’t flying around the world to do newstories and now operates from the office by himself. He enjoys playing with his young son, but usually his child is in bed when Cooper got home. So he was languishing.

Take an active role in your life

Grant noted taking an active role in remembering what had given us joy in the past could begin the process. We could move from ruminating to doing by picking one thing that provides us joy/meaning, then doing it.

Getting to this point is as important as the doing itself. Grant suggested we give ourselves permission to engage in thinking time. Map out two hours a week to read and think about our habits. How could you revamp your day to find time for joy? Refine your week to allow time for energy-creating ideas that stimulate you to rethink old ideas and make them better.

The idea here is to lift yourself onto self-satisfied territory. Then it will be easier to move out from our dreams of the Before Times into the Post-Pandemic Mental Prosperity, which will banish languishing.

Flourishing really is what people are ultimately after,” said Dr. Tyler J. VanderWeele, an epidemiology and biostatistics professor and director of Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program.

The good news is that simple activities can lead to marked improvement in overall well-being.

How to to begin? Simply asking yourself is an effective disagnostic tool, according to Dr. Laurie Santos, a psychology profssor at Yale, who teaches a free 10-week course called “The Science of Well-Being”. They found the little times of joy, simple celebrations and moments offering gratitude to others for their service to you can bring joy as well.

Write it down!

Grant suggests writing down three small accomplishments that gave you joy and purpose. Use that as a launchpad for your next achievement. So you don’t forget the progress you’ve made, keep a journal, keeping a list of the moments of joy, now or at other times in your life. Start with the simple task you start to get yourself off the couch. Just something simple.

“There are lots of American adults that would meet the qualifications of feeling happy but they don’t feel a sense of purpose,” adds Dr. Corey Keyes, a professor of sociaology at Emory University. “Feeling good about life is not enough.”

“Most important for overall well-being,” according to Dr. Keys, “would be a sense of ‘overall well-being’–a sense of satisfaction or happiness.” The Pandemic has prevented us from pursuing many of our interests.”

Flourishing = Finding purpose in life

Each of the experts agreed that finding purpose in everyday life- and beginning to feeling good–comes from seeking out new interests. Suggestions: learning a new skill, reaching out to thank the people you value in your daily life, even the simpliest project–can provide this sense of well-being and accomplishment. Keyes suggests a short 10-minute jog or a walk around the block, volunteering for a nonprofit organization, maybe a 10-minute meditation–simple moments in time.

Maybe your teach your new skill to someone else–to stretch your skill. Then you will begin to create memories. These memories will help build a ladder out of the languishing pit and provide you a joyous landing pad from which you can launch your exploration into a myriad of delightful activities you forgot while you were just ‘stayin’ alive!”

  • (I’ve read the global population in 1910 was 1.5 billion, so to lose between 20 and 50 million people would stymie nearly every community.) In comparison, today the global population is 7.9 billion with 500 million lost to the Pandemic around the globe, 675,000 perished in America.
  • Adam Grant wrote Think Again, part business, part psychology, that we’ll talk about. He also has the Work-Life podcast and appeared on recently on Anderson Cooper’s Full Circle on CNN to talk about “Languishing.”
  • Other professional comments appeared in today, “The other side of languishing is flourishing. Here’s how to get there.” May 12, 2021.
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/04/well/mind/flourishing-languishing.html Dani Blum, New York Times, May 6, 2021

Here Comes the Sun

Free Rainbow. freeimages.

Here Comes the Sun!

I am hoping for sunshine tomorrow because we deserve it after four days of rain, pouring in sheets(not the expected drought), with four more days projected. Why sunshine? Because May 20 is Mental Health Action Day—within a month of awareness many of us could use after the no good, awful news of 2020 and the shadow that follows some who experienced Covid.

But this is not a “downer” blog, but an appreciation for those who are embracing personal well-being and hoping we all invite someone to share an active part of our day. And an encouragement to others to join in the action.

This is a celebration of life as we can look out for our friends and neighbors and enjoy active pleasure—yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, learning again (after a year’s retreat) to share conversation with others. Doing something physical can be the absolute best cure for the blahs. Heating up the body, burning off some calories can be a quantum cure for anything that might ail you. Maybe you are not sure about hitting the gym or its just not your thing. So, find some stretch bands, maybe spare hand weights. Nothing better than stretching the body to rush away the gloom.

I learned about Mental Health Action Day when Anderson Cooper interviewed Talinda Bennington, the window of Lincoln Park’s lead singer this week. She is one of more than 1,000 sponsors of the national awareness event. She scheduled activities for her sons in tribute to her husband, Chester Bennington, lead singer for Linkin Park, who committed suicide in 2017. She encourages her sons to perform personal exercise, like isometrics, as a stress reliever to raise their heart rate as well as their spirits.

