Sunday, October 11, 2015

We Are All Immigrants

The speakers at Sage Summit are top notch, and this year was no exception, with the lead-off talk being a conversation with General Colin L. Powell, US Army (Retired) and Deepak Chopra, moderated by Stephen Kelly, CEO of Sage. While Susan attended in person, as a registered conference attendee, I was able to tune in and watch the talk via live stream from the comforts of our hotel room.

The conversation navigated familiar territory, hitting on some of the same topics addressed by Brian McGrory, Jack Welch, and John Henry in the April 2015 Business & Baseball talk: engagement, luck, and opportunity inequalities. Both leaders have authored books capturing their advice: The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, by Deepak Chopra, and It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership, in which Colin Powell explains the thirteen simple rules he developed over the course of his career both as a four-star General in the US Army, and later as Secretary of State.

Deepak commented that he had just read Colin Powell’s book the previous night, and through it realized “why he was an extraordinary leader. He had one passion: to serve his country with love in his heart, and that was the secret of everything. If you ask people globally if they love what they do at their job every day, 20 percent say yes, which is a very sad commentary. Three hundred million dollars are lost every year due to disengaged and actively disengaged people in their jobs. If a supervisor or manager ignores their employees, the disengagement score goes up… If on the other hand, you don’t ignore them, but criticize them, employees get better, and the disengagement rate falls to less than 20 percent, because people would rather be criticized than ignored. If you notice a single strength they have, the disengagement rate goes down to less than 1 percent. Inspired teams come from you – giving attention, appreciation, affection, acceptance, even of weaknesses.”

“Think like a sports coach: shared vision, complementary strengths, and emotional connection.”

“The employee is number one. Your customers will be happy if your employees are happy. Your investors will be happy if your customers are happy.”

“Coincidences are what create good luck. Good luck is opportunity meeting preparedness.”

Colin Powell spoke of how the military had evolved, changing from the draft to an all-volunteer force, and how his family had served as a grounding force throughout his career. He also spoke of employees, the people, as the “most important asset,” saying that we “have to invest in the human capital.”

On the topic of veterans as employees: “You can’t get a better employee. They say, ‘yes sir,’ show up on time, have initiative, and are trainable. You recruit a soldier. You keep a family.” He remarked on how this was different from old Army thinking: “If we wanted you to have a wife, we would’ve issued you one.”

“It was my wife and three kids who were my gyroscope that kept me stable.” His daughter, Annmarie, was “most effective.” He was just Daddy to her. One night, he was coming home from work, wearing his new camouflage uniform, and when he walked through the door, his daughter called out, “Mom, our GI Joe doll is home.” He remarked on the importance of “humbleness and humility, and someone to keep you there.”

His first simple rule: “It’s not as bad as you think. It will be better in the morning. It’s not a prediction, it’s a hope.”

At the end of the talk, when he was asked about what was next for him, he replied that he didn’t know, but simply felt privileged to be born in this country, and has now returned to Harlem to help the children there. (He founded America’s Promise Alliance, dedicated to improving the lives of children.) “I want to invest in the kids who were just like me – poor, immigrants. That’s all the satisfaction I need right now.”

Earlier in the talk, Stephen Kelly had pointed out that both Deepak and Colin came from immigrant families, Colin from Jamaica, and Deepak from India. Colin called the country’s immigrant population “one of our most treasured assets,” and earned a few laughs with his statement: “I wonder what would happen to Trump hotels if immigrants didn’t show up tomorrow.”

After listening to the talk, I was walking/jogging on my way to catch the Katrina tour (see previous blog post 15 September 2015), when I came across this statue in the park along the riverfront (and levee), and thought, how apropos.


