Women in Japan were told not to wear glasses to work. Their response has been fiery.
Glasses, say some companies in Japan, are just not right for women to wear to work.
In recent reports by Japan’s Nippon TV and Business Insider Japan, women from a range of industries described being instructed by their employers not to wear glasses.
One receptionist recalled being told that glasses for her were not allowed, while a male receptionist was permitted to don corrective eyewear, Business Insider reported. A nurse at a beauty clinic developed dry eye from long hours in contacts but also was not allowed to wear glasses. Her employer imposed other requirements: Makeup was a must, as was making sure she didn’t gain too much weight. A domestic airline reportedly has the no-glasses rule for safety reasons. Some restaurants said glasses on female employees didn’t go well with their traditional attire.
Performance reviews are designed to motivate and bring the best out of our teams, but they often do the opposite. Here’s how to bring out the best in your people.
If you ask people what’s wrong with corporate workplaces, it won’t take long before you hear someone mention something about being put into a performance bucket. The A bucket is for the best, and the C bucket is for the underperformers. The middle and most common bucket is B, as it spares the supervisor from having to justify why an individual is exceptional or on the verge of getting fired. The problem is that ranking someone against their peers is not the ranking that matters and is counterproductive in terms of building an exceptional corporate culture.
People hate performance reviews. And why wouldn’t they? You either come up short against the superstars, walk away being told to keep doing what you’re doing, or leave feeling like your days are numbered. In this common construct, no one is getting the information they need to properly grow, and a toxic competitive situation is created within the organization. Forced comparisons against others don’t accomplish what we want from them. We think it inspires people. It often makes them dislike each other.
The problem is the system.
The goal of performance reviews is ostensibly to help people become better, but forced ranking has two serious flaws. First, it doesn’t take account of individual rates of improvement. We’re all starting from different places, and we’re also all improving at different rates. If you always come up short, no matter how hard you try, eventually you can’t be bothered putting in the effort to get better.
The second, more important, argument is that forced rankings create a toxic environment that rewards poor behavior. When you’re pitted against your coworkers, you start to game the system. You don’t need to improve at all to get into the A bucket, you just need to make the others look bad. The success of one person means the failure of another. How likeable are you? How good are you at whispering and gossip? How big is your Christmas present to your boss? You can end up cutting others down to stand out as a star performer. But undermining the success of your coworkers ultimately means undermining the success of the entire organization.
Margaret Heffernan, author and former CEO, explained on The Knowledge Project how the relationship between coworkers is fundamental to the function of an organization:
“…the whole premise of organizational life is that together you can do more than you can do in isolation, but that only works if people are connected to each other. It only really works if they trust each other and help each other. That isn’t automatic. … You’re only really going to get the value out of organizational life to the degree that people begin to feel safe with each other, to trust each other, to want to help each other…What impedes the flow is distrust, rivalry, or not knowing what other people need.”
Most of us inevitably compare ourselves to others at some point. Chronic comparing though leads to misery. What matters is not what we do compared to what someone else does, it’s what we do compared to what we’re capable of doing. Both as individuals and in organizations, we need to pay attention to this gap—the gap between where we are right now and what we’re capable of.
Internal motivation is easier to sustain. We produce and push ourselves because we get this immense satisfaction from what we are doing, which motivates us to keep doing it. It doesn’t work the same way when your motivation comes in the form of external comparisons.
So what do we do instead?
If you must grade performances, do it against the past. Is she learning? Is he improving? How can we increase the rate of progress and development? Empower people to help and learn from each other. The range of skills in an organization is often an untapped resource.
Organizations today are often grappling with significant corporate culture issues. It can be the one thing that differentiates you from your competitors. Comparing people against their past selves instead of each other is one of the most effective ways to build a culture in which everyone wants to give their best.
“Women-owned companies are responsible for creating 2.2 million jobs across the nation. They are more and more present in leadership positions as founders, executives, and corporate board members," says Farzana Nayani. Despite these achievements, she believes more needs to be done through “workplace infrastructure and policies that engage and promote belonging for women, as opposed to a culture of traditionally excluding and holding back women.”
Everyday reality is bittersweet when it comes to gender equality in the workplace. In recent times, we have made great strides as more women than men graduate from college and graduate school, and nearly equal numbers of American women and men now go into medicine and law – fields traditionally considered a man’s domain.
While there have been improvements, it is still a man’s world when it comes to leadership positions and high-paying jobs in cutting-edge companies. According to a 2015 Dow Jones study, only 4% of Fortune 500 Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) are women. The US Census Bureau reports that women earn 80 percent of what men are paid on average, comparing all jobs, but other studies indicate that the gap is far less when comparing the same jobs, a much better situation than in years past.
