Tag Archives: education

AMIGOS: Leadership Through Experience

Copyright JC Politi Photography

For one year, from 2008 to 2009, my husband and I lived in Houston, Texas. We lived through Hurricane Ike, which was directly over our house for about 7 hours; finding a copperhead in the bathtub; and a torn pup-ACL. It was not our best year.

But I also found Amigos de las Americas (AMIGOS) when I lived in Houston. I worked for this unique organization for about two years, fundraising to support their international youth leadership programs. This organization really touched me.

The people I met doing this work, from the dedicated and passionate staff at the office in Houston, to the parents and former volunteers who now serve on the board, were some of the most thoughtful and hardest-working people I have ever met. And don’t get me started on the young people who were participating in the programs.

Copyright JC Politi Photography

I had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua to see the programs in action, which was a special treat. I have shared some of the photos from that trip here and on my new photography website.

This organization is truly unique. When I worked there, we received letters from parents all the time saying that their child left home as an unruly teenager and came back a grown up. This was a consistent refrain from the parents.

Young people came back and talked about how much their world view had expanded from the experience and how it was going to influence the trajectory of their future pursuits. And I have met many former volunteers for whom the program did just that.

I was skeptical about AMIGOS in the beginning. I asked a lot of questions ranging from “Does AMIGOS have a religious bent?” to “Is there government involvement in AMIGOS?” The more I learned about this organization, the more impressed I became.

The intensive training that young people are required to complete in order to participate in the program should be a model for any organization or person doing international development work. The training requires kids to work through issues of cultural awareness and distrust of volunteers from the United States.

One very unique aspect of the AMIGOS program is that it is youth led and driven. Projects in Latin America are run by teenagers and college students who have been volunteers in the program. The training provided to the volunteers who work their way up the ladder to become project staff covers topics that I did not learn about until I was around 30. Topics include critical conversations, supervisory skills and budgeting.

This organization simply does it right.

I thought I would dedicate a post to this inspiring organization, in the hopes that there may be some of you out there with kids in high school or college, who might benefit from this program. Or perhaps you are in high school or college yourself and would like to learn  more.

AMIGOS just came out with a new video that illustrates the great work the organization does year after year. That is what inspired this post. But I encourage all of you to check out this organization’s website to learn more about the organization.

What do you think? What is your favorite non-profit organization and why? Have you heard about AMIGOS and considered sending your child through the program? Would you have fears or concerns about doing this? Did you ever participate in a program like this? What was the best part and what was the worst part?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

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Filed under Culture, Education, International, Parenting, Photography, Photos, Poverty, Religion, Stereotypes, travel, Youth Leadership

Tunes Tuesday: Are you registered to vote?

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

The first presidential debate is tomorrow evening. Regardless of which candidate you plan to vote for  – and especially if you have not decided yet – I hope you will take a moment this week to make sure your voter registration is up to date.

Most states have a registration cut-off about a month prior to the election. In Colorado, the cut-off is October 9th. If you miss that deadline, you cannot vote.

Again, regardless of who you plan to vote for, the only way to have a meaningful democratic election is if we all take our voting responsibility seriously and get out and vote!

To check out the registration requirements in your state, go to www.registertovote.org.

Since it is Tunes Tuesday, I am going to recycle one of the best moments from the 2008 campaign and highlight the seventh graders from the Ron Clark Academy, who wrote and performed the song “You Can Vote However You Like.” If this song doesn’t pump you up about the future of our country, you might need to get a check-up!

You Can Vote However You Like
Ron Clark Academy

Obama on the left
McCain on the right
We can talk politics all night
And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah

Democratic left
Republican right
November 4th we decide
And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah

(McCain supporters)
McCain is the man
Fought for us in Vietnam
You know if anyone can
Help our country he can
Taxes droppin low
Don’t you know oils gonna flow
Drill it low
I’ll show our economy will grow

I want Obama
FORGET OBAMA,
Stick wit McCain you gone have some drama
MORE WAR IN IRAQ
Iran he will attack
CAN’T BRING OUR TROOPS BACK
We gotta vote!

