Serial Bus

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Dee Dee Myers – Single & 31

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Last Tuesday (21Oct08), I attended a talk by Dee Dee Myers at the AFP (Association of Finance Professionals) conference in LA. She was stumping for her newly-published book – ‘Why Women should Rule the World’. I joked with some colleagues that I went in to see whether such an indefensible argument could actually be defended. Half-jokingly, I told some others I went to see why Dee Dee would argue for what is already evident.

In reality, I was fascinated by the career of Dee Dee who was, by her own admission, the second-youngest Press Secretary in the White House. Thing is, these days, I am breathing American politics in more ways than one. I follow the campaign extensively and when I am not in mood for fiction, I watch the West Wing, a belated discovery. That Dee Dee consulted the West Wing folks was an added attraction.

It was a good decision – she packed in a great talk. Although most of the statistics and anectodes she quoted were in line, there was one anecdote that appeared stretched. She talked about the early years of Clinton administration (1992) when she took on the role of the Press Secretary, after George Stephanopoulos stepped aside. She learnt that she was being paid less than another male colleague in a position of less responsibility. 

When she questioned this, the co-worker’s higher salary was justified on the basis of him being older and having a family. Dee Dee (who was 31 and single then) cited this as an example of how women are discriminated against. While she is right about discrimination, this type is based on age and family position, not gender. Men & women alike are treated differently on the basis of factors other than their merit and their work.

This phenomenon is much more rampant in the corporate world. Recently, during a training class, several of us were asked to imagine a downturn in which an organization is being forced to lay off one of the 2 affable male employees in a team. The first is is in mid-forties and supports a family of 5 and the other is a single guy in late twenties. Both have the same work roles however the younger guy is more successful and shows greater promise. The older guy doesn’t do badly but lacks ambition and is content with just reaching his numbers. The response to this situation is very telling since more than a half of the class wanted to save the older guy. Some of the comments ranged from ‘It’s more ethical’ to ‘Younger guy has a better chance of landing another job’ to ‘It’s better to bail out 5 people than one’. Suddenly, the roles of a private enterprise and the Social Welfare Administration had blurred somewhere.

I fall under neither stereotype (ain’t single but no kids yet) therefore, perhaps I am unbiased when I want to save the younger guy. I thought about it from an organization’s objective viewpoint. Every successful enterprise talks about promoting talent and rewarding success. Retaining good resources can be a question of life or death for a company in difficult times. Yet, when we think about the family of 5, somehow our socialitic tendencies kick in and we begin to imagine that the organization has a responsbility towards greater good, at the cost of being commercially foolish. We just ignore that taking a sympathetic or moralistic view of redundant people is the job of the state, not that of a private company.

This philosophy runs counter to an corporate’s avowed goals and often creeps into its remuneration philosophy, even in good times. There are numerous people like Dee Dee who get paid less than some others who have same or less important roles. Why? Because they have 15 years of experience as opposed to your 5. What gets forgotten conveniently is that these employees have been hired for the same job as you and oftentimes, they could be delivering fewer results. On the other hand, everyone remains oblivious to the other person’s dullness and your brilliance in being peers, despite the older guy’s decade-long headstart. 

Our society does not reward early starters as much as it should and does not penalize slow movers as much as it should. Any organization which adheres to such mores becomes increasingly susceptible to distractions that should have no role in its mission for excellence (or existence).

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Written by serialbus

October 26, 2008 at 4:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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