Why Diversity and Inclusion?
Diversity and inclusion have a direct effect on an organization’s bottom line. A more diverse workforce fosters greater creativity and is critical for innovation. Companies with higher levels of gender diversity and with policies and practices that focus on gender diversity are linked to lower levels of employee turnover. Organizations ranked highly on Fortune’s "World's Most Admired Companies" list have twice as many women in senior management than do companies with lower rankings. Also, mixed-gender boards have fewer instances of fraud.
“The idea of ‘diversity for the sake of it,’ is something that is not motivating - or we would have had more progress by now,” says Farzana. “There are clear impacts of inequitable practices and systemic oppression that each of us needs to actively work towards overcoming, and the benefit is success by companies and institutions that can recognize the power, talent, and expertise that women can bring. This is the value proposition,” she adds.
Farzana has also designed and delivered Unconscious Bias workshop sessions on behalf of the Ismaili Council for USA, in partnership with ITREB to our institutional leaders. These workshops addressed how we can create more inclusive environments for our children and fellow teachers.
Coming from an interfaith family, Farzana credits guidance from the Ismaili faith as the foundation for how she approaches diversity today, saying, "It is the teachings about pluralism and the ethical values that I uphold and that drives my perspectives on diversity and inclusion.” She adds, “Also, my early experiences teaching women sports at the Aga Khan University Sport and Rehabilitation Centre when it first opened in Karachi, reinforced my commitment to global understanding and the empowerment of women, in all aspects of life."
Farzana was one of the speakers at the Diamond Jubilee Alliances Conference in 2018, joining others in a TED Talk style session on "The Power of Possibility: Journeys of Women in Leadership." She shared her origin story, how she left the workforce to found her own consulting company, and shared personal aspects of how she has balanced life as an entrepreneur.
A close friend of Bartleby’s just got the news that their department was shedding 2.6 workers. At first sight, the concept of 0.6 of a worker sounds pretty odd. But workers who are freelance, on temporary contracts, or in part-time employment register in the headcount as less than a whole number.
Being classed as 0.6 of a worker seems dehumanising. Few people want to be thought of as just a number, let alone a fraction. In “The Prisoner”, a cult British television series from the 1960s, the hero, played by Patrick McGoohan, resigns from his job as a secret agent only to be abducted and taken to a village. He is only referred to as “Number 6” and his frequent escape attempts are frustrated.
Although he insists that “I am not a number, I am a free man”, the audience never learns his name. The programme has a very 1960s vibe—it focuses on the individual’s efforts to assert himself in the face of a repressive, conformist society. At one point, the title character declares: “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.”
These days many workers would sympathise. They feel pushed, filed, indexed and numbered. When they apply for a job, they may be assessed by artificial intelligence, which parses résumés for key words without which an applicant’s odds of an interview lengthen. Based on works like “Evidence-Based Recruiting” by Atta Tarki, who claims that scores in general-mental-ability tests have a strong 65% correlation with job performance, firms may ask candidates to take an intelligence test.
When they get a job, employees find the indexing and numbering continues. Workers at warehouses have to pick a certain number of items per hour; those at call-centres are assessed by software that monitors their hourly number of calls, and the amount of time spent on each one. Fall behind the target and you may feel unable to take a break. When their task is completed, employees are often rated again, this time by the customers.
Manufacturing workers have long faced these kind of numerical targets, as well as the need to clock in and out of work. The big change is that similar metrics and rating systems are spreading to more and more parts of the economy. Academics get rated by students; nurses may be judged on a “behaviourally anchored rating scale” which assesses how much empathy they showed to patients.
Ratings are at the heart of the gig economy, where workers are connected with employers and customers via the internet. Just as TripAdvisor ratings allow holidaymakers to assess hotels, Uber drivers get a score out of five. The same goes for ratings on services like TaskRabbit (for odd jobs) and Etsy (for arts-and-crafts sellers).
Such systems are understandable in parts of the economy where output is difficult to measure precisely. But they can be arbitrary. People might give an Uber driver a poor rating because they are in a bad mood or because they encountered unexpected traffic disruption (the drivers themselves also rate customers, which is meant to discourage abuse).
The result can be increased insecurity for gig-economy workers. Their income is uncertain when they are at the mercy of the assessment system. Even a tiny fall in their rating—of, say, 0.6—can harm their job prospects. A detailed study* of 65 gig-economy workers found that they relished their independence but it came with a host of personal, social and economic anxieties.
