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    Entries in workplace (118)

    Wednesday
    Dec122018

    Job titles of the future: Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer

    If 2018 was the 'Year of AI' in enterprise technology, 2019 is shaping up to be Year 2 I would suspect. The development, growth, spread, and seeming ubiquity of technology providers touting their AI and Machine Learning powered solutions is showing no signs of slowing as we end 2018. As with any newer or emerging technology, the application of AI technologies offer great promise and potential benefits, but also can lead to some unexpected and even undesirable outcomes, if not managed closely and effectively.

    One leading enterprise technology company, Salesforce, is acting more proactively than most AI players in recognizing the potential for negative applications of AI tools, and is taking steps to address them, most notably by creating and hiring for a new position, today's 'Job Title of the Future' the 'Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer.' 

    Details from reporting on Business Insider on the new appointment:

    In the midst of the ongoing controversies over how tech companies can use artificial intelligence for no good, Salesforce is about to hire its first Chief Ethical and Humane Use officer.

    On Monday, Salesforce announced it would hire Paula Goldman to lead its new Office of Ethical and Humane Use, and she will officially start on Jan. 7. This office will focus on developing strategies to use technology in an ethical and humane way at Salesforce. 

    "For years, I've admired Salesforce as a leader in ethical business,” Goldman said in a statement. “We're at an important inflection point as an industry, and I'm excited to work with this team to chart a path forward."

    With the development of the new Office of Ethical and Humane Use, Salesforce plans to merge law, policy and ethics to develop products in an ethical manner. That's especially notable, as Salesforce itself has come under fire from its own employees for a contract it holds with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

    A C-Level hire with the remit to develop strategies to use tech in an ethical and humane way is a pretty interesting approach to the challenges of increasingly powerful AI powered technologies being let loose in the world. Most of the time, enterprise tech companies sell or license their technologies to end customers who are then more or less free to apply these technologies to help them solve their own business challenges. The technology providers typically have not waded into making value judgements on their customers or the ways that the technologies are being applied to the customers' ends.

    What Salesforce seems to be indicating is that they intend to be more intentional or even careful about how their technologies are used in the market, and want to signal their desire to ensure they are used in an ethical and humane way.

    This to me is a really interesting development in how technology (or potentially any kind of product producer), may need to look at how their products are used by customers. This role at Salesforce is focused on AI technologies, probably because AI seems to be an area ripe with the potential for misuse. But AI tools and technologies are by no means the only product that once unleashed on the market can drive negative outcomes. Here's a short and incomplete list: firearms, soda, fast food, tobacco products, cars that drive 150MPH, skinny jeans, and on and on.

    Will this appointment of a Chief Ethical and Human Use Officer at Salesforce mark the start of a new trend where product creators take a more active role in how their products and solutions are applied?

    We will see, I guess, it will be interesting to watch.

    Have a great day!

    Monday
    Dec032018

    Sensing age discrimination at work? Maybe try changing your date of birth

    Here in the US, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) specifically forbids workplace age discrimination against people who are age 40 and over. The law prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. Additionally, an employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of age, can be illegal if it has a negative impact on applicants or employees age 40 or older and is not based on a reasonable factor other than age.

    But despite the ADEA's intentions, we all kind of know that age discrimination still happens in workplaces. It often is disguised by job descriptions that emphasize terms like 'fast-paced' or 'dynamic' or even older applicants being turned away under the guise of them being 'overqualified'. Sometimes you can just look around you and get the sense that the company or department only seems to hire people between 20 - 30 years old no matter how many openings get filled or the type of roles being filled.

    But since it isn't technically illegal (in the US, your country may be different) for employers to request or require an applicant's or employee's date of birth, even companies that have good intentions and don't wish to discriminate based on age, might still succumb to age-related biases and/or outright discrimination.

    So what can/should you do if you are say 40+ and are starting to sense that your age may be limiting your career prospects or opportunities?

    Well, I am not really sure, this isn't a career advice column, but I did want to highlight the issue after reading a story about how one gentleman in the Netherlands has tried to fight back against age discrimination. 69 year-old Emile Ratelband decided to simply try and change his date fo birth to make him legally 20 years younger, and petitioned the Dutch government to make this change official.

