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.

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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.

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In the Aftermath of the Presidents Club Party

On BBC this morning I caught the end of an interview with a vaguely attractive young British woman who was struggling to make a coherent point and seemed to be rambling. This might be because she was unused to doing live TV performances, or it might be because she was a bit dim, I don’t know. From what I could gather she was one of the hostesses working at the now-infamous Presidents Club dinner, or had worked at similar events, and was rather upset by what had happened to her.

So straight up, I have some sympathy. I don’t believe this girl was lying or hamming it up for the camera, I think she was genuinely upset at something and wanted things to change. Where I suspect we differ is what we would like to see changed.

I confess I’ve not delved too deeply into the story, but amid all the outrage there seems to be a distinct lack of actual complainants. I understand that the journalists who broke the story for the FT identified one girl, but the outrage seems to be coming almost exclusively from people who weren’t there. This ought to tell us something, which I’ll get to later.

For now, let’s focus on what people are complaining about. A bunch of rich men attend a dinner where they grope and sexually harass the women serving the food and drinks. There is nothing wrong with this per se, provided the women knew in advance what behaviour to expect (and acquiesce to), and they were paid the money they’d agreed to. The company doing the organising could have easily hired a bunch of out-and-out prostitutes who the men could shag silly all night, or they could have hired a bunch of nuns with wooden rulers to ensure the men didn’t do so much as tell a dirty joke. They’re the two extremes; what they actually tried to do was something in the middle.

They put on an event where some degree of sexual harassment was permissible – flirting, suggestive comments, ass-grabbing, etc. – but not sexual assault. (The difference between one and the other was quite obvious for generations, until recently when placing a hand upon a woman’s knee became synonymous with full-on gang rape. Thanks, feminists.) What should have happened is the people employing the women make it very clear to them what they are expected to put up with, and where behaviours cross the line and they have grounds to complain. The organisers of the function should in parallel have made it very clear to the attendees what behaviours were allowed and what were not. This, after all, is how any strip club works and the rules are so universally well-known they’ve become a cliché. If there is so much as one complaint from any of the women, this should be investigated properly and, if their complaint is valid, somebody ought to be disciplined. This really isn’t difficult.

So did the women get fair warning? I don’t know. Yes, they were told which knickers to wear, which suggests this wasn’t an ordinary party, and I suspect most of the women knew full well what would happen, but I’d not be surprised if this was not spelled out as well as it should have been and someone a bit slow on the uptake got an unpleasant surprise. I’m not prepared to dismiss a woman’s complaint as coming from a feminist harpy on the make, not if she was there wearing the clothes and being groped in person. The organisers could have ensured there were no nasty surprises by explaining things more clearly, or hiring actual sex-workers, but the former requires principled managers and the latter requires spending money. I can’t imagine those who run such businesses specialise in either.

What I don’t agree with is the ludicrous levels of moral posturing in the aftermath of this article. Nowhere amid all the wailing and gnashing of teeth is an acknowledgement that the women who worked that party had any agency whatsoever: according to the feminists now beating the anti-male drums, they were all poor, exploited women who thought they were turning up to a kids’ birthday party only to be sexually assaulted by a bunch of old, white men in dinner suits. A brief Google search one shouldn’t perform at work would tell you that London is absolutely chock-full of highly attractive Eastern European and other foreign women willing to do pretty much anything for a few hundred quid. They’ll even be a few Brits in there too. Unless we’re willing to believe the bullshit spouted by women’s groups and Theresa May that they are trafficked and there exists a thriving, multi-million pound market for men raping emaciated, weeping prisoners chained to beds, these women in the adverts are working of their own free will.

So who’s to say that none of the women at the Presidents Club dinner were also working of their own free will, and happy with the terms and conditions? I can imagine there is no shortage of women in London willing to earn a little extra cash for listening to lewd remarks and having their asses grabbed. The only question is how much extra cash and whether the women are well-informed in advance that sexual harassment will be on the menu.