Even full-time workers may find themselves dependent on their score in one category or another. Businesses want to avoid accusations of hiring biases on grounds of gender or ethnicity; using “objective” rating systems can protect them from discrimination lawsuits. And employees need to be concerned about how they are rated.
Data and analytics will only become more prevalent in the future, as more of our actions are tracked. Learning how to use data to power your decisions will be essential for most roles in the future.
The World Economic Forum predicts that millions of jobs will be lost in the coming years as artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, and other socio-economic factors replace the need for human workers. How can we begin to prepare for a future that will no doubt be more mobile, autonomous, and machine-driven than today?
At the Peterson Lecture to the International Baccalaureate in Atlanta in 2008, Mawlana Hazar Imam outlined a number of key attributes required to be adaptable, saying, “In a world of rapid change, an agile and adaptable mind, a pragmatic and cooperative temperament, a strong ethical orientation - these are increasingly the keys to effective leadership. And I would add to this list a capacity for intellectual humility which keeps one’s mind constantly open to a variety of viewpoints and which welcomes pluralistic exchange.”
How can we even begin to prepare for a future that will no doubt be more mobile, autonomous, and machine-driven than today? This question is prodding workers to think about lifetime commitments to retraining and upgrading their skills, and is seeping into society’s consciousness about where these constantly-evolving skills should be learned. The following are a few skills and attitudes identified as critical for success in the future:
“Grit” has become one of the biggest buzzwords among talent acquisition, education-policy, and young professional circles. Largely credited to scholar and psychologist Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, grit is comprised of characteristics like guts, resilience, initiative, and tenacity, and it centers on the idea that grit is a better indicator of success than talent or IQ. It can also be taught and found in anyone regardless of age, race, or gender.
Radhika Aggarwal, who is CBO and co-founder of ShopClues, can attest to that. When leading a team as a strategy manager at Nordstrom, she said she rebuffed individual smartness and intelligence as the hallmarks of success. Instead, she began valuing grit and mindset as “fundamentally more critical to individual and organizational success.
“Running a start-up or doing any other job for that matter, requires extended periods of commitment and hard work,” she said. “The fact that you are there every day, especially on those days when every part of your body and mind is screaming, ‘I can't do this anymore.’ The one who picks herself up and is determined to grow is the one who wins in the long run.”
Social intelligence and intellectual humility
According to the World Economic Forum, empathy, creativity, leadership, intuition, and social intelligence make up the perfect mélange of skills to prepare for the future. Additionally, it advises to pay attention to how machines function and think. The Pew Research Center confirms the general public also sees a mix of technical skills, soft skills, and attitudes as being fundamental to success in today’s economy.
Social intelligence includes empathy, but goes beyond to consider more of a global orientation. As Mawlana Hazar Imam has cautioned in multiple speeches: “Knowledge gaps so often run the risk of becoming empathy gaps." In a time when one’s various roles and projects will be changing frequently, transferring relevant information and displaying empathy in the transition will only make for smoother cross-disciplinary, even cross-cultural collaboration.
Intellectual humility is about recognizing and accepting the limits of one’s knowledge. It is especially important considering we subconsciously run the risk of filtering and consuming information that results in confirmation bias and perpetuates even more stubbornness in our beliefs. To this, Hazar Imam has urged listeners to exhibit intellectual humility and combat the custom by “launching an ardent, lifelong search for the knowledge they will need.”
Oftentimes, that knowledge comes in unexpected ways. In fact, research has shown that intellectually humble adults are more likely to learn from people with whom they disagree.
“When we’re more engaged and listening to the other side, the disagreements tend to be more constructive,” said Tenelle Porter, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at the University of California, Davis. But to get there, she added, “We have to be willing to expose ourselves to opposing perspectives in the first place.” Once we do, the results can lead to civil discourse and a cosmopolitan outlook.
Finally, this matters in the job market, too. Laszlo Block, Google's senior vice president of people operations, said he searches for candidates who exhibit intellectual humility because without it, he contends, one is unable to learn.
Zahir Ladhani, marketing professional and life coach, echoes this sentiment: “In order to empower high performing teams, leaders must ask more questions than they provide answers. Asking questions displays the self-awareness that one person, even if he or she has authority, cannot know everything. Humility manifests in listening and responding, so as to inspire everyone to contribute. Consultation and consensus generally provide the best outcome”
Sensemaking or analytics
Consider sensemaking (the process by which people give meaning to their collective experiences) to be the new wave of critical thinking. The most common demonstration of this is via data analysis. Currently, an innumerable amount of information about us is being collected. But data can be overwhelming, and is only useful when you can extract insights and then act on them. At that point, it becomes powerful. Data and analytics will only become more prevalent in the future, as more of our actions are tracked. Learning how to use data to power your decisions will be essential for most roles in the future.