    Here's the details from a piece on the case on Fortune:

    Emile Ratelband--frequently referred to as “positivity trainer,” although he calls himself an “entrepreneur in personal development--filed suit last month to change his birthday, according to the BBC. The 69-year-old said that he felt age discrimination and that it affected his ability to work and get dates on Tinder.

    “When I’m 69, I am limited. If I’m 49, then I can buy a new house, drive a different car. I can take up more work,” he told the BBC. “When I’m on Tinder and it says I’m 69, I don’t get an answer. When I’m 49, with the face I have, I will be in a luxurious position.”

    Although Ratelband argued that at a time when people can change their names or even their genders, opting for a different age should be allowed.

    Sadly, for Emile, the court ruled against his request to legally change his age from 69 back to 49.

    According to the court, "Mr. Ratelband is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly. But amending his date of birth would cause 20 years of records to vanish from the register of births, deaths, marriages and registered partnerships.”

    On the surface, the case does seem a little ridiculous. But then again, Ratelband does have a point about how societal norms around identity and personal freedom and expression have been and likely will continue to evolve. And as he hints at, employers, financial institutions, even potential Tinder dates - all form a pre-judgment of a person based on that one data point - age. And if that one data point is indeed causing someone to miss out on opportunities or even worse, to be actively discriminated against, then why not take a shot at changing one's circumstances to try and drive better outcomes.

    Like, I said, Ratelband was not allowed to legally change his age. And the entire story does seem a little ridiculous.

    But lots of other things that were once ridiculous-sounding are now pretty common and accepted. 

    Have a great week!

    Monday
    Nov192018

    Learn a New Word: The Glass Cliff

    Over the weekend reports dropped that the NFL's Cleveland Browns, long a league doormat and in need of yet another new head coach for next season, were interested in interviewing former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for the open role. While later reporting seemed to indicate that in fact Rice was not likely to be a candidate for the Head Coach spot, it has not stopped a pretty tremendous level of reaction in the sports world. While those various reactions (the Browns are nuts, the role of Head Coach is evolving, Why not look in a novel direction for this hire, it can't get much worse for the Browns?) are all interesting in their own right, it was a term in the Fortune piece linked above that caught my attention - The 'Glass Cliff'.

    I had never seen this term before, and since as the author of this blog I have to assume what I think is what you think too, I thought it a valid entry as the latest 'Learn a New Word', even if I am really the only one who is learning this for the first time. 

    Ok, here's the definition/description of The Glass Cliff: (from a piece on Vox)

    The glass cliff is a relative of the “glass ceiling” — a metaphor for the invisible, societal barrier that keeps women from achieving the highest positions in business, politics, and organizations. The glass cliff is a twist on that: Women are elevated to positions of power when things are going poorly. When they reach the upper ranks of power, they’re put into precarious positions and therefore have a higher likelihood of failure, meaning there’s a greater risk for them to fall.

    It is a really interesting concept that is backed up both by some empirical research, as well as by what many of us have seen or been impacted by in our own careers. One prevailing theory is that when things are going poorly for a company or any kind of institution, and there is the need for new executive leadership at one of these organizations, the very fact that things are going poorly deters many if not most of the typical (read white male) candidates for the open executive position. Since these kinds of leadership positions become harder, relatively, to fill than others, more women and people from underrepresented groups become candidates and relatively more of them get hired. But, since the organization is already in trouble, the chances for these newly appointed executives to succeed are not that high, and more of them end up failing than they would if they were joining more healthy organizations.

    The above linked Vox piece has a number of great recent examples of the Glass Cliff phenomenon, (Mary Barra at GM, Carol Bartz then later Marisa Mayer at Yahoo, Jill Abramson at the New York Times) and ends with what may be a definitionally classic 'Glass Cliff' appointment - Jill Soltau the new CEO at beleagured retailer JC Penney - a company that has been deterioting for years. Whether or not Soltau will be able to revive the company is anyone's guess, but there is no doubt she's walked into an incredibly challenging set of circumstances - standing on the edge of the figurative Glass Cliff.

    Ok, that's it for me, back to try and find something new to learn, especially something I should have learned a long time ago.

