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This is the final week of Diana Bilimoria’s Coursera MOOC on Women in Leadership. It’s been a short, but interesting course. As a whistlestop tour, the major issues and dismal statistics have all been covered, but the course hasn’t dwelled on them self-pityingly. Instead, the focus has been proactive, starting from the basis that knowledge is power.
Week 1: Developing your Leadership Identity
Week 2: The State of Women’s Leadership
Week 3: Your Presence as a Leader
Week 4: Tools for career advancement
There were only two readings this week: a Harvard Business Review article from March 2014, Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life; and a chapter by Bilimoria et al on profiles of women’s career development over time.
I love HBR, and this article was no exception. Based on thousands of interviews, its focus is on how leaders can get away from ‘firefighting’ and towards making meaningful, deliberate decisions about how they work that can enable them to have more time for family and community, “vigilantly manag[ing] their human capital”. They draw out five main behaviours:
- Defining success for yourself;
- Managing technology;
- Building support networks at work and at home;
- Travelling/relocating selectively; and
- Collaborating with your partner.
For me, the most interesting of these is managing technology, as I’ve written a lot about incorporating technology into my academic life (acwri tools), working practices (particularly time planning), and hobbies (particularly running). ‘Managing technology’ in HBR’s context describes “corralling” emails, calls, and other messages as part of “deciding when, where, and how to be accessible to work”.
The article links this very personal question to the dangers of 24-hour availability from a work-performance perspective. The article emphasises the increase in creativity that can come from being focused on mundane tasks rather than the issue at hand, as well as the importance of effective delegation for empowering teams. The issue, then, is not so much managing the technology as managing how we decide to use it. A leader who checks their emails compulsively because they want their team to run every decision by them has a problem not with their smartphone but with their leadership style (or with their team!). Our uses of technology say much more about us than they do about the technology!
The chapter by Bilimoria et al builds on the idea of there being three chronological career phrases: a ‘sprint’ idealistic achievement phase; a ‘marathon’ pragmatic endurance phase; and a ‘relay’ reinventive phase. Alongside this is a parallel model, whereby women in an early career phase focus on challenge, developing into a focus on balance mid-career, and then a focus on authenticity in later career stages. The chapter offers three composite profiles based on interviews with women in these various phases. I actually found something a little sad in these profiles and the presentation of the two models. It had the air of a self-fulfilling prophecy about it, as though women would inevitably find their workplace sexist or demeaning, or otherwise disempowering.
The first exercise was to evaluate how we currently spend our time between work, family, friends, self and community, and to compare it with how we want to spend our time. It also invited us to define what success might look like, including what it will enable us to achieve, and what we need to do in order to reach that goal.
I often think about my life as a narrative, and ask myself whether choices I make will enhance it, offering coherence, variety, depth, etc. Focusing on my life as a story about who I am and what I have achieved means taking a long view and being willing to critique my own actions and choices. Success, for me, means writing an impressive, diverse life story that offers me insight, and that can hopefully inspire others through my mentoring and coaching. To achieve it means seeing my time and attention as resources that need to be invested wisely, and not depleted, reminding me to focus also on the actions of self-care that replenish my internal resources.
* Image taken from The Job Crowd: http://www.thejobcrowd.com/news/who-are-best-employers-work-life-balance.
This is the penultimate week of Diana Bilimoria’s Women in Leadership MOOC, and we are getting to the business end of the course’s career applications. Some of my key takeaways from previous weeks have already touched on the this week’s theme: the additional challenge for women in career negotiations, particularly over pay.
Week 1: Developing your Leadership Identity
Week 2: The State of Women’s Leadership
Week 3: Your Presence as a Leader
Readings this week included a set of articles referring to the issue I raised in last week’s blogpost about the costs for women in seeking to negotiate higher salaries or increased benefits, including (2010) ‘toolkit’ for women seeking to negotiate a raise, a clear summary from the New Yorker of the many penalties that women face for trying to negotiate, and the 2015 Pay Gap report by the American Association of University Women.