Obama on the left
McCain on the right
We can talk politics all night
And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah

Democratic left
Republican right
November 4th we decide
And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah

McCain’s the best candidate
With Palin as his running mate
They’ll fight for gun rights, pro life,
The conservative right
Our future is bright
Better economy in site
And all the world will feel our military might

(Obama supporters)
But McCain and Bush are real close right
They vote alike and keep it tight
Obama’s new, he’s younger too
The Middle Class he will help you
He’ll bring a change, he’s got the brains
McCain and Bush are just the same
You are to blame, Iraq’s a shame
Four more years would be insane

Lower your Taxes – you know Obama Won’t
PROTECT THE LOWER CLASS – You know McCain won’t!
Have enough experience – you know that they don’t
STOP GLOBAL WARMING – you know that you won’t

I want Obama
FORGET OBAMA
Stick with McCain and you’re going to have some drama
We need it
HE’LL BRING IT
He’ll be it
YOU’LL SEE IT
We’ll do it
GET TO IT
Let’s move it
DO IT!

Obama on the left
McCain on the right
We can talk politics all night
And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah

Democratic left
Republican right
November 4th we decide
And you can vote however you like, I said
You can vote however you like, yeah

I’m talking big pipe lines, and low gas prices
Below $2.00 that would be nice

But to do it right we gotta start today
Finding renewable ways that are here to stay

I want Obama
FORGET OBAMA,
Stick wit McCain you gone have some drama
MORE WAR IN IRAQ
Iran he will attack
CAN’T BRING OUR TROOPS BACK
We gotta vote Barack!

Obama on the left
McCain on the right
We can talk politics all night
And you can vote however you like, I said
You can vote however you like, yeah

Democratic left
Republican right
November 4th we decide
And you can vote however you like, I said
You can vote however you like, yeah

(SPOKEN)
When I say John
You say McCain
JOHN
McCAIN
JOHN
McCAIN

When I say Barack
You say Obama
BARACK
OBAMA
BARACK
OBAMA

What do you think? What do you think inspired these kids to create something that, in the middle of a divisive political battle, was able to unite and inspire the entire country? Do you think more schools should encourage this type of youth involvement in elections or do you think that parents would oppose this type of activity?

I would love to hear your thoughts! Thank you for reading.

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Filed under Culture, Economy, Education, History, Music, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Role of Government, Social Media, Youth Leadership

What is the Price of an Educated Child?

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What are we willing to pay for? That is the question that comes to mind for me when I read Thomas Friedman’s opinion piece in the New York Times called “Average is Over: Part II.”

The article discusses the disconnect between what politicians espouse about keeping jobs in the United States and the current realities facing CEOs whereby, through necessity, work is becoming more globalized every day.

Friedman argues that parents in the United States believe that their child is simply competing with her neighbor or with other kids in the United States, but that that is simply not the case today.

He argues that in a globalized society, kids compete against their peers all over the world. He goes on to say that this insular view of the United States education system is one reason that investment in K-12 education has suffered, because parents are content with the quality of education in their child’s school as compared to the school down the street.

He points out that soon there will be a way for parents to easily compare their child’s school with schools around the world, which he says will enable parents to advocate for better schools with policy-makers.

Photo Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Friedman has a point, but he is missing a significant contributing factor in this discussion – namely, our unwillingness to raise our taxes to invest in our infrastructure. Once we are able to compare our schools with schools around the world, we must also find a way to compare the tax rates between countries.

It is a commonly held belief by many in the United States that our taxes are too high. A blogger friend has written extensively on this subject and you should check out his thoughts when you have a moment. I have also written about this previously.

The fact is, you get what you pay for. Educating our children comes at a cost. Taxes are the price we pay to educate our children, protect our streets from crime and pave our roads, among many other things.

And,really, what price can you place on our children’s future?

What do you think? Why do you think people are so vehemently opposed to higher taxes for better schools? Have you seen your schools suffer as a result of this lack of investment? Do you think that there is a better way in which our tax dollars could be invested?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

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Filed under Business, Campaign Finance, Education, International, Policy, Politcs, Role of Government

Helicopter Parents and Tiger Moms: Turns Out Neither Knows Best

Copyright JC Politi Photography

There was an opinion piece in the New York Times this weekend called “Raising Successful Children” which generated quite a bit of discussion.

The article examines the latest parenting research which found that giving children autonomy and allowing them to make mistakes leads to the best long-term outcomes.

My parents did a great job with this. I was sent to a sleep-away summer camp for the most of the summer every year in my formative years. I feel like this helped shape who I am more than almost anything else.

I worked for a wonderful organization called Amigos de las Americas which provides opportunities for young people to live in remote villages Latin America, where their autonomy is simply not in question.

These types of experiences can really help young people develop confidence in their abilities. The Times article lays out research to prove this hypothesis.

But it seems that it has become harder for parents to give their children space to make mistakes and to develop their independence. The article points out that there has been much attention devoted to “helicopter parents” and “tiger mothers” in the news in recent years.