Bennington discussed American’s habit of asking, but not expecting a response to: “How are you?” Instead, Cooper mentioned a friend from Israel told him they ask: “How do you feel today?” as a more personal way to avoid a meaningless phrase. And it can yield a more useful response.

Activities can be found on YouTube. Here is an excuse to escape the isolation of the Pandemic at your own pace. Join a friend for a cup of coffee outside a favorite shop. Make an appointment to meet someone you have been missing. Take a half hour or an hour to enjoy conversation over lunch. Invite a friend to take a walk along your favorite path. 

The Day, which fits into Mental Health Awareness month, offers contact information about affordable therapists in your own community. (Check out https://Mental Health ActionDay.org). Learn where to find resources in your home community. A wide variety of mental health-positive organizations took part. Here is just a sampling (check the website for a complete list): MTV Entertainment (general sponsor), Country Music Association, Comedy Central, Athletes for Hope, Wounded Warrior Project, Austin Mindful Counseling, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Healthy Moms Strong Babies, The Art Therapy Project, Crisis Text (Text HOME to 741741), Gen Z for Change, Eating Disorder Coalition, and libraries from around the country.

Make TODAY a special day for yourself, someone you know,or someone you just met!

Future Tangles with the Past

Hourglass on Ocean Beach. Amazon.com

The Future Tangles with our Past

Recently I read that high school students who have lived through the Pandemic mainly choose to live in the Present, letting the Future fend for itself. They are not willing to trust they will be around tomorrow, so why plan for it?

Frightening! 

Some are still willing to slug through calculus or biochemistry or trigonometry to prepare for careers in engineering and medicine. But that is not a large number.

 Those parents who are able are speeding up their plans for retirement, now more aware that life is short. Why not begin to enjoy the benefit of one’s efforts as soon as possible, not knowing what the future may bring?  While others are still struggling to feed and educate their children today.

Many of us vaguely remember the “Before Times,” as some call them, and are not certain that we can return to what now seems to be the distant past. Frankly, the times of being crammed like sardines into stadiums, music venues, and offices are not as appealing as they once were and will require mental and physical retrofitting.

While we are thinking about the future, will we be able to blindly return to following one political party or another out of habit or will we require something more?

“Identity politics” some call it, following along with a particular label because it is what you have always done, blind allegiance to the Dems or the GOP Party. Not because you believe what it stands for. But because you feel a part of the group.

Originally the parties were considered “shortcuts” that provide a range of choice between alternatives of action. “The act of choosing a party is the act of choosing whom we trust to perform our values across a vast range of issues that confront the country,” according to Ezra Klein, who believes the most valuable opportunity to influence the course of public affairs is in their choice of a party. He authored “Why We’re Polarized.

The rub can be traced to 1923 when Idaho Republican Senator William Borah said: “Any man who can carry a GOP primary is a Republican. To Borah it did not matter if the guy (then they were all guys) believed in free trade, states’ rights, or every policy of the Democratic Party.

Move to the 1950s when the positions of the two political parties became muddled as much by regional thinking and historical perspective. Voters could not define the party by the beliefs of their individual candidates. Democrats in Minnesota ran liberal candidate Hubert Humphrey, while in South Carolina the same party put uber-conservative Strom Thurmond on the ballot, both in Senate races.

Without the restraint of party unity, some argued political disagreements escalate. Debate on issues, like health care, motivates supporters and turns them against opponents. But in the end, issues get aired and resolved. Divisions get deeper and angrier.

Think about 1964 or consider this if you were not around for that initial foray into the political ring we encounter today. Republican Presidential Candidate Barry Goldwater promised an election that “would not be an engagement of personalities, but an engagement of principles.” But the conservative wing of the GOP got hung up with purity and worked diligently to “expel the moderate wing” of the party, forgetting they would need them to win the election. Goldwater got creamed by Democrat Lyndon Johnson.

George Romney, then moderate Republican governor of Michigan who would be a candidate for President in 1968, (and the father of Mitt Romney, who ran for President on the GOP ticket in 2008) outlined his disagreement with Goldwater’s “take no prisoners” approach.

After the Goldwater disaster, George Romney wrote his Republican colleagues: “Dogmatic ideological parties tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation, leading to government crises and deadlocks, and stymie the compromise so often necessary to preserve freedom and achieve progress.”
Think about that.

Interesting that Mitt felt it necessary to brand himself as “severely conservative” during the 2008 Presidential Campaign. And he went down, not as severely, but lost his bid never-the-less. In 2021, Mitt has taken sides again, more as a moderate, perhaps taking a longer view, sees the impact of following the former President down a purist rabbit hole could have on our democracy.   