But we’re back to the contradiction I mentioned yesterday: one minute feminists are telling us modern women are tough, strong, and independent and should be free to engage in one-night stands, orgies, polyamory, and any manner of other supposedly empowering acts of promiscuity; but at the same time they’re clutching their pearls because some women they’ve never met are working in a manner they believe is demeaning. By launching such moral crusades in a manner their Victorian ancestors would have endorsed, they are denying these women any agency whatsoever.

Of course, we already know the reason for this contradiction. Modern feminism is a political movement aimed at maximising the sexual capacity of women while eliminating it for men. Any woman who bucks the trend by cooperating with men in their quest for sexual gratification on mutually agreed terms – as opposed to the ever-changing terms of the woman only – is therefore deemed a problem, and their agency must be denied if they are to continue to demonise men.

There might have been problems with what went on at the Presidents Club, but they are not the ones being talked about. Those foaming at the mouth while attempting to reshape society on the basis of non-existent problems ought to be mocked or ignored.

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Correlation, but in which direction?

Via Tim Worstall, this from The Telegraph:

Britain’s most successful companies tend to have a large proportion of women in senior management roles but the UK lags behind the US and Australia on diversity at the top, new research suggests.

Between 2011 and 2015, the most gender diverse quarter of companies were 20pc more likely than the least diverse to have above average financial performance, a report by management consultants McKinsey found.

Dame Vivian Hunt, who runs McKinsey’s UK business, said: “The correlation between diversity and financial performance is clear across different sectors and geographies: more diverse teams equals significant financial outperformance.”

I am not contesting the correlation, but I have an inkling they might have got the direction in which it runs arse-about-face. Here’s a list of the ten countries with the best road safety record:

And here’s a list of the ten countries with the worst:

Should we conclude that having safe roads makes a country wealthy? Or that wealthy countries are in a better position to make their roads safer?

My guess is those companies which are top financial performers in their industry have the spare cash to throw around on social programmes such as ensuring gender diversity. What will be interesting is how well these companies are doing in five or ten years’ time. The pitiful example of Carillion shows that implementing diversity policies is no guarantee of financial success, but I’d be willing to bet their books were looking a lot better when they first started dreaming them up.

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More on Carillion’s Demise

There was some excellent commentary under yesterday’s post on the demise of Carillion. Graeme pointed out an enlightening passage in the company’s 2016 annual report, as well as some other stuff:

In 2016, we continued our journey towards greater diversity by increasing the proportion of female employees in the Group to 37.8 per cent (2015: 36.9 per cent) and the proportion of females in senior leadership roles was unchanged at 18 per cent. We have also launched our Diversity Strategy which sets out our corporate goals and introduces the concept of a Diversity Council in the UK that will represent all strands of diversity.

Target: Continue to drive greater (gender) diversity in our
business.

Our ‘unconscious bias’ training tackles diversity in
recruitment, and our award-winning ‘affinity networks’ (all started by our employees) have generated new thinking, including the launch of ‘Connect’ – our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender network.

Approaching graduate recruitment differently in 2016, we focused on behaviours instead of experience or qualifications, resulting in 70 applicants with the highest degree of gender and ethnic diversity to date.

Does this sound like a company whose core focus is on making a profit through getting the job done properly? As bobby b says, all this does is flag up a potential opportunity to short the company’s stock.

Bardon and David Moore weigh in on Carillion’s policy of not paying subcontractors in a timely manner:

My experience of UK construction payments was the average payment was received around 110 days after invoice. Carillion had a reputation as one of the worst payers, 180-200 days. A large part of their cashflow was generated by arbitraging between quick government payments and screwing contractors with long, long payment terms from what I understand.

