Wishful thinking

The other day, Soviet-born demented NeverTrumper Max Boot tweeted this:


Leave aside the silly notions that:

1. Running government is the same as flying an airplane: does a pilot need to juggle dozens of competing interests with one eye on his job between takeoff and landing?

2. Government is about qualifications: if it were, why bother with elections?

3. People who think they’re the sort of expert who should be in government ought to be anywhere near the levers of power.

Let’s instead look at the idea that we want the best qualified people to design buildings. Is it true? Well, I’ve been involved in some civil infrastructure projects and I recall the contracts were generally awarded to the local company with the strongest political connections. I’ve also been involved in several engineering tenders and although lip-service is paid to quality and track record, it generally goes to the bidder with the lowest price.

And then there’s this:

State, local and federal government agencies regularly make a certain number of contracts open to bidding from minority-owned business enterprises, or MBEs. This minority business certification is a designation given to companies with women or ethnic minorities in control or in ownership. Learning how to bid on minority government contracts involves securing appropriate forms of certification and identifying and applying for contracts posted by various state and federal government agencies.

So we want the best qualified to design buildings, do we? If only.

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Rule by technocrat

This is a good article on France, Macron, and the yellow vest movement, in particular:

Whether on the Right, center or Left, French politicians and senior government officials are an astonishingly homogenous bunch. Almost all of them have studied at the grandes écoles like the École Nationale d’Administration. These institutions serve to furnish a group of highly educated individuals. Commonly referred to as “les énarques,” they rotate between elected office, the private sector, and the state bureaucracy, thereby ostensibly lending stability to France’s notoriously cantankerous politics.

These schools produce well-trained technocrats furnished with the mindset that their primary responsibility in life is to serve the state. This is a very different attitude to that which prevails among graduates of most top-level American universities. But the grandes écoles also facilitate a monolithic outlook, an absence of creative thought, and unhealthy patronage networks.

In more recent times, these dispositions have been accompanied by a habit of embracing pretty much every politically correct nostrum. These range from gender ideology (something which infuriates large swathes of French public opinion, and not just on the Right) to environmentalism as a pseudo-religion. This has exacerbated the already huge gap between the viewpoint, life experiences, and priorities of people like Macron—whose personal career path epitomizes the énarque—and most other French people, especially the France of the provinces.

Anyone’s who worked in a company whose upper management are dominated by the graduates of the grandes écoles will relate to that passage. See also here.

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Advance-booked appraisal scores

Allow me to pluck excerpts from two comments from beneath my post on HR robots. The first from MJW:

To get into senior management/exec ranks they need patronage. Ability and tacit understanding is not so crucial as decisions made may destroy the organisation, just not immediately, anything likely to cause immediate damage should be routed to an underling who understands what they are doing. If the senior manager/exec knows what they are doing it’s a brucey bonus, if they don’t it doesn’t matter, the ‘managerialist’ approach treats the business does as a black box administered by generic techniques.

 

Rotating senior managers/execs through posting for ‘for experience’ is mainly done to boost CVs so their patron can elevate them if/when opportunity to put one of their clients in place emerges. It also helps to diffuse accountability and protect both client and patron.

The second from Fay:

Managers were informed by HR that they could no longer rate employees as “outstanding”.

These two comments are actually talking about the same problem. The golden boys and girls who are fast-tracked to senior management need to give something back to their patron that they can wave around as proof their prodigy deserves such rapid promotion. The best thing they can offer besides hours of grovelling to senior management is an “Outstanding” score on their annual appraisal – the highest level. If the prodigy scores Outstanding in successive years, the patron can point to it when haggling for his golden child to take the next plum position, and use it to fend off their detractors. This got to the point where the golden children would be pretty much guaranteed to get an Outstanding score, no doubt due to pressure from the patron on the manager doing the appraisal. Perhaps that’s not even necessary: most managers are fully aware if they have a golden child in their team and get with the programme of not doing anything which might upset their ascendancy. Who knows, they might need to call in a favour sometime in future?