Shortly the Republicans in the House will stage another “purity contest.” This one based on whether a House leadership position should be held by a conservative woman (Liz Cheney, daughter of a Republican VP under Bush II) who has been vocal in her opposition to Trump and his continuing cries of “foul” over the final tally of the now fading 2020 Presidential Election. She also objects to the former President’s role instigating the June 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Fear that Trump would back a Primary challenger against them weakened the knees of many Republican House members who voted against accepting votes cast for Joe Biden. Nevertheless, the election results were approved on a vote of 306-232 at 2:15 am on the long day-into-morning of January 6-7, 2021.

William Faulkner, a writer who I suffered through in college, but respect more with age, wrote: “Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.” He noted that “the past is never truly past, but it returns through haunting and repetition.”

Ezra Klein, Why We are Polarized. New York: Avid Reader Press, 2020. In November Klein resigned as editor-at-large at VOX to become a New York Times columnist and host of a political podcast.

Stay tuned for interesting thoughts on what percent of the country is fully invested in the political divide (six percent). And how the rest of us can help pull the needle from the far walls. What can be done to give thinking a chance and avoid having the noisiest among us rule.

How Times Change 1981 – 2021

Ronald Reagan’s first Inauguration CBS News

Ronald Reagan wore a gray tie

Ronald Reagan wore a gray tie to his first inaugural. Not red, not blue, not yellow, but gray. the color set out for formal occasions in 1980. See his Vice President, George Bush, wears gray, too. Nancy proudly wore her trademark red coatdress with a red pillbox.

We forget Americans didn’t get caught up in the red is for Republicans and blue is for Democrats until 1992 when NBC selected those colors as an easy way to show TV viewers how voting progressed across the country on election eve. This January Joe Biden carried on the tradition with a pale, powder blue tie with a sheen amplified in his wife Jill’s shiny aqua dress and coat, more a statement of joy than a political marker.

Joe Biden and Joe Biden on Inauguration Day 2021 Win McNamee

Some may forget the phrase “Make America Great Again” came as a near direct swipe from the Reagan’s “Let’s Make America Great Again,” though his version gave the impression we would ALL take part, not just those with red MEGA hats standing in crowds or waving out-sized banners off the back of pickup trucks.

The 40th President’s response to the events of January 6 can never be assured, he being long dead. But he opened his remarks in 1981 by thanking President Carter for “how much he did” to guarantee a smooth transition, continuing in the American tradition.  He noted “in the history of our nation, it is a commonplace occurrence—the orderly transfer of authority, as called for in the Constitution.” Reagan said with some pride that it “routinely takes place as it has for almost two centuries.” He also pointed out that then, in 1981, “few of us stop to think how unique we really are in the eyes of the world—this every four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”

Until it wasn’t.

Some who call themselves Republicans, who might think they are traveling along as Ronald Reagan would have wanted—in his path—aren’t. I was in the crowd that cold January day as a slightly idealistic congressional staffer. I didn’t agree with everything Reagan said that day, particularly about government, of which I was a servant. Reagan strongly believed in reducing the size of government (going so far as to fire unionized Air Traffic Controllers, a loss of trained personnel and postponing the replacement of antequated equipment that hampers American’s air safety to this today). I believe government has an important role in providing safe operations for the American public (and still refer to it as National Airport).

But he did believe in We the People, that we were all in this together, for better or worse. He didn’t divide the nation into his Red Coats and the other Blue Coats. Reagan didn’t believe you were either with him or you were against him.

One of his buddies, a fellow Irishman, you can see standing above him in the photo, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Democrat. The two men disagreed on many issues, but they could sit down and talk about it. America was a different country then for sure, simpler, if not at times slightly simplistic. But the founding principles of the nation still remain. That’s how Reagan began his Inaugural Address.

He did believe in smaller government and focused in reducing it. To me the health and safety of all Americans is the essential job of government. And cannot be ignored. More than half of the internal divisive battles raging like wildfire in America today address these issues, not the traditional policy issues of the 1980s and before. I have no wand to return the nation to LOGICAL thinkers, focused on problem solving, not finger pointing. This hyperventilation on both sides is leading to the destruction of critical infrastructure and precarious health and safety issues, as critical decisions are pushed off. Many of these issues are reaching a dangerous tipping point.

Will we realize demonizing the “other” has accomplished nothing but a sicker population (and the death of half a million Americans) and a crumbling infrastructure? It seems the resolution so necessary today is impossible to achieve. Could we not tiptoe towards the other side for a moment of silence? There are good minds in both camps. We just cannot hear their thoughts over the roar of selfish megaphones, spouting cultural divisiveness, not solving a single issue. The loudest seem to be the ones who most want to run for President in 2024. Let us solve some problems and try to set out a future for all our children before  we even think about who is up next. Then we’ll talk.