It’s a tribute to immigrants, with an angel facing the river, guiding an immigrant family below. We had walked right by it the previous day. I’m not sure how we walked by and didn’t see it, except perhaps for the record-setting 99-degree heat and matching humidity. Probably on the brink of passing out, all we could focus on was the vision of the hotel on the distant horizon.
Immigration has also been a hot-hot-hot topic lately, with much rhetoric tossed about in the presidential debates, while also forming one of the central themes of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S., all against the backdrop of the refugee crisis playing out on distant shores in Europe over the past few months. The recent article by Liz Sly in The Washington Post provides the best explanation, and context, for why the crisis has exploded this year.
Ironically, on many levels, one of the factors was a quiet little tweet on August 25th by an obscure German government office in Nuremberg, basically announcing that Germany was no longer enforcing one of the EU bylaws that requires refugees to be settled in the country to which they first arrive (Thomas, Bradley, and Friedrich, 2015).
“We are at present largely no longer enforcing Dublin procedures for Syrian citizens.”
This quietly opened a door. As I said before, if Paul Revere could have, he would have tweeted it out that the British were coming, and he might never have made his midnight ride through the countryside. Social media has spread news of global events almost instantaneously. Traditional media has also delivered solid, professional journalism, researched and fully developed stories.
Having coffee on a Saturday morning, I’m reading the front-page story in The Wall Street Journal (Feher, Jervell, Bradley, 2015), telling of how a group of refugees left Hungary, setting out on foot, in hopes of reaching Austria, using only the map on their phone. When they meet up with the local police, they panic, but the police are trying to explain that they are in Austria. The police finally find the Arabic translation for Austria (on their own cellphone), and the migrants’ fear is replaced with relief and joy, realizing that they’d made it to “An-Nimsa.” “Almost immediately, several refugees began to cry.” And so did I.
And of course there was the photo of three-year old Aylan, lying face down on the beach, after the boat carrying refugees took on water and sank somewhere between Turkey and Greece. But, it was the second photo that caught my gaze, the one of the Turkish gendarme, crouched forward slightly, gently cradling the small, still body in front of him. Reverently, though still at half an arm’s length.
All of these images are playing out in stark contrast to those of Baby Doe, Bella Bond, whose body was also found washed up on our shore at Deere Island, an innocent victim of the state’s opioid crisis. Bella had the privilege of being born in this country, but not even that could keep her safe. Instead, in the richest country in the world, she died in the home where she should have felt safest. Aylan’s parents had sought safe haven and risked everything, all in the hope of a better future for their family, seeking out a safer place they could call their home.    
The new refugee stories echo those of the past, with eerie resemblances. Two recent editorials also make the comparison, one by Timothy Snyder in The Boston Globe, the other by Mr. Shadi Martini in The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Shadi Martini left Syria several years ago, and recently visited the Holocaust Museum in D.C. to see a special display of photos smuggled out of Syria, as well as the permanent exhibits chronicling the Holocaust. What struck a chord with him was the voyage of the S.S. St. Louis. Nearly one thousand Jews hoped to reach the U.S., via Cuba, on that ship, but it was turned away in Havana, forced to return to Europe. He writes: “How could the world have abandoned these people? But then I remembered the present.” While there is not the same genocidal mission to wipe out an entire people, the numbers of people impacted in Syria are staggering: 250,000 killed, 11 million displaced, 4 million of those leaving Syria. “The cruel fact is the Syrian people feel abandoned and left to die in silence, like the passengers of the St. Louis.”
Timothy Snyder begins his editorial piece, published in The Boston Globe, pointing out that “The last world war began amidst a refugee crisis,” and goes on to chronicle the way that Jews were progressively marginalized, and striped of citizenship and property rights in Germany, and the occupied countries: Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and France. There is some irony that Germany has been in some ways more welcoming of refugees recently. Mr. Snyder cites a ninth underlying factor contributing to the refugee crisis: the five-year drought brought on by climate change. “People will flee from south to north, on both sides of the Atlantic, so long as global warming continues.” If this is true, there is a global ownership for the crisis.
The U.S. is certainly war-weary at this point, but how can we turn our backs? Our isolationism in the run-up to World War II is embarrassing in retrospect. History will be our judge.
As we celebrate Columbus Day weekend, commemorating Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas, it’s worth recalling that our entire country was founded by immigrants and refugees. On the topic of the refugee crisis, Madeleine Albright stated ever so eloquently: “We cannot argue that the day after our forebears entered is the day the door to America should have swung shut.”
Even Native Americans migrated to the Americas via the Bering land bridge some 13,000 to 23,000 years ago. (There is a bit of controversy about precisely when this happened, and whether the migration took place as a single wave or in two or three different waves.) If we go back even farther in time, and think about things a bit more metaphorically or allegorically, we could all be considered refugees from the Garden of Eden, all of humanity exiled here on the physical realm, all for eating the apples. Maybe we are all just immigrants here, trying to find our way. If so, then we will surely need the angels to guide us.
Speaking of apples – it is apple picking season here in New England!
Ironically, when Christopher Columbus reached South America, he thought that Venezuela might be the outskirts of Eden.
The theme of immigrants and refugees has been a constant throughout the summer’s events, from the discussion of “inequalities of opportunity” at the Business & Baseball talk in April, to the experiences in New Orleans, the talk by Deepak Chopra and Colin Powell, the presidential candidates’ debates, and Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. at the end of September.
Congratulations to a local Massachusetts seventh grade student who won a ticket to see the Pope through an essay contest held by U.S. Representative Katherine Clark. Dylan Lopez wrote in his winning essay: “My dream is to help Hispanic immigrants who are discriminated against on a daily basis. It hurts my soul.” The topic of immigration hits quite close to home for him; his parents “arrived with nothing,” having left Argentina in 2001 in the midst of an economic crisis there.
Pope Francis had quite an impact on people during his week-long visit in the states. Look at the effect the pope had on Mr. John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who decided to retire and step down early. You might recall seeing Mr. Boehner, sitting behind the pope, to the right, during the pope’s address to Congress, wearing a bright Kelly green tie. Reportedly, Pope Francis complimented Mr. Boehner on his tie, saying it was the “color of hope.” (Hughes, Peterson, 2015) The next morning, Mr. Boehner woke up and decided that was the day, and announced his upcoming retirement.
Post Script – New Orleans
On the Katrina tour, the guide filled us in on the enduring influence of each wave of immigrants that came to New Orleans, from Germany, Ireland, Sicily, and many more, plus the legacy of starting out under Spanish and then French, and then Spanish rule again, prior to being sold to the burgeoning United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. New Orleans truly is a melting pot; a veritable gumbo of cultural traditions. The tour guide speculated that the way the Spanish and French treated their slaves may have played a part in fostering the rich musical traditions of the city that ultimately led to the development of jazz. Unlike their Puritan counterparts, they allowed the slaves to sing and dance on Sundays. Isn’t it interesting how allowing a person to maintain even one bit of cultural identity, their customs and heritage, their very dignity, could be such a powerful force in sustaining a culture.
Post Script – Sage Summit
Sage Summit is the place where the decidedly unsexy and unglamorous worlds of accounting, billing, and software could be said to collide, and yet – they made it fun. As a software company, Sage is remarkable, as they actually listen to their customers, i.e., the people who use their software. Susan actually succeeded in convincing Sage to add her button back, that had gone missing after a recent update to the software, through a vigorous twitter campaign. How refreshing, compared to most IT experiences! Think about the fact that most software packages get sold without a manual, leaving you at the mercy of the Help button. And, really, how often does anyone actually click on the Help button, and when they do, how often is Help actually helpful? Sage Summit is actually a forum for users, an opportunity to network and learn from each other, as well as learn about new add-ins, features and capabilities from Sage, and so there is also a sales motivation present. The speakers are also always top-notch. I would even consider registering for the Summit, and I don’t even use the software.
We are already looking forward to Sage Summit 2016, to be held in Chicago, at McCormick Place, named after another one of the original tractor makers. I can already taste the Chicago style hot dogs, Italian Beef, and pizza.
Gooooo Cubbies!
Coming Next
My retrospective on the HUB week events attended, showing the play between art, science, and technology:
Sunday, October 4 - De-Stress Boston (hosted by Massachusetts General Hospital).
Sunday, October 4 – Fenway Forum: What’s The Right Thing To Do? A philosophy class by Harvard Professor Michael Sandel.
Monday, October 5 – STEM Speed Networking Event (MGH)
Tuesday, October 6 – 3D Printing (Paul Revere House) and Driving Ourselves Happy (MGH)
Wednesday, October 7 – Coping With Climate Change (Harvard) and Your Brain on Art (Harvard)
After that, perhaps a return to first world problems: We Are All Patriots (DeflateGate)
Going On Now:
A Streetcar Named Desire
Feinstein-Gamm Theatre
Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Extended through October 25th
Advance Notices:
Women In STEM Summit
Oct. 22, 2015
Bentley University, Waltham, MA