I am not a parent and I can imagine that it would be difficult to find the balance between protecting your children and letting your children forge their own path. But I am intrigued and curious about what makes it more difficult for parents to do this today than when I was younger.

Certainly, when I was younger, we had parents who lived vicariously through their children, but I don’t feel like there was quite as much of what I see as overprotecting children.

What do you think? Do you think that parents are more protective now of their children that when you were young? Do you think this has to do with the increased dangers in our society like gun violence and crime? Do you struggle with this as a parent? Have you found any tips or strategies you would like to share with others?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

If you liked this, you might also like:

The Ritalan Generation: Why do some children fall behind in school? (newsofthetimes)

The Power of Strengths and Weaknesses: Giving kids permission to just be (newsofthetimes)

A New Kind of Playground: What happens when young children are connected with technology? (newsofthetimes)

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Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Education, Love, Parenting, Relationships, social pressures, Technology, Youth Leadership

Do you Prioritize Your Life or Your Work? Maybe It Is Time to Rethink

An article on the Harvard Business Review blog called, “If You Don’t Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will,” really made me think. I also read a thoughtful blog post on a similar subject over at Truth and Cake called “Save Your Own Ass.”

The concept behind both of these posts is simple: take care of yourself first because if you don’t, no one else will.

The Harvard Business Review article tells the story of a man who attended a meeting the day after his child was born, because he thought he should. While attending the meeting, the man realized that he really should have been with his wife and newborn child instead of at this routine business meeting.

This got me thinking about times when I have felt conflicted between work obligations and home obligations. One of these moments happened just last week.

As many of you know, we had a wildfire directly in front of our house last week. I was scheduled to drive five hours for an all day work meeting last Friday. I felt that I had to go to the meeting, but was concerned to travel so far from home at that moment.

I felt like I “should” make the meeting. My bosses over the years have been very supportive when I needed to bow out of something because of an emergency at home. It is not pressure from my employers that has made me feel that I need to meet my obligations at work, regardless of the situation at home.

I ended up calling into the meeting last week instead of travelling, which I thought was a good compromise. And we were fortunate that the weather and the firefighters helped quell the fire quickly. My colleagues at the meeting were very understanding as, I’m sure, the colleagues of the author of the Harvard Business Review blog post would have been on the day after his child’s birth.

I don’t know what makes these types of decisions more difficult than they need to be. Perhaps at times like these I need to remember to repeat my new mantra gleaned from the sage bloggers at Truth and Cake and the Harvard Business Review: Take care your yourself, because if you don’t, no one else will.

What do you think? What is it that makes us often feel the need to neglect the things in life that are most important, even when it is not necessary that we do so? Is it because we take for granted that the people and things we love will always be there, but work is fleeting? But doesn’t that make it even more important that we tend to our personal needs, lives and loves? Have you learned any lessons about this the hard way or the easy way that you would like to share? Any tips for people who struggle with these types of decisions?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

If you liked this, you might also like:

The Freedom of a Vacation: Why Would We Give That Up? 

The Importance of Slowing Down in a Busy Bee Culture

Does Anyone Care About the Lack of Women in Leadership Positions?

Give Me a Break: Why Do the US Jobs Offer So Little Vacation Time?  

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Filed under Business, Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, Forest Fires, Health, Parenting, Peace, Relationships, social pressures, Stereotypes, Women, Youth Leadership

The Ritalan Generation: Why Do Some Children Fall Behind in School?

David Brooks has an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times about how today’s schools leave some children behind.

He points out statistics showing that boys are falling behind girls in school and he posits a theory that this is because our school culture has become too homogenous. He claims that contemporary schools only promote teamwork and collaboration, instead of also including competition and military values.

His theory is that a diversity of teaching styles could help prevent some of the more active children from falling through the cracks and acting out.

I like the idea of diversity of thinking and feel that always adds value. But the bigger issue for me has to do with the homogeneity of the courses and teaching methods in schools today. The focus on teaching to a test has required teachers to shy away from using less traditional teaching styles and methods.

If teachers were able to tailor their classes more, perhaps they would able to find alternative ways to engage students with different learning styles.

Another factor to consider when discussing hyperactive children in the classroom is the overuse of medication that has proliferated over the past twenty years. I wonder if this is a direct result of the inability of teachers to tailor their classes because of the pressures to teach to the test.

That direct correlation may be a bit of a stretch, but if we are going to talk about kids who are falling behind, we must talk about the impact of the overmedication of our youth.