Learning to Lead in Crisis

Leaders also need to breathe–so smell the daffodils and savor the spring before you jump into your next challenge. Now more than ever we all need to appreciate what we’ve accomplished–surviving one awful year when we learned about ourselves first!
Rondale Productions photo

Women’s role in helping the world fly right, progress, and assist in our successes may be too much to bite off this holiday season of spring break, basketball championships, and holy services. But would that stop us?

Two authors of “Making Yourself Indispensable” in HBR October 2011: Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, CEO and President, respectively, of a leadership/development consultancy, refer to the “glass cliff,” something new to me.

The idea behind the “glass cliff” is that when a company is in trouble, a female leader is put in charge to save it, as opposed to a “glass ceiling,” the invisible barrier to advancement that woman often face when they are up for promotion to the highest levels.

The glass cliff comes to mind in thinking of Vice President Harris being sent to visit leaders on our southern borders to impact the record number of immigrants, primarily children and teens, coming across the border. Whew! That is a tall order. She is from California, where similar, but not as pressing problems have occurred for years. But the magnitude and the immediacy of the issue now, in the opening 100 days of her position in the White House, makes it a bit more critical. Operating without a net.

As discussed in an earlier blog, there are just 38 female CEOs at work in America today. Some took on the big job when the company already faced severe challenges. Some gambled that they could resolve whatever mess they inherited. Thirty-eight percent of those women who gambled were forced out.. Just 27% of the men who gambled were forced out.). Often the women are followed by male CEOs. But at Xerox, Ursula Burns, the first African American woman at a Fortune 500 company, seceded Anne Mulcahny, who took the helm when Xerox faced financial challenges during mergers and acquisitions and near bankruptcy.

Marisa Mayer came in at Yahoo when the company had wolves at the door. When Patricia Russo, former CEO of Lucent Technologies, came onboard the company had three years of negative shareholder returns. Board members were drawn to her upbeat nature and her warmth to motivate employees—the “savior effect” is what some call it. Some analysts say women are more willing to accept these long-shot jobs as their “only chance” to break into a CEO position. Others say the challenge to show what they can do in a crisis pulls them into these positions. 

Opportunities lie ahead for women

It is a big shift from 1977 when the Equal Rights Amendment passed Congress.  But the women who stayed at home, some of the homemakers, feared the ERA with an assist from Phyllis Schlafly, the mother of five, trained as a lawyer, and married to a politician. She told them they were losing their “status” as more younger women chose to work first before getting married/having children, or always working, even after marriage and children. In the end, enough men and women in key states voted against the ERA to deep six it when the time limit for ratification by the states ran out.

Ironically, the things these “no-ERA-not-ever” folks feared would rock the country happened without the ERA ever becoming law. A good portion of the change came naturally as more women went to work for economic or career-positive reasons. Others looked at issues like same-sex marriage and decided it was a personal decision.

In the intervening years from 1970s to the 2020s, particularly the last year, a lot of changes have taken place as each of us determine how to maintain our lives in a Pandemic. Those of us who did not know already learned that you do not need to be working in an office along side your colleages or your boss in order to get many jobs done. Many of the jobs that don’t require a computer are blue collar jobs that pay less, some have been at greater risk than before the Pandemic.

Lessons learned—some came hard, and some were easier than we expected.

In December 2020, Zenger and Folkman issued a report about the impact of women as leaders. They used an analysis of 360-degree assessments by people who worked with the women leaders (conducted between March and June 2020). The survey addressed how leaders performed in the crisis that was 2020. The team pulled from the assessments of over 60,000 leaders (22,603 women and 40,187 men) and compared the results. Women were rated more positively on 13 out of 19 areas that comprise overall leadership effectiveness. Men took the lead in technical/professional expertise.

Based on an analysis of 360-degree reviews during the pandemic, competencies in key areas were:

                                                                                                      Women                               Men

            Takes initiative                                                               60                                         50

            Inspires and motivates others                                   59                                         52

            Develops others                                                            58                                         49

            Builds relationships                                                       58                                         51

            Displays high integrity and honesty                         57                                         49

            Communicates powerfully & prolifically                 57                                         52

            Champions change                                                      56                                          51

            Makes decisions                                                           56                                         49

            Innovates                                                                        56                                         53

            Solves problems/analyzes issues                              56                                         53

            Drives for results                                                           55                                         48

            Values diversity                                                             55                                         45

            Establishes stretch goals                                             55                                         50

            Takes risks                                                                      52                                         51

            Source: Zenger-Folkman 2020

Each leader assessed by the group received an employee engagement score based on their direct reports’ responses to questions about how satisfied and committed they felt. The engagement scores for direct reports of female leaders were significantly higher. The overall average for both male and female leaders was the 51st percentile. Respondents put greater importance on interpersonal skills, such as “inspires and motivates,” “collaboration/teamwork,” and “relationship building.”

