Statoil’s Folly

This is making me all misty-eyed with nostalgia for the late ’90s/early ’00s:

The board of directors of Statoil proposes to change the name of the company to Equinor. The name change supports the company’s strategy and development as a broad energy company.

Back in the days when New Labour were sneering at anything traditional and wrecking institutions that had worked well enough for centuries, the business world was going through it’s own version of similar self-harm. British Airways replaced the Union Flag on its tailplanes with tribal art, reversing the decision a few years later. Having spent £75m on branding experts, PricewaterhouseCoopers changed its name to Monday, which proved to be a mistake. Sun Alliance and Royal Insurance changed their name to More Than, which it keeps to this day. British Petroleum switched it’s name to BP, getting rid of the shield logo and replacing it with some sort of flower. They also adopted the tagline Beyond Petroleum, despite sales of oil, gas, and petroleum products making up pretty much all their revenues.

It’s this last example which I’m reminded of the most by Statoil’s rebranding, for obvious reasons. Have a read of the guff they’ve come out with to justify it:

The world is changing, and so is Statoil. The biggest transition our modern-day energy systems have ever seen is underway, and we aim to be at the forefront of this development. Our strategy remains firm. The name Equinor reflects ongoing changes and supports the always safe, high value and low carbon strategy we outlined last year,” says chair of the board in Statoil, Jon Erik Reinhardsen.

Basically, Statoil doesn’t want the word “oil” in its name any more despite oil (and gas) production being their core business by a mile and a half. Yes they do other things, including renewable energy – as all the major oil firms now claim – but these activities are negligible in terms of revenue when compared to the production of hydrocarbons and their derivatives, and always will be. If you want to invest in a solar energy company, invest in a solar energy company. Don’t invest in an oil company that has bought some solar energy capability for PR purposes. I noticed a few years back that Porsche now makes luggage and sunglasses, or at least licenses their brand to someone that does. What Statoil’s doing is the equivalent of Porsche rebranding in the hope nobody notices their core business is still making cars.

“Equinor is a powerful expression of who we are, where we come from and what we aspire to be. We are a values-based company, and equality describes how we want to approach people and the societies where we operate. The Norwegian continental shelf will remain the backbone of our company, and we will use our Norwegian heritage in our positioning as we continue growing internationally within both oil, gas and renewable energy,” says Sætre.

A values-based company. Uh-huh. Which company isn’t these days? I’m sure the good folk who dropped a bridge on innocent motorists in Florida claimed the same thing, but what does it actually mean? If values are something you need to consciously adopt and then advertise, perhaps you don’t have them. A friend of mine recently switched employers and one of his first assignments was to attend a three-day workshop with the senior management to decide what the company values would be. This is the same category error as when a CEO stands in front of his staff and says “we need to adopt X culture”. Values, like culture, is something you develop organically, intrinsically, personally. They cannot be imposed by decree, and a company’s culture or values is simply the aggregate of the people within it. If you were to send someone into a modern corporation with a copy of its “values” and tell them to report back when they found the first instance of a manager acting in a way which completely contradicts them, you’d barely have time for a cup of tea. As I’m fond of saying loudly in meetings, if you want to change the culture in a company you need to employ people who already subscribe to that culture, put them in charge, and fire those that don’t (this suggestion doesn’t always go down well.)

“Equinor is a name that is forward-looking, and creates a strong platform for engagement and dialogue with a broad set of stakeholders. We believe it will create internal alignment and pride, and help attract capital, partners and talents,” says Reidar Gjærum, Senior Vice President for Corporate Communication in Statoil.

Here’s another anecdote. I once worked for an outfit that wasn’t doing very well, and the reasons were obvious. The best thing the CEO could have done in terms of helping the company was gas himself in his garage, but instead he decided the company name and logo should change. He hired a consultant to tell him the name and logo was holding them back, but the consultant returned with the message that, on the contrary, the name and logo were probably the best things about the whole damned outfit. The consultant got fired on the spot, but the name and logo remained. The episode taught me that if a company is looking to change its name and logo (slightly updating the latter is fine), it’s got other, more serious problems that aren’t being addressed and the name change is merely a distraction. To their immense credit, RoyalDutch/Shell has retained the latter part of its name and the Pecten logo despite both being completely outdated and irrelevant in terms of what the company does. Coca-Cola never changed its name or logo, despite the company branching out far beyond cola production. And Chicago Bridge and Iron (CBI) famously isn’t in Chicago, doesn’t make bridges, and uses no iron.