Kids in my generation were not overmedicated and there was no pressure to teach to a test. We had plenty of hyperactive kids – in fact I was probably one of them – but without medication, we turned out fine.

That last statement makes me sound like an old lady, talking about walking three miles barefoot to school in the snow when I was younger, and maybe that is who I have become. But I think it is interesting to explore our cultural history in order to find a path forward.

I have a philosophy for the most part of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I am sure the education system had significant problems when I was younger, but it does seem to have even more challenges now.

I am not a teacher, but I know that several of my readers are and many parents also read this blog. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts about this and suggestions for solutions to ensure that all kids can learn the skills necessary for future success.

What do you think? Do you feel like the culture in schools is homogenous to a fault? Do you think that this could be addressed, in part, by allowing teachers to have more flexibility in the classroom? How do you feel about the medications that so many kids are prescribed today? Do you think that hyperactive children are falling behind in school? And what suggestions do have to address this issue?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

How Micromanaging Educators Stifles Reform

Making Education Brain Science

Forget Them! What Do YOU Want to Be When You Grow Up?

 

 

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Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Education, equality, Ethics, Parenting, Relationships, social pressures, Sports, Stereotypes, Youth Leadership

Simple Secret to Success: Just Do It

Copyright JC Politi Photography

The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
Lao Tzu

Are you optimistic or pessimistic? And how do you think this impacts your ability to set and reach your goals?

An article in the New York Times called “How to Make Optimism Work for You” offers tips and suggestions for increasing optimistic attitudes in people looking for work.

Suggestions include:

Face your fears head on. Step outside your comfort zone to help eliminate fear, anxiety and negative thoughts that can stand in the way of success.

Re-evaluate events in your everyday life. Tell yourself that maybe things aren’t so bad.

Practice mindful meditation. Allow feelings and thoughts to pass through your mind without judging or reacting to them; that helps create a sense of detachment from negative experiences.

Take control over how you feel instead of letting feelings control you. A sense that you control your destiny can help you bounce back from setbacks and maximize your enjoyment of life.

Laugh. Use positive feelings to counter negative ones.

Be fully engaged. Get involved in activities that are meaningful to you, whether it’s a career, hobby, sport or volunteering. Do it, as Bill Richmond says. Then learn how.

The last suggestion is the suggestion that intrigues me most. The article includes a portrait of a 90 year old man whose life reads like a who’s-who of Hollywood. His motto is “Do it. Then learn how.”

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I know many will be appalled at this suggestion. I am not one of them. I have always been impatient with the planning phase of projects, preferring to jump in and begin.

This may be a weakness on my part but, in fact, I can think of few times when this philosophy has backfired. Perhaps I have had to tweak something after beginning, but taking action has rarely been the wrong choice.

I should mention that Mr. Richmond, while quick to take action, also seems to be quick to recognize his need for further development in whatever he has begun, taking courses in whatever discipline he has chosen to work in next. But he takes the courses after he begins, not prior to taking the first step.

His advice resonates with me: “The important thing,” Mr. Richmond said in an interview, “is to visualize what you want and go after it. Be ready for an opening — serendipity — all the time.”

Many of us have a fear of failure or a need to be perfect, so we never take that first step. Many prefer to remain in the safety of the planning phase of a project until the real opportunity – or serendipity – has passed.

That is not how I want to live. I would rather fail, but fail while trying to actually do something. Inaction feels like the greatest failure to me.

You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.
Wayne Gretzky

What do you think? Do you prefer to have all of your plans in place before you make a major life decision or are you more willing to learn as you go? Do you think these tendencies are natural or learned? What do you encourage your kids to do when they are embarking on a project? Have you learned any lessons you would like to share with others about this?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

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Filed under Business, Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, Parenting, Photos, Relationships, social pressures

The Power of Strengths and Weaknesses: Giving Kids Permission to Just Be

Photo Courtesy of Danny Brown

The old man pointed to a baker standing in his shop window at one corner of the plaza. “When he was a child, that man wanted to travel, too. But he decided first to buy his bakery  and put some money aside. When he is an old man, he’s going to spend a month in Africa. He never realized that people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”

“He should have decided to become a shepherd,” the boy said.

“Well, he thought about that,” the old man said. “But bakers are more important people than shepherds.”…

“In the long run, what people think about shepherds and bakers becomes more important for them than their own Personal Legends.”

The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

 

A New York Times article, “Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary” has been on the list of the most e-mailed articles for some time now. This topic fits with the theme of the last few weeks on this blog, so I thought I would explore this issue further.