Professor Bilimoria’s lecture set out some of the key techniques for negotiating, including taken an interests-based approach, looking for common ground, rather than focusing on fixed positions, and going into a negotiation knowing what your best alternative (‘BATNA‘) is. For women, strategies that balance empathy and assertiveness, or focus on both relational and objective goals, tend to work best. Because of course, we must always be seen to be giving, caring, and conciliatory.
The exercise this week was to practice negotiating, either through a role-play with a friend, or through a real-life scenario. I negotiate routinely with quite senior individuals about content they produce. Sometimes, the issues we negotiate are apparently trivial issues of phrasing, which can already put me on the back foot, as I am the one raising them. Nevertheless, it is a relatively low-stakes negotiation for me. My BATNA is that the content remains as they have written it. The only consequence of failing to negotiate the necessary changes is that my senior manager may think me ineffective at negotiating (and the intrinsic dismay at failing to enforce the rules of house style).
In these situations, the repeated negotiations are all there is. My repertoire goes something like this:
- Assess whether I can unilaterally make the changes (i.e. not negotiate and get my position as the outcome). This will usually depend on personalities.
- Raise a “question”, to “make sure I understand correctly”. This is a gentle hint that perhaps the content in question is not perfectly worded. The hope is that the person in question will suggest an alternative, or indicate that they’re happy for me to make changes.
- “We might suggest…”. I use ‘we’ a lot. I speak for a team of people who do this work. We have agreed guidance, and we should (in theory) all give the same advice based on it. Depending on the tenor of the conversation, I might start here, or I might start with: “The guidance says that…”.
- “It might help other people understand the context if…”. The person I’m negotiating with and I are on the same team. We both want readers to have the best experience.
- “Okay, I understand your point. I will explain it to [senior manager], but he might make changes. Do you want me to come back to you if that happens?” This is the end of the negotiation, at least for the time being. I might be sent back to the individual to try again, or the senior manager might talk to them directly.
This is the third of my weekly reflections on Diana Bilimoria’s MOOC on Women in Leadership. This week focused on self-confidence and navigating organisational politics.
Key takeaways for me this week were:
- Focus on your successes; reflect regularly on where you’ve excelled, and highlight your best work into conversation with senior colleagues;
- Working longer hours does not always mean working better; and
- Seek out assignments that are challenging but where you know you can succeed.
There are many reasons why women’s self-confidence can be low, particularly the ‘double bind’ whereby we are seen to be either too passive to be leadership material, or too aggressive to lead a team. Women’s lack of self-confidence can flow from both conditioning and lived experience. It is a product of structural problems, not individual failings, and the article is not strong enough in tackling that issue head on. For example, in citing the research that women tend to negotiate their starting salary less frequently, and negotiate for lower sums, the article fails to reflect on the negative impact that negotiating hard for a high salary has on how women are evaluated by their colleagues and bosses, burying that fact towards the bottom of the article.
Bilimoria’s lectures address different sources of self-confidence for men and women, in particular for women: authenticity, self-efficacy, adaptability, and persistence. Her insightful discussion of voice and non-verbal communication was particularly interesting: voice “is about having the courage to say what needs to be said to improve the outcome, but in a way that can be heard”. Shouting louder is not necessarily the answer. Saying the right things in the right way to the right people. Now there’s the rub.
The report on the myth of the ideal worker highlights many of the same points. It’s aggregate of data posits an Ideal Worker as one who:
- Actively seeks high-profile assignments
- Rubs shoulders with influential leaders
- Communicates openly and directly about their career aspirations
- Seeks visibility for their accomplishments
- Lets their supervisor know of the skills and willingness to contribute
- Continually seeks out new opportunities
- Learns the political landscape or unwritten rules of the company
- Isn’t afraid to ask for help.