Many people are as unimpressed as I am at Statoil’s name change:

The firm, the world’s 11th largest oil and gas company, released a video on Thursday announcing that after 45 years of operations, it is changing its name to Equinor.

The video is perhaps not what you’d expect from a company with assets worth more than €100 billion.

Starting off with the scream of a woman echoing through a forest, the video then cuts to her giving birth, before shots of a little girl doing gymnastics, a classroom of children learning that “to learn is to change”, and a spotty teenager looking in the mirror cross the screen.

Does this sound like an oil company with its eye on the ball? This doesn’t help, either:

Oil majors aren’t famed for their pranks, but Statoil ASA had analysts checking it wasn’t April Fool’s Day when it announced a new name that turned out to have been acquired from an Oslo veterinary practice specializing in horses.

When people think your company’s proposed name change is an April Fool’s joke, you might want to reconsider. Note the disparity between the earnestness of the Statoil CEO and the degree of seriousness on display from the journalist in this passage:

“I don’t expect Equinor to be love at first sight for everyone,” the CEO told reporters in Oslo on Thursday. “Give it a little time, let it mature. I feel very confident that this is right and important for the company to do.”
Statoil declined to disclose how much it paid the veterinarian, who will soon be offering services from equine dentistry to castration under the name of Equina.

And this is illuminating:

The name change is bound to “stir up some emotions,” said Frode Alfheim, the head of Industry Energy, Norway’s biggest oil union. But what counts is that the company remains 67 percent state-owned, stays in Stavanger and focuses on the Norwegian continental shelf, he said.

Basically, a state-owned oil company doesn’t want to be branded as a state-owned oil company; they’re embarrassed by who they are and what they do. How very modern.


Credit where none is due

I can see what’s happened here:

Twelve-year-old Michelle Flores shared a special moment with her family at FIU this past Saturday: She and her sister Gabriela joined their parents, FIU alumni Leonor and Henry Flores MIS ’01, to watch a 950-ton section of a pedestrian bridge swing into its permanent position across Southwest 8th Street.

Leonor Flores ’98 is a project executive and one of 63 FIU alumni who work for MCM, the construction firm building the FIU-Sweetwater UniversityCity Bridge, which will further connect FIU and its northerly neighbor, the City of Sweetwater. She was excited to share her work with her family, especially Michelle, who is interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in school.

Michelle said she might want to follow in her parents’ footsteps and go to FIU when the time comes, and that it was fascinating to see her mom’s work in action. “I’m interested in the architecture and the design of the bridge, and the math portion of it,” she said.

Said Leonor: “It’s very important for me as a woman and an engineer to be able to promote that to my daughter, because I think women have a different perspective. We’re able to put in an artistic touch and we’re able to build, too.”

Then the bridge collapsed across eight lanes of highway crushing people underneath, and FIU provided this update:

UPDATE, March 16, 2018, 11 a.m.: To clarify, Leonor Flores did not work on the FIU-Sweetwater UniversityCity Bridge project in any capacity.

When you read the original text carefully, you can see it doesn’t actually say that Flores worked on the bridge. But by including her heart-warming tale of women in engineering in a story about a bridge installation, that’s what they implied. It was a deliberate attempt to link Flores and female engineers in general with this particular project, which at the time was looking like a success and attracting publicity. However, now people across the internet are questioning the wisdom of having a woman put “an artistic touch” to something that goes on to fail in deadly fashion, they’re having to come clean.