The article discusses the tendency, at least in the United States, for people to push their children to excel at all levels, filling their time with activities and events which provide further opportunities to compete with their peers.

I am sure many of you read about a commencement speech earlier this year where the speaker told the students that they were not exceptional. The reactions to this speech were heated.

But perhaps the speaker was just trying to give the students permission to find value and define success differently than their parents and society prescribe. Perhaps the speaker was trying to help students understand that it is OK to have both strengths and weaknesses.

The constant drive to compete is positive in many ways. It can lead to innovation and progress.But at what price? Where is creativity encouraged?

What about the artist who is not strong at math or writing, but can compose a symphony or paint a beautiful landscape? Where is the encouragement for this type of success?

Where is the recognition of people who may not be academics, but build and maintain personal relationships better than most?

Part of the stress many of us feel, where people run themselves ragged at all times and fail to disconnect from work, even when on vacation, seems to come from this drive. People think, “If I don’t stay connected, will people think that I am not a hard worker? Will I appear to lack ambition?”

What are we teaching our children with these messages? Are we teaching our children to develop the same neuroses that we have developed, where the prioritization of work over relationships is sorely misaligned?

This problem has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. It is striking to me, how every speech by a major politician is peppered with statements that the United States is the best country in the world.

There are many areas where the United States excels and there are also areas, like healthcare, where the United States has much to learn from the rest of the world. The US has strengths and weaknesses, just like any person or child. And is there really anything wrong with that?

What do you think? What do you think accounts for people’s relentless drive to be the best and to push their children to be the best? Have you dealt with these pressures as a parent or an employee? Do you have any tips for others who would like to readjust their priorities and goals? Do you feel that this drive alienates potential teammates in a workplace or a social environment? Why do you think this issue has gotten so much attention lately? Do you think the intensity of the pressures have increased recently? And if so, why do you think that is?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

 

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Filed under Books, Business, Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, Health, International, Parenting, Peace, Relationships, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, travel, Women, Youth Leadership

The Importance of Slowing Down in a Busy Bee Culture

Copyright JC Politi Photography

There is more to life than increasing its speed.
Mohandas K. Gandhi

An article on the Opinionator blog of the New York Times called “The Busy Trap” is getting a lot of attention this week.

This article explores the notion that the frenetic pace so many of us engage in on a daily basis is self-imposed. While the author’s approach seems a bit self-indulgent and impractical, he has a point.

So many of us rush from place to place or appointment to appointment and collapse at the end of the day in front of the television in exhaustion. It appears that we are encouraging our children to do the same. There must be another way.

While I understand that most of us cannot live lives devoid of professional work, finding a balance within this reality has become my personal quest.

One of the lines that spoke to me in this article was this:

I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love.

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My most creative and innovative ideas come, not when I am rushing between meetings, but during times of relaxation, sometimes through exercise or through conversations with friends. I know I am not alone.

Some companies, I believe Google is one, reserve 20 percent of their employees’ time for creative endeavors that interest that particular employee. Some of the most innovative ideas have come from this unstructured time.

We all know this. And yet, we fill our calendars to the brim, feeling inadequate if we have a Saturday evening without plans. In fact, that Saturday evening may turn out be the exact time when you discover the key to your own fulfillment, simply by being, instead of doing.

Some of the secret joys of living are not found by rushing from point A to point B, but by inventing some imaginary letters along the way.
Douglas Pagels

What do you think? What is it that makes us feel the need to stay busy? Do you think this has to do with a general discomfort with being alone? Have you struggled with this? Do you have any tips to help people stop the constant spinning?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

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Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Environment, Health, Parenting, Peace, Photos, Relationships, social pressures, Technology

Four Strategies to Achieve Higher Employee Engagement

 

Photo Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As readers of this blog know, I do not usually stay on any specific topic for more than one post, but we seem to have hit a nerve on the last few posts, so I am going to keep with this theme for one more day.

There was in interesting post over on CNN’s Management and Career Blog entitled “Exposing Management’s Dirty Little Secret.”

The tagline of the article reads: If employees aren’t as enthusiastic as they could be, it’s not because the work sucks; it’s because management blows. While obviously, this is a broad statement, there is certainly some truth.

The article talks about three factors that contribute to employee satisfaction and engagement:

The scope that employees have to learn and advance (are there opportunities to grow?);

The company’s reputation and its commitment to making a difference in the world (is there a mission that warrants extraordinary effort?); and

The behaviors and values of the organization’s leaders (are they trusted, do people want to follow them?).

