Coffee heat rising

Gender Pay Gaps: A$k and ye shall re¢eive?

Goood morning! Comes a particularly stupid  article from the Chicago Daily Heraldjobs with the highest gender gaps. Videography, it develops, is right up there at the top. Surprise! Pay in media companies tends to be 6.6% lower for women. Start low and get lower?

Hilariously, some expert on the topic remarks, “Establishing fair pay is going to be one of the big challenges tech and media companies are going to face.”

Where’s the “challenge” here? How hard is it to simply pay the same rate to everyone who holds a given job with a given seniority? And that does NOT mean lowering men’s pay so as to get away with paying everyone a lower rate.

This article suggests that women make a point of learning what their colleagues earn and then asking pointedly for raises to reach that rate.

At a large university I got a higher rate than my male counterpart who came on at the same rate I did, by repeatedly asking for raises. After about eight years, I was earning exactly $2 a year more than he did.

But  yes. In some industries nagging the boss for a raise works. SDXB discovered, at the time reporters tried to unionize Phoenix Newspapers, Inc., that he was highest earner among his colleagues, including guys who had been there for many more years than he had. That, he said, was because once or twice a year he went in to the boss and asked for a raise. And he was good at his job…he was a multi-award-winning investigative reporter.

The phenomenon I mention above, in which raises across the board are lowered to what employers imagine women are worth,  is called “the pinking of the newsroom” in our parts. When The Arizona Republic started hiring women, salaries across the board dropped. They paid women less, and they used that as an excuse to pay men less. Overall, pay dropped drastically.

One could argue that’s just a function of de-unionization, off-shoring of jobs, and repression of the US middle class, all of which indeed are real phenomena. But IMHO it’s not a coincidence that dropping pay across the board occurred at about the time women gained access to jobs that used to pay a living wage. Pay for a workforce doesn’t come up. It goes down whenever possible. When women are paid less, eventually men are paid less, too.

The State of Your Health: Is It Your Employer’s Business?

Today at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, we heard a panel discussion on employee wellness programs, presented by folks who have a vested interest therein: mostly directors of such projects.

It was interesting, particularly as an effort to persuade corporate leadership that employees’ health bears, in ways obvious and subtle, on the bottom line. And the discussion pushed one of my buttons.

Among the strategies the panel presented is a program in which workers are coaxed, by way of a $15/month bonus added to the paycheck, into submitting to tests to determine whether they’ve been smoking tobacco. There are similar thrusts in these programs having to do with diabetes prevention and control, obesity control, and the like. But this one exemplifies most perfectly, to my mind, what is wrong with such Big Mommy schemes. Videlicet:

What you choose to do about your health maintenance is none of your employer’s business.

Your health care is between you and your doctor, not between you and your doctor and your department manager and HR.

While I personally do not smoke, chew, or snort tobacco — and no offense, dear nicotine-loving friends, but I fear people who do are a little stupid — the stuff is a legal product available freely all over the country. There’s no law against smoking tobacco. And your employer has absolutely no business telling you that you can’t engage in a lawful activity on your own time, outside of the plant.

And your employer has even less business (we’re in the negative numbers now!) demanding that you submit to a test to confirm your word that you do not smoke. It’s an unwarranted and unacceptable intrusion into your private life.

Whence this anxiety to insert a whole new level of nosiness into our private lives?

The almighty dollar, that’s whence. The hype generated around the so-called “obesity epidemic,” which was recognized as hooey when it first arose and which some inquiring minds still question, represents a vast money-making opportunity. As in billions and trillions of dollars. The very folks who, over today’s lunch, regaled us with the glories of in-house “wellness” programs themselves stand to profit. Whether they work as wage slaves for companies that institute the programs or whether they own businesses contracting to companies to run such programs, they’ll profit.

If we’re all being bribed — or ordered — to take tobacco tests, what will be next?

Alcohol use is one hell of a lot more detrimental to productivity than puffing tobacco on your own time. It really would make more sense to test people, regularly, to determine how many cocktails or glasses of wine they had with dinner the night before.

Sugar: Exceptionally bad for you. Will we all be required to take blood glucose tests on Monday before we sit down to work?

Salt: Worse yet! You don’t even have to be fat for salt to drive up your blood pressure. How’s about we add a blood sodium level while we’re drawing blood for those glucose tests? No more hot dogs and potato chips at those Sunday afternoon football games for you, pal!