This was working well until someone decided a few years back that too many people were getting Outstanding scores. With brown-nosing so ubiquitous and modern managers wanting the love from their team they can’t get from their wives, pretty much everybody was scoring well on the appraisals (it’s also quite hard to mark someone down if they turn up and merely do the job). Hell, even I got reasonably good appraisals. So they tweaked the system and decided only a certain percentage of people could get an Outstanding score.

What this meant was the patrons in senior management advance-booked these scores for their golden children and issued instructions to the middle management that no mere pleb could score Outstanding, regardless of actual performance. I was in the room when this was announced and I twigged straight away what had happened and started laughing (it’s not like it would affect me). But a lot of people, especially those who probably deserved the highest appraisal grade, were absolutely livid and rightly so. For fun I asked our department manager how any appraisal system worthy of the description can eliminate an outcome before it’s even started, and all I got was a pathetic shrug and bleating that “this is what management have said”.

It seems that with Fay’s anecdote, this wasn’t only happening in my company. What made it worse is the quota system made it necessary for managers to assign bad appraisal scores to people as well. I was a ripe target for that but I could tell my manager had no stomach for the sort of battle he’d have if he tried that on me, so we tacitly agreed I’d get a middle-ranking score. Instead, he hauled in the quietly spoken Asian bloke and spent two hours coming up with one excuse after another as to why his performance had been rubbish that year.

Welcome to modern management, and modern HR.

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HR robots to replace HR drones

One of my observations through my career has been that HR, in the main, is either a remote bureaucracy which might as well be staffed by Martians or a rather dim soul whose jaw hangs half open and does whatever management tells him or her. In the larger companies it’s been the former that prevailed, to the point many HR tasks were outsourced to an office in another country and everyday issues were governed by bulky procedures written by unknown authors who probably couldn’t say what the company does.

This probably doesn’t matter so much when it comes to stuff like contracts, payroll, and holidays but increasingly such personal matters as career progression, recruitment, and even appraisals are getting handled by people who don’t appear to have ever seen the operational side of the business. I’m of the opinion – which might be completely wrong – that businesses which outsource basic human management duties which used to be intrinsic to a line manager’s role are going to end up as bloated, unwieldy bureaucracies filled with unthinking drones who know all about the hierarchy’s latest wheeze but no idea how their activities contribute to the bottom line (assuming they do). As I’ve discussed on here before, I reckon smart, ambitious young folk will start avoiding the behemoths in favour of smaller, more nimble organisations – or they’ll start their own and work in the gig economy. My move into HR was in large part about bridging the gap between operations and HR in order to help a small company grow without creating a sprawling HR bureaucracy which sends anyone capable running for the exit.

I was therefore probably the wrong person to attend a presentation by an HR specialist in a major consulting firm, who wanted to tell us how automation, computers, and AI is going to revolutionise how companies manage their human resources. Now some of it is obvious, such as the aforementioned contracts, holiday approval, etc. and is ripe for automation. But I was rather surprised to see some of the functions which workers currently detest being handled by an HR drone who might as well be a robot are soon going to be done by an actual robot. One example he gave was a version of the MS-Word paperclip answering questions from an employee about their career aspirations and suggesting suitable training programmes. I can’t imagine any ambitious employee with an ounce of self-respect interacting with an automated chat bot to obtain career advice.

One of the biggest complaints I used to hear from my erstwhile colleagues was about the career management system. You’d be assigned someone who doesn’t know you and, if they’ve read your CV, doesn’t care about anything which occurred before you showed up on their doorstep. Most of the time they have no expertise in the positions they are trying to fill, nor the knowledge to appraise an individual’s skills. My career manager had worked her whole life as a translator before being put in charge of the careers of dozens of project engineers and managers. The thing is, it doesn’t really matter: in many large companies, particularly oil companies, the golden boys and girls are hand-picked early on and their careers carefully managed with plum postings while everyone else is just a pleb who gets slotted in wherever they fit, or don’t. For the vast majority “career management” is simply a charade to convince people they have a chance of promotion and recognition. This is why it’s managed by the cheapest person they can find, and it might as well be done by a robot. The same is true for annual appraisals: it’s blindingly obvious to everyone that managers and employees just go through the motions, and treat the whole thing as a painful admin exercise which must be completed before Christmas after which nothing changes. They are becoming increasingly automated, and eventually will be fully so. You can imagine what value an automated employee appraisal system adds, aside from ticking a compliance box that they get carried out. And if companies are going to automate recruitment, I can’t see it bringing an end to the laments of department managers who are kept out of the process and sent candidates that are hopelessly unsuited to the position.