The survey team believed the most valuable part of the data collected during the crisis is hearing from direct reports about what they value and need from leaders now. Direct reports were looking for leaders able to pivot and learn new skills, who emphasize employee development and understand the stress, anxiety, and frustration that workers feel.

Leadership traits do not know a gender. We all have areas where we thrive and expertise we’ve struggled to acquire. But learning more about the traits that help a team work together can only be beneficial as we move forward, building our way out of the Pandemic.  Many of the traits that were found to be a distraction in the previous world of leadership, now are realized as assets that help build a team, nurturing success.  Breathe!    

Moms Choose Sanity Over Work-Home Multitasking

businesswoman and mother, career and motherhood divided istock 503536842 Woman Multitasking

At 59, General Motor’s CEO Mary Barra doesn’t worry about childcare for her own children, but it is likely earlier in her career the needs of her two children intersected with her business responsibilities as a woman rising the corporate ladder. She sees how it can influence her workforce. It is an issue for American women, whether they operate in blue collar, white collar, nonprofit, or corporate positions. The only difference is that women further up the ladder have more money to manage these challenges.

Particularly now during the Pandemic, as school and childcare options are spotty at best, women are feeling the pinch. Men are too, but since we haven’t as yet evened up the home workload in most households, many women are feeling the pinch more than their spouses.

Barra has led the largest American auto manufacturer since 2014. Like other business leaders, she faces tremendous COVID-19 challenges. She responded by trimming unproductive business lines, like the European and Indian markets, and bet large on electric vehicles, playing catch up with a $27 billion investment over the next five years.

She follows the pattern of many other American female CEOs. Barra joined GM early and stayed. She learned the business from the ground up. Her father, a car buff and 39-year die-maker for GM, stoked her interest in automobiles.

At 18 she became the closest thing to a legacy at GM, interning with the GM Institute (now Kettering University). Berra went on to Stanford University for an MBA to build the academic foundation for her next 15 positions at GM, including Executive Vice President Global Product Development, Purchasing, Global Human Resources, Global Manufacturing Engineering, and Supply Chain. She took the time to learn the business from her father’s garage up, gaining the respect from all sectors of the company and earning a seat on the Business Roundtable.

The Pandemic has stolen the time women need to repeat her success across other industries. Rising to become a CEO is the last thing on most women’s minds today. They want to be able to accomplish their job often from the dining room table, to feed the family and see to it their children are educated and receive excellent care. Completing the housework to manage their home becomes a bone of contention that can sour their relationship with a spouse or partner and go to the bottom of the pile of priorities.

As a result of this pressure on working women, more than 600,000 have thrown in the towel during the Pandemic—they just cannot stretch themselves across the work at home, online education for their kids, and balancing essential cooking and cleaning. Some women without family to help them, struggle to find affordable care for their children while doing jobs outside the home that are essential to their communities–cleaning, caring for others old and young, running buses and subways, removing trash, delivering products ordered online. They’ve quit. Not because they can afford to, but because they can’t endure the mental and physical pressure.

America’s Budget Director in the Biden Administration and Former Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, discussed the impact this loss of workers has on the U.S. economy in The Economist, May 2020: “The History of Women’s Work and Wages and How it has Created Success for Us All.” “This is squandering a resource,” Yellen noted. “And a substantial loss to the productive capacity of an economy at a time when the aging of the population and weak productivity growth are already weighing on economic growth.”

Yellen points out the economy’s need for people to do these jobs, whether women find a comfortable role that fits their current needs and responsibilities, or whether they eventually move up the line to utilize their strengths. This is how we build wealth and a productive economy.

Women do not automatically jump from front-line worker to CEO. Years of experience working through the chairs, as you see Bara did, precede a move to the C-suite. Today there are 36 other women in American companies who, like Barra, have risen to lead corporations. For every female CEO in America there are 24.2 male CEOs, according to Forbes.

The lack of women at what business refers to as Level 2 and Level 3 positions, creates a dirth of talent from which to groom and then select female executives prepared to ascend. Other areas of leadership exist, but CEOs are the roles that open a path for others to follow. These are the women on whose shoulders the next generation of leaders will stand. Roles that when completed with finesse show that leadership traits exist across the gender line. 

Then there’s the broader issue of “who will handle the very important aspects of life” once women achieve equal participation in the workforce. Anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote this as an issue to be solved in her epilogue for the 1965 Report on the Status of Women, a commission created by John F. Kennedy.