Folks. We have got to get a grip on this kind or exploitation. And somehow, someday Americans really need to come back to a basic fact of pre-Facebook, pre-Google, pre-Big Brother life: what’s your business is your business. And no one has any right to demand to poke their corporate nose into it.

“Follow Your Bliss”…REALLY?

Have you read this exceptionally fine post at I Pick Up Pennies? If not, you absolutely should. It’s the most articulate rant I’ve seen yet on an idiotic idea that permeates the American middle class. As Abby encapsulates it: “I’m sick unto death of hearing, ‘Do what you love, and the money will follow.'”

Amen, sister!

The truth of the matter is, there’s a reason we call our jobs “work.” We’re not supposed to think of them as defining our lives. Work is what you do to put food on the table and a roof over your head. Fun, fulfillment, and all that good stuff is what you do outside of work. Nowhere is it written that you have to “follow your bliss” to make a living.

Well. Nowhere credible, anyway.

While there certainly are jobs that are fun and fulfilling for people with a cast of  mind that fits said work, there aren’t enough such jobs to go around. Even those of us who have the skills to become, say, a forest ranger, a handsomely paid travel writer for the New York Times, a rock guitarist, a mightily marketed dog trainer, or an artisanal bread baker are unlikely to find that kind of work, because lots of other folks, most of them with more talent, better training, and more experience than ours, want those jobs, too.

Abby managed to survive a life-threatening illness that very nearly spirited her away and that left her with some long-term disabilities, which she has described at her blog. Now that she can return to the workplace, she has a decidedly pragmatic view of work:

Now, each time I get a paycheck, I’m flooded with an emotion that I can only describe as equal parts pride and greed. Well, 60/40 tops.

Maybe the ability to work — or, more realistically, the paycheck — should be a passion in and of itself. Whether due to unemployment or physical limitations, there are a lot of folks who wouldn’t care what they did, just that they could do it.

I, on the other hand, have been amazingly lucky in the health department and uncommonly privileged in other ways. These circumstances have made it possible for me, over the years, indeed to “follow my bliss.” Several “dream” jobs have come my way, and every time I’ve settled in to a desk at a workplace where some people would kill to be, I’ve thought, “Gee! I could do this forever! I’m going to hang onto this job for as long as I live.”

Uh huh.

I’ve been a freelance writer. I’ve been a magazine editor for the largest regional in the United States. I’ve been a full-time faculty member at a large research university, teaching writing and editing to upper-division and graduate students. I founded and directed a nonfiction writing program at that university. For the same vast learning factory, I founded and directed a scholarly publishing office that was unique in the land, possibly in the world. Today I’m a contract editor and I teach an online course in magazine writing, from home. All in all, these were (and are) pretty fun jobs.

But lemme tellya something: the money does not follow.

When you get a raise after ten years at your job and then you learn that a cashier at Costco earns as much as you do but she doesn’t have to take work home with her, she doesn’t put in hours of unpaid overtime with no comp time, she isn’t expected to spend her weekends and vacation time working for no pay…well. It does something to your “bliss.”

At one point I learned Costco was paying its forklift operators more than I was earning.

For this I got a Ph.D.? For this I cranked out a string of books through major publishers and more articles than you or I can count? For this I ended up with Social Security benefits that are a fraction of SDXB’s, who never finished a bachelor’s degree?

Okay, okay. No, money isn’t everything. But it sure as hell beats whatever’s in second place. When you realize you have significant talents, finely honed skills, and can do a job that benefits the society at large and that you’re earning less than a janitor for the City of Phoenix earns, you realize that your “bliss” is simply not valued. And the “bliss” part of the job slips away — imperceptibly at first, but over time the slippage becomes noticeable.

When you’re working every weekend, most evenings, and every holiday for nothing, the bliss starts to show some tarnish.

When you’re paid nine months of the year but are expected to spend your summers in meetings, teacher training,  and course prep — free of pay of course — “bliss” gets tired.

When a former student of yours who’s doing public relations declines to apply for the job you had at the regional magazine (which circulates in every country in the world!) because it pays nowhere near enough — nothing like what she earns in her 9-to-5, paid-overtime job — the blissful bubble in which you dwell gets a hole in it.

Would I care to be a janitor at the City of Phoenix? No. Would I like to be a Costco cashier? Maybe — maybe not. Do I want to be a forklift operator? Mmmm…I think I could do that job. Would I like to work in the PR department of a huge utility producing its light-weight in-house newsletter, tweeting messages from Management over the company’s intranet, and serving on the outfit’s Dilbertish cheerleading team, nine to five, no weekend work, no evening work, full benefits, a defined pension plan and Social Security? Damn right I would.