This could be one reason Bill Gates, a self-described futurist, has recently determined that workers savvy in science, engineering, and economics will be “the agents of change for all institutions.”
Coding is another means by which sensemaking can occur. While we’re not prompting everyone to become the next Y Combinator Hackathon winner, learning how to code can change your mindset and provide related advantages in how we view the world, see what is possible, and problem solve for it.
Even though we’re in the automation age, it’s important to remember that machines can’t do everything. It must be balanced by human understanding of the technical and implementation of social and emotional skills.
Although we now live in an an age of automation, it’s important to remember that machines can’t do everything. Technical efforts must be balanced with social and emotional skills. Part two of our Future Skills article highlights the importance of technical, cognitive, and soft skills in preparing for the future.
In a speech at the Opening Ceremony of the Aga Khan School in Osh, the Kyrgyz Republic in 2002 Mawlana Hazar Imam said, "The ability to make judgments that are grounded in solid information, and employ careful analysis should be one of the most important goals for any educational endeavor. As students develop this capacity, they can begin to grapple with the most important and difficult step: to learn to place such judgements in an ethical framework. Therein lies the formation of the kind of social consciousness that our world so desperately needs."
Growth mindset, adaptive thinking, and agile methodology
Twenty years ago, if someone was said to be pursuing a career in social media management or “user experience,” it would result in confused staring. Today, it is not certain what the latest job trends will be even a decade from now.
Yet, there is a way to train to become ready to see – and seize – the opportunity when it arises. It starts by having a growth mindset. Popularized by Stanford University psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, this is the notion that intelligence is as malleable as a muscle, as opposed to fixed and limited from birth. Whether the “muscle” is being strengthened or atrophied is up to each individual, but those who recognize that metaphoric “strength training” is possible, will ultimately be more inclined to “train” leading to greater learning and tenacity.
Being mentally nimble matters to employers.
“For Google, the number one thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not IQ, it’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information,” said Block.
These values are being hailed by other elite companies as well. IBM urges its workforce to “restlessly reinvent.” According to its CEO, Ginny Rometty, that’s the only way a company so old can stay relevant today, and that requires a paradigm shift; to be known for the inquisitive people who lead to world-changing innovation, versus products that may come and go.
Agile thinking takes these first two components one step further. Typically used in the context of the design-based thinking sweeping the globe, mental agility is more aligned with a methodology to elicit practical and creative problem solving by adjusting as you go. No more putting all your eggs into one basket or attempt and hope it doesn’t fail. The goal is to explore, prototype, evaluate, and modify along the way.
Considering we ourselves have become products and brands that are constantly valued and bought, this iterative method makes sense to harness as we too must develop new skills and competencies continuously. In doing so, Hazar Imam says that we “nurture the spirit of anticipation and agility, adaptability and adventure.”
Ethical literacy, moral reasoning, and decision making
The Pew Research Center analysis of government jobs data finds that for the past several decades, employment has been rising faster in jobs requiring higher levels of preparation – that is, more education, training, and experience. The number of workers in occupations requiring average to above-average education, training, and experience increased by 67% between 1980 and 2015.
What good is additional training without the right purpose? Whether it’s for personal needs or business strategy, decision making skills are highly in-demand.
“It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in, to try to solve any problem, and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others,” Block said. “Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve.”
This stems beyond teamwork and “playing nice with others.” Hazar Imam told the University of Alberta in 2009: “It seems to me to be the responsibility of educators everywhere to help develop ‘ethically literate’ people who can reason morally whenever they analyze and resolve problems, who see the world through the lens of ethics, who can articulate their moral reasoning clearly — even in a world of cultural and religious diversity — and have the courage to make tough choices.”
Selling, communication skills and people skills
What good is a vision if one cannot articulate it, or an idea if one cannot sell it? Both are needed to convince people of the value you, your idea, or both would bring. Despite the machine takeover, the vast majority of deals require selling and negotiation face to face. This will only prove more challenging as the volume of ideas being sold will also increase. Therefore, those who can sell ideas, products, and themselves, will have a strategic advantage and more potential financial gains.
This is particularly true because even though we’re in the automation age, it’s important to remember that machines can’t do everything. It must be balanced by human understanding of the technical and implementation of social and emotional skills. For example, breaking away from the automation craze, Toyota actually replaced the robots in its factories with people “because human workers can, unlike their machine counterparts, propose ideas for improvement,” according to Bloomberg.