Boston Book Festival
Oct. 23 - 24, 2015
Copley Square, Boston, MA 
Albright, Madeleine. 2015. America must do more for refugees. The Boston Globe. September 28, 2015.
Basu, Tanya. 2015. There’s a New Theory About Native Americans’ Origins. Time. July 21, 2015.
Chopra, Deepak. 1994. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. Novato, CA: New World Library and San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing.
Feher, Margit, Ellen Emmerentze Jervell, and Matthew Bradley. 2015. Refugee Crisis Overflows in Hungary. The Wall Street Journal. September 5, 2015.
No link available
Hughes, Siobhan, and Kristina Peterson. 2015. In Capitol, Emotions Run High for Historic Visit. The Wall Street Journal. September 25, 2015.
Johnson, Akilah. 2015. 12-year-old’s essay earns him ticket to see the pope. The Boston Globe. September 17, 2015.
Martini, Shadi. 2015. A Syrian Refugee and Echoes of the Past. The Wall Street Journal. September 4, 2015.
Powell, Colin L. 2012. It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership. New York: HarperCollins.
Raghaven, Maanasa, et al. Genomic evidence for the Pleistocene and recent population history of Native Americans. Science. August 21, 2015.
Sly, Liz. 2015. Eight Reasons Europe’s refugee crisis is happening now. The Washington Post. September 18, 2015.
Snyder, Timothy. 2015. “Warnings from another refugee crisis.” The Boston Globe. September 14, 2015.
Thomas, Andrea, Matt Bradley, and Friedrich Geiger. 2015. Mass Migrant Exodus Grew After Obscure German Tweet. The Wall Street Journal. September 11, 2015.
© 2015 Rosemary A. Schmidt
Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted. If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact me. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not reflect those of any other entity, person, agency, or organization.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Katrina: 10 Years Gone