She noted the growing division between the advancement of educated women and the poverty and stagnation of the women who work for them. Striving to create a community that values the contributions of all, limits the opportunities of none, and offers prosperity without prejudice, will define any lasting renewal of American democracy today.

Next week we will look at the unique capabilities that women bring to the workplace. What will America miss if we cannot find ways to address the complex balancing act women perform at work and at home in ways that may lure many of these women back to work? An end to the Pandemic will be a start, but it may not completely solve the problem.

The Warm Feeling of Kindness

Cute woman shoveling snow. Dreamtime.com

Much of the U.S. got hit this week with a mixture of slippery roads and multiple inches of snowfall. Here in Central Texas and points south, where a light dusting is expected maybe once a year (and it melts by dinnertime), we were shocked! Quickly followed by power outages, frozen pipes, water shortages, and NO water at all.

I was unprepared–no gloves, no bottled water in the frig, no meals not requiring the microwave or the stove–just whole wheat bread, hard-boiled eggs, and tuna. Oh, and the milk in the frig managed somehow to stay cold for breakfast the second morning. HEB’s Raisin, Nuts and Oats cereal sustained me as long as I had water and electricity for coffee.

I’d planned this week to write about a less personal topic, but what happened in response to four million Texans losing power warmed my heart, even if the temp hovered in the teens at night. Austin is thought of as the “liberal” center of a very large state, but recently it has felt like the center of a divided country. Political leaders have believed it to be in their own self-interest to keep the state deeply torn asunder. This has me worried. I understand people have different opinions, but do we need to get ugly about it?

Here the seeds of goodness were sewn before my son-in-law and his family left the country for work. He cut some sort of deal with his “brother by another mother” who lives a few doors down. He’s been here to check when my Internet went down and flip the circuit when I forgot and ran the Foreman Grill and the microwave together. Then the smoke alarm began to chirp as the battery lapsed, , , and then another one. Unlike me, he has no trouble reaching the alarms, being 6’4,” an inch above my son-in-law, no doubt a source of one-ups between them.

Happily I’ve found that goodness can be contagious or maybe its just being without power for five days! Better being together than to be a powerless island on your own. (Of course still in the midst of a Pandemic, masks were part of our attire).

Actually for me this crazy weather and power breakdown started a full week ago on Thursday afternoon. We were hopeful when power was restored later on Friday but sporadic on Saturday. Gone by Saturday night. From Sunday on until this Wednesday Natta. Water pipes froze and the faucets were empty from late Sunday until this Friday, yesterday, when barely a trickle came out. Orders were to boil even that tiny flow for safety. So Austinites were in a pickle–not everyone at once, but our neighborhood had more of the black-out and less of the “rolling blackout” we were promised.

But rather than being ugly about it, we got resourceful. While many of my neighbors were eager to help from the beginning, this weather brought out the best in us. The stove here is gas but activated by electricity, so neighbors bring in syncopation: chicken and rice, potato soup, an amazing elk meat stew. This last meal came from a woman who only knew me because I’d purchased two boxes of Girl Scout cookies from her daughter. She came by with a broom and a shovel. Oh, sweeping off the walk would be great, I told her. When she completed the walk, she cleared the driveway and swept the car. Then she recruited her sons to help her clear the walk and driveway of the 80-year-old couple next door. Energizer lady!

The helpful men in the neighborhood became their own A Team focused on the elderly here. Checking to see if anyone needed help, water, or food. They wrapped outdoor spickets to prevent them from leaking inside the walls or freezing the lines. Several of the men have their own job at home–warming babies less than a year old. I’ve kept track and knit individual baby blankets for each of them.

By Tuesday night when a PR friend I’d worked with on a project in 2019 invited me to stay with her family, I said tentatively, “yes.” Concerned about the roads, she said, “Don’t worry, my husband drives an F250.” Honestly, I didn’t know what that was until I thought I saw a snowplow come down the street and turned into my drive. (But Austin doesn’t have any snowplows!) Certainly, no trouble in the snow or ice. She lives close enough to an essential water plant that her house is spared any outages.

I felt like I was abandoning the neighborhood, but earlier on Tuesday at 2 and 4 am, I woke up thinking I might never be warm again. I went upstairs to my grandson’s beds and swiped the thick Batman and Superman blankets. I swore I would leave if anyone invited me. I came back Thursday when the power was restored. Water followed on Friday afternoon.

Kindness Continues

I know this wasn’t just an exceptional neighborhood when I heard about other events around Texas. Just north of us in Leander, an HEB, the major grocery chain,had a run on bottled water, diapers, batteries, and nonperishables Friday, February 19. The lights went out when the checkout lines filled with carts 20 deep. The cashiers just waved the shoppers ahead when their registers went dark. The Houston Chronicle noted HEB’s generosity.