Carillion liked to present themselves as a construction and support services business, but as I said in my previous post, it is likely they subcontracted the delivery of anything useful with Carillion themselves simply “managing” the process. But as David’s comment implies, they were less a construction company than a dodgy middleman who got themselves into a favoured position with government mandarins and made some percentage of their money through financial trickery which shafts those doing useful work. The money they made then got ploughed into corporate-level vanity projects, empire building, paper-shuffling, and virtue-signaling guff like Diversity Councils.

I suspect what I’ve described above could apply to many, many corporations with household names: they don’t actually do what they say they do, and what they actually do is engage in rent-seeking, pointless bureaucracy, and virtue-signaling, all of which is paid for using unsustainable and highly questionable financial practices. Hector Drummond provided a link to a good post on Carillion over at Raedwald’s blog (the whole post is worth reading, and the comments):

Balfour Beatty must be breathing a sigh of relief this morning that Carillion’s recent takeover bid was not successful. BB was lined up to follow Mowlem, McAlpine and Eaga to boost Carillion’s sales and potential profits in a process that only works so long as there are more companies with which to merge or take-over; once the music stops, the whole thing generally collapses.

Carillion was overburdened with debt and major construction contracts were simply not providing the profits to service them. This was disguised for a while by accounting for ‘other receivables’ i.e. money expected to be released from construction contracts, but never materialising. And this is a tale that is common throughout the construction industry.

I’ve written before about a future in which the brightest young folk will work in small 2-3 man teams feeding off the carcasses of bloated corporations harvesting legacy rents, and I think the example of Carillion only reinforces my belief. But as Bardon points out, those who will suffer the most from Carillion’s demise are those very same small companies who have performed good work in the expectation of pay which now they will never see. If these guys are going to succeed in future, they need to insist on better payment terms or learn to walk away from, or off, a job.

The payment of subcontractors is always a sore point on major projects. Back when I lived in Manchester I worked with an ex-BAe chap, and he told me his former employer was notorious for sending small suppliers into bankruptcy through not paying invoices. They didn’t do it on purpose, they just had a ludicrously slow and bureaucratic invoice processing system and sometimes it would take months or years to make the payments. For a small company on a tight cashflow with no reserves, timely payments are crucial, but the bureaucrats in BAe simply didn’t care.

In the oil and gas business, Korean companies are notoriously bad at paying their suppliers, often having no intention of doing so from the outset. I used to get the impression a Korean project manager thinks he’s done a good job if his suppliers are all bankrupt, negating the need to pay them. The more sensible oil companies take a dim view of this, realising that bankruptcies in the supply chain will ultimately hit them. I’ve even seen some clients go as far as guaranteeing the payments of subcontractors working under Korean EPC companies, but more usually they just shrug and say “nothing to do with us”.

Which is an interesting approach, firstly given how much it will ultimately bite them on the arse, and secondly from an ethics point of view. Somebody ought to be making more noise about the fact that the British government was happy to award contracts worth billions to Carillion, no doubt impressed by their diversity policies and office waste paper recycling initiatives, but wholly unconcerned that not paying their suppliers in a timely manner was standard practice.

Also in the comments was this from Andy in Japan:

One of the (many) reasons I consider myself to be an ex-libertarian is they ‘everything private good, everything state run bad’ mentality…it doesn’t matter anymore if it is a state of private run, the problem is the uselessness of British Management.

I agree with this: eventually any large organisation, unless ruthlessly led from a CEO who never loses focus, falls victim to basic human nature. It’s what I meant in my previous post when I said:

When mass-subcontracting…you need to be careful you’re not just replicating the problems of government-run bodies further down the contracting chain.

As the commenters under Raedwald’s post said:

One of the problems of the Civil Service, from personal experience, is that they will not take any risk that might rebound on the individual involved and thus they always tend to go to the biggest companies on the basis that “if it all goes pear shaped, we can’t be blamed as we went to the biggest company in the business”.

In the industry I worked in for a chunk of my working life the arse-covering was “No-one ever got fired for buying IBM”. I dare say every business sector has its own version.