This sort of manipulation is not unusual in modern engineering projects, or anywhere else in today’s corporate world. I once worked for a large multinational engineering firm who had on their books a rather photogenic female Russian safety engineer. Sure enough, she featured prominently in several of the quarterly magazines (or whatever they call those propaganda rags that get hoyed in the bin by anyone who does something useful). Now she wasn’t a terrible engineer, but she didn’t deserve so many puff-pieces in short succession. Speaking to friends and colleagues who’ve worked on sites and in yards around the world, whenever there’s a photo session going on the women and ethnic minorities are placed in prominent positions and white men told to stand to the side, preferably behind a large object. An exception is in Nigeria where a European woman, who’d played a key role in the engineering of the installation, was asked to remove herself from the group because having no white people in the photo made Nigerians happier. Go through the prospectus of any company or organisation these days and you’ll get interviews and quotes from women and ethnic minorities, half of whom I suspect don’t even work there. I am absolutely sure most of the “staff” photos are from stock.

I don’t mind women or ethnic minorities being interviewed, and I even don’t get upset if they’re given a little more prominence than perhaps they deserve (it’s PR, after all). But to interview someone who wasn’t even involved with the project is pretty cynical. I’m sure there were women working on this bridge and doing a fine job, but presumably couldn’t provide a twelve year old daughter who comes out with cutesy lines right on cue. I wonder what they thought of the interview when it was first published? I can imagine “Who the fuck is she?” was asked quite a lot.

If companies want people to take women in engineering seriously they need to quit pulling stunts like this, or they might as well go and hire actors.

(With thanks to Lord T and JerryC in the comments.)


The Bridge Collapse in Miami

It goes without saying that this is a disaster:

At least four people have been killed and 10 others hurt after a footbridge collapsed near Florida International University in Miami, officials say.

The 862-tonne, 174ft (53m) bridge fell over an eight-lane motorway on Thursday afternoon, crushing at least eight vehicles, police said.

They told local media that vehicles were stopped at a traffic light when the structure collapsed at about 13:30 local time (17:30 GMT).

It is still unclear how many people were under the bridge at the time.

For a standard, single-span footbridge to suddenly collapse in this manner in the United States in 2018 is incredible. Reinforced concrete footbridges have been built worldwide for decades, and ought to be the sort of thing a highways department can design and build on their own. Perhaps one 53m long over an 8-lane highway requires some specialist assistance, but still. This was not the Millau Viaduct.

These days engineering firms use finite element modelling (FEM) programs which can predict how a structure will perform under load, identify any weak points, and calculate the stresses induced in every location. The bridge which collapsed looks to be of an unusual design, no doubt approved by an architect somewhere, but that is precisely what the FEM models are for. Using them you can depart from a traditional design, incorporate architectural features, and still be sure your structure is sound. A newly installed footbridge suddenly collapsing onto traffic in the US is the equivalent of a batch of canned goods killing people, the contents having reacted to the metal. There is enough knowledge and experience by now to ensure these sort of accidents no longer occur.

Yet it did, so why? The BBC tells us this:

The bridge was erected on Saturday in just six hours.

It was built using a method called “accelerated bridge construction” to avoid traffic disruption. A major section of the bridge was assembled on the side of the road and then raised into place.

I’ve written before about bridge collapses, and how they tend to happen during construction, but I don’t think the installation method described above had anything to do with it. There’s a video here of the bridge being installed, and it looks to me like a pretty common technique which doesn’t in itself explain why it collapsed a few days later.

So here’s my guess: somebody screwed up the calculations or the finite element model, and nobody picked up the error. If this was in the developing world I’d be more inclined to believe it was shoddy construction or poor materials rather than a design error, but this being the US I can’t see that happening. The company that carried out the engineering was Munilla Construction company, a family-owned firm whose website is here. They’re based in Miama and have been around since 1983 and they claim:


They might want to update that at some point.

What follows is pure speculation on my part but it’s based on what I’ve observed of engineering companies and corporations over the past 15-20 years or so. Back in 1983 the firm would have employed serious engineers who held themselves accountable, and the brothers who founded it probably did a lot of the work themselves. There is no doubt this company was able to successfully deliver engineering projects for a couple of decades, so they’re not some fly-by-night outfit owned by the wife of the local mayor.