Another joyful story came from grocery delivery driver Chelsea Timmons. A week ago Sunday she figured she could make one more delivery in Austin, where the pay was slightly better than where she lived in Houston. She had trouble getting traction in the ice and snow to get up the driveway to finish her delivery.

Her Toyota Rav4 slid down the drive and got stuck in the flower garden as she prayed it would not run into the house. She called a tow truck and thought it would be there in an hour. Eventually the company said they would not be able to tow her that night. The couple, who’d ordered steaks for Valentine’s Day, invited Chelsea in while she waited for a tow. As it became obvious no truck would come, they invited her to stay. Thursday, five days later, she made her way back to Houston. But not before she baked them a bakery-window-ready coconut cake!

The circle continues. Hope we will hold onto the warm feelings that good deeds brought to Texans despite the frigid February temps. Warmer weather and the spring thaw doesn’t need to bring an end to thoughtful deeds!

100 Years: Standing on the Shoulders of Suffregettes

Vice President Kamala Harris

Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.” – Plato

Today’s woman may cringe when they think it took 51 years from the first Suffragette Convention in Cleveland in 1869 until women got the vote in 1920. Then it took another 100 years before women’s votes helped elect a female vice president—U.S. Senator and former California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris.

President Woodrow Wilson spoke to Congress on September 30, 1918: “We have made partners of women in the war. . . Shall we admit them to a partnership of suffering, sacrifice, and toil and not to a partnership of privilege, and right?” Eventually Congress voted affirmative.

Since then, women’s progress has moved at a snail’s pace. Some women believed they had achieved status hitched to their spouses. Others were brainwashed. In the 1970s, sociologist David Riesman surveyed women under 45, who had been or were currently married, and found that 80 percent believed “it is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” (Reisman, “Two Generations,” in The Woman in America.) Then the average salary for a female teacher was $4,680, while a man straight out of college could make $5,400.

The fact that there were housewives working to support their families did not register with the male politicians, business executives, editors, and scriptwriters who set the tone for public discussion. They were better paid, their wives worked at home, and “of course, it was better to have women at home.”

My first year at the newspaper in 1972, I did better than the teachers at $8,500/annually. I worked some 16-hour days but felt happy to have a job at a newspaper. That same year women protested women going into the workplace, fearing they were taking a job that belonged to a man. I did not see those women in Fort Wayne, but I am quite sure they were lurking. I was the only woman reporter in the newsroom.

           “Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”

  • Frederick Douglass

Maybe it is no surprise that the Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed in 1923, written to end legal distinctions between men and women in divorce, property, and employment. This was how the 1972 legislation read in its entirety:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the U.S. or any state on account of sex.”  –  Equal Rights Amendment

When the ERA passed Congress in 1972, it glided through the House 354-24, but 51 Members did not vote. The Senate tally was 84-8. Thirty of the required 38 states ratified it in the first year, but then the pace slowed considerably. Phyllis Schlafly founded the Eagle Forum, a ‘pro-family” socially conservative organization, organized specifically to defeat passage of the ERA. Schlafly’s STOP ERA stood for “Stop Taking Our Privileges,” which might now be seen as White Privilege, but she linked the ERA to every liberal cause the Forum stood against.

Result: the ERA was not ratified I 1979, although the deadline was extended to 1982. But after Schlafly died in 2016 at 92, the Illinois Legislature, which was her home base, ratified it as the 37th state in 2018.

Albert Einstein might have had a saying for that:   “Failure is success in progress.”

Women have marched forward without the ERA.

Example: Vice President Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan, immigrated to California from India to complete a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, where she met Kamala’s father, Donald Harris. He had come from Jamaica to Berkeley to study for a PhD in economics. While achieving doctorates, they took time from their studies to participate in the civil rights campaign and married in 1963. They encouraged their daughters to aim high, but they divorced in the 1970s.

Dr. Gopalan became well known as a biomedical scientist completing successful breast cancer research.  Her daughters went with her to Canada to continue her research at McGill University in Montreal. Kamala Harris returned to California after she completed high school. Her mother died of colon cancer in 2009 but had built strong shoulders for her daughters to stand.

 Abraham Lincoln, speaking 160-years before her inauguration in his 1864 State of the Union, addressed the future role of immigrants like Dr. Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris:

Immigrants are the principal replenishing streams which are appointed by Providence to repair the ravages of internal war and its wastes of national strength and health.”  – Abraham Lincoln

Since her swearing in, Vice President Harris has repeated her mother’s words: “You may be the first to do many things—don’t be the last.” A mantra for women to repeat until we have pulled up the next generation to lead.

Democracy-Busting Ghosts

Ghostbusters

I have “Ghostbusters” in my mind. This is a serious matter, but I don’t want to think these people are real. Can we absolve the nation of a scourge that has opened gaping wounds of misunderstanding, fear, animosity, disbelief, and selfishness?