The “biggest company in the business” is likely to be the most corrupt and worst managed. The larger an organisation, the more difficult it is to manage.

Government’s subcontracting services to the private sector doesn’t improve much if everyone is engaged in the same arse-covering as they were when it was done in-house.

Finally, also from Raedwald’s comments:

Are the board experts in m&a or construction.
If m&a, what are they doing at a construction firm?
If construction, why are they trying to run serial mergers?

They’re good questions. The only one I have left is how typical is Carillion of most of these giants of industry and commerce whose corporate brands are ubiquitous? I’d say there are an awful lot like Carillion, and worse.

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Carillion’s Demise

I confess, until it ran into financial difficulties and made the news last week, I’d never heard of Carillion, the company the British government seems to have outsourced a lot of stuff to. According to the BBC:

The company employed 43,000 people worldwide, 20,000 in the UK, and had 450 contracts with the UK government.

And this graphic shows us what they actually did:

To me, this looks like a catch-all company that has bedded itself in with the government and helpfully told politicians and civil servants that they can take care of everything. No problem, just leave it to us, just keep that cash hose turned on full.

Having emerged from a company specialising in civil construction, Carillion appears to have branched out somewhat. I don’t know how much synergy there is between providing hospital beds and building a high-speed railway line, but they look like an outfit which has lost focus of its core business, probably wooed into other areas by guaranteed government revenues.

To many, governments subcontracting services like prison maintenance and school catering might seem like a good idea and on paper it probably is. But when mass-subcontracting like this you need to be careful you’re not just replicating the problems of government-run bodies further down the contracting chain.

A company like this will be well-connected politically, which means they likely hired a lot of former civil servants and had the mobile numbers of plenty still serving. If you’re a company dependent on sucking up to politicians and civil servants while offering a sprawling array of services on high-profile and highly-politicised projects, chances are you’re a lot better at politics than you are business. Over time, I expect the upper and middle management got a lot better at telling government representatives what they wanted to hear and a lot worse at delivering core services, which would have been increasingly subcontracted to specialist companies to the point Carillion might not even own a single cement mixer.

This is pure speculation of course, but readers of my blog are used to that and I’m just running with what I’ve observed in modern corporations, especially those involved with governments. A post-mortem of Carillion might show a company stuffed full of very modern managers who excel in telling their superiors and clients exactly what they want to hear, a pattern which extends right up to the CEO. Most will spend their time in meetings discussing figures and schedules which are wholly fantastic, in a culture where career progression is based on how “on message” you’ve been thus far in your tenure in relation to the nearest manager’s latest whim. Experienced hands will have retired taking their knowledge with them, replaced by bright young things who’ve been told to get with the programme or else from day one. Power-skirts will have arrived en masse, egged on by government bodies tasked with ensuring their main contractors fulfill all obligations regarding diversity, gender compliance, and office environmental practices. Everyone would have been focussed solely on the process, the outcome be damned. Anyone left over from a previous era who liked to “get shit done” would have been hounded out or shoved in a corner, his career over, for having the wrong attitude. Anything useful carried out under Carillion’s management would have been done by strong, Sun-reading, fit young men in dirty coveralls with a different company logo on the back, subcontractors each and every one. Meanwhile, Carillion’s employees would have shared spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations in air-conditioned offices and congratulated each other on how much value they were adding.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, and I know nothing about Carillion. But from what I can tell, this is the direction a lot of large corporations are heading in, i.e. becoming bloated monstrosities engaged in process-driven guff while subcontractors do all the useful work. What was the size of Carillion’s overhead on a typical project, and how much markup did they need to apply to cover it? I’ve seen the figures for a large engineering company on a major project and their overheads – mostly useless company-men calling themselves managers – would make Diana Ross feel like she skimped on her global tours. I think we’re going to see a lot of large corporate failures in the next decade, with many surviving until then thanks only to a lifeline of legacy rents which the current management is wholly unsuited to maintain or replicate. Thanks to James Damore’s lawsuit we’ve already seen what state Google’s management is in; I expect this is typical, to some degree, of a lot of modern corporations.