But I suspect things changed sometime in the past 5-10 years. There is nothing on the company website to suggest they succumbed to the relentless pressure placed upon firms to hire people based on their appearance and sex rather than competence and ability, but I’d be surprised if they were wholly unaffected by demands for greater workforce “diversity”. After all, this was a firm which did several projects for the public sector, and installed the bridge on behalf of a university. It’s unlikely they weren’t required to demonstrate they were fully on-board with the latest progressive directives. At a guess, I would say this is a company which has seen several experienced engineers retire over the past decade, replaced with people whose abilities are questionable.

Secondly, as I have complained about in the past, there has been a major shift in modern companies from delivering something useful – such as a bridge which doesn’t collapse – to managing processes. A lot of companies have subcontracted out the actual work – designing, building, manufacturing, operating, maintaining – and instead busy themselves with “managing” the whole process. This involves lots of well-educated people in nice clothes sitting in glass-fronted office buildings sharing spreadsheets, reports, and PowerPoint presentations by email and holding lengthy meetings during which they convince one another of how essential they are. I’m sure this is pretty much what Carillion was doing when they went bust: anything useful was done by subcontractors. The distance between those doing the actual work and those supposedly responsible for the outcome has, in far too many companies, grown into a yawning chasm. Survival in a modern company is all about compliance and obedience, and accountability is non-existent because it is no longer required.

In such an environment, it is inevitable that the quality of work suffers, errors go unnoticed, and – occasionally – catastrophes occur. Now I don’t know if that was the case at the Munilla Construction company, but somehow they’ve gone from an outfit who could deliver a project with their eyes closed to one that has just dropped a simple footbridge on eight lanes of highway. If I were investigating, I’d want to know who did the actual design and where it was done. I’d be willing to bet a hundred quid the calculations and finite element modelling were done outside the US to save money, or subcontracted to another company, and supervision – which involves expensive Americans – was at nowhere near the levels it should have been. Regardless of where they were done, I’d also be willing to bet the company spent more manhours on progress meetings and overly-detailed weekly reports to let the management know what was going on than they did checking the engineering calculations.

I might be wrong, and maybe I’m being unfair to the Munilla Construction company. But I’m not wrong in describing how modern companies work. I have a hunch we’re going to see more disasters like this in the coming years as successive generations of managers and engineers fail to deliver what were, until recently, pretty ordinary projects.


David Moore posts a link to this video which reckons the bridge was supposed to be supported from above using cables in the final design. If they’re right, then this is a classic case of a poorly-supported bridge span collapsing during construction, and we can all go and read my previous post. It doesn’t make the cock-up any less severe though, just slightly more understandable.


Barrister 1-0 Ordinary Person

Via Gareth Corfield, this story makes for grim reading:

A former senior saleswoman at Intel who accused the firm of sex discrimination and wrongful dismissal has lost all of her claims and has been ordered to pay the company £45,000 (~$63,000) by the middle of this month.

Ouch! So what happened?

Intel’s Internet of Things global partner director Rod O’Shea discriminated against “strong, confident women” and engineered their dismissals, Guiney told the tribunal in January.

“Rod at no time ever, offered to help or coach me, instead he made my life a misery and deliberately and spuriously damaged my reputation,” she said in her witness statement.


O’Shea organised an anonymous managerial survey about Guiney, something she described as unfair because it generated feedback from people who did not actually manage her, she told the tribunal.

I’m reminded here of a post written by the Oilfield Expat:

“If you want to know if somebody is any good, don’t bother asking their manager: a manager is never going to tell you their subordinate is crap.  Instead ask one of their colleagues, particularly someone who was relying on them to deliver something.  They’ll tell you the truth.”

But this isn’t really relevant. This is, however:

The Windsor-based saleswoman, who previously worked for Oracle and IBM, was also warned by the judge to stop accusing O’Shea of perjuring himself after she declared that he had made a mistake in his witness statement about reporting lines.

“You can clarify reporting lines. Introducing it as perjury sounds, to me, disproportionate,” Employment Judge Alastair Smail told Guiney…

Being told off by a judge for accusing the defendant of perjury is pretty damning. What the hell was her lawyer doing?