I stuck my paw in the air and asked whether increasing the already giant chasm between flesh-and-blood workers and HR is a good idea and got an interesting response. Firstly I was told that companies aren’t stupid and they wouldn’t do anything which would harm their operations and upset their staff. That HR functions have already been taken away from line management and given to remote, sprawling bureaucracies ought to give lie to that statement. The second was that the move to automation and AI will free up HR resources to concentrate on those more important, human-related tasks. What those were we weren’t told, but I made the point that unless HR actually knows something about the job the workers do, freeing up resources won’t help. HR is not short of resources, they’re short of knowledge and competence. I’m not sure this remark went down very well.

I suspect what’s happening is this. The consultants have come up with very clever software which they’re now flogging to big companies, whose HR directors see a way to reduce costs, get rid of annoying admin tasks, and boost their prestige by being owners of a fancy IT system. Senior managers in big companies are suckers for big tech solutions, which is why there are fleets of high-end Porsches in the car parks of consulting companies. They’ll adopt this software and fire a few drones, but they won’t save costs. Firstly, many HR departments exist to provide jobs: a proper business review would have got rid of them regardless of technological progress. Secondly, the HR personnel who are now free of the admin burdens will turn their attention to more pressing matters – such as sexual harassment trainings and diversity workshops. I’m sure this will cheer the workforce up no-end.

The one thing missing from this architecture was any solid link in knowledge and experience between HR and what the company actually does. Apparently workers were consulted by the designers of these systems, and I daresay in some cases this was done properly and good feedback obtained. But the whole thing looked to me like a top-down, Soviet-style project where clever people sit in a room and design a system to serve tens of thousands of people they’ve never met and couldn’t even describe, and they’ve done it so brilliantly it can be applied anywhere regardless of industry. And the difference between what this and what we have now is it removes every last trace of human contact and understanding. How will this turn out, do you think?

It’s rather ironic that the new era of human resource management, in which whole ranges of human behaviours, desires, and emotions are supposedly considered, is reckoned by experts to be best managed by an algorithm. I waved my paw in the air again and pointed out there’s somewhat of a contradiction between saying businesses must become more touchy-feely as Millennials join who want to feel special and valued from the outset, and mass-managing all personal issues with a robot. But someone piped up and said they were a Millennial and they didn’t care who processed their payroll. Which is true, but they might care who – or what – decides you can’t change department, alter your workload, or complain about how your boss communicates with you.

I daresay these automated HR systems will become the norm in large companies, increasing the gap between them and those outfits which actually do the productive work in any given industry. And they will be yet one more reason for smart, ambitious young people to avoid huge corporations and go somewhere smaller, or work for themselves.

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For every action there’s a reaction

A couple of weeks back, in the context of a professor who’d been reprimanded over a lame joke in a lift which upset a vinegar-drinking feminist, I said this:

If this keeps up, segregated workplaces will look like an increasingly attractive proposition. At the very least, sensible men will avoid certain women at all costs – and certain companies.

A few days ago, several readers alerted me to this article:

Call it the Pence Effect, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has said he avoids dining alone with any woman other than his wife. In finance, the overarching impact can be, in essence, gender segregation.

Well, yes. As I’ve mentioned before, the logical solution to the alleged problem that women are routinely sexually harassed at work by men is segregation of the sexes. And if men are placed in a situation whereby they can have their livelihoods ruined by a mere allegation from a woman, this segregation will be self-imposed.