Two boats passing, on the Mississippi River, New Orleans, LA (R. Schmidt)
Once again I tagged along with Susan to Sage Summit this year, held in New Orleans this past July. While Susan attended the conference, I was free to roam about and explore the city. I was interested in seeing the rebuilding and recovery as the city approached the ten-year anniversary of Katrina. The views of the paddlewheel steamboats plying the Mississippi River also brought back memories of the high school musical production of Show Boat that we put on my senior year. By the end of the trip, I had a veritable frappe of thoughts spinning in my mind, as these topics all became intertwined.

In essence, both New Orleans and Show Boat tell the story of two worlds living alongside each other along the banks of the Mississippi River: rich, poor, white, black, high ground, low ground.

When we got home, I could hardly wait to go rummaging in the garage and lay my hands on my old play book. Just as I remembered it, there were my carefully handwritten edits, crossing out “colored” folks, replaced with “poor” folks, “white” folks replaced with “rich,” such as:

Poor folks work on de Mississippi
Poor folks work while de rich folks play 


Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the musical, some portions of the plot line are revealed below. Skip the next three paragraphs if you want to see the story unfold on the stage.


I think we believed ourselves to be fairly evolved at the time, and were properly horrified at the use of terms such as “colored.” At my Catholic, mostly white high school, it wasn’t lost on us the fact that we wound up having practically an all-white cast. Our director – Jon Rashad Kamal – worked with what he had, and quite cleverly cast sisters in the roles of Queenie, the black cook, and Julie, the virtuous leading lady who turns out to be of “mixed blood.” During one of the scenes, Queenie is surprised that Julie knows the song, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” as she’d only ever known colored/poor folks to sing that song. It was a very clever way to show a resemblance, at least symbolic, between the two characters in that way. He was a man before his time, rest in peace.
Once it’s revealed that Julie and her husband Steve are guilty of miscegenation, or mixed marriage – illegal in those days (set in the 1880s) – Julie and Steve are run out of town. Of course, it also wasn’t lost on us, the fundamental injustice and unfairness of it all. Everyone had loved them before they knew about Julie’s mixed heritage. They were still the same people, nothing had changed, but in that moment, everything had changed.