…who represented herself during the week-long January hearing.

*Meaty slap to forehead.*

She was up against barrister Akash Nawbatt QC, acting for Intel, whose cross-examination of her prompted Guiney to exclaim at one point: “Yesterday you walked all over me, barely letting me answer. Implying I deserved being fired!”

Oh dear lord! What was this woman thinking, representing herself in a discrimination case and going up against a QC hired by a multi-national corporation! Was she trying to save money, or she thought she had the legal skills to argue the case herself?

Nawbatt then pressed his point home: “That’s a balanced request, isn’t it?” to which Guiney conceded: “It looks as if…” before hastily adding “…but I know it’s not because I’ve seen what went on.”

Groan. There’s a saying out there which goes “there’s nothing so expensive as a cheap lawyer”. It appears having no lawyer costs you £45k. If she’d spent £250-300 on an hour’s consultation, she would have at least been told whether she had a case or not. I’m no lawyer, but it seems she’s been treated harshly:

The sacked saleswoman, who was dismissed in October 2016, after receiving an “improvement required” grading (the lowest available) during her annual appraisal, said she was fired “with a day’s notice in a corridor in Paris” during a phonecall with Intel HR worker Rachael Merchant, in between scheduled meetings with potential clients.

This seems rather unfair, but is it illegal? Well, that’s what a lawyer would have told her, and she would also have been advised whether it’s worth opening a case, and told her the chances of winning. A proper lawyer might also, for a lot less than £45k, have won her a settlement before it ever got to court. And if it did, the lawyer would manage the case so scenes like this wouldn’t ensue:

However, even Judge Smail questioned the basis for Guiney’s claim that her commission was unfairly docked by sexists, asking her: “Are you saying the reason they told you you owed £32k is because you are a woman?” to which she responded, after a pause: “Probably not.”

“Those allegations were only raised when you personally were at risk of redundancy, yes?” chipped in Nawbatt. Damningly, Guiney conceded: “Well, that is correct, yes.”

I tried lawyering on the cheap once. It didn’t work and the problem remained. I hired an expensive lawyer, and he took care of it within days. It might seem dear at the time, but in the long run it’s worth it. It’s a lesson everyone has to learn one way or another.


Surprising results fail to surprise

An article on incivility at work:

Women report more incivility experiences at work than men, but who is at fault for instigating these mildly deviant behaviors? One UA researcher set out to answer that question, with surprising results.

Surprising for whom?

“Across the three studies, we found consistent evidence that women reported higher levels of incivility from other women than their male counterparts,” Gabriel said. “In other words, women are ruder to each other than they are to men, or than men are to women.

“This isn’t to say men were off the hook or they weren’t engaging in these behaviors,” she noted. “But when we compared the average levels of incivility reported, female-instigated incivility was reported more often than male-instigated incivility by women in our three studies.”

This will only be surprising to those who have never observed women sharing a workplace.

Participants also were asked to complete trait inventories of their personalities and behaviors to determine if there were any factors that contributed to women being treated uncivilly. The research showed that women who defied gender norms by being more assertive and dominant at work were more likely to be targeted by their female counterparts, compared to women who exhibited fewer of those traits.

I understand there are entire programs devoted to encouraging women to be more assertive in the workplace. Now we find this serves to attract the ire of other women. Meanwhile, men are busy getting on with the job, and their lives.

The researchers also found that when men acted assertive and warm — in general, not considered the norm for male behavior — they reported lower incivility from their male counterparts. This suggests men actually get a social credit for partially deviating from their gender stereotypes, a benefit that women are not afforded.

Hang on. Men acted assertive and warm. The previous paragraph said nothing about assertive women displaying warmth. Probably because they’d not found a single example of it across all three studies.

Evidence emerged in the three studies that companies may face a greater risk of losing female employees who experience female-instigated incivility, as they reported less satisfaction at work and increased intentions to quit their current jobs in response to these unpleasant experiences.

Yet we need to increase female participation in the workforce.

Organizations should make sure they also send signals that the ideas and opinions of all employees are valued, and that supporting others is crucial for business success — that is, acting assertively should not be viewed negatively, but as a positive way for employees to voice concerns and speak up.