    Monday
    Oct292018

    Creating 'Psychological Personal Space' at Work

    Blame the 'open plan' office design that pretty much takes away individual privacy or blame the workplace information overload that causes many office dweller types to feel like no matter how much they are working, they never seem to feel like they are getting much accomplished, modern work and workplaces can seem really, really frustrating.

    People always in your face, or at least in your peripheral vision, few quiet places to retreat to in order to get some peace and quiet and really focus, and more and varied incoming requests for our time and attention, (emails, texts, Slack messages, etc.) than ever before all conspire to make it really hard sometimes to do our best work - or any work for that matter.

    Wouldn't you like, at least sometimes, to fence yourself off from these kinds of distractions? To be able to, even if you don't have a physical 'retreat' space to head to at work, (not counting going to sit in your car in the parking lot), create some kind of semblance of private and personal space - to be alone with your thoughts, your work, yourself? 

    Enter a new idea from the fine folks at Panasonic - the 'Wear Space' - a kind of combination privacy screen and set of noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones that functions like a set of horse blinders, except for people. The Wear Space wraps around the user's head, blocks most of their peripheral vision, allowing them to focus on their work that is in front of them. The nature of the Wear Space also signals to the wearer's pesky co-workers that they should probably not bother or disturb the person, as he/she clearly does not want to be illuminated by tales of how you spent your weekend or what is on the menu for lunch today.

    According to one of the Wear Space's developers - the Wear Space is supposed to create a “psychological personal space” for the wearer to help them concentrate, particularly in noisy, distracting, open-plan offices. The device isn’t intended to just isolate the wearer but also communicate with others, telling them: Go away, I’m busy.

    I don't have too much more to offer on the Wear Space as a technology, but just to say that if we need to invent a kind of ridiculous looking combination head covering, noise canceling, giant barrier to wear in order to try and cut down interruptions and distractions at work probably means that we are not taking enough time or care in designing work and workplaces so that these kinds of gimmicks are not needed in the first place.

    We all probably do need some way to find 'psychological personal space' when we are at work. It probably should also be something not that hard to find as well.

    Have a great week!

    Tuesday
    Oct022018

    Other duties as assigned: How about 'Micro-influencer?'

    Calling your attention to a super read over at The Atlantic titled 'Employers are Looking for 'Influencers' Within Their Ranks' that describes the relatively recent phenomenon of employers enlisting 'real' employees for what are, mostly, low-tech, minimal production values, and hopefully authentic advertising and branding campaigns. In what reminded me of the seemingly ubiquitous trend on TV spots where car companies tout their casts of 'Real people, not actors', The Atlantic piece breaks down how Macy's has recruited dozens of real and often front-line workers in their Macy's 'Style Crew' campaign where these workers share updates, pics, and videos showcasing Macys fashions as well as sharing some of their own lives as well.

    A great example of a Macy's Style Crew Instagram post is embedded below, (if you can't see the image in email or RSS, you may need to click through)

     

     

    You can see from this pic, and from the several dozen others I looked at with the #macysstylecrew hashtag, that most of the pics achieve what Macy's is after from this campaign - grass roots, believable, authentic, and perhaps most importantly, inexpensive branding and advertising for the business.

    In a world where consumers tend to trust brand messages less and less, and "official" Instagram and other social media Influencers are charging higher and higher fees for sponsored posts and produce mentions, Macy's is trying a different approach, one that calls to action participants that it has more control and influence over - the company's own employees.

    The upside for Macy's? Hundreds, perhaps thousands of quasi-independent voices sharing content and information about the brand's products, in a casual, "real" way, and the opportunity to build stronger bonds between the company and their customers, (and employees).

    The upside for Macy's employees in the Style Crew? It is a little less clear, to be honest. The Atlantic piece does mention some kind of compensation for these participants, (it is not apparent how much or in what form the compensation is delivered). They also stand a chance, with interested and enthusiastic participation to get noticed by higher ups at Macy's, I guess there is some value to that. And last, if nothing else, they get to have a little fun at 'work' - posting selfies of your daily outfit before you head to the office or store is kind of a thankless job, (that's why I stopped doing that myself). Injecting a little brand ambassadorship into the equation makes it somehow (maybe?) less inane of a practice.

    In the modern, gig economy we are all always hustling. For some Macy's employees, that includes when taking selfies.

    Have a great day!