A friend who works in IT support (for a very large and well known IT industry multi national doing security patching and stuff) just phoned me because his boss wants him to work overnight to do a release and then to front up to work again early tomorrow morning. This is not the first time his supervisor has asked this, and not the first time that I’ve heard this type of story. It even happened to me when I was younger and working in tech support roles.
These demands to work unreasonable hours make the ICT industry unattractive to work in. What is very sad is that this company has won awards for its diversity policies and its website raves about the programs that support work-life balance. Again, where is the congruence between the values articulated by the organization and the values it demonstrates towards the human beings that provide labour?
Of course, none of the fabulous diversity programs for work-life balance apply if you are contractor or a casual employee. My friend, who is a good tech support geek, is now thinking about retraining and leaving the IT industry for something with a more human friendly approach. While I generally do not support union campaigns this one does seem reasonable (no pun intended):
The Australian Council of Trades Unions is running a campaign for Reasonable Hours:
“The ACTU Reasonable Hours campaign aims to raise awareness about the effects of long working hours. ACTU research into workplace issues has found that long hours and the increasing intensification of work is the overwhelming primary concern of workers. For much of the last century Australia lead the world in fair working time. But in 1980 Australia started to buck the international trend and hours began to grow. Currently, Australia has the second longest working hours in the OECD. On current trends we will soon have the longest. It is a sad irony that Australia now has one of the worst records in the world. It is time to once again civilize working time.”
Seth Godin makes an interesting point about a new digital divide:
“I think a new divide has opened up, one that is based far more on choice than on circumstance. Several million people (and the number is growing, daily) have chosen to become the haves of the Internet, and at the same time that their number is growing, so are their skills.”
This is a fairly Darwinian point about people who choose to accept the new medium and develop new skills. Although, the ‘old’ digital divide is still with us and many people do not have access to the internet there is a growing gap between those who embrace technology and those who do not.
Was reviewing the pictures on the Blogtalk Downunder Flickr and it occurred to me just now that I have not seen so many Mac notebooks in one place ever before. Then I went to check out one of the tools that was recommended Tinderbox – which only works on Macs. This subculture is one that I’ve not had much contact with. Generally, people I know seem to use either Windows or Linux – cannot think of one person I know who uses a Mac as their primary device. Anyone out there who uses a Mac – I’d be interested to know why.
PS: Must confess I used to have a Mac a few years ago but replaced it with Wintel due to incompatibility issues with family, friends and university.
In recent days I have been going out to various ICT industry functions in Sydney. Two of the speakers stood out from the rest. The first was Robyn Henderson who spoke at the FITT networking session, and the second was Gordon Bell who spoke at the AVCAL breakfast.
Each of these speakers is an expert in their field:
Robyn is a networking specialist, who has authored 9 books on networking and business building, self esteem and confidence building. Robyn has spoken in 10 countries, presents over 150 times each year and has never advertised – all of her work comes from networking and referrals and her website.
Gordon is a luminary in the ICT industry who was responsible for, amongst many other things, the PDP6 and VAX, and who is currently working at Microsoft as a researcher and indulging in the occasional angel investment.
Yet, what marked out these people for me was their passion and humility. Both are recognized as leaders in their field and yet each is willing to talk openly with people who share their passion. Each shares their learnings freely, and seeks to generate interest and growth in their area of passion. Most refreshing of all is their enthusiasm for both their area of expertise and for life in general. Perhaps Robyn summed it up best when she advised “Avoid keeping tabs on what you do for others: Give Without Expectations”.
F.Y.I. the host organizations for these events were:
Females in Information Technology and Telecommunications (FITT) is a network of women who have come together to encourage and support women and girls who want to reach their full potential in the information technology and telecommunications (IT&T) industry.
The Australian Venture Capital Association Limited (AVCAL) is the national association that represents the venture capital industry’s participants, promotes the industry and encourages investment in growing business enterprises.
Just had an anonymous comment on an old post.
The commenter said:
“Honey, you must be very young. It’s not just about how hard you work. The ole’ boy’s network is alive and well – you just haven’t reached a high enough level in the corporate hierarchy to see it yet. “
The comment is welcome on several levels:
1) I love being told I’m young (more people should tell me that), which probably reveals that I’m older than the commenter thinks.
2) I have worked as a senior executive in large corporations for quite a few years.
3) Many of my female friends are senior executives, ‘C’ level executives or board directors. Many of the women I mentor are aspiring to those roles.
My personal history is instructive because it does not fit the ‘normal’ pattern of how you get ahead in the corporate world. I was born into a poor family and lived in a socio-economically deprived part of the city; I also have attention deficit disorder together with some learning difficulties. When I finally did get to university I dropped out in third year to assist my four younger siblings when my parents died. I had to go out and get a job. Without a completed degree the only option available was an entry level clerical job, and I watched other people with better educations and less personal responsibilities zoom past me. Over the years I worked hard and smart to get promoted and eventually I got to parity with those peers who had zoomed past me. Then I started to go past some of those peers, they had not been working as hard or remaining as focused (i.e. they went home while I stayed at the office). But the important thing is that I found something I had a passion for, and that makes it easy to stay focused. With a thirst for knowledge in my area I became the go-to person in that area. Eventually I went back to university and studied while I held down a C level job in a major corporation, finally obtaining a masters degree in business. Along the way I was also Chairman and President of a number of industry and professional associations.
Over the years in corporate life there are a few things I have learned:
- There are only a few top jobs in each company, and those that get them are those who have no other life. You need to be dedicated, focused and committed. There are very few people in top jobs who have not put in 12 hour days for many years. Fair or not, work life balance does not get you to the top in business (not yet anyway).
- Nobody is going to just offer you these top jobs; you have to go for them. You need to put up your hand for tough assignments and get noticed.
- You need to work out what the networks are in the organization and link into them. In one company the power network was the smokers who used to go downstairs and stand outside for a smoke. I did not smoke so I used to grab a coffee and stand with them while I drank it (ensuring never to stand down wind of them).
- You need to take risks and show the powers that be that you are the solution to some of their problems. I have always worked on the ‘no surprises’ principle for my boss and other stakeholders, and have always been the provider of solutions rather than just pointing out problems.
- You will never get ahead if you leave it to chance. It is important to work out what you want to achieve and the steps necessary to achieve it. A plan is a good and useful thing.
- You will meet people of ill will, it is important to get used to this and to develop your own strategies for dealing with them. Sometimes those people of ill will and your boss will be one and the same. The options are: stay and manage the person and situation, cry and be a victim, or vote with your feet.
On the whole, I am tired of the woman as victim theme. Women have choices, lots more than men in many cases. Many men also do not get ahead in business. The men that I know who got ahead have all worked longer and harder than their peers, have networked more ferociously, and have become well respected in their specialty area. The case is precisely the same for the women who have been successful. One thing I know for sure, none of these successful people sat around whingeing that nobody was giving them a chance. They set the agenda, took the risks and showed why they should be given more opportunities.