I see the ghosts of 1860 floating above the U.S. House and Senate, as members refuse to admit to the damage 147 of them have inflicted against democracy by thinking they are advancing their own political ambitions. Or because they fear going against a failed leader just a few days before his replacement. His successor will be sworn in Wednesday above the very steps where a mob carried the Confederate banner along with the American flag. These invaders used the pole carrying the flag to batter down the door to the U.S. Capitol and seriously injure one officer and kill another. Reporters, who have been verbally bashed for four years as the source of “fake news,” were threatened with bodily harm. An Associated Press news team covering the Capitol had their camera smashed and escaped before experiencing a similar fate.

Now 25,000 National Guardsmen are camped out in and around the U.S. Capitol to insure there is no repeat of January 6 mob-rule there. As a nation we have experienced ongoing political disagreements. Americans upset over the decisions of the President or Congress have come to Washington many times in the past. Think about the WW I veterans who camped out on the Mall demanding their promised bonus pay during the early days of the Depression. But they did not batter down the doors of the Capitol, create mayhem inside, force Members of Congress to hide in the tunnels, or kill or maim Capitol Police Officers.

Beat the Drum for Discontent

This time the one who had beat the drum for discontent for four years had molded those fearful of the loss of blue-collar jobs and a changing world into a movement to take the nation backward—Make America Great Again. Red hats of the GOP right-wing flutter all over the Washington Mall and State Capitols where followers refuse to believe political decisions are tipping towards the Democrats, who want to boldly walk into the future to attempt to solve the nation’s problems.

What we have never had before is a leader elected as President who was willing to lie repeatedly to followers, whose critical thinking skills were relaxed by the words they wanted to hear. Lies repeated by such a leader can easily incite brain-washed followers to riot, as they did two weeks ago. The MAGA crowd that flocked to his speeches in 2020 became “true believers” during the first three years of his administration. Then in the fourth were trained to disbelieve the risk of COVID, shun mask-wearing and infect others at their events, including the President.

From “Fake News” to the “Big Lie”

Next he laid the groundwork for his biggest lie: “The only way I can lose this election is if the Democrats steal it from me.” And what was the chant outside and inside the Capitol on January 6? “Stop the Steal.” Then he planted the seeds of “fraud” and “evil” done by the opposition and repeated the lie over and over and over again, until it became unrefutable among the MAGA. Critically thinking people might consider whether he would say that if he were not afraid of losing.

The mob he called to Washington for the final counting of the Electoral College votes and confirmation of the 2020 Election Jan. 6, he then recruited to go up to the Capitol to attack the people who had denied him “another four years.” (He lied again telling them he would be going with them, of course he did not, being only the one who incites.)

306 to 232 – Final Tally

He conviently forgot that it is the American people’s votes who decide who will sit in the Oval Office in 2021, not the Congress. The final tally after all the millions of dollars and personal hours spent on recounting in PA, GA, MI, and WI resulted in the same final outcome. Joe Biden won, receiving 81,281,891 popular votes to Donld Trump’s 74,223,254 and the electoral votes were 306 for Biden to 232 for Trump. When Trump received 306 electoral votes in 2016, he called it a “landslide.” He doesn’t see the number that way now.

There will be no voting system that could satisfy people who fail to trust any organization other than MAGA, particularly if the system doesn’t consistently yield a win for their leader.

The Rolling Stones put it this way, “You Don’t Always Get What You Want” in politics or in life. John Adams in1800 felt he got a raw deal in his second term election against Thomas Jefferson. He didn’t attend Jefferson’s Inauguration, but he didn’t draw a mob to battle inside the Capitol. More recently, 200 years later, Gore and Bush came down to the “falling chads” in Florida that some argue to this day, but Gore, being the out-going Vice President, stood as did Vice President Pence, and gracefully and methodically certified Bush’s win without a temper tandrum. We work with what IS, not with what we’d like it to be.

The current President’s response to this election sets a bad precedent for Little Leaguers who REALLY want to win their games, same for high school football players, one of whom tackled a referee on the sidelines this year when he didn’t like a penalty called against him. We need to walk this back so we can begin to play the entire game fairly—down to the handshake at the end that is customary in baseball and was in politics, even when we lose.

America, its politicians, and its people have a huge job ahead, slowly beginning to look at each situation to establish fairness as a standard.  To begin to reestablish that facts DO exist and to work towards trust by listening to other views. Maybe it will take more than four years to unravel the mind-numbing double-think of the last four years, but we must start the process now.

If we can do that, we won’t need Ghostbusters. We’ll begin to whittle away at the ghosts of the past who are haunting our present and threatening our future.