Archive for May, 2008

Myth busting about female ambition

When push comes to shove, women just aren’t as ambitious as men.

Right?

Wrong.

Generation F, a report released by Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) and Hay Group, reveals that women are just as likely as men to want promotions, pay rises and careers. 

The findings reveal that myths, assumptions and biases continue to prevent Generation F – all women in the Australian labour force aged between 16 and 65 years- from fully participating in rewarding careers and contributing to our nation’s economic growth.

“Like their male counterparts, the majority of Generation F, whether single, married, with or without children, aspire to a role involving either more or equal responsibility over the next few years,” the report found after analysing data from an online survey and focus groups held in 2006.

A similar study in the US presented the same results, revealing that female and male executives aspire to occupy the most senior role in an organisation in almost identical numbers (55 per cent of women and 57 per cent of men).

The EOWA report found that women who do leave a difficult workplace are more likely to find it convenient to say they lack ambition or simply want to focus on the family.  This perpetuates age-old stereotypes that contribute to the difficult working environment in the first place.  And of course, it lets organisations off the hook.

Business is not delivering for a large percentage of our workforce.  We need to embrace flexible work environments and recognise that our female workforce is skilled, but ready to move on quickly if an employer fails to satisfy their needs.

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What makes us happy?

Despite the exponential increase in our wealth in the last 50 years, it seems our levels of happiness have not increased.  While our standard of living has increased dramatically, in some cases our levels of happiness have diminished slightly.  The evidence suggests that being richer isn’t making us happier.

In fact, Australia consistently scores highly (or highest) for happiness in education, health, security and wealth, when assessed by the United Nations Human Development Index.  And yet, other data shows us that Australians have some of the lowest levels of job satisfaction in the world. Only Japan, Taiwan, and six East European nations (including Russia) do worse in this regard.

So what does make us happy? 

Happiness is not a destination, but a decision.  We decide to be happy.

In Learned Optimism, Dr Martin Seligman, a leading specialist in positive psychology, presents scientific evidence that optimists get along better than pessimists in almost ever facet of life: at school, at work, in personal relationships and in sports. According to Seligman, optimists respond better to adversity of all kinds.  What’s more, they have better physical health and may even live longer.  The key is what we say to ourselves when we confront failure and disappointment.

Permanent change comes from rewiring habits. I keep a journal which I write every day before I go to bed.  I always write down my ‘three good things’ that happened that day.  This simple exercise helps with resilience and optimism.  By focusing on the positive, I can pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again when things feel wrong or go wrong in the workplace. Maintaining an attitude of gratitude is simple, yet liberating and empowering.

So, the question is: are you happy?  Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website features countless surveys on happiness, including optimism, relationship satisfaction, work/life balance and meaning of life.  You’ll find some clues to your mental attitude there.

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Facing up to our demographic destiny

Australia has to face up to its demographic destiny.

The age profile of the world is changing. While children and the middle aged currently dominate the percentage of population in most countries across the world, this will dramatically change over the next twenty years.  The 50+ group will catch up with the kids by 2020 and the proportion of 17-24 year olds is in decline, as is their absolute number within the world’s population.

So while we continue to talk about a skills shortage we are actually talking about a population issue and a distribution of labour across the nation and the world.

The recent release of a survey by the Australian Industry Group highlights the impact of the skills shortages on Australian businesses. In the survey, CEOs who were interviewed talked of how it is increasingly difficult to attract and retain the skilled workers required to survive and prosper in today’s economic climate.

Furthermore, skills shortages are starting to restrict the ability of Australian firms to innovate and improve their business models and functions. And we know that technology-led innovation delivers almost all productivity gains in industries – for example over the last decade 85 per cent of all productivity gains in manufacturing and 78 per cent in the services sector came from the application of technology solutions.

I’ve just joined Julia Ross after spending two years leading the Australian Information Industry Association – the lobby group for the computer industry in Australia.  From experience, I know that every year brings new challenges for the ICT industry and those employed in it – and 2008 is no exception.

Global economies are showing signs of weakness giving rise to speculation about the sustainability of the Australian economy. The depth of the sub-prime finance within Australian financial institutions is not fully disclosed and the impact therefore is not understood. The threat of recession in the US even after injections of money through interest rate decreases, tax cuts and superannuation have proven to be inadequate to ally fears.  China remains a critical trade partner to ensuring that Australia’s growth will slow but not decline dramatically. 

Consumer confidence is weakening. The Westpac Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment fell below 100 in February, which indicates that pessimists now outnumber optimists. As the famous song goes “don’t wish too hard for what you want ‘cos you might get it.”