Now, more than a year into the #MeToo movement — with its devastating revelations of harassment and abuse in Hollywood, Silicon Valley and beyond — Wall Street risks becoming more of a boy’s club, rather than less of one.

So women demanded to work alongside men, then complained about how men behaved around them, and are now complaining men are avoiding them. I’m beginning to think there’s a grain of truth in some of those stereotypes.

“Women are grasping for ideas on how to deal with it, because it is affecting our careers,” said Karen Elinski, president of the Financial Women’s Association and a senior vice president at Wells Fargo & Co. “It’s a real loss.”

Having allowed the issue of women in the workplace to be hijacked by lunatic feminists bent on poisoning relations between the sexes, ordinary women are now finding their careers are suffering. Maybe they should have policed their own ranks a little better?

There’s a danger, too, for companies that fail to squash the isolating backlash and don’t take steps to have top managers be open about the issue and make it safe for everyone to discuss it, said Stephen Zweig, an employment attorney with FordHarrison.

“If men avoid working or traveling with women alone, or stop mentoring women for fear of being accused of sexual harassment,” he said, “those men are going to back out of a sexual harassment complaint and right into a sex discrimination complaint.”

For the SJWs pushing this insanity, this is a feature not a bug. Their aim is to hold arbitrary power over men such that, no matter what they do or don’t do, their lives can be destroyed.

For obvious reasons, few will talk openly about the issue. Privately, though, many of the men interviewed acknowledged they’re channeling Pence, saying how uneasy they are about being alone with female colleagues, particularly youthful or attractive ones, fearful of the rumor mill or of, as one put it, the potential liability.

Men aren’t stupid, and they will create strategies which enable them to politely go through the motions with female colleagues just enough to avoid a discrimination suit, but otherwise keep their distance. Men are very good at doing this with men they don’t like, so it won’t be too hard to do it with women. For example:

A manager in infrastructure investing said he won’t meet with female employees in rooms without windows anymore; he also keeps his distance in elevators. A late-40-something in private equity said he has a new rule, established on the advice of his wife, an attorney: no business dinner with a woman 35 or younger.

The changes can be subtle but insidious, with a woman, say, excluded from casual after-work drinks, leaving male colleagues to bond, or having what should be a private meeting with a boss with the door left wide open.

There are as many or more men who are responding in quite different ways. One, an investment adviser who manages about 100 employees, said he briefly reconsidered having one-on-one meetings with junior women. He thought about leaving his office door open, or inviting a third person into the room.

This amused, however:

Finally, he landed on the solution: “Just try not to be an asshole.”

That’s pretty much the bottom line, said Ron Biscardi, chief executive officer of Context Capital Partners. “It’s really not that hard.”

Oh, you think being nice is going to protect you? Sure, not being an asshole will stand you in good stead with 99% of female employees, but as the article says:

“Some men have voiced concerns to me that a false accusation is what they fear,” said Zweig, the lawyer. “These men fear what they cannot control.”

So they’ll take back control. Instead of having formal events the men will just meet for drinks independently, inviting a few like-minded chaps from other firms around to dispel any charge they’re at a works function.

In this charged environment, the question is how the response to #MeToo might actually end up hurting women’s progress. Given the male dominance in Wall Street’s top jobs, one of the most pressing consequences for women is the loss of male mentors who can help them climb the ladder.

Oh dear. It turns out a movement accusing men of sexual harassment en masse has some drawbacks. Who would have thought?

“Advancement typically requires that someone at a senior level knows your work, gives you opportunities and is willing to champion you within the firm. It’s hard for a relationship like that to develop if the senior person is unwilling to spend one-on-one time with a more junior person.”

I brought this up in my latest podcast. In practice, career progression is made by one-on-one brown-nosing, which is often harder for women to do than men for precisely the reason it may be misconstrued. The answer is to stop using this as a method of personal advancement.

Men have to step up, she said, and “not let fear be a barrier.”

That ship sailed so long ago it’s circumnavigated the globe and is nudging us in the back. Over to you, ladies.