There were two exercises again this week. The first was to take and reflect on a Mindtools self-confidence assessment. I scored 50 in the assessment, which was at the top end of the “okay” band. I scored lowest on ‘mastery experiences’, or experiences where my own effort led to success. One of the suggestions for increasing the number of mastery experiences I have has made it into my list of key takeaways above: asking for tasks/roles where I know I can excel. I might need to fight for these assignments, if they are in areas where I have not already proven myself, but having a clear knowledge and belief about my own competences is an essential first step.
The second exercise was to map the power structure of my current organisation, as well as my relationships to the key influencers. This can be quite a difficult exercise unless one has a clear aim in mind, but I found it useful to reflect on the organisational structure and what concrete steps I could take to improve my own influence. This sounds Machiavellian, but it is important to know who can help, as a mentor or as a person with control over assignments, as well as who can hinder. And it’s also a good excuse to get out the colours pens!
I’ve been taking MOOCs for years, watching sites like Coursera and EdX develop from a small handful offerings into something decidedly and globally on-trend in the higher education sector. At first, in 2012, the motivation for many of the courses that sprang up seemed to be love of learning, and providers seemed to offer liberal arts education at the far reaches of the word ‘liberal’, a utopia of free access to knowledge that could democratise education across the globe. However, MOOCs have so-far proved a bit of an echo chamber.
Although it only covered EdX, a recent MIT-Harvard study found that 40% of MOOC participants are teachers, an astonishing statistic. 70% of all participants already have BAs. An earlier study, which focused on UPenn Coursera students, found that students tended to be young, well-educated, and employed. MOOC participants are well-educated people who value learning and education. Those without access to tertiary education, particularly in developing countries, are under-represented. Meanwhile, philomaths with relatively high levels of privilege flock to subjects that can bolster their CVs and enhance their careers, choosing computer science over the humanities at a ratio of nearly 4:1, and MOOC sites are developing ways to monetise their offerings: verified certificates, ‘nanodegrees’, and ‘specialisations’.
This suggests that, without further efforts to deliver on the oft-quoted democratising aims, MOOCs will become a new tool in the increasingly frenetic CV arms race, often starting at undergrad level, which already sees students throwing thousands at professional qualifications (the UK legal profession is a prime example and has been for years…), and those with masters degrees taking entry-level jobs.
At the moment, MOOCs’ pay-off for participants is still unproven. Whether they will prove valuable on CVs will depend on how employers across industries respond to verified certificates, ‘nano degrees’, and ‘specialisations’. However, the increasingly professionalised offerings (a course on Public-Private Partnerships starts imminently on Coursera) suggest a wholesale divergence from what many had initially hoped would be the result of the MOOC explosion. Capitalising on the insecure labour market with career promises is the clear intention of some sites. Udacity’s front page recommends “pick which programming language to learn first based on salary, geography, application types and recent trends”. There is no particular love of learning here. Even the suggestion that the decision is based around the “lifestyle you want” is suspect. Salary comes first. It’s all about the ££.
To me, one of the most worrying elements of the MOOCs-in-an-arms-race is the gender disparity, in developing countries, between male and female participants in MOOCs (30%) versus in traditional education (10%). We already know women often have to appear more qualified than male competitors in order to land a job. Taking a MOOC in one’s spare time to boost one’s CV, particularly a paid one one leading to a verifiable certificate or the completion of a particular ‘track’, might become another hurdle to women participating on equal terms with men in the labour market. Advantages and disadvantages will continue to accumulate on either side of a MOOC-divide, and those with more free time and free cash will push even further ahead.
So it is with a rather heavy heart that I must confess to having succumbed to the lure of Coursera’s ‘signature track’. I could say that it was all because of the allure of the Leadership specialisation that might be coming soon, which course announcements have taken care to mention. I could point out that I’ve taken a few leadership-related MOOCs before, and I’m particularly passionate about women’s leadership roles. I could claim to be investing in MOOCs as a whole (or Coursera, at least). All of these things played a part in the decision. However, what tipped me over the edge was something incredibly petty: the ‘signature track’ badge in the Coursera forums.