My husband works in Human Resources and much of his work focuses on efforts to track and improve employee engagement in corporations. We discuss these issues frequently and agree that opportunities for growth and adequate compensation are critical components to keep employees engaged. And they are certainly the basic ingredients for success.

But the discussions on this blog over the past few days have made me think about a fourth, equally important but more elusive factor. What kind of work-life balance does a particular job offer its employees?

Photo Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We have discussed some of the reasons many women leave high level positions in earlier discussions. But this issue is certainly not confined to its impact on women. And change will only come if we expand the discussion to include the impact on men.

A few thoughtful readers commented on the benefit to a company’s bottom line of having healthy, balanced employees. I do not have data to support this claim at my fingertips, but I would imagine that companies that provide these types of intangible benefits have more loyal employees and less turnover.

This must impact the bottom line.

What do you think? What makes you want to stay in a job or look elsewhere for work? Do you know of any companies whose employees are exceptionally engaged? To what do you contribute this success? How much of a role do you think a manger plays in this and how much is determined by the overall corporate culture? What energizes you at work?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

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Filed under Business, Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, equality, Income inequality, Parenting, Peace, Policy, Poverty, Relationships, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, Women, Youth Leadership

Sheryl Sandberg’s Top 3 Tips to Keep Women in High Level Jobs

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Yesterday’s post about an article in The Atlantic magazine entitled “Why Women Can’t Have It All” written by a women in a high-level position with the State Department, who chose to leave her job in order to spend more time with her family generated quite a discussion yesterday. I would like to continue the discussion today.

Many thanks to Diana from TalktoDiana for her passion and engagement. In the comments section, she shared this TED Talk, by Sheryl Sandberg, who is the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, which I would like to share with all of you today:

This video confirms many of the statistics included in the Atlantic article. Ms. Sandberg also posits some theories about the root causes behind the statistics. She discusses three important reasons why she believes that there are not more women in leadership positions, and offers advice for women who would like to change these realities. Her advice includes:

Women need to sit at the table

Make your partner a real partner

Don’t leave before you leave

I will not go into detail on these three reasons, as I could certainly do no better job than Ms. Sandberg in explaining this complex issue. But I encourage you to watch the talk if you are interested in helping think through this more.

The first reason will resonate with most women. Women simply have less faith in their abilities to succeed than men. It is a fascinating reality that I do not fully understand, but we have all seen and felt it in action. As an example, Sandberg highlights data showing that most women do not negotiate salaries and most men do.

The second reason will also resonate: women need to stop doing all the work at home. The statistics – and people’s personal realities – show that this is an expectation which makes it hard for women to reach professional heights they might otherwise like to reach. Perhaps women need to stop enabling this reality. (I should mention that I do not suffer from this particular problem. My husband is much tidier and a much better cook than me – good man.)

The third reason really intrigues me. Don’t leave before you leave. Sandberg points out that many women make professional choices and changes before life circumstances require them to do so. I know this to be true, as I believe will other women.

I remember applying for a job several years ago. We had just moved to a new city and I had been volunteering and looking for work for several months. While my husband and I have been fortunate professionally, our lifestyle requires two incomes.

My husband and I had been trying to conceive a baby and I was absolutely convinced that I was pregnant, which is probably a subject to which many couples can also relate. I was called in for a promising job interview.

I distinctly recall talking with my best friend about whether or not I should disclose the fact that I was pregnant to the potential employer. My best friend, who is one of the superwomen described in the Atlantic article who is currently doing it all with a high level job and two small children, said “Don’t say a word.”

I turned out not to be pregnant. Wise advice from a wise woman. I believe that this type of thinking is what Sandberg refers to in the TED Talk. I am not sure why women do this, but we frequently adjust our plans based on what might be, rather than what is. I appreciate Sandberg’s advice and plan to put her suggestions into action. Thank you again to Diana for sharing this TEDtalk with us.

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Yesterday, I also came across an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Being Murphy Brown in a June Cleaver World.” Apparently, there is an entire column in the Wall Street Journal called The Juggle dedicated to just these issues. This article just confirms my suspicion that regardless of the choices a woman makes she will feel inadequate in one portion of her life or another.

There is so much to discuss here. But I believe the key is to start having an honest dialogue about how society can enable women and men to contribute to professional society, and also allow them to have fulfilling and contented lives at home – without guilt.

I am thinking about gathering personal stories about people’s experiences with these dilemmas to turn into a book. Women and men both have a lot of stories to tell. I would love to speak with high-level professional women to learn about how they have handled this and lessons they have learned along the way.