Just imagine having a life outside of work!

When you “follow your bliss” (heaven help us 🙄 ), what happens is that work merges with life. And when that happens, there is no life outside of work. All of your life is your work.

And that is why, IMHO, it’s not only foolish to go around trumpeting that people should make their living at something that makes them “passionate,” it’s probably dangerous. When you identify yourself with your work, you have no escape from work. And ultimately, you feel you have no worth outside of work.

Seriously. I had an editor who talked about having been out of work for three months after being laid off a job. The words he used in describing that period in his life were “I felt like I wasn’t worth anything.” This was a guy who wasn’t a worker with a fungible job. He was an editor.

That was his identity. No identity, no personhood. No personhood, no value.

From the vantage point of two careers started, built, and (mostly) wrapped up, I’d say the healthy approach is to think of work as separate from self. Work is something you do to support yourself and your children. If you enjoy it, bully for you. If you don’t, try to find a new trade or a new employer.

Either way, build a life outside of work, and seek your “bliss” there.

Another Shafting for Adjuncts, Comin’ Our Way

We’re told, through a listserv published for community college district adjuncts, that the policy for adjunct faculty is to be rabidly enforced. We are NOT TO BE TEACHING more than three sections a semester.

Interestingly, that appears to include summer sessions. That is, your summer session time is counted in to your academic-year teaching hours, somehow, through the magic of accounting sleight-of-hand. You get a few extra hours beyond 20 per week per semester, but that would allow you to take on only one course in the summer. If you teach any more than that (this summer, I have two), you will be forced into the state pension plan, in which there is no chance you will ever become vested (you have to work for the State of Arizona or Maricopa County for 10 years to become vested!).

Your “contribution” to the state pension plan is 11.13%. In other words, if you dare to take on one course too many, if you perform any substitute teaching, or if you serve on any committees, you get an 11.3% pay cut. Thus your unpenalizable salary is kept rigidly low, and you are smartly punished if you make a mistake.

Now… Each time a contract ends—which happens at the end of each term—you are considered “terminated” from state service. Therefore, you can fill out forms and jump through hoops and demand that the “contribution” be refunded to you.

Thus it’s not exactly a pay cut.

It’s less of a pay cut if you’re over 57½, because once you’ve reached the age at which you’re permitted to take drawdowns from tax-deferred savings, you may take out the money without a penalty from the feds.

If you’re too young to take out money from a tax-deferred plan, then the only way to hang on to what you’ve earned is to roll it over into an IRA.

Well, of course…you wouldn’t be working for $2,400 a semester if you didn’t need the cash flow, and need it in a big way. So what this amounts to is a nice little shafting and another tool to keep adjuncts down.

Since I can get the money back at the end of each semester, it won’t much matter to me. As long as my chair can get away with it, I’ll take on two summer courses and just let the SOBs confiscate 11.13% of my pay; then take it back when I’m “terminated” at the end of each semester. For me, it will just mean another helping of bureaucratic hassle.

It still will provide enough to pay my share of the mortgage on the downtown house, plus a few extra dollars to help make ends meet. I sure could do without having to fill out more forms and argue with more bureaucrats, though. Gawd, how I hate that!

How to Deal with a Workplace Bully

This is a guest post by Anita M. Martinez, one of the students in the spring 2011 magazine writing course at Paradise Valley Community College.

Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke.

—Benjamin Disraeli

Rebekka walks into her office and cheerfully bids everyone good morning. As she is getting settled at her desk, her supervisor, Milly, steamrolls into Rebekka’s office and asks her, “Have you completed that quarterly report yet?”

Rebekka stammers…“I…I just have to…”

Milly interrupts, “I thought I asked you to have that done by end of day yesterday. Why haven’t you gotten it done?”

Rebekka turns and helplessly gestures toward her in-basket piled high with files.

Milly responds, “Never mind the rest. Get that report to me by 9:30 today.” She turns on her heel and walks away, leaving Rebekka quietly seething and close to tears.

Is Milly simply trying to get the job done? Is Rebekka being too sensitive? Is Milly inflicting emotional abuse upon Rebekka? The answers are no, no, and YES!

Milly’s first offense occurred when she stormed into Rebekka’s office, not giving her the chance to get settled. An expert bully targets their victim at vulnerable times. Offense #2: Milly interrupted Rebekka when she was attempting to explain why she hadn’t completed the report. Offense #3: Milly’s statements were demeaning and counterproductive.