Acting assertively isn’t viewed negatively if the person in question – either male or female – retains some form of humanity and doesn’t come across as a nasty, vindictive, petty individual bent on settling personal scores. Perhaps the best solution all around is not to employ assholes of either sex? Sadly, most modern corporations seem to recruit their management teams primarily for that characteristic.


Ambition and Mediocrity

Via the ZMan, I found this article by Theodore Dalrymple, a section of which resonated with me:

Ambition is likewise a quality that is excellent when it attaches to something worthwhile in itself, but which is dreadful when it does not. And the rapid and phenomenal spread of education has increased the spread of ambition with it, much of it inevitably of the apparatchik type, that is to say the determination to climb some bureaucratic career ladder detached from any purpose except survival and, if possible, self-aggrandizement. To climb such a ladder you have to be both ruthless and submissive at the same time. You have to be egotistically prepared to stab people in the back in the scramble for advancement, while at the same time being prepared to suppress your own personality by uttering other people’s clichés at the expense of your own thoughts. Unpreparedness to do this, either through lack of training or moral scruple, unfits you for a career in the organization, any organization. You have to learn to lie with clichés, and do so with a straight face.

This is one of the reasons why I think bright young men will avoid working in large organisations in future. They will simply cease to become places where anything tangible gets done. I liked this, too:

There is much to be said in favor of mediocrity, of course. Without mediocrity, there could be no excellence. We cannot always be living on the heights of Mount Olympus, and surely even the most fastidiously intellectual person has found pleasure or relief in curling up with a second-rate detective story (Wittgenstein did so, besides which there is something to be learned from every book ever written). I have derived much comfort from mediocrity, my own included, and it is my experience that, for a variety of reasons, the greatest experts in their field may make poor witnesses. A person of mediocre accomplishment is often better.

Mediocrity is not a problem in itself; it is inevitable. Indeed the world needs many mediocrities, that is to say mediocrities who know themselves, and are perfectly content, to be such (complacency is as much an underestimated quality as rebelliousness is an overestimated one).

Almost 7 years ago I wrote something similar:

Far too much recruitment of youngsters by certain oil majors is done on personality instead of competence (whereas the older guys are recruited on length of tooth alone).  If they see you are a super-bright born leader who speaks four languages and played hockey for your country at university level, you’re in.  If you’re a plodder who has found himself in unglamorous, shit locations on shit projects but hung in there and made the best of it, they don’t want to know. I’m a plodder, who has been in many an unglamorous, shit location on a shit project. In fact, that’s pretty much all I’ve known.  I’m no high-flyer and I’ll not reach the top in any organisation. I gob-off too much for that, and am pretty skilled in saying things to people which are wholly inappropriate (in my defence, this is always when faced with blinding incompetence, laziness, dishonesty, or any combination thereof). But I can dig out blind and get stuff done in pretty much any circumstances, and that – as I am proving now – is of considerable value to an oil company.

Not much has changed, has it? If anything, it’s got a whole lot worse. Now they’re not even interested in the super-bright person who can speak four languages, all they want to know is you’ll be 100% on-message and you tick the right diversity boxes.


Jamie’s Ditchin’

We shouldn’t be surprised by this:

Jamie Oliver’s two flagship London restaurants have gone into administration, although the celebrity chef immediately bought one back.

His upmarket Barbecoa steak restaurant in London’s Piccadilly will close a year after it was re-launched.

The closure of the 12 restaurants will affect at least 200 jobs.

Court documents revealed that Jamie’s Italian had debts of £71.5m.

There’s a world of difference between being a good cook and being able to run a restaurant. Many a decent cook has been persuaded by friends and family to open a restaurant only to find the skills required are quite different. I find Jamie Oliver’s recipes to be hit and miss, but he’s made good money flogging books and doing TV shows so he has some talent. But as a businessman capable of running a restaurant empire he looks about as credible as Diane Abbott for Home Secretary. The mockney cheeky-chappie shtick doesn’t count for much in the hard realities of business.