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Hubris

This morning I came across this tweet:


Catherine Noone is an Irish senator and practicing solicitor. This tweet is a good example of something I find myself talking a lot about these days: hubris.

Tesco are an outfit at the end of an extraordinarily complex, technologically advanced, and finely-tuned supply chain which enables farm produce to be freshly available on supermarket shelves in city centres day after day with no interruptions. Looked at in isolation, the entire operation is nothing short of miraculous, an achievement of human endeavour which rivals the space programme.

But the metropolitan middle classes with social science, humanities, and law degrees think they’ve found something wrong with it. For some reason, the global experts in packaging, transport, storage, and retail operating on razor-thin margins have decided to use a few million tonnes of unnecessary plastic. Perhaps it was a decision made late on a Friday night when they all wanted to go to the pub, and never got around to revisiting it? Silly people! They spend millions on computer controlled warehouses, yet they can’t even get their packaging right.

I have the advantage over most of those wringing their hands over food packaging of having actually worked on a large vegetable farm, including a few days in the packing plant. The farm would come to life at about 5 or 6am, everyone would be in the fields picking by 7am, and by 1 or 2pm the first produce would be coming into the yard, some of which would go into the packing plant. Between 2 and 5pm several large lorries from the major supermarkets would pull in, get loaded up, and be off to the distribution centres from where the produce would be sent to all four corners of the UK, where it would appear on shelves at 7am the next morning. One thing I noticed, being a part-time forklift driver, was that clever packaging was essential for rapid loading and unloading. Everything needed to be packed in such a way it could be stacked on a pallet and put on a lorry with a forklift. We used to being loose veg in from the fields in small lorries or with a tractor and trailer, and it was a right pain. This is why we had a packing plant.

If you want just-in-time logistics, you need to pack things properly. Also, as mentioned in this post by someone who knows what they’re talking about, the plastic serves a vital function in keeping the produce fresh. I am sure it is also used to keep moisture and creepy-crawlies out in some instances. Now I don’t know the optimum packing methods to achieve all this, but I think it’s a reasonable assumption that those who have a billion dollars worth of skin in the game have worked it out. The idea that vegetable supply companies use “excess” packaging is so ludicrous only the seriously dim and neo-religious could believe it. And of course, if they removed the packaging there would be uproar about food waste. That campaigns against this imaginary problem have such support is indicative of several things, not least the increasing divide between those who work white-collar jobs in air-conditioned offices in large cities and those who actually make the country function.

In any conversation on this topic, you’ll inevitably get someone – usually a woman with a good salary, nice handbag, and plenty of shoes – smugly state that they buy their vegetables loose from the local organic shop and “they’re perfectly all right”. Which is true, but you’re not going to be able to feed cities of between 2 and 5 million people via small shops filled with bent, muddy, and cracked vegetables chucked in cardboard boxes. Well you could, but not while maintaining the standards of living everyone now demands. These people are the equivalent of the apocryphal American kids who don’t know milk comes from cows.

One of the paradoxes of the population becoming more educated is they seem to know less. The middle classes are increasingly backing trendy causes – gender equality, renewable energy, fuel taxes, carrier bag bans – without having the slightest idea how the world functions beyond their bubble. They’ve never been on a farm, toured a factory, walked through the turbine hall of a working power station, seen the spaghetti-like piping in a refinery, watched a giant crane lift something into place, or stood on a platform built in the middle of a hostile sea to provide the life-blood their society depends on. They don’t know how things are done and who does them. All they know is they’re doing it wrong and they know best. Like I said: hubris.

This won’t end well.

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Token Leaders

This story describes a good example of a widespread phenomenon:

Rep. Barbara Lee will be joining the House Democratic leadership team, filling a key void for the caucus after its elections earlier this week left the group without a woman of color in the top ranks.

Lee is expected to fill a new position being created by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to oversee the Steering and Policy Committee, the panel that determines committee assignments for Democrats.