The accelerating pace of change in all fields of endeavor is evident; the successful will be those who can manage to keep up with it and use their technical, collaborative, and people skills, to their advantage. As Prince Rahim said in a speech: “Like the great Muslim artists, philosophers, and scientists of centuries past, we must enthusiastically pursue knowledge on every hand, always ready to embrace a better understanding of Allah’s creation, and always ready to harness this knowledge in improving the quality of life of all peoples.”
The Pandemic May Mean the End of the Open-Floor Office
As businesses contemplate the return of workers to their desks, many are considering large and small changes to the modern workplace culture and trappings.
SAN FRANCISCO — The modern corporate office is renowned for open, collaborative work spaces, in-house coffee bars and standing desks with room for two giant computer monitors.
Soon, there may be a new must-have perk: the sneeze guard.
This plexiglass barrier that can be mounted on a desk is one of many ideas being mulled by employers as they contemplate a return to the workplace after coronavirus lockdowns. Their post-pandemic makeovers may include hand sanitizers built into desks that are positioned at 90-degree angles or that are enclosed by translucent plastic partitions; air filters that push air down and not up; outdoor gathering space to allow collaboration without viral transmission; and windows that actually open, for freer air flow.
The conversation about how to reconfigure the American workplace is taking place throughout the business world, from small start-ups to giant Wall Street firms. The design and furniture companies that have been hired for the makeovers say the virus may even be tilting workplaces back toward a concept they had been moving away from since the Mad Men era: privacy.
The question is whether any of the changes being contemplated will actually result in safer workplaces.
The future is here. Once a remote possibility, working from home has become commonplace and more accepted, much sooner than anticipated. While most employers have in the past resisted the idea of their workforces performing their duties from home, necessity is the mother of invention, and the current coronavirus crisis has left many employers with no other option.
How does this sudden change affect organisations and employees? Remote working was increasing gradually, but the workplace has now transformed about a decade earlier than expected. Of course, this option is only available to those employees who are in professions that can be carried out in home environments, an option not available to those working in manufacturing, retail and many other sectors.
Workers who have often been invisible and unrecognised are now the ones classified as “essential,” such as delivery drivers and grocery store employees — the very ones who cannot work remotely. Many others, not deemed essential, will simply be unable to return to work as their businesses, and especially restaurants, may not re-open.
The US Bureau of Labor estimates that of the top 25 percent of income-earners, 60 percent could work from home, while the figure for the lowest 25 percent of earners is 10 percent. Those able to work remotely would be far fewer in developing countries where equipment and Internet access may be greater impediments.
Who Gets Left Behind in the Work-From-Home Revolution?
An increase in remote workers won’t automatically usher in a gender-equal utopia. If we want it, we have to make it so.
Ever since the coronavirus pandemic began keeping most of us sheltered at home, work has rapidly shifted from the cubicle to the kitchen table. A number of surveys indicate that about half of the American work force is now doing their work at home. Companies that may have once been resistant to letting employees off the in-person leash are finding that yes, work can still get done outside the confines of an office building.
That realization may last long after stay-at-home orders are lifted, leading to a permanent change in how we work. Silicon Valley is leading the way, with Twitter, Square and Facebook announcing that employees will be able to work remotely after the pandemic subsides. Companies in other white-collar industries are certain to follow. Nearly two-thirds of surveyed hiring managers say that their workforces will be more remote moving forward.
But offices are already starting to reopen, and it’s likely to be up to individual workers to decide whether to return. We may end up, then, in a world of haves and have-nots — those who have more ability to start commuting again and those who can’t, because they have increased health risks or they have children at home and no child-care options. And among heterosexual couples, it’s not hard to guess which parent will almost certainly be stuck at home longer until child-care options are open again. Will these employees be treated differently, even inadvertently?
It’s hard to predict just how these shifts will play out — but as things stand, women are in a poor position to benefit.
The pandemic has shown employees and employers alike that there’s value in working from home — at least, some of the time.
Most American office workers are in no hurry to return to the office full time, even after the coronavirus is under control. But that doesn’t mean they want to work from home forever. The future for them, a variety of new data shows, is likely to be workweeks split between office and home.
Recent surveys show that both employees and employers support this arrangement. And research suggests that a couple of days a week at each location is the magic number to cancel out the negatives of each arrangement while reaping the benefits of both.
“You should never be thinking about full time or zero time,” said Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford whose research has identified causal links between remote work and employee performance. “I’m a firm believer in post-Covid half time in the office.”
According to a new survey by Morning Consult, 47 percent of those working remotely say that once it’s safe to return to work, their ideal arrangement would be to continue working from home one to four days a week. Forty percent would work from home every day, and just 14 percent would return to the office every day.
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