I don’t even particularly like the forums. They’re badly designed, leading to many repetitive discussions/comments because submitting something is more valued than contributing to a good conversation. But it was the marketing of the ‘signature track’ within them, seeing the little badge repeatedly, that reminded me of the reasons one might pay for the signature track, proving effective on me in a way that the countdown for signing up had never been.
The first time I posted in the forum after I’d paid up, the badge came up next to my name, and I felt immediately suspect. I looked again at the badge, one of the few on display on that particular page. And it occurred to me, rather too late, that in fact those little badges are more questionable than the direct positioning of MOOCs as weapons in a CV arms race, because they make inequality tangible in the day-to-day space of the course. Why should fellow students know that I am on the ‘signature track’? That information is imposed on my fellow students because I have chosen to pay up. Within a course, signature track students might have access to additional resources, and will have a different certificate at the end of it, but the forums, where posting is often mandatory, are a digital space that now explicitly privilege some participants over others. Coursera’s marketing proves more effective by virtue of creating a hierarchy of students. If an arms race between MOOC participants starts within the pedagogic space, then the education on offer is ‘liberal’ in only the shallowest sense of the word.
I’m really rather ashamed of myself for signing up to it.
Welcome to week 2 of my journey through the women’s leadership MOOC taught by @DianaBilimoria of Case Western. This week’s theme was the current state of women’s leadership at the top of organisations.
Key takeaways for me are:
- Identify and fight for ‘hot jobs’ that are visible, mission-critical, or international. Do not be ashamed of holding decision-makers to account for how they allocate such roles.
- Be prepared to ask, “How and why do you feel abraded?” And, yes, use those terms: put the onus on them to own their emotional response to you, and highlight how ridiculous the terminology used for criticising assertive women can be.
- Be conscious of what (dis)advantages you and others are accumulating. Do not be afraid to point out their accumulation, but speak up for others who are accumulating disadvantage, not just yourself.
Bonus takeaway, courtesy of Gloria Steinman:
This week’s readings focused predominantly on corporate/for-profit institutions, although in the forums there were a lot of interesting reflections about different areas, including academia. Readings included a statistical overview of women in the workplace, from Catalyst.org, an organisation focused on expanding women’s opportunities in business; studies about how women are given less favourable development opportunities and about how the ‘double bind’ manifests itself, causing women to be judged critically whether they are assertive or not; and an article from Fast Company about how ‘abrasive’ is a gendered term in performance reviews.
The statistics are, I hope, well-known. The US and the UK do not even break into the top 30 countries for women in senior management positions, a table topped by Russia, Indonesia and Latvia.* Grant Thornton call out the UK, particularly, as “stagnating” on this front.
Developed countries, by and large, are less equal in this regard than developing countries. Perhaps there is an element of economic complacence for the former countries, so that they do not feel sufficiently motivated to leverage the whole of their workforce (even following the 2009 crash). It is interesting to see that such countries and cultures are clinging so hard to unconscious gender biases that they go against rational economic self-interest — companies with more women senior leaders financially outperform those with fewer — as well as the national, societal interest, as those firms with more women leaders also have higher levels of corporate social responsibility. There should be strong internal and external incentives for companies to boost their numbers of women at the top. And yet, progress is exceptionally slow. (Perhaps we should remember Germaine Greer’s assessment that women have very little idea of how much men hate them…)
What, then, are the barriers that women face in advancing their careers? Unfriendly corporate cultures continue to alienate women in some industries (tech has recently been under a lot of scrutiny over this), and there is always the human bias towards homophily in making promotion decisions (i.e. promoting those who are like ourselves, particularly in terms of gender, race, or class).