The decision to elevate Lee comes as a group of House Democrats, disappointed by both Lee’s narrow loss in the race for caucus chair earlier this week and that lack of a woman of color in leadership, was planning to ask Pelosi to do just that.

Don’t have a minority in a position of leadership in your organisation? Well, just invent a new position, have a minority fill it, and pretend they are now a leader.

This phenomenon was discussed in yesterday’s podcast with William of Ockham, after he spoke of a highly-competent woman who found herself holding down a position which appeared to have been created just for her. When local content legislation started gaining traction in the various oil patches around the world, organisations ballooned as positions were invented to fill with locals allowing quotas to be met. I knew an Azeri who’d previously worked for BP in Baku who told me his department went from about 5 people to 15 even though its function and workload remained the same. He got out of there pronto.

If a functioning, profitable organisation is told to put more people of X in position Y, they are less likely to replace the Y incumbent with X than create new positions with the Y-label attached and fill them with X. So rather than prominent companies hiring female CEOs, they demonstrated their commitment to diverse leadership by elevating the HR function to director level. Some years back I attended a town hall meeting where the senior management of an oil major took questions from the drones on how they intended to deal with an extended period of low oil prices. The assembled big cheeses were all men, except for the HR representative. In the three hours that followed nobody asked her a single question, because unless there is a headcount reduction in the pipeline nobody cares what HR has to say. But as the session was drawing to a close the HR director seized the microphone and delivered a five minute monologue answering questions nobody asked. One must always justify one’s existence in an organisation.

This is probably why some people are agitating for diversity to be separated from HR into its own function: it will open up another female position in the (shudder) C-suite. A few weeks back, as part of my course, I was asked to read this article regarding the high turnover of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs). It contained this gem of a line:

Let’s start with a simple question: What does a CMO actually do? Surprisingly, there is no clear, widely accepted answer.

Followed by:

In our research we’ve interviewed more than 300 executive recruiters, CEOs, and CMOs; conducted multiple CMO surveys; performed an analysis of 170 CMO job descriptions at large firms; and reviewed over 500 LinkedIn profiles of CMOs. We’ve discovered extreme variations in the responsibilities CMOs are given and in the skills, training, and experience of the people who occupy the role.

The article’s main thrust is that the CMO role is ill-defined and CEOs have no idea what to do with them. So how did we end up here? Well, just ask Nancy Pelosi.

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Admins who don’t admin

A reader sends me a job advert. Look at the bottom:

Simply apply through seek today with your CV. Once we have reviewed your details we will ask you to apply online through our Johnson Controls job portal. You will then be contacted by the Branch Manager as appropriate for an interview. Good Luck!

So if HR like the look of you, you can do their admin work by putting all your details into their database. Presumably they’re too busy to do it themselves, what with all that diversity coordination and training Kiwi fire protection specialists require.

You see this with a lot of what are laughably called “support functions” in companies: they exist mainly to deal with administration but write their procedures in such a way the admin burden is put back on the workforce. I’ve worked in a company where the travel department – made up of 20+ people – made each worker get quotes from three different travel agencies and complete a ream of forms which they would then review and possibly approve. When I worked in a smaller company you’d email the travel girl with some basic details and any preferences and she’d do the rest. I also worked in a company where the contracts department made the engineers write the entire contract, after which they’d staple the general terms and conditions to the back of it. I worked in another place where every year my career manager would ask for my CV, which she already had but she wanted it in “the new format”.

People talk about AI robots replacing HR and other admin functions, but from what I can tell that won’t be necessary. If it’s replacing existing brain power, a reprogrammed food processor would suffice.

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Pink Petro

Via a follower on Twitter, I came across an outfit called Pink Petro. I first assumed it was something to do with the gay lobby, but it turns out it’s an organisation purportedly aimed at boosting women in the oil industry. The first thing that struck me is this outfit is going to run into trouble if it encounters some proper lefty feminists; they’ve been trying to shed the “pink for girls” maxim for decades.

So what is Pink Petro?

Pink Petro is a global community of energy leaders and disruptors committed to busting the diversity gap and creating a new, inclusive future for energy.