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When it comes to income, everyone should be a “prepper”

Over the weekend I listened to the James Delingpole podcast featuring Irish journalist Kevin Myers as his “very special guest”.  I’d not heard of Myers before, but the first twenty minutes or so was dedicated to his spectacular fall from grace in the eyes of his employers.

To cut a long story short, Myers is a journalist of considerable experience having written for the Daily Telegraph, the Irish version of the Sunday Times, and the Irish Times. In July 2017 he wrote an article for the Sunday Times regarding the gender pay gap at the BBC in which he included the following line in relation to Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz who were paid more than their counterparts:

Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity.

Myers is a right-wing journalist who expresses views which upset progressives, but he has been solid enough on the subject of Jews and Israel that painting him as a rabid anti-semite is ludicrous. Nevertheless, in the early hours of the morning the piece went online and before it was even printed, a coordinated and determined effort had been made by peoples unknown to do just that, and when Myers woke up the next day he found social media littered with excerpts from articles and memoirs he’d written up to a decade earlier all carefully selected to portray him as an anti-semite. He says he has no idea who was behind it or how they managed to mobilise themselves so quickly, but he dismisses the suggestion that it was offended Jews and presumes it was SJWs who don’t like his right-wing views.

Anyway, his employers took serious issue with the piece, even though it had passed through an editorial process consisting of no less than seven people (all of whom kept their jobs), and fired him. He is now blacklisted from every major publication he used to write for. What distressed him the most is the people who fired him seemed to take an almost perverse delight in doing so, gleefully seizing on the opportunity to virtue-signal. Up until that point he had considered some of these people to be his friends. The Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar – the one who Theresa May seemingly reports to – also got in on the act, denouncing Myers in public as being misogynistic and anti-semitic. In other words, Myers is pretty much fucked.

Shifting the subject a little, I am aware of the existence of a bunch of people that Americans call “preppers“. These are people who are convinced that a complete breakdown of society is highly likely if not inevitable, and they want to be prepared when the day comes. This involves copious volumes of online discussion on what food and equipment to store and in what quantities, and the decision of when and how to “bug out” and where you’d go and what you’d take with you. I’ve seen TV shows of fat bearded men who’ve built underground bunkers in their back yards filled with ration packs and ammunition saying things like “These tinned peaches will be currency when the world breaks down, man!” I suspect in most cases these guys would be overrun by a mob as soon as word got around they had food, but the discussions are useful and there are enough anecdotes from people who fled hurricane Katrina or survived the siege of Sarajevo to provide some handy advice. (Anyone who is interested in reading about this should visit Bayou Renaissance Man and scroll down his sidebar to the links under “Articles on Emergency Preparation”)

I thought of these prepper guys when I listened to the situation Kevin Myers now finds himself in. Much of the prepper talk is about self-sufficiency, how you must learn to be absolutely self-reliant and not count on assistance from absolutely anybody except for family and perhaps a few like-minded close friends. When a situation goes south, relationships turn sour instantly and the people you thought were your friends are now threatening your whole existence. For all their paranoia, the preppers have at least got that bit right.

The more I read about the behaviour of managers in large organisations, the more I think employees should start adopting the mindset of a prepper and plan accordingly. I can well imagine there are millions of people whose entire livelihoods, and those of their families, are entirely dependent on the whims of one or two people who have a solid track record of looking after their own interests, principles and ethics be damned. This is not a good situation for anyone to be in.