The chain also closed down six Jamie’s Italian restaurants in January 2017.

At the time, the company said that the closures were due to uncertainties caused by Brexit and a “tough” market.

Or, as someone on Twitter put it, he was selling bland, overpriced crap served on manky old wooden boards. Sadly, these latest developments will leave him with more free time to lecture the British public on how to feed their children and lobby for an increase in state nannying.


Fathers given choice, choose wrongly

A jobless mate stay-at-home dad directs me towards this article:

The minimal take-up of shared parental leave in the UK, estimated, in the absence of reliable statistics, at about 2% of 285,000 eligible couples annually, has happened because the policy is wrong. In other countries and regions, when appropriate shared-leave entitlements have been introduced, uptake has soared: for example, to 91% in Iceland, 86% in Quebec and 63% in Portugal.

I think what the author’s saying is that couples with children in Iceland, Quebec, and Portugal share parental leave differently from those in Britain. Obviously, this is a bad thing.

The British system shared parental leave system gives mothers all the leave and then expects them to hand over some of their entitlement to fathers. So the very question, “why don’t fathers take up the entitlement”, which has been asked for years, is flawed.

Presumably because the answer means we are less Icelandic.

It is extraordinarily easy to design a system that would work. Such systems have existed for decades in other countries.

It is? Well, now I’m all ears.

The first thing to understand is that fathers and mothers want the same thing.

Heh! Then why don’t more fathers share the parental leave?

Pew-funded research in the US in 2015 found that fathers were just as likely as mothers to say that parenting was extremely important to their identity (57% and 58% respectively).

Wonderful, but what has this got to do with fathers taking parental leave and splitting the caring duties?

The same research found that 48% of fathers felt they were not doing enough caring.

So more than half thought they were doing plenty.

Earlier Pew research in 2013 found that working fathers were as likely as working mothers to say they preferred to be at home with their children but could not because they had to earn instead (48% of fathers v 52% of mothers).

You don’t say! In other news, middle-aged Brits living in Paris would prefer to loaf around all day watching TV and playing the banjo, but cannot because they have to earn instead.

This means if fathers were to be offered the same as mothers are offered – allowing parents to choose absolutely freely on a level playing field – fathers would take leave in huge numbers.

No it doesn’t, you’ve just written that because you’ve not understood any of the three previous paragraphs. Which, given you wrote them, is impressive. We know fathers don’t want to take time off work to look after their children as part of a parental leave sharing system, and you should be trying to find out why. Instead you dismissed the very question as “flawed” and climbed on your own personal hobby-horse.

It really is that simple.

Well, something here is simple but it’s not your proposal.

A woman on an average annual wage of £27,000 gets, in the first year, six weeks’ state maternity pay at £466 (90% of pay) plus 33 weeks at £141, making a total of £7,449. A father gets two weeks at £141, or £282. So fathers get 26 times less – a gender pay gap of 96%.

If anyone can make head or tail of this, they’re smarter than I am.

If the state treated mothers and fathers equally, and offered them the same entitlement, there would be no need for expensive publicity campaigns.

Okay, here’s the problem. It is well known that the gender pay gap is in part down to women taking breaks from their careers to have kids at the critical stage when everyone else is pulling 70-hour weeks to demonstrate their suitability for higher positions. If men take the same parental leave as women, their careers will suffer too. I’ve no problem with this, but the men concerned might. They might ask themselves why are they killing their career and turning down chances of a bonus when their wife – for purely biological reasons – is sat at home looking after the baby. I read somewhere that in Scandinavia where men and women have the same entitlements, men simply choose not to take it. Having spent a couple of weeks around a mother and newborn baby once, I can understand why.

Men taking time off in the first year would, within a year or two, become a social norm, just like men attending the birth of a baby.

And why would this be a good thing? This sounds more like social engineering to make modern men wetter than they already are. As wet as the author, in fact. Frankly, I don’t see there’s any reason why a man should attend the birth of a baby. Sure, he should be present nearby in case anything goes wrong, but there’s nothing he can actually do in the delivery room. He should be wandering the hospital grounds smoking cigars with other soon-to-be fathers talking about cricket.