The show then follows the story of Nola, the Captain’s daughter, who gets moved into the leading lady’s role, and falls for Gaylord Ravenal, a riverboat gambler. Nola is short for Magnolia, but could also symbolize NOLA, New Orleans Louisiana, a city that has had a long love affair with the gamble of living on land below sea level, on the Gulf Coast, and had relied on luck and hope that storms would veer off and avoid a direct hit. Of course, with Katrina, that luck ran out.

While visiting, I found a Katrina tour. I wanted to see and bear witness with my own eyes the land upon which such tragedy visited, truly hallowed ground. Such a tour could be accused of playing to morbid curiosity, and perhaps the same could be said for visitors to other such sites, the World Trade Center, the Boston Marathon finish line. I think it is simply human, an urge to connect. A desire to see, touch, feel, imagine what it must have been like. Consider the Biblical story of the Apostle who asked to see and touch the wounds in Jesus’ hands, and wound up being called Doubting Thomas as a result. Maybe it wasn’t doubt, but curiosity. Maybe he just in a similar way wanted to see and feel the wounds to make it more real, to try to feel the pain himself. I think it is like that. Our neighbor called us the other night. She was watching the 9/11 memorial shows on the History Channel, and asked us, “Why am I watching this? When it makes me so sad?” I said, “Maybe you just want to try to recall and feel their pain.”

The Katrina tour guide was a native of New Orleans, an older woman, who had lived through Katrina. She tried to educate us on the chronology and the reality of how the tragedy rolled out. Homes closest to the breaches in the levees or floodwalls got “fast water.” Water came in so fast and rose so quickly, there was little time to escape. Farther away from the breaches, there was “slow water,” and people had more time to seek escape. Some people went to their attics, and if they could, broke holes through the roof, and ultimately sought rescue from their rooftops.

House adjacent the London Ave. Canal floodwall (R. Schmidt)

It took two and a half days for the city to fill up with water, and three weeks to drain. We drove by the SuperDome (now the MetroDome), which was designated as a shelter, but lacked electricity, flush toilets, and air conditioning. After days of misery there, people were directed to the Convention Center, perched on higher ground along the river’s edge. People arrived there only to find the doors there locked, making a powerful symbolic, metaphorical statement about opportunity equalities. You can go knocking on the right doors, but still find them locked and opportunities unavailable to you.

Sadly, the rebuilding effort is uneven; skewed. Simply, the poorest neighborhoods have had the slowest and most difficult time recovering, and these neighborhoods tend to be predominantly black. A survey conducted by the Public Policy Research Laboratory at Louisiana State University found that blacks and whites had differing views on how completely the city had recovered post-Katrina. While the majority of whites viewed the city as mostly recovered, the majority of blacks thought the opposite (Robertson, 2015). To quote:

“Black residents, and in particular black women, report a harder time returning and rebuilding their lives after the storm. This is in part because of a couple of hard facts: African-Americans were far more likely to have lived in a flooded part of the city, and places that were worse-hit by the flooding, such as the Lower Ninth Ward, have taken much longer to recover.”

The survey also found negative views about recovery in the predominantly white neighborhoods outside New Orleans, such as Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, that were also catastrophically flooded. Black or white, then, the worse the extent of flooding, the more negative people felt about the recovery. But, in New Orleans, in general, the poor, black neighborhoods experienced the worst flooding.
It’s saddening and in ways shocking that the divides characterized in a 1927 musical are still in play today.

There is a great article in the Wall Street Journal by Leslie Eaton and Cameron McWhirter that chronicles the disparities in recovery. There are some bright spots, in that tourism – measured in terms of both the number of visitors and dollars spent per year – has practically returned to pre-Katrina levels.  However, this has spawned an increasing number of low-paying jobs in the restaurant industry, most typically held by black workers, “widening the economic divide between whites who are generally richer than before, and blacks, who aren’t.” It’s worth checking out the entire article:

It really is about opportunity inequalities. And the answer in terms of how best to level the playing field may come from a simple, but surprising corner: each other. Dr. Daniel Aldrich had just moved to New Orleans when Katrina struck, and as a result of that experience, has redirected his area of study from political science to disaster recovery and community resilience. He is now serving as Co-Director of Northeastern University’s Masters in Security and Resilience Studies program. In an interview with Bella English of The Boston Globe, he’s quoted as saying, “What I found was that the strength and cohesion of a community before the disaster was one of the best predictors for recovery after.” Ms. English writes: “It was social capital – not money poured into infrastructure – that most quickly led to recovery, no matter how poor the community.” And: “The power of friends, family and neighbors means that they, in effect, are the real first responders.”