And if obesity is the result of an affluent lifestyle, the skills shortage is the outcome of a robust economy and high client demand. The ICT industry in Australia, for example, is a cyclical one with peaks and troughs that largely align to the demand for client projects – particularly large government projects and to economic cycles.

Enrollments in tertiary ICT courses are half of what they were in 2001. More than that there is continuing discontent about the workplace capabilities of graduates and a disconnect between industry needs and the perception of ICT as a career among young Australians.

The industry still suffers from the view that it is nerdy and full of spotty faced youths reinforced by those quirky folk on the BBC show called the IT Group, or Douglas Copeland’s book jPod, or evidence from my daughter who is doing Commerce and IT at ANU tells me is largely true.  But is it?  You tell me.

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The brave new world of work

I am an economist by education and one of my favourite economists, John Maynard Keynes, wrote in 1930, in his book The Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, that by the end of the 20th century we would all be working just five hours a week.

In 1996, Jeremy Rifkin prophesised the end of work altogether. In the 21st century, he predicted, employment would be phased out, at least in the industrialised world. Jobs would be taken over by machines and workers forced on to the dole.

The German sociologist Ulrich Beck, in The Brave New World of Work, published in 2000, claimed the work society was disappearing. The working environment of the future, he said, will resemble that of Brazil, with no permanent jobs, only informal and insecure labour. 

And Charles Handy, in his book The Empty Raincoat, said what is disappearing is the job itself.

These were some bleak predictions – but going by current trends, Keynes’s proposition is impossible and Rifkin’s, Handy’s and Beck’s seem implausible.

The next revolution in our workplaces will not be no work.  Instead it will be flexible work.

Flexible working has enormous potential to raise productivity levels, increase employee job satisfaction and create business cost-savings. Moreover, as our workforce ages and shrinks over the next 25 years, practical solutions that assist organisations attract and retain staff will be fundamental to the way companies retain their competitive advantage.

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Gamers the CEOs of the future?

And following on from yesterday, to draw another parallel between World of Warcraft and the real world of business, both are experiencing skills shortages.

On the World of Warcraft site, for example, a ‘recruitment’ discussion board – the World of Warcraft’s equivalent of Seek.com.au – has thousands of requests for skilled players, and equally players looking to join new guilds.

For example, one post reads:

No Sleep for the Weary is a night guild on a Central time RP-PVP server. In general we are a laid back guild, but are looking to get a few more healers into our more serious raiding corp, as this is the only thing holding us back from success. We would like people who, while not extraordinarily hardcore, will be solid raiding attendees. Raid times are 3-4 nights a week from midnight to 4am Central (10 PM – 2 AM Pacific).

To be successful in WoW, players need to know how to find the right people with the right skills for their guild.  Guild leaders need to be experts in those ’soft skills’ of people management, with the ability to motive and inspire, ensure productivity and deal with conflict.

And of course, leaders need to find ways to overcome the complications of bringing a large group of diverse people together to achieve a common goal.

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Business lessons from World of Warcraft

The stereotypical online gamer is a greasy-haired, pimply, overweight teenager with no social skills and too much time on his hands, right?

Wrong.

Statistics from the US Entertainment Software Association (ESA) suggest that the average gamer is 33 and more likely to be learning vital business skills than wasting time.

In World of Warcraft, for instance, thousands of players adventure together in an enormous virtual world, forming friendships, slaying monsters and engaging in epic quests that can span days or weeks. At last count, 9.3 million people were playing the game.

An IBM study, conducted in conjunction with MIT, Stanford and software start-up Seriosity, found that multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft and Everquest can help the next generation of workers become better corporate leaders as work becomes more collaborative and virtual in nature.

The study suggests that hours spent playing online can hone abilities to effectively collaborate, self-organise, take calculated risks, influence and communicate – skills that are not generally taught in universities or workplace training programs.

But do online games really provide insight into the future of our organisations as our leaders communicate with workers across a ‘virtual environment’ that spans many countries, cultures languages and time zones?

The impressive organisational skills needed to run a World of Warcraft guild, organise raids involving as many as 40 people and co-ordinate their different abilities to defeat a game’s strongest foes are all relevant to work.

Some of the lessons that gamers learn include the ability to make decisions rapidly, analyse and use data from varied sources and recognise people for their contributions – are all valuable assets in the workplace.  Perhaps even more so is the ability to assemble and motivate a group of individuals – many whom are volunteers – to make rapid decisions and act effectively under uncertain conditions.

What do you think?

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