Is it coincidence that both characters involved in this scenario are women, or does this characterizatioin reflect a broad reality? According to current research by The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), founded by Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie, women comprise 58% of bullies in the workplace, and 71% of their targets are women. Seventy-two percent of these bullies are managers!

If you are a target for workplace bullying, what can you do to protect yourself? The following five-step approach will not change the bully, but it will give you an effective strategy so you don’t have to put up with bullying behavior.

Step 1: Identify the abuse. According to the WBI, the definition for bullying in the workplace is “repeated health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators.” Forms of mistreatment include verbal abuse, intimidating behavior to include non-verbal actions, and sabotaging work from getting done. At times, bullying can cross over into the “harassment” classification, which is defined as discrimination against a person for their sex, race, age, or religion (or group affiliation). Federal and state law protect us from harassment, yet only 11 states have Healthy Workplace bills in place, giving targets of bullying certain legal rights.

Step 2: Know where to draw the line. A healthy person instinctively knows when their boundaries have been crossed. Bullies know and usually avoid such persons, immediately targeting a boundary-less person. Know what you will and will not tolerate, and never be afraid to calmly verbalize your “will-nots” at their first or next attempt at bullying.

Step 3: Stand up for yourself (literally). Often a bully will invade your personal space (measured by your fully extended arm’s length), or place a hand upon you to exert control. If you are sitting and they are too close for comfort, slowly stand up and look the bully straight in the eye. If you are already standing, do not back down. Maintain eye contact. If the bully pushes you, strikes you, or touches you in an inappropriate way, he or she has crossed the legal boundary, which must be pursued. (Make sure you are not the aggressor.) When the person says something offensive, take control of the situation by politely asking them to repeat it.

Step 4: Take written observation. Okay, so you’ve had enough bullying and decide to take your complaint to Human Resources, or for a smaller company, the owner or top dog (assuming that person is not the perpetrator). Documenting mistreatment cools you emotionally so you can take action with a level head. A written record also arms you with ammunition when you take your complaint to a higher level. A competent HR professional will document such reports, which should count against the offender come employee review time. If you are fortunate enough to live in the states of Washington, Nevada, Utah, Illinois, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, or New York, you could be building your case to sue the offender, or your employer for not taking appropriate action to protect you.

Step 5: Assess whether the job is worth it. When your physical or mental health, as well as the quality of your personal life begins to suffer, it is definitely time to consider alternative employment. Do you really want to work for an employer that hires and tolerates workplace bullying? Before accepting a new position, ask to review their policy manual. A good employer will have a policy in place prohibiting bullying.

The world is full of bullies. Chances are you will cross tracks with one again, in your career or your personal life. The key is to identify it and put an immediate stop to bullying behavior.

Here are a few resources that will help:

The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job, by Gary Namie and Ruth Namie. Illinois, 2009

Are You Cut Out for a Freelance Job? Is Anyone?

Brip Blap has an interesting post today,Job Junkie.” It’s quite nuanced—a lot is going on in it. Overall, he’s talking about working so steadily and so faithfully that you become “addicted” to work. And he’s got something there. I once had a boss who told me how it felt when he was laid off a previous job. He said, “If you don’t have a job, you’re nothing.”

Job junkie.

One thing Brip Blap observed in passing, though, caught my attention in a slightly off-topic way:

I offer my services to giant corporations for whom my fee is a footnote to a footnote to a rounding error. They don’t mind flinging some cash in my direction to avoid the hassle of hiring a permanent employee to finish their projects; they don’t have to train me, give me benefits and then file endless mounds of paperwork before they let me go.  I can come in, do the work with a minimum of supervision, and leave with no fuss.  So I get paid at a premium.

I was chatting recently with another freelance contractor who also feels well paid. But what looks like good pay to the freelancer, I remarked (perhaps unkindly) looks like something altogether different to the employer.

It doesn’t much matter how much an employer pays a freelance contractor, although of course they’d like to get the person to work for a fraction of the hourly rate a full-time employee would earn. Even if the employer pays you the full equivalent of what might be considered a good salary, he (or she…for brevity’s sake, let’s get politically incorrect here) is getting a bargain. He doesn’t have to pay anything for your FICA, he doesn’t have to cover your health insurance, he doesn’t have to chip in for your dental or vision insurance.

