Bad Tech, gender issues, and future work

Appearing in In the Black magazine, July 2020

 

Don’t Be Evil

By Rana Foroohar

Penguin, 256 pages, $35

Don't Be EvilOnce upon a time, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google were like cute little puppies, full of fun and with the charm of innocence. But at some point they grew into oversized attack dogs, devouring everything in sight and snarling whenever confronted. How, asks financial journalist Foroohar, did this happen? How did Google, whose original motto provides the book’s title, and Apple, whose founder Steve Jobs once described personal computers as “bicycles for the mind”, become Big Tech behemoths?

The key is that each company was able to develop systems to collect, refine and manipulate customer data, feeding it back to generate further revenue. With assured cash flow and massive reserves they were able to invest in R&D, corner the talent market, dominate competitors and ensure political protection. Foroohar focuses on Google but the method was similar for all the companies (and Netflix, which Foroohar sees as using comparable tactics). It was not pretty but it was ruthlessly effective.

Foroohar does a good job at keeping this sprawling canvas organised, often injecting a dry sense of humour. She suggests that it might not be too late to control the giants, by reinvigorating anti-monopoly laws and imposing a data-based tax. One way or another, she tells a fascinating story.

 

Beat Gender Bias

By Karen Morley

Major Street Publishing, 208 pages, $30

Morley has worked with a wide range of companies to help them improve gender diversity at senior management levels so she speaks with great personal authority. There might be more women in corporate life than ever before but the overall numbers remain distressingly low, even in companies that talk the talk. The essential problem, she says, is unconscious bias on the part of leaders, even those with good intentions. She offers advice on how to identify and address unconscious bias by reframing issues and asking the right questions. At the same time, leaders have to ensure that women have network opportunities and suitable mentorship. Too often, the number of women in senior positions stops at one or two, and even those usually fail to reach the highest levels.

Morley emphasises that if providing opportunities for women and working towards gender balance is perceived as a zero-sum game, where women are seen as having been given special advantages to take them past men, the program is likely to fail. Instead, it has to be shown to be a win-win situation, with the whole organisation gaining benefits. She readily acknowledges that beating gender bias is difficult but it has to be confronted if leaders want to walk the walk.

 

The Realities and Futures of Work

By David Peetz

ANU Press, 406 pages, $55

It was Churchill who said that the future will be one darn thing after another. This is especially true in relation to work and workplaces, which have seen waves of change in the past few decades. Peetz, an academic who specialises in this area, brings together a huge amount of research, aiming to get past the emphasis on technology that is the focus of many analysts. He accepts the importance of technological change but sees other ‘mega-drivers’, such as demographics, globalisation, and regulation as equally important.

He argues that casualisation and freelancing constitute only a small part of the total economy, and that a fairly traditional employment relationship is likely to remain the mainstay. He detects broad push-back against technology-related downsizing and globalised outsourcing, and believes that unions are due for a resurgence. At the same time, many companies have realised that they need to provide a sense of satisfaction to their employees if they are to survive. The future of work, says Peetz, will not be a single model but a mix of layers, relationships and systems.

This book covers a great deal of ground. It does not provide definitive answers but it offers useful food for thought on where the road is leading.

Realities and Futures of Work

 

Downloadable Resources

 

Managing remote employees

Hays Specialist Recruitment has consolidated a series of articles and resources dealing with managing employees and teams working remotely. The collection covers how to set priorities and timeframes for remote employees, how to maintain the corporate culture, recruiting and onboarding new employees, and ensuring the mental and physical wellbeing of remote employees. A particularly interesting article deals with making a team adaptable to change through encouraging innovation and experimentation within a framework of strategic objectives. The keys to successful management of remote employees are constant communication, clear rules, robust technology tools, and a willingness of executives to trust their people.

Read and download from:

https://www.hays.com.au/manage-from-home

 

Looking to recovery phase

A report from McKinsey, From Surviving to Thriving, examines how companies can take advantage of the post-pandemic recovery. Many companies will have to re-think their business model and those who successfully do so will be well-placed for long-term success. Areas for focus are rebuilding revenue, reconstructing operations, rethinking the organisation, and accelerating the adoption of digital solutions. The report unpacks these, while underlining the importance of recognising how much has changed. So far, those companies that have done best in navigating the crisis are those which consciously developed a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture, and this is likely to continue as we move forward.

Download from:

https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/from-surviving-to-thriving-reimagining-the-post-covid-19-return

 

CEO concerns

PwC Australia’s 23rd CEO Survey shows a great deal of concern about the medium-term outlook from corporate leaders. Even leaving aside the problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, about 80 per cent of CEOs are concerned about economic growth. Seventy-eight per cent identify skills shortages as an obstacle to growth, and 73 per cent predict that technology blind spots will hamper growth opportunities. However, the survey also suggests that there are important opportunities from companies willing to move out of their comfort zone with pro-active strategies, especially when willing to invest in upskilling and technology utilisation, and to collaborate with start-ups and smaller companies.

Download the report or a summary from:

https://www.pwc.com.au/ceo-agenda/ceo-survey.html

 

Stress test

Beyond Blue is an organisation dedicated to improving the Australia’s mental health, and unfortunately it has had a busy 2020. It has put together a package of information about anxiety and stress, including information on symptoms and possible treatments. Everyone experiences anxiety occasionally; problems arise when it persists even when the causes are removed. Beyond Blue provides a number of anecdotal cases to show how anxiety can become embedded in thinking and can have major impacts on physical health. There is also an “anxiety checklist”, information on finding professional help, and a link to Beyond Blue’s e-publication A Guide to What Works for Anxiety.

Go to:

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety

 

Trade impact

There is now enough data to measure the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy, and the picture is certainly grim. A package of information from the World Trade Organization shows that global merchandise trade is set to plummet by up to 32 per cent in 2020, with the largest falls in sectors with complex value chains, particularly electronics and automotive products. Nearly all regions will suffer double-digit declines in volumes, with exports from North America and Asia hit hardest. The WTO expects a recovery in trade in 2021 but its strength is dependent on the effectiveness of current policy responses.

Go to:

https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/pres20_e/pr855_e.htm

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