Ah yes, the diversity gap:

The energy industry ranks second to last when it comes to gender diversity, with a workforce that’s just 22% female.

Firstly, so what? Perhaps 22% female participation is the optimum balance? Secondly, how many of those 22% are in admin and overhead positions? Judging by the makeup of the Pink Petro management, it seems to be dominated by over-educated power-skirts from HR and marketing with very few having any engineering or technical experience. Do energy companies really need more of these?

The whole thing looks to me like a racket aimed at enriching the founders by shaking down companies for sponsorship and hoodwinking young women into paying to listen to feminist boilerplate. Naturally, like all good SJWs, they claim to be working for the greater good:

3/4 of industry employees are 50 years of age and older, meaning the need for talent is now.

I’ve been hearing this lament for at least 12 years (see also here and here). The fact is oil companies have no idea how to recruit, largely because they’ve taken the responsibility away from the technical management and handed it to sprawling HR bureaucracies filled with the sort of people who now are running Pink Petro. Amusingly they say they are “disruptors”, as if those who bang the diversity drum while climbing the greasy pole of giant multinationals are non-conformists. You’d see more disruption in an abbey full of Trappist monks.

The need for change is now. That change requires a new way of thinking that focuses on community, connection and purpose.

Do you reckon you’ll hear “new ways of thinking” in a conference organised by this lot? In their next one the headline speaker is Randi Zuckerberg, who is rich and famous due to the efforts of her brother Mark. That’ll inspire young female engineers, I’m sure.

Funnily enough, I actually know one of the keynote speakers and have worked with her. By all accounts she’s a very good senior manager, although the myth built up around her probably wouldn’t stand up to serious scrutiny. I know lots of men who worked with her who said she was a great boss, as well as a good personal friend to some. But I recall a young woman who worked with her who told me that while she was a good boss, she made it very clear that all achievements on the project must be hers and hers alone: nobody else could take any credit. She also said that if challenged she could quickly turn childish, making personal remarks which anyone with experience would recognise as overcompensation for insecurity. This was particularly the case with young, ambitious women who crossed her path. That said, this was some time ago; hopefully she’s changed since then.

So what’s the conference about? Well, you tell me:

The Pink Petro HERWorld Energy Forum is an innovative experience that addresses new frontiers in the energy industry where business, workforce, innovation and policy intersect. Powered by creative disruptor, Pink Petro, our forums are hybrid in-person, digital simulcasted experiences built on a firm belief that energy education is changing and needs to be accessible to everyone, everywhere in classrooms, the field, office, and the C-Suite.

Are you any the wiser? The only effect that word salad had on me was to make my teeth grate at the term “C-Suite“. I first heard it during one of my lectures a few weeks back and it makes a firm’s senior management sound like a bunch of status-seeking egomaniacs whose first order of business is safeguarding their own power and privilege. Does anyone know how long this term has been in use?

HERWorld is proud to boast the contribution of women and minorities in energy. Seeing is believing. For us it’s not about talking about diversity, it’s about socializing energy by tapping the diverse faces and voices in our industry.

Because nothing will boost the prestige of women in the oil industry like paragraphs of woolly guff from a bunch of power-skirts with MBAs from Ivy League business schools.

Since the forum’s inception, our focus has been to put a focus on reverse-representation. Most industry events include 95%+ male speakers. HERWorld reverses that and does better. We include women and minorities in our panels and keynotes (on average 85%) and have over 20% male attendees.

I know lots of very good female engineers working in the oil industry, some of whom do face difficulties because of their sex (see here, for example). Women in the oil industry would be better served by rewarding competence and delivery rather than sheep-like compliance, bootlicking, and an ability to enthusiastically embrace every idiotic management directive. Self-serving, discriminatory outfits like Pink Petro might be able to charm or scare the PR managers of major companies into sponsoring them and have HR managers singing their praises, but they will do nothing to help normal women navigate a career in the oil industry. On the contrary, they are more likely to do them considerable harm.