This tendency towards homophily is also reflected in the lack of strong mentoring for women, and their exclusion informal networks, both of which are invaluable sources of information and learning. For example, a good mentor might give crucial advice about which projects to fight for or accept — which are ‘hot jobs’ — and which to pass up. Catalyst suggest that approximately 20% of our learning and development comes through these mentoring and networking activities (with 70% coming from on-the-job training and 10% from formal training). 20% can clearly make all the difference, and I am certainly going to be thinking about how best to developing leadership networks and mentoring systems, as I now have a role in the development of ‘high potentials’ in my organisation.
To my mind, the most crucial element is the failure to judge men and women on an equal footing, however. Various studies have indicated that, with identical CVs, men are more likely to be hired than women, such as one from Cornell looking at recruitment in academia and evaluations of whether a candidate had completed sufficient teaching and research.** The Fast Company article notes how, in reviews, women are routinely described as ‘abrasive’ and given personal feedback, whereas men are not judged in this way. The classic ‘double bind’ whereby women are rarely judged as both competent and likeable, but are either ‘abrasive’ (i.e. competent but unlikeable) or ‘sweet’ (i.e. presumed incompetent at higher levels, but likeable). Such evaluations of female performance typically come from second-generation bias, or unconscious assumptions, rather than explicit discrimination. Second-generation bias is also reflected in the way that women are channeled into certain leadership roles over others, such as HR over finance, on the basis of an assumed ‘female’ skill set.
It is important to note that advantages or disadvantages accrue over time, as the Toby Morris cartoon at the top of this post illustrates. Like interest on an investment or a debt, things can spiral beyond our control. Once labelled ‘abrasive’, women can find themselves passed up for roles that would involve them managing challenging teams, which are essential for building experience. It can be very difficult to call out colleagues or senior managers on small things, but it is essential.
One of the exercises this week was a consciousness-raising one: to research the statistics for our own organisation, industry and nation. In brief, as I noted above, the UK’s progress has slowed to a virtual halt. Within the civil service, the split is 62% men, 38% women in senior leadership positions (according to the ONS in 2014).
My organisation occupies a small niche of the UK public sector, with only 15 senior managers. However, our statistics are slightly worse: 64% to 36%, including one female senior manager who has been on a career break for several years (making the current proportions even worse: 69% to 31%). And this is after a senior male manager left quite recently.
I was surprised by this, as I thought we would have been slightly better than the average, but we are not. Emotionally, we feel defensive about organisations or places where we are happy, to the point of minimising failings. In my organisation, there are many difficulties around career advancement because there is relatively low churn at the top levels, which people can reach quite quickly in their careers. With so little space for people to climb into, it is easy for promotions to have the appearance of fairness, but there may well be implicit biases that go into those decisions, shaping the organisation’s decision-making for decades to come. In small organisations, every promotion is key to the organisation values and culture.
Week 1: Developing your leadership identity
You can find out more about the course itself (and still join!) on the Coursera website.
* Statistics taken from Grant Thornton International Business Report, 12 March, 2014
** There have been similar studies comparing rates of hire for those with names that might identify someone as non-Caucasian, such as a study from the University of Chicago. Although the course, and therefore this post,
I haven’t done this for a while, but I thought I might blog about a MOOC that I’m currently taking. It’s being taught by Professor Diana Bilimoria at Case Western Reserve University via Coursera, and the course description is:
By offering more complex understandings of issues related to professional women and work, the course will help you increase self-knowledge about your own values and vision, as well as enhance your capabilities as a leader, manager, and team contributor. We will examine the opportunities, challenges, trade-offs, and organizational dynamics experienced by women in work organizations, as well as reflect on and practice effective individual behaviors.
This is my round up of take-aways for Week One (Yourself as a Leader), with more detailed reflection below:
- Network with intent. Identify key influencers or gatekeepers, and build relationships now that you might be able to use later.
- Think about what will motivate you to stay in a profession/career, as well as what obstacles you might have to overcome.
- Leading includes modelling behaviour for those far beyond ‘your’ team.
There are ‘lecture’ videos online, but I’ll focus here on the readings, which are more readily accessible.
