Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sailing West to the Orient to Reach Independence

In a recent pronouncement from the University of Chicago's prestigious Graduate School of Business, the geniuses finally getting around to figuring out how corporate games are played are again prescribing some strategy for women to try in the equity adventure.

They've got a new set of buzzwords in the 'science' of networking analysis, namely social capital, structural holes and illegitimacy. Naturally they conclude that women aren't doing things right and should 'about face' and march to UC-GSB's new tune. All on the basis of a handful of current timeframe studies, they conclude that women never tried their super-clever marching song before, otherwise they'd be populating fortune 500 boardrooms in numbers.

Look at Token Woman, written in 1997 about a timeframe in the late 70s, before you tell us that you know the answer.

Women readers have every right to be cranky over yet another putdown. Sociologists and the bottomfeeders who sell big-hype advicebooks are misleading women pursuing parity.

Think about it. Your 'strategic partner', eagerly clawing his way to the top, who loans you 'some social capital' is putting his 'legitimacy' at risk and at the first sign of loss among his peers is going to cut you loose in most cases regardless of your value to his work or the corporation. But the bottomfeeders can sell advice if they make women feel inadequate and needy, while dangling some ephemeral carrot-mirage in front of the hungry.

Corporate top management has made it clear and sociologists have recorded top managements' answer that the 'responsibilities at their level' are too important to risk the extraneous effort of making them uncomfortable with common rules like including women in their high-powered operations just because the women are eminently capable and have succeeded at proving themselves, even in 'structural holes' in the organization. I remember the sociology presentation at a Women's Studies Luncheon at UC back in about '98 where this result was announced. (Harlan & Weiss) Everyone shrugged and spoke of promise for other generations, but that's not the response women should take.

The women's leadership in the corporate parity marketplace keep being 'puzzled' and constantly coming up with 'new' strategies to say women should try. Well they've been tried, including the one about social capital and structural holes. The women who entered the corporate games in the 70s were not dumb, nor were they poorly endowed with degrees and goals.

The game top management plays is simple and I've outlined it before. It's called creating a 'token woman', specifically a younger one, promote her several steps ahead of all her male peers and those peers immediately stop being nice and working as a team. Doesn't matter whether she's suitably capable, dedicated and well-connected, not even if she's unique and ideally situated. She, and by association, all the other women in the organization automatically become pariahs among their peers unless they openly choose the mommy-track. Frozen out, stalled. There are stats that show that promotions start for males at a later age. The politically correct roosters just ignore the implications and crow that women are making progress with each of those token women! How deluded!

Meanwhile the rest of women's problems keep haunting the shadows giving us nightmares.

It's time to write off the corporate parity thrust and rework our strategy, including how and when to pursue higher education. We've got the cart ahead of the horse in the current sequence.

We should be supporting young women (and our sons) in getting themselves established with a home of their own FIRST. Complete with a set of skills in construction and self-employment. With a women's system-designed home, built with workingclass values and ergonomics, and supporting a lifestyle geared to health and smart economics, our children's futures will be established, unlike the albatross/homes being foisted on the public, not to mention the unproductive adventures as immature learners in higher education. And homes like these, built with major labor input by our construction-talented children would cost less than the usual bill for most college educations at today's prices.

They would effectively earn a home in their youth. Where are young people going to get a job offer with financial potential like this. Want to see how we can swing this?

Postpone the highstakes risks chosen by the wealthy in chasing a degree or three, running up big debts and delaying our natural needs til we and our children are in jeopardy, behind in the race forever because we're not rich enough to make up for the extravagances of the wealthy. Don't emulate that strategy, it's a mistake.

Do the numbers, with a home like we're proposing, free and clear, our economic struggles are minimized. The choices -- of academic pursuits or of civic engagements and activism or of careers of all sorts, most especially in the arts and letters -- are within reach. All because we take the time to get the horse first.

Maybe you think that horse is overly expensive. In fact, not only is it in many cases less expensive than the 'higher' education, but is accessible to a much wider spectrum than just those considering post-secondary education. The numbers I've been accumulating run in the range of $20/sf, or $30/sf if you start with a knowledgeably selected doublewide and make serious improvements. Think about those numbers, with your typical home now being 1500sf, that's an investment of $45,000 and 4 years work, tops. Women just have to learn to tackle real construction with a systems analysis rigor.

But here's the really good part. Look how many women are about to 'retire'. Maybe you've been misled to believe that SocialSecurity-income is inadequate. Well, the game is changed because of our strategy and now we're going to incorporate another thread, namely the home should be multigenerational.

Did you know that in Crete, parents endow their daughters with a home of her own on the promise that the parents can count on their daughters for care in their old age? Interesting, but we're going another step further.

Medicare is the albatross in seniors' financing yet in other societies (Sardinia, Okinawa and the American 7thDay Adventists who were studied in medical circles and photo-storied in National Geographic) the 'typical' aging scenario is invalidated. Specifically in The China Study, the trojan horse carrying the diseases afflicting our lives is our western diet with high proportions of overheated and overprocessed foods and high percentages of animal proteins, one of the other mistaken marks of wealth we've adopted.