Nor does he have to provide you a decent office. If you work on the premises during your contract, a broom closet equipped with a light plug and an Ethernet connection will do. Far to be preferred, of course, is the opportunity to offer you the inestimable privilege of working remotely: i.e., you pay for your own roof, your own desk and chair, your own lamp, your own heat and air conditioning, your own water, your own computer, your own software, your own DSL, your own pens, your own pencils, your own paper, your own business cards, your own letterhead, your own parking.

It is, in short, such an amazing bargain that “a footnote to a footnote to a rounding error” hardly does it justice.

Consider, for example, what would happen if the Great Desert University decided to call me out of Bumhood and put me back to work on a freelance basis, offering to pay my previous gross salary. What would the university not have to pay?

$600 a month* for health insurance, the full tab charged by Cigna for a policy that used to cost me just $36 a month. Total savings for a one-year contract: $7,200
$36 a month for dental insurance; $432/year
7.65 percent of my pay, for the employer’s half of FICA and OASDI: $4,972.50 for the year
Employer’s match for my 403(b) contribution: $4,550
1 Dell computer, bells and whistles attached: $1,000, approx.
Acrobat Professional: $450
InDesign CS5 Premium: $450
MS Office: $150
Steelcase office chair: $200
Steelcase desk: $1,335
Phone connection: unknown
Ethernet connection: unknown
Office space, air conditioning & heat, water: unknown

Before we even calculate the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ share of the phone, Ethernet, air conditioning, and water service, we see the university saves $20,739 on the first year of my services if it hires me on a freelance basis to work out of my home. That’s $20,739 worth of costs that the university passes to me. Before I’ve paid my income taxes.

Subtract 25% for federal taxes and 3% for state taxes; divide by 12 and you come up with a monthly net of $2656—about $400 a month less than I was taking home as a salaried employee. And that’s before I’ve paid the air conditioning, DSL, and phone service for my home office.

So, hiring you to do your job as an independent contractor works out to be a bargain for an employer. For you…not so much. Your gain out of the deal is that you don’t have to commute to work every day.

How do outsourcing employers get away with this? Beats me…  But I have one theory: freelance writers and editors (and to a lesser extent, other creative talent) tend to look at their income figures through rose-colored reading glasses. In my experience with freelancers—of which I had a-plenty during my incarnation as a magazine editor—freelance writers and photographers often perceive that their income amounts to more than it really does.

I’ve lost track of the number of people who’ve proudly told me they earned umpty-umpteen tens of thousands of bucks in a given year—usually some munificent figure like 20 grand. But what you gross is not really what you earn. The figure that matters is the amount you have to live on. When someone crows about earning an amazing $20,000 or $25,000, they haven’t subtracted the many costs of doing business, nor are they connecting the cost of health insurance with their wage, in the way that a salaried earner thinks of healthcare premiums. The money that stays in the freelancer’s pocket, the amount available to pay for groceries and the roof, is much, much less than what she or he grosses—specifically because of the much higher costs of taxes and insurance.

While some people undoubtedly do make a decent income (at least now and again) at freelance contracting, the average Author’s Guild member earns less than $25,000. That figure is high, because Author’s Guild membership comprises well-paid television and movie writers and best-selling book authors, along with all the wretches with a laptop on the kitchen table. Another commonly cited figure is $10,000 a year: a number that hasn’t changed in three or four decades. Digital skills don’t help: Darren Rouse at Problogger did a 2007 survey that showed 26% of 857 bloggers earned under $10 that year. Nine percent earned $15,000 or more; 1% earned $10,000 to $14,999; all the rest earned less than $10,000.

Most people who get by as independent contractors in creative fields manage it because they have a spouse or partner who brings home a living wage. If you want to try to make it on your own, you need some demonstrable skills plus a good track record of employment in newspaper, magazine, or book publishing—preferably with a few major awards to show. And even then, you’ll have to make a lot of trade-offs, particularly in the lifestyle department.

Pay is low and workdays are long. Yesterday, for example, I started at 2:00 a.m. At 5:00 I stopped long enough to feed the dog and bolt down a small breakfast; then it was back to the keyboard. Forgot to eat lunch. Paused again for cheese and crackers around 5:00 p.m. Then worked through until 10:00 p.m.

One of my editors, who made a living in Long Island as a music critic for many years, once remarked that freelance writing is great because it lets you schedule your own work hours: any 18 hours of the day you choose.

He knew whereof he spoke.

* Figures from Great Desert University’s 2009 benefits handout