What do you think? Does the TED Talk resonate with you? Do you have feelings of guilt regarding your adequacy as a parent or a professional, or both? Or have you been forced to make these difficult choices? How did you decide which road to take? How do you think we start to shift the paradigm, as Hugh suggested yesterday? What else does this bring up for you? Do you think there is a book idea here or are there too many books on this topic already? Any thoughts on how I should get started?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.   

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Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, equality, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, Women, Youth Leadership

Does Anyone Care About the Lack of Women in Leadership Positions?

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An article in The Atlantic magazine entitled “Why Women Can’t Have It All” has spread like wildfire through my Facebook and Twitter feed, and with good reason. The article is long, so give yourself some time if you decide to read it, but it is a chilling account of the difficult choices that women face when deciding where to focus their energies between career and family.

Some might say that chilling is too strong a word to describe this issue, but I would bet that people who would say that are not 40 year old females. This article raised more issues than I can describe in a short blog post. But I will give it my best shot.

It seems that my generation of women has been set up in some ways – entirely unintentionally, but set up for failure nonetheless. Whatever choice a woman makes about where to focus her energies, she pays a price in other areas of her life. And she frequently feels guilt regardless of which choice she made.

Many of my friends focused on establishing themselves in their careers in their 20s and early 30s, which are prime child-bearing years. By the time these women turned their focus to starting a family, after becoming more established in their careers, their biological clocks have frequently run out.

I cannot tell you the number of women I know who have had to turn to medicine to enable them to have children. Aside from the financial expense of taking this route, the emotional toll on a woman and her partner is substantial.

This article argues that if companies and organizations want to have women in leadership positions, things have to change. In addition to the author of the article, who held a high-level position in the State Department, it highlights several other prominent women, including Mary Matalin and Karen Hughes who both made the decision to leave high-level positions because they could not achieve the work-life balance they needed. I applaud the author for her courage in choosing to speak out on this complex and highly-charged subject.

I remember applying for a high level, stressful job several years ago. When asked how long I would expect to stay in the position,  I told the interviewing panel that I would likely stay for a long period of time if I could achieve a good work-life balance in the position. I was the last of two candidates – guess who did not get the job?

This is a fundamental cultural issue. We must begin the conversation now. Perhaps if we start the conversation, younger women will not be faced with the same choices that women of my generation have faced. Companies will have more women in leadership positions and be able to take advantage of the human capital that comes with this. Sounds like a win-win to me!

Some highlights from the article:

The best hope for improving the lot of all women, and for closing what Wolfers and Stevenson call a “new gender gap”—measured by well-being rather than wages—is to close the leadership gap: to elect a woman president and 50 women senators; to ensure that women are equally represented in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders. Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.

Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier.

What do you think? If you are not from the United States, do you feel like women face these same pressures in your country? If not, why not? What ideas do you have to change this dynamic? How can we make corporate and organizational leaders think differently about the lack of female talent in leadership positions? How do we help people understand that there are options that will keep talented individuals for longer periods of time if we just allow for a little more flexibility? Have you or your family faced these challenges? How have you handled them?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

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Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, equality, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, International, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, Women, Youth Leadership

Romance in Paris: Why Do French Bookstores Continue to Thrive?

 

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An article in the New York Times called “The French Still Flock to Bookstores” explores why, at a time when independent bookstores struggle in other parts of the world, they still flourish in France.

Reading the article transported me to a café in Paris where, by the way, I have never been. I could hear accordion music playing softly in the background as I read. And the topic of the article, the French romance with books, fit the theme.

I can’t help but feel a certain nostalgia and romance for what appears to be a dying breed, the written word on the page. I’ll admit that I have succumbed to the lure of the e-book for its convenience, especially when travelling; the ability to carry an entire library, which is lighter than a magazine, certainly has its appeal, but there is nothing like a book.

Just the smell of books, be they in the library or in a used book store or even brand new – there is something both hopeful and weighty about that smell. What will this book tell me? Will I be transported to another land? Or learn something new about places I inhabit every day? Books provide us with a cheap form of escape from daily life.

This article is about a love affair with books, and really, where better to have a love affair than Paris?  But it also explains the practical reasons that bookstores still thrive in France.

The French government has taken a special interest in preserving bookstores, providing grants to bookstore owners and subsidies for shopkeepers.

Most importantly, perhaps, they passed a law to prohibit electronic books from being sold dramatically below the publisher’s list price. This has likely done more to prop up bookstores than anything.

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My heart and my mind appear to be at war on this particular subject. In my heart, I am delighted to read that there is at least one place in the world where I can still wander from bookstore to bookstore in search of hidden treasures and ideas yet to be shared. I would buy a ticket to Paris today to do just that.