There are a few ways one can prepare. The first is to learn a trade or skill that is in short supply, enabling you to pick up work across as many companies, industries, and locations as possible. Another is to work primarily for yourself as much as possible, or with one or two trusted individuals. If Myers ran a blog and charged people a subscription, it wouldn’t matter what his boss thought because he wouldn’t have one. This might not be possible or bring in enough money to support a person let alone a family, but combined with something else it might be. One could work part-time as a tradesman, part-time as a blogger, and collect rent from a property or two. That way, if one income source falls over you have another one or two which you can use to pay the bills. Sure, you might need to work as a corporate drone for a decade or two before you can diversify like this, but I’ve noticed the preppers in America aren’t exactly youngsters either.

Another option is to form a union, which is why they exist of course. I’m no fan of unions in their modern form but I can understand why people feel the need to join one, even if they often seem more interested in extorting the taxpayer and playing politics than shielding their employees from bad managers. The UK’s experience with unions is appallingly bad, but I suspect this is simply a reflection of equally appalling management. By contrast, German unions don’t appear to be as militant and self-destructive which is probably because German managers are more willing to have a productive discussion with the employees in the first place. Should I mention France? Perhaps not, eh?

With large organisations and employers fast heading down the route of political correctness and social justice pandering, people are going to have to start realising that loyalty doesn’t exist, nobody can be trusted, and they must become self-reliant as soon as they can. If possible, they should also look to diversify their income sources at the earliest opportunity, even if overall it means they earn much less. At this point in my life I think I’d rather earn £60k per year from two or three independent sources than £80k per year from one which can be pulled from under me at any moment.

All of this is leading to what I have written about before on here: smart young men are going to start forming their own small businesses either alone or with one or two trusted individuals, and avoiding corporate management and large organisations altogether.

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More on Damian Green and the bent ex-copper

Giolla Decair makes a good point regarding the porn supposedly found on Damian Green’s laptop:

As they were thumbnails that’s almost certainly in the browser cache ( who the hell deliberately saves thumbnails). So based on thumbnails no evidence that any porn was actually watched just that some porn sites were browsed and the thumbnails cached, given modern browsers sometimes pre-fetch pages it might not even have been that many pages/sites browsed. Again given it’s thumbnails a typical page could easily have 100 thumbnail images so if there’s pre-fetching going on you could be talking about having browsed just a handful of pages without having fetched a single thing.

This is worth keeping in mind when listening to the arguments from some people that surfing porn while at work is a sackable offence and because this guy is an MP and works for us, it’s in the public interest and he should be fired. Leaving aside the fact that it is not the job of ex-policemen to act as any employer’s HR department particularly ten years after the event and having retired, it’s not clear-cut this will be a sackable offence.

Firstly, having evidence of visiting porn sites on your company laptop does not mean you were surfing porn at work. I suspect most people in this situation were away on business without a personal laptop and used their work machine to visit dodgy sites back at the hotel at night. Unless the timestamp on the files can be matched to Green’s working hours, the offence is more one of using a company laptop for visiting prohibited websites. This already puts us in a grey area insofar as HR is concerned.

What websites are prohibited? Anything not work related? Okay, so how many people have been fired for visiting Amazon on a work laptop? Visiting anything deemed to be pornographic or with “adult content”? How is that defined, exactly? I suspect these matters are decided on a case-by-case basis and if HR get wind of anything untoward they haul the employee in and ask them for an explanation before telling them to pack it in. If they’re going to be fired, the number of sites visited, the visit duration, the regularity of the visits, and the content of the pictures will all form part of HR’s decision over what action to take. If there are a dozen thumbnails that the browser cache stored when the user inadvertently opened a site he probably shouldn’t have, he’s probably going to be sent on an IT awareness course rather than being fired. Even if he’s looked at porn, they’ll have to show it happened during work hours if they want to fire him for anything other than a breach of the IT protocols.