There were two sections this week: the Welcome, and Leadership Values and Vision. Readings were on Centred Leadership (2008 McKinsey article), Inclusive Leadership (2012 Bilimoria article), ‘Engaging People’s Passion: Leadership for the New Century’ (from Leadership, 2005), and Personal Vision (2014 Bilimoria/Buse article).
Centred Leadership’s fivefold model of leadership struck me as a bit waffley. ‘Think positive’! ‘Engage’! ‘Do what you love’! The article refers to how women are special(ly emotional) snowflakes who “tend to experience emotional ups and downs more often and more intensely than most men do”, and suggests that those with strong networks and good mentors get promoted because “they feel a sense of belonging, which makes their lives meaningful”, rather than because they get a helping hand from friends/relatives.
Overall, I wasn’t so impressed with this first reading, but there were some interesting points relating to networking that I found useful. The first was that it prompted me to think about was the different natures of the networks that men and women build, with the former building broader but shallower networks that, in the long-run, can offer a sort of ‘cumulative interest’. The second was that women tend to be close to fellow employees who are not influential, whereas men are more inclined to build relationships with influencers that can reap rewards later.
Personal Vision was a very interesting analysis of the engineering profession in the US, which is notably unequal in its gender ratio, and the reasons why women stay in the profession. Turning the retention question around in this way reminds us why it is so important to be authentic in the workplace.
The exercises required interviews with five colleagues, friends, or other acquaintances to build a picture of our ‘best self’, and an exercise setting out a set of values and a description of our ‘vision’. As I do self-reflection routinely as part of my organisation’s review process, I found the first exercise fairly simple to accomplish. The second was not something I’ve ever actually focused on, though, and I found it a really useful exercise. It was framed as a set of ‘complete the sentence’ prompts, and my answers are below.
The area in which I want my leadership to best contribute is… in achieving an equal, diverse and healthy workplace.
The core purpose of my leadership is… to ensure that we take pride in our work — and have work in which we can take pride — whilst also remaining consistent with our values and individual’s needs.
My leadership serves… the organisation as a whole, which can serve as an example to others by modelling a twenty-first century, inclusive workplace.
The leader I want to be is… one who is authentic, leads by example, is collaborative and open, but is also able to give clear direction and feedback. I will own my decisions and support and protect my team wherever I can.
Through my leadership… we will continue to deliver high-quality results in a way that respects individual employee’s rights to equal treatment and to a healthful work environment.
My leadership will be recognised for… achieving results and building a sustainable team.
So, I’ve just managed to squeeze in watching the first set of lectures for the Introduction to Genetics Coursera class, taught by Professor Noor of Duke University. The lectures for the first week were introductory in nature, but for the most part, this meant they were hashing over whether evolution is “just a theory” (as opposed to “a theory”), what the fossil record actually shows in terms of transitional fossils, and what a “missing link” might actually be (i.e. it is between ancient and modern forms, not between two modern forms). To be honest, this last idea, that we should see a transitional form between modern crocodiles and modern ducks (the example the professor gives) has never even occurred to me because it is patently absurd.
It is so sad that this sort of ‘introductory’ set of lectures is necessary. Anyone who thinks that there is some genuine scientific dispute about the truth of evolution should read Jerry Coyne’s blog or get his book! For that matter, people who are as bemused as I am by the need for these sorts of explanations should also support Jerry Coyne’s blog.
Professor Noor’s lectures include some very interesting statistics about how the US’ level of “belief” in evolution, which is both a scientific theory and a fact, but yet somehow still involves “belief” from the general public. Do people similarly “believe” – or not believe – in gravity? The statistics for the US are at around 30-40% (only Turkey is lower on the list that Professor Noor’s slides show), but what worries me most is that in the UK there are still around 10% of people who do not “believe” in evolution. I’m afraid that I have long since stopped being surprised at the absurd things that are believed/said in the US, but I do wish that my own country were performing just a little better.