So, it was appropriate and sobering that the last stop on the Katrina tour was the tomb of the unknown, 83 souls lost who were never identified. Maybe everyone who knew them, who could have identified them, also perished in the flood. The tomb of the unknown victims is doubly sad. It is almost a universal fear, the thought of dying alone, and lonely, and that is the death they experienced. It is the least we can do to remember them, mourn and honor them now.  


Post Script – Show Boat
Show Boat was based on the novel by Edna Ferber, with music by Jerome Kern, and playbook and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein 2nd. The musical spans riverboat life in Natchez, Mississippi from the 1880s into the early 1900s. 

Locally, the North Shore Music Hall put on a production of Show Boat in 2008.

And, ironically, I played the part of Parthy, the captain’s wife, who was from Boston. Here’s a great line: “In Massachusetts, where I come from, no decent body’d touch this show boat riffraff with a ten foot pole…”

Happy 35th high school reunion to the class of ’80!

And happy one-year anniversary to Rosebud’s Blog!


Post Script – New Orleans
Bravo to Sage for hosting its Summit in New Orleans this year, helping to bring 2015 tourism numbers up to pre-Katrina levels. And we certainly tried to do our part, by doing all the touristy things while we were in town. I committed myself to trying as many different beignets and eating as many as possible during our week-long stay. The Best Beignets award goes to: Le Croissant at the Hilton Riverside. They had the crispest exterior crust, and the softest, most tender dough inside.

Beignets at Le Croissant, Hilton Riverside (R. Schmidt)
We made the obligatory walk down Bourbon Street. It was hot, steamy, and smelly. For a city known for Mardi Gras and drunken revelry, the sidewalks are in shockingly poor repair. It just seems like another bad combination – inebriation and tripping hazards. Or, maybe once you’re drunk enough, they seem even. Maybe we were too sober.


We also enjoyed the art galleries off Jackson Square and along Royal Street, lunches at Emeril’s and Muriels. There was dinner, dancing, fried alligator, and live music at Mulate's, too. We made our way to the French Market, and Frenchmen Street as well, enjoying the local artisans displaying their crafts there.

Emeril's banana cream pie

Muriels' shrimp creole


French Market
Frenchmen Street

Frenchmen Street
At the end of the Summit, we were treated to a concert by Walk The Moon, which was delightful, but loud. I was standing, holding my ears, when a woman came over and offered me ear plugs. I didn’t know who she was, or where the ear plugs came from, but I didn’t care. I gratefully accepted the gift and enjoyed the rest of the concert in my newfound peace. A smile crept over my face, as I recalled a line from another play set in New Orleans:
“I have always relied upon the kindness of strangers.” We rode the streetcars, but I never did see one named Desire.
Walk The Moon

At the end of the day, though, as a tourist in New Orleans, I still couldn’t help feel a bit like one of the “rich folk playing on the Mississippi.”

Coming Next
We Are All Immigrants

Advance Notices:

Art Exhibit: Out of the Earth
Artist: Joe Caruso
Sep. 2 - 27, 2015
Reception: Sep. 27
Galatea Fine Art, 460B Harrison Ave., Boston, MA

Oct. 3 - 10, 2015
Boston, MA
Check out the events posted so far, advance registration is available. Some are free and some require paid tickets. It’s an opportunity to get together with some of the great minds of Boston, use various locations across the city to gather in these various living rooms. The week-long event is described as “where art, science and technology collide” – or is it more of an intersection? Meeting? Merging? Fusion? What is the relationship between art, science and technology? What is our relationship with technology?