The fact is we know nothing about the files Damian Green allegedly had on his laptop, and it is simply untrue to say that any such pictures would immediately result in dismissal from a regular job. This is a hatchet-job, and Theresa May needs to make it her personal mission to destroy the life of this ex-copper who is attempting to bring down senior members of her government. If she doesn’t, this sort of thing is going to become the norm; I’d rather see a bent ex-policeman doing a fifteen year stretch than have the entire political system further undermined. However they go about it, they need to make an example of him.

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Workplace Romance

Over what could loosely be described as my professional career I have encountered the following situations (European also includes Britain):

1. A lead engineer in a giant European company reporting directly to his long-term partner, who was in a very senior position.

2. An HR manager in a smallish European/American/Russian JV reporting directly to her husband, who was the company General Director. When an employee had a serious row with her over his terms and conditions, it was escalated to her husband for arbitration.

3. A lead engineer in a giant European company reporting directly to her husband, who was in a reasonably senior position.

4. A woman working in a giant European company who was tasked with managing a subcontractor on behalf of her husband, who was the actual contract holder. Any disputes between the subcontractor and her would be escalated to her husband to resolve.

5. A very senior site manager working overseas for a giant European company got his (local) secretary pregnant. He sent his family back home and moved his new mistress into his company-provided house. His boss couldn’t complain too much because he’d done much the same thing several years earlier.

6. A lead engineer working in a large European company embarked on a relationship with one of his trainee engineers, who was about 30 years his junior.

All of the above situations were not only allowed to continue, but some were even known at the outset. The excuse given was that the company had to find positions for both partners and this was difficult at the best of times. Others didn’t want to lose an experienced staff member, so turned a blind eye.

By contrast, I once met a man working for ExxonMobil who managed a team of translators and began a relationship with one of his direct reports. They declared the relationship in short order and they were told one of them would have to resign. The woman got a job elsewhere, they married, and had kids.

It is perhaps significant that all of these happened outside the country where the respective companies were based. Whether this is also permitted in their HQ I don’t know. What this taught me is that a lot of management is simply individuals doing whatever is most convenient to them at the time, principles and ethics be damned. The Americans seem to be a little more professional in this regard, and I don’t think it comes as a surprise that the sole exception came from ExxonMobil.

For my part, I was told early in my career never to “poke the payroll”. It was good advice.

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Hierarchical Bullies

A story doing the rounds over the last couple of days concerns Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. Briefly, Miss Shepherd showed her class a video clip of a televised public debate featuring Jordan Peterson, who is either a Nazi or a fairly normal chap depending on your point of view, in order to demonstrate that there are two sides to every debate. She was then hauled over the coals for several hours and reduced to tears by these two fuckwits:

David Thompson has the story covered and I recommend anyone interested pops over there and reads both the post and the comments. The case has caused outrage, mainly because Miss Shepherd was smart enough to record her bollocking and lay bare the Kafkaesque bullying she received at the hands of her supposed academic superiors. This article from the National Post gives a flavour, as does this one from the same place regarding one of the professor’s pathetic apology.

But it was this tweet which caught my attention, referring to those interrogating Shepherd:

It would be tempting to convince ourselves that such behaviour exists only in the clown-quarter that is western academia, but what Freek Groeneveld describes is widespread throughout many modern organisations, including corporations.

Firstly there is the relying on authority. I don’t know how many times I’ve been sat in front of someone who has dared speak to me in a certain way solely because he or she sat above me in the company hierarchy. Had the roles been reversed, they’d never have uttered a squeak; had the situation arisen outside of a work environment, they’d have been lucky to avoid getting a slap. In the brief periods I’ve been a manager I learned that if you are relying solely on your authority then you’re already in trouble. By all means use your position to make a decision, but if you rely on it to prevail in an argument it’s a sign you’ve already lost. If you rely on it to manage your people effectively, then you really shouldn’t be in the post. Nobody who has earned the respect of their subordinates should be relying on their position in the managerial hierarchy (technical hierarchy is somewhat different); that should be almost incidental if you’re managing people properly.