On a pragmatic level, however, I understand that e-books help reduce the environmental impact of books, as long as people don’t constantly upgrade their e-readers and create more electronic waste. If someone can tell me that physical books are more green than e-books, I would gladly change my perspective on this.

One green alternative is the model described in the article where once a month, on weekends, in Rue de Martyrs south of Montmartre, people bring old books and are welcome to take away books for free as long as they do not sell them.

Baltimore has a thriving organization called The Book Thing that allows people to do this every weekend. It was in the basement of an old Baltimore row house, but outgrew that space and had to find a bigger location. Who knew Baltimore was so chic?!

What do you think? How do you feel about the French government’s active role in preserving bookstores? What do you see as the future of books? If you are considering writing a book, or already have, did you print hard copies or just an e-book? Do you think that old bookstores will survive, but that they will become like vintage record stores or do you think there will always be a market for books? What will this mean for libraries?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

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No More Golden Parachutes for Firefighters! Why Are Pensions Always the First to Go?

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An article in the New York Times this week entitled “When ALEC Takes Over Your Town” examines the financial problems of a town in Rhode Island. This town could be just about any town in the United States.

The article discusses the demise of a proposal to increase taxes to boost the local economy in the town and highlights the fact that one of the two legislators in the House of Representatives who blocked the proposed increase is on the on the national board of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

While ALEC is a blog post topic for another day, anyone who is unfamiliar with this group should simply know that this is a highly conservative lobbying group posing as a non-profit, which promotes some of the most mean-spirited state legislation you can possibly imagine.

One of their pieces of model legislation, which they shop around to state legislators around the country, is the infamous Stand Your Ground Law that was the subject of much conversation in the Trayvon Martin case.

ALEC also devotes significant energy to working to shrink the size of government. But again, I have no doubt that I will write a post another day on ALEC.

But what interested me in this article is something that also came up in the comments section from yesterday’s post about the European Financial Crisis. The issue that I would like to explore today is the issue of what many call “bloated” pensions and what impact these pensions are having on budgets around the world.

As one of my brilliant readers noted yesterday, many say that pensions play a significant role in the financial problems in Europe today. We know that this is also an issue here in the United States, especially on the state and local level.

But it is important to remember what we are talking about here – the people who will be receiving these pensions are people who have served their country in one way or another, be it as a teacher, a fire-fighter, a police officer or some other sort of public servant. These are not people with golden parachutes and corporate bonuses.

I would imagine that firefighters and teachers plan for their financial future just like the rest of us. So, what happens when the legislature or local government slashes these benefits? What is the human impact on the people who depend on these benefits?

I understand that the math is complicated when it comes to talking about pensions. And I also understand that we have an aging population which creates complications on a number of levels, with significant fiscal consequences.

But shouldn’t we be focused on finding solutions to the problems that arise with an aging population? And why are the pensions of hard working individuals the first thing on the chopping block?

What do you think? Why do you think there is so much attention right now on pensions? Do you see other ways that a government could address the aging population that could actually help save money? What do you think people do when their pensions are slashed? Are there other areas of the budget where you think states and localities could find savings? Have you, personally experienced a reduction in the benefits you were expecting to receive? How has that impacted you and your family?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading

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Nuns on the Bus: Roman Catholic Nuns Hit the Road to Highlight Community Work of their Sisters

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An article in the New York Times about a group of Roman Catholic nuns who have planned a multi-state bus trip to highlight the critical work that nuns do on a daily basis to help the poor brought a smile to my face.

In light of the criticisms from Rome, it is no surprise to me that this group of inspiring women has chosen to hit the road to highlight the life-saving work of nuns across the country, who help feed the hungry and provide healthcare to the poor every day.

While I am not religious, it seems to me that nuns have kept their focus on one of the most fundamental tenants of Christianity, which is helping the poorest among us.

Meanwhile, as nuns have maintained this focus, working every day with people in need, the organized church has embroiled itself in scandal and political controversy over abortion and contraception.

I would suggest that the Catholic Church follow the lead of these courageous women and consider returning to work that inspires its followers, rather than work that shames, alienates and judges its most devoted members.

As I have blogged about before, I think the future of the Catholic Church may depend on this.

What do you think? Are there any organizations run by Catholic nuns in your community? What type of work are these women doing? What do you think about the criticism of the nuns by Rome? How do you see this impacting membership in the Catholic Church?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

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Filed under Education, Income inequality, Poverty, Religion, Women