But health and smart economics was one of our system-design requirements so our women of the boomer generation could cherry-pick that benefit by keeping their children and grandchildren fully sharing in this home, now larger, that manages its food operations accordingly.

Did you know that intentional communities where resources and operations are shared, majorly reduce the amount of work required to maintain those resources and operations? Roughly half the time and effort of standard individual housekeeping and maintenance.

A large home with shared food-area, utilities, tools, and social areas but with ample private spaces for each couple and their children is economically more buildable than separate homes for each couple. Reducing isolation in aging and supplying experiential knowledge to youth, and financially more doable both to build and to maintain for all of them.

The HOME is the key, not the education nor the career.

I suspect Bodichon and Parkes -- earlier writers on what resources women needed -- also never did the numbers either though I haven't read them and would be interested to know, but from descriptions of their prescriptions it clearly sounds like they were totally focussed on 'income' but that's the wrong place to look.

It's the BOTTOM LINE that matters and by that I'm not excluding intangibles... In decision analysis you have techniques for incorporating intangibles into the bottom line. The good news is that in this case the bottom line financially is itself favorable, and the intangibles in harmony.

Furthermore that bottom line is less prone to risks like workingclass families run into when their employment fails them or some accident occurs. With a more sustainable home economically, especially energy-wise, and more income streams, even though likely smaller for a variety of reasons, the law of large numbers makes the bottomline more stable, not prone to being 'lost', ever.

As a mathematical decision analyst I frequently do mathematical models of situations I'm researching and I'm thinking of doing this scenario of our women boomers and their near-grown children, with soon-to-be families, just to demonstrate 'the numbers'. Everyone seems to have an aversion to doing the numbers and they stay stuck in the ruts corporate greed has engineered. Those mathematical models tell stories, at least to those who pore over the results and who play what-if games with the variables. It's a kind of gaming.

In this case I'd throw out medicare and health insurance, regular schools and childcare.

I can hear the screams now but the reality is, when you look at numbers and logic, those institutions are unbelievably detrimental on any end-use/least-cost analysis.

Did you know that hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical drugs are the 3rd leading cause of death in the US? How do you square that with our society's knee-jerk fear of being denied access to the 3rd leading cause of death, even being willing to pay extortionary premiums for their chance to play this russian-roulette.

Medicare is one of the worst distortions. I have a set of numbers on the costs of stroke care, at home vs with medicare, and the figures clearly show the financial hardships imposed by medicare -- if you want 'the benefits' owed to you for the premiums you paid for, you actually pay more for the care than if you arranged all the services for yourself at home. What sense does Medicare make? Dump it, skip the death-roulette. Skip the extorionary costs of premiums. In fact, with the home/diet strategy of this plan, you've increased the likelihood of staying healthy.

Yet the insane fear prevails. Everyone knows the world is flat. Imagine the impossibility of sailing west to the orient. Only madwomen would try it.

And then there's the screams over dumping regular k-12 and childcare. Home and cyberspace and libraries are our answer. In particular, in Ohio, there's a cybercharter school called OHDELA where any Ohio child can enroll (gotta have a phone). Every OHDELA cybercharter student (or two in the family) is endowed with an empowering computer, complete with scanner, printer and internet access. Plus a budget for individual programs and curriculum, as well as an edu-consultant to work with the parents, or grandma. No rational parent in hard straits like those described by workingclass academics would choose regular school, putting their child at a competitive disadvantage academically and socially, when their child can grow in an environment on near equal footing with their age-peers, have customized opportunities and have more time for needed involvement in family. Not to mention hugely improved time-on-task being free of the herding and crowd-control of factory schooling, not to mention busing. Unfortunately, no one, in the school system those children have access to, will tell them, even though the cybercharter option is less burdensome on the taxpayer.

Think what that computer/internet-access would do for the family after school hours are over.

I once did a comparable financial analysis for a hypothetical pair of single mothers (with one child each) and working only parttime, making near minimum wage to start, finding them a way out of poverty, but an even better arrangement would be if it was grandmother on social security with her daughter and grandchildren. In that presentation, I refrained from displaying the tables of numbers, relying on the story they told. I have since decided that the story has the vulnerability of being discounted as not based on hard facts even though the story includes the significant variables, so I'm thinking of recreating the numbers and posting them with the article.

More like I did in the analysis I did for a presentation of a strategy for the peace & justice art show's program on our energy dilemma, where I trailed along the tables of numbers as they developed. If I was going to sail west to the orient (and I am) I'd want a verifiable set of numbers.

In any case, the answer to the puzzle about women, post-secondary education and remunerative working life is that women should put their funds into a mortgage free, modified home, preferably with mother and siblings, before tackling the adventure of advanced education and not worry about big income promises. Meaningful work, of her own choosing and design, is then a possibility while still being able to share a comfortable, healthy life with her children, free of the financial instability.

Bottomline independence and well-being, not income and parity frustrations.

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