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Utopian dreams

On Saturday I attended a seminar where we were divided into groups and asked to present some ideas on how we would run a business. All the groups except mine said they would achieve gender equality by staffing their businesses on a 50:50 male to female basis. All but four of those presenting were women, mostly in their early twenties. Someone asked how they would manage sexual harassment issues in such an environment, and the answer came quickly from a bright young woman:

“There would be zero tolerance; anyone who engages in sexual harassment would be immediately fired.”

At this point I piped up to say that sexual harassment is notoriously hard to define, and that a huge number of graduate employees end up in relationships, and often marrying, someone they met on the same program. Will this be outlawed under a zero tolerance regime, or is it only sexual harassment if the girl isn’t interested in the guy? Just then an NHS doctor chimed in with an anecdote. She knows of a case where a doctor asked out a nurse (of about the same age) and she filed a sexual harassment claim against him. The management started trawling and found, to everyone’s horror, he’d asked another nurse out. This was enough to get him suspended for 6 months and, although he’s now practicing again, his name has been dragged through the mud. My doctor colleague  thought this was extremely unfair. Having listened to this, another bright young woman said:

“Well, he should have thought twice about sexually harassing women, then.”

There then followed a discussion on sexual harassment in which someone proposed that, if more than one woman makes a complaint against a man, he should be fired even in the absence of any proof because there’s no smoke without fire. A chap sat behind me didn’t think much of this, and thought people are innocent until proven guilty. I realised that if this is the future, men will simply refuse to engage with women in the workplace beyond speaking in heavily-guarded sentences and ensuring there is always another witness around. Does anyone remember this story, about the professor who was accused of sexual harassment for making a joke about ladies’ lingerie in an elevator? Well, he’s had his appeal rejected. If this keeps up, segregated workplaces will look like an increasingly attractive proposition. At the very least, sensible men will avoid certain women at all costs – and certain companies.

A little later in the seminar, I shifted the conversation. I pointed out that all the business plans I’d seen involved some sort of manufacturing or production process. This will inevitably involve machinery, technicians, warehouses, forklifts, and large trucks. While you will find some women involved in such activities, the overwhelming majority of applicants will be men. However you cut it, women in general don’t want to be working the night shift loading lorries at the back of a paper mill or crawling around under a steam press trying to get a nozzle attached to a grease nipple. So whereas their intentions might be noble, they’re going to really struggle to fill 50% of the available positions with women: there simply won’t be enough of them applying. Women, in general, prefer to work regular hours in offices. In a business where the money is made in manufacturing or production, this makes them overheads.

The response was that very soon all these manufacturing jobs will be done by robots, and in the near future company roles might be better suited to women. I replied that anyone who thinks that has been nowhere near a production facility. The robots replaced the humans way back in the industrial revolution, but wherever there is machinery you still need humans maintaining it and doing the thousand tasks which don’t lend themselves to automation. A modern oil and gas facility can, in theory, run itself 24/7 without human intervention. Yet they have a small army of people monitoring the dials, ready to jump in when things go wrong, and another army working full time on maintenance and inspection. So I remain sceptical that robots will make all these jobs obsolete in the near future.

But the exchange confirmed what I already knew, having written about it before:

It beats me why people are currently wringing their hands at the prospect of robots taking all the jobs, and worrying over how the work will be shared around when we’ve already found the answer: we’ll invent jobs, and pretend it’s real work.

And it’s no secret which demographic is going to be fully engaged in these make-work schemes. But I fear some young women are in for one hell of a shock. When Laurie Penny fantasised last year about robots making men’s work obsolete, she didn’t seem to realise that mindless, repetitive, paper-shuffling in compliance and HR is a far riper target for automation than the stuff men do.

There seems to be money to be made filling the heads of young women with fantasies about 50:50 workplaces in profitable industries where men are fired on the spot for the slightest transgression. These efforts have succeeded to the point many think this is the inevitable future of global businesses. One thing is certain: the manufacturers of antidepressants have a rosy future ahead of them.

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