Friday, May 8, 2009

10th is MOTHER'S DAY

This is an interesting writeup by a single mother

Single mom by choice

The last thing I want is people to feel sorry for me. If you can't empathise, don't sympathise. That's akin to putting me down. I am a single mom, raising a lovely eight-year-old and I have no regrets. I don't spend every waking moment hoping to find a substitute dad for my daughter. Parents are special in a child's life and no one can take their place.
I walked out of my marriage over four years ago. No regrets or bitter feelings-just a conviction that I couldn't continue to be 'married' any more. I couldn't continue living in a dead relationship for the 'sake of my child'. Many women do. But marriage is sacrosanct and honesty in heart and mind is my Holy Grail.
What's life like as a single mom? I expect you would want me to say 'challenging'. I would say 'rewarding'. It makes you humble and more than aware of the great responsibility you are wielding. My daughter looks to me as her caretaker and rules-keeper. If she's upset with mommy, she doesn't run to daddy for comfort. She comes back to mommy. To her mommy works hard to take care of her, for the good things around her. She also takes her shopping and on outings.
Sometimes we come up against amazingly archaic rules and systems. Like forms and records which demand a father's name. It's getting better though with official forms increasingly allowing the mother's name for identification instead of the father's. Where we do still need joint signatures, she looks at me with a mischievous grin and says, 'Mommy, you can.'
I am not pushing for single parenthood. Children need the love of both parents. What I am saying is that being a single mom is not the worst thing. Children need love and the anchor of a secure home. If a woman is not happy and content with herself she cannot be a great homemaker.
Does my daughter miss her father? I am sure she does. I do believe no one can take a parent's place in a child's life. But she understands. She understands that somewhere mommy and daddy were never in love-and love is important. She understands they chose to go their separate ways but they are always together in her world. That's enough for now. Someday, when she is old enough, I hope she will understand why I chose the path I did. I cannot live a lie like many others around me. Someday, I am hoping she will smile and say, 'Mommy you can, and you have.'

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership


That there is a problem is not in doubt. Despite years of progress by women in the workforce (they now occupy more than 40% of all managerial positions in the United States), within the C-suite they remain as rare as hens’ teeth. Consider the most highly paid executives of Fortune 500 companies—those with titles such as chairman, president, chief executive officer, and chief operating officer. Of this group, only 6% are women. Most notably, only 2% of the CEOs are women, and only 15% of the seats on the boards of directors are held by women. The situation is not much different in other industrialized countries. In the 50 largest publicly traded corporations in each nation of the European Union, women make up, on average, 11% of the top executives and 4% of the CEOs and heads of boards. Just seven companies, or 1%, of Fortune magazine’s Global 500 have female CEOs. What is to blame for the pronounced lack of women in positions of power and authority?

In 1986 the Wall Street Journal’s Carol Hymowitz and Timothy Schellhardt gave the world an answer: “Even those few women who rose steadily through the ranks eventually crashed into an invisible barrier. The executive suite seemed within their grasp, but they just couldn’t break through the glass ceiling.” The metaphor, driven home by the article’s accompanying illustration, resonated; it captured the frustration of a goal within sight but somehow unattainable. To be sure, there was a time when the barriers were absolute. Even within the career spans of 1980s-era executives, access to top posts had been explicitly denied. Consider comments made by President Richard Nixon, recorded on White House audiotapes and made public through the Freedom of Information Act. When explaining why he would not appoint a woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, Nixon said, “I don’t think a woman should be in any government job whatsoever…mainly because they are erratic. And emotional. Men are erratic and emotional, too, but the point is a woman is more likely to be.” In a culture where such opinions were widely held, women had virtually no chance of attaining influential leadership roles.

Times have changed, however, and the glass ceiling metaphor is now more wrong than right. For one thing, it describes an absolute barrier at a specific high level in organizations. The fact that there have been female chief executives, university presidents, state governors, and presidents of nations gives the lie to that charge. At the same time, the metaphor implies that women and men have equal access to entry- and midlevel positions. They do not. The image of a transparent obstruction also suggests that women are being misled about their opportunities, because the impediment is not easy for them to see from a distance. But some impediments are not subtle. Worst of all, by depicting a single, unvarying obstacle, the glass ceiling fails to incorporate the complexity and variety of challenges that women can face in their leadership journeys. In truth, women are not turned away only as they reach the penultimate stage of a distinguished career. They disappear in various numbers at many points leading up to that stage.