Secondly, there’s the “we all agreed” line. Too often I have heard the words “it was discussed” in relation to a subject that was briefly mentioned in passing, rapidly glossed over, or delivered in a monologue by a manager to a subordinate. It’s a deliberate ploy to lay the foundations for the next step in a process without the necessary bother of having to make a proper case, secure agreement, or listen to dissent.

The mistake Miss Shepherd made was to cooperate with what was obviously a kangaroo court. I can see why she did, but she’d have been better off understanding that the people she was dealing with were not acting in good faith. They were not seeking an explanation, they did not want to give her an opportunity to salvage her reputation, the whole process was set up so they could exercise their power over someone in a compromised position. The whole charade was a demonstration of their power, authority, and egos – and this is true for so much of what passes for management in modern organisations.

I know this is easy to say, but she ought to have flipped the script on them. You’ve seen how frustrating little shitlord kids are, the sort you see on police reality TV shows having been caught shoplifting. When questioned they interrupt, deliberately misunderstand the question, respond to a question with one of their own, ignore their interlocutors for periods, etc. and generally show utter, complete contempt towards the people in front of them. Miss Shepherd should have opted for a form of this. e.g. by laughing in the guy’s face when he uses some stupid term like “positionality” and say “What? What the hell does that mean? Did you just invent it?” She should have shaken her head confused and asked the guy to repeat himself, and then start looking out the window when he’s halfway through doing so. There are a million passive-aggressive tricks she could have pulled to signal her contempt for the whole process and the people conducting it.

The reason she didn’t do this is because, like thousands of Soviets who were hauled before similar tribunals, they believed they’d done nothing wrong and thought cooperating would make them leave her alone. She would have worried that if she didn’t cooperate they’d punish her, possibly by firing her. We all have bills to pay, and we all need a job. This is why so many people allow themselves to get bullied by those above them in the hierarchy: they think by cooperating with unreasonable people they’ll get treated less harshly. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I suspect she was finished from the moment they hauled her in, and the only way to save herself was by fighting back – hard. She – and anyone else in a similar position – needs to understand that the worst that can happen is you lose your job: you’re not going to get shot or sent to a Siberian camp, so grow some fucking balls. Secondly, she ought to have flipped the script in the way I described until one of them loses their cool and says something which could get them fired. Or something close to it. Then she needed to walk out and pen a letter to the head of the university describing her version of the meeting, shorn of all context and scattered liberally with terms that lawyers like to use in divorce hearings. In other words, assume the role of bully for herself and go on the warpath. It might not work, and she might get fired anyway, but it might also make them back the hell off, or at least get them on the defensive and having to explain their actions. And it’s better than grovelling in front of a star-chamber.

This is how anyone should deal with a bully in any organisation. Note that I mentioned her letter should be shorn of context. This is important. A mistake a lot of people make is to write thousands of words when lodging a complaint or defending themselves, whereas the whole idea is to give the other person the biggest headache possible. I remember once being asked to sign a document I didn’t want to. I thought about writing an explanation why, but in the end I simply wrote:

“I have no intention of signing this document.”

and left it at that. Let them come back to you to find out why you won’t sign it. If you’re going to be treated like shit, don’t make it easy for them. Simply resort to one sentence replies and make them run around trying to work out what you’re thinking. Here’s another I’ve used, in its entirety:

“Your email appears to contravene the corporate ethics policy.”

I never said how or why: let them figure out what you could possibly mean. Give them a sleepless night or two. Get the headache on their desk, and off yours.

I wish more people stood up to bullies, and to Lindsay Shepherd’s credit she gave it a damned good shot; by recording the meeting and making it go viral, she’s probably going to have the last laugh. But the way to stop this thing from happening in the first place is for people to grow a pair and not cooperate. If people could stand up and shout down Stalin’s show-trials, we ought to be able to stand up to wankers like those at Wilfrid Laurier University at the risk of getting a bad report.

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