One company, Aviva, has introduced a policy of treating mothers and fathers among its staff exactly equally. This is little short of heroic. It is hardly reasonable to expect employers to correct the £7,200 difference in what government gives mothers and fathers.

So it falls to the taxpayer, then. And note he thinks it’s perfectly reasonable to expect employers to find and hire replacements for all these absent fathers.

Other employers make things worse. A 2017 survey of 341 companies found that 95% enhanced maternity pay above statutory provisions, often to a significant extent, but only 4.4% enhanced paternity pay for even part of the statutory two weeks.

Y’know, perhaps these employers have consulted with their staff and found while women are attracted to enhanced maternity pay, men aren’t all that excited about enhanced paternity pay? But they’re just companies employing people under free market conditions, not house husbands who write for The Guardian. What would they know?

Does this matter? Absolutely. Supporting children’s attachments to both their mothers and fathers early in their lives builds the foundation for child development.

Now there’s a pretty frank admission of truth seldom seen in the pages of The Guardian! Perhaps this chap should have a word with his fellow columnists who regularly tell us a child doesn’t need a mother and a father, or any kind of stable relationship at home.

The more fathers care early on, the more they tend to invest in the child for the rest of its life.

And what are all those fathers working late in the office for, eh? For the fun of it?

And when fathers care more, women earn more.

Yes, but the men earn less. That’s precisely why they don’t take parental leave in the numbers you want them to. Little wonder this chap is the stay-at-home dad while wifey goes to work, isn’t it? Can you imagine having this bloke on a job, trying to get something done? I bet his boss punched the air when he announced he was leaving, and hired a fresh cabbage to replace him.


Equal Pay for Unequal Work

I can’t see this being successful:

Tesco is facing Britain’s largest ever equal pay claim and a possible bill running to £4bn.
Thousands of women who work in Tesco stores could receive back pay totalling £20,000 if the legal challenge demanding parity with men who work in the company’s warehouses is successful.
Lawyers say hourly-paid female store staff earn less than men even though the value of the work is comparable.

That lawyers think warehouse work is comparable with that in the shop floor doesn’t surprise me: I doubt they have the slightest idea what either is like.  But doesn’t the law say the work must be the same, not merely “comparable” in a way defined by a lawyer?

Paula Lee, of Leigh Day solicitors, the firm acting for up to 1,000 women who are likely to take test cases, told the BBC it was time for Tesco to tackle the problem of equal pay for work of equal worth.
The most common rate for women is £8 an hour whereas for men the hourly rate can be as high as £11 an hour, she added.

I would imagine all Tesco need to is demonstrate there is equal pay between men and women working in the store, something which ought to be rather straightforward. What people – men or women – are paid in the warehouse, under different conditions which are easy to list, is irrelevant.

I suspect the lawyers know this, but have decided to leap on the equal pay bandwagon to give themselves publicity, further the narrative, and maybe shake down Tesco in the process, who might not want the adverse publicity.

That said, if the court ruling goes against Tesco, it may open the door for men working in warehouses to demand equal pay with the powerskirts loafing around in air-conditioned offices. But I think this will be thrown out long before then.


Threshold Identified

For those of us wondering what it would take for a government employee to get fired, we’re getting an inkling:

Two top civilian officials from Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency have resigned over the sending of a false incoming missile alert.

The 13 January message led to widespread panic and the authorities took 38 minutes to correct it.

The official whose identity remains unknown, was temporarily reassigned after the incident, but has now been fired from the agency by state officials.

The FCC said the employee had so far refused to cooperate with investigators beyond submitting a written statement.

A state report also released on Tuesday said the employee had a record of “poor performance” on the job.

Reports say he had been a source of concern for colleagues for 10 years, having confused emergency drills with real life incidents on at least two occasions.

So anything short of repeatedly confusing emergency drills with actual missile attacks will be casually overlooked, and even then you might just find yourself temporarily reassigned.

That said, I’m not convinced large corporations are much different. Being off-message or insufficiently compliant will get you hounded out far quicker than mind-boggling incompetence. There are enough examples of that kicking about.