Walls All Around
A better metaphor for what confronts women in their professional endeavors is the labyrinth. It’s an image with a long and varied history in ancient Greece, India, Nepal, native North and South America, medieval Europe, and elsewhere. As a contemporary symbol, it conveys the idea of a complex journey toward a goal worth striving for. Passage through a labyrinth is not simple or direct, but requires persistence, awareness of one’s progress, and a careful analysis of the puzzles that lie ahead. It is this meaning that we intend to convey. For women who aspire to top leadership, routes exist but are full of twists and turns, both unexpected and expected. Because all labyrinths have a viable route to the center, it is understood that goals are attainable. The metaphor acknowledges obstacles but is not ultimately discouraging.

If we can understand the various barriers that make up this labyrinth, and how some women find their way around them, we can work more effectively to improve the situation. What are the obstructions that women run up against? Let’s explore them in turn.

Vestiges of prejudice.
It is a well-established fact that men as a group still have the benefit of higher wages and faster promotions. In the United States in 2005, for example, women employed full-time earned 81 cents for every dollar that men earned. Is this true because of discrimination or simply because, with fewer family demands placed on them and longer careers on average, men are able to gain superior qualifications? Literally hundreds of correlational studies by economists and sociologists have attempted to find the answer.

Copyright © 2007 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved

Monday, May 4, 2009

What Finland can teach America about true luxury

New York – What is true luxury? Just when I thought I'd settled on my answer – a flat-screen TV the size of Kansas and a leather-upholstered car that can travel at triple the speed limit – I made several visits to Finland. Shortly after my return the financial crisis hit. Finland has been on my mind ever since. In these hard times, we could learn a few things about luxury from the Finns.

Strolling the streets of Helsinki, the capital, I noticed a lack of grand architecture and opulent homes, and an abundance of modest cars. Helsinki was a nice enough city, and it had some gems of modern design, but part of me felt that Finland was a bit dull. And, strangely, some of the Finns I met seemed to take pride in this.

Finland seemed even duller on my next visit in July. The weather was glorious, but Helsinki felt like a ghost town. I learned that most Finns take a five-week summer vacation, and that many of them disappear for the entire time to tiny, bare-bones cottages in the woods. Curious, I wrangled an invitation to visit one of these secluded cabins. It was meticulously cared for, but lacked any creature comforts. I quickly realized that there was nothing to do and no one to see.

After a couple of days at the cabin I was a convert. It was marvelously relaxing, and I realized the Finns were on to something – a form of luxury that had little to do with high-end products, the quest to acquire them, or the need to show them off. While some Finns pursue the material trappings of success, most seem to feel that the pleasures of time and solitude are more precious.

During my visits, I met some North American expats, including a Canadian who'd lived in the US for years. "I talk to friends back in North America," he told me, "and they tell me about all the latest toys they've bought. Here I'm just puttering away on my little house like a Finn, and that's about it. The pace of life is slower. I like that."

Americans in Finland shared similar sentiments. But they weren't naive about the place, and there was a reason they weren't buying the latest toys. "I'll never become rich in Finland," one explained, "the taxes are just too high." But for him it was a trade-off worth making. "Great healthcare, basically free. My kids get one of the best educations in the world, free." By the way, that includes college, free. He had no plans to move back to the States.

As I spent more time in Helsinki, my own notion of the luxuries available in Finland expanded to include more than just the quiet pleasures of a cabin getaway. Finnish cities are filled with universally well-maintained and high-quality schools, hospitals, buses, trains, and parks. While most Finns might never be able to own a well-appointed SUV or a big house, they value the less-tangible assets they do have, which add up to quality of life and peace of mind.

Finland doesn't pay lip service to providing a level playing field for all its citizens. It really does give the vast majority of its citizens a fair and equal chance in life, in a way that the US just doesn't, no matter how much Americans like to think it does.

Finland has its downsides, of course. The Finns I met described high rates of depression and alcoholism among their countrymen, and admitted that many Finns seem to suffer from low self-esteem. When I returned to the dynamic bustle of New York, I was happy to be back, even with the financial crisis decimating the economy.

Compared with Finns, Americans have qualities I admire and treasure: optimism, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a willingness to be opinionated, for starters. These qualities will help us fight our way back to economic health.

But let's face it: The single-minded pursuit of outsized material consumption helped get us into this mess. As we struggle to get back on our feet, perhaps we should pause for our own "Finnish moment."

Trevor Corson is the author of "The Secret Life of Lobsters" and "The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice."

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Chrysler expected to sell assets to Fiat

Chrysler is expected to file a motion Saturday to sell substantially all of its assets to Italian automaker Fiat Group, but the ailing automaker must still deal with creditors who refused to come to a deal to erase the company's debt.

Attorneys for Chrysler say eight plants will not be affected by the sale, including five that the automaker revealed it will shutter by the end of next year.

How swine flu is infecting Mexico's economy

ECONOMIST: TRADITIONAL May Day rallies have been cancelled in Mexico as the country begins a five-day suspension of “non-essential” activities. The president, Felipe Calderón, has called off (or put behind closed doors) sporting events and concerts, ordered the closure of bars and nightclubs, and introduced general measures to keep people apart, from Friday May 1st to May 5th, in the latest effort to tackle the spread of swine flu. The order seems irrelevant: in Mexico City, the capital, residents have been staying inside anyway for much of the past week, and schools have been closed for several days. One estimate suggests that, as a result, the city’s retail and service industries are losing at least $55m a day.

Just what the economic impact of swine flu will be on Mexico is becoming clearer. A ban on restaurants seating customers is likely to double the cost to the city’s businesses. The capital accounts for roughly a fifth of national GDP (and similar measures are affecting other parts of the country). Financial markets have reacted. Since the emergency began on April 24th the local stockmarket has fallen by 3% (led by a 15% slide in an airport operator, Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico). The local currency, the peso, has dipped by about 4% against the dollar, although it recovered slightly on May 1st in response to news that the Inter-American Development Bank would lend the country $3 billion to combat the flu and the economic crisis.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The collapse of manufacturing

ECONOMIST: $0.00, not counting fuel and handling: that is the cheapest quote right now if you want to ship a container from southern China to Europe. Back in the summer of 2007 the shipper would have charged $1,400. Half-empty freighters are just one sign of a worldwide collapse in manufacturing. In Germany December’s machine-tool orders were 40% lower than a year earlier. Half of China’s 9,000 or so toy exporters have gone bust. Taiwan’s shipments of notebook computers fell by a third in the month of January. The number of cars being assembled in America was 60% below January 2008.

The destructive global power of the financial crisis became clear last year. The immensity of the manufacturing crisis is still sinking in, largely because it is seen in national terms—indeed, often nationalistic ones. In fact manufacturing is also caught up in a global whirlwind.

Having bailed out the financial system, governments are now being called on to save industry, too. Next to scheming bankers, factory workers look positively deserving. Manufacturing is still a big employer and it tends to be a very visible one, concentrated in places like Detroit, Stuttgart and Guangzhou. The failure of a famous manufacturer like General Motors (GM) would be a severe blow to people’s faith in their own prospects when a lack of confidence is already dragging down the economy. So surely it is right to give industry special support?

Despite manufacturing’s woes, the answer is no. There are no painless choices, but industrial aid suffers from two big drawbacks. One is that government programmes, which are slow to design and amend, are too cumbersome to deal with the varied, constantly changing difficulties of the world’s manufacturing industries. Part of the problem has been a drying-up of trade finance. Nobody knows how long that will last. Another part has come as firms have run down their inventories (in China some of these were stockpiles amassed before the Beijing Olympics). The inventory effect should be temporary, but, again, nobody knows how big or lasting it will be.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Asia's suffering

ECONOMIST:CHINA’s lunar new year sees the world’s largest migration, as tens of millions of workers flock home. Deserting for a few days the factories that make the goods that fill the world’s shops, they surge back to their native villages. This week, however, as they feasted to the deafening rattle of the firecrackers lit to greet the Year of the Ox, their celebrations had an anxious tinge (see article). Many will not have jobs to go back to.
Some Asians are blaming the West. The Western consensus in favour of globalisation lured them, they say, into opening their economies and pursuing export-led growth to satisfy the bottomless pit of Western consumer demand. They have been betrayed. Western financial incompetence has trashed the value of their investments and consumer demand has dried up. This explanation, which absolves Asian governments of responsibility for economic suffering, has an obvious appeal across the region.

Awkwardly, however, it tells only one part of the story. Most of the slowdown in regional economic growth so far stems not from a fall in net exports but from weaker domestic demand. Even in China, the region’s top exporter, imports are falling faster than exports.

Yet infrastructure spending alone is not a long-term solution. This sort of stimulus will sooner or later become unaffordable, and growth based on it will run out of steam. To get onto a sustainable long-term growth path—and to help pull the rest of the world out of recession—Asia’s economies need to become less dependent on exports in other ways.

Asian governments must introduce structural reforms that encourage people to spend and reduce the need for them to save. In China, farmers must be given reliable title to their land so that they can borrow money against it or sell it. In many countries, including China, governments need to establish safety-nets that ease worries about the cost of children’s education and of health care. And across Asia, economies need to shift away from increasingly capital-intensive manufacturing towards labour-intensive services, so that a bigger share of national income goes to households.