Registration is now open. My top picks right now are:
Sunday, October 4 – De-Stress Boston (hosted by Massachusetts General Hospital).
Sunday, October 4 – Fenway Forum: What’s The Right Thing To Do? A philosophy class at Fenway Park by Harvard Professor Michael Sandel.
Monday, October 5 - STEM Event (MGH)

Women In STEM Summit
Oct. 22, 2015
Bentley University, Waltham, MA 

Boston Book Festival
Oct. 23 - 24, 2015
Copley Square, Boston, MA

Eaton, Leslie and Cameron McWhirter. 2015. An Unfinished Riff: New Orleans’ Uneven Revival in Decade After Katrina. Wall Street Journal. August 26, 2015.

English, Bella. 2015. How to bounce back. The Boston Globe. September 1, 2015.

Robertson, Campbell. 2015. In New Orleans, blacks, whites differ on Katrina recovery. The Boston Globe. August 25, 2015.

© 2015 Rosemary A. Schmidt

Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted. If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact me. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not reflect those of any other entity, person, agency, or organization.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Business & Baseball - Part 2: The Diversity Question

To pick up where we last left off – yes, that was me on TV asking the last question of Jack Welch and John Henry at the Business & Baseball talk in April, moderated by Brian McGrory of The Boston Globe. It might air again, maybe during a rain delay someday, if you missed it. I’d just witnessed an interesting exchange between Jack and John, which had triggered my question about diversity:

You’re both very successful leaders, but also very clearly have different styles. Given that studies show that increased diversity on teams leads to increased creativity and productivity, and yet studies also show that people are most comfortable working with those who are most similar to themselves, given all of that, how do you encourage diversity within your organization?

Jack gave his standard answer: “Get everyone in the room together, have a food fight up front, get input from many different minds, then decide on a course, and get everyone on board! You want to get every brain in the game!” John answers that he “knows that the decisions he makes every morning have far-reaching effects on many people,” and is “always thinking about who will be affected and how.”

Again, their answers weren’t wrong; they just could have been so much more, given that it has been such a hot-hot-hot topic, especially within the tech world, after numbers were released last summer showing how non-diverse many of the companies are. So, I felt somewhat validated when several articles came out in the succeeding weeks, such as the one about Google’s diversity initiative in USA Today, titled “Diversity Gets Googled,” by Jessica Guynn, just two weeks after the talk, with a little tag line on the front page, “Google spends $150M on diversity.” Of course, there were a few other articles of interest in the news that day, too.

 USA Today continued with a series of articles about the Google initiative in May, and The Sunday Boston Globe devoted an entire section to DiversityBoston on Sunday June 7, 2015. Even the humble Quad Cities Dispatch & Rock Island Argus carried a Brandpoint article, titled “Why a diverse workforce works,” in its May 10, 2015 edition.

And, for that matter, there have been a number of articles in the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere, about the opportunity divide, and the cost of college education, some of the other timely and relevant hot-button topics touched on in the talk. Now that I’ve read Jack and Suzy Welch’s book, I feel bad that Jack didn’t just point to Chapter 8, where he cites an example of a leader drawing out a dissenting opinion from a woman who might otherwise have remained silent at the table, stressing the importance of getting input from everyone. Looking around online, I see the terms “integrated diversity” and “thought diversity” associated with him. I have a feeling that Jack would describe himself as “blind” to any individual differences, and that he focuses only on the ideas and value that each person brings to the table.

Speaking from personal experience, though, it can be exhausting. When a woman manager says she needs to hire or make a purchase, she’ll probably have to talk to her management chain two or three or four times before being allowed to do so. It happens on the technical side, too. While helping to facilitate a study being conducted by a team of engineers, I raised an issue, and just as we had for prior issues raised, we discussed the validity of it. However, unlike the other issues raised and found to be valid, the lead engineer didn’t add it to the list. I was going to let it go, but the very respected senior male colleague in the room asked the individual if he thought it was a valid issue, and the individual said “Yes,” to which he said, “Well, then, write it down!” It sounds like a trivial thing, but imagine having to say everything two or three times before it gets heard or noticed. It’s tiring. And, this individual was a really nice guy. I’m sure that it wasn’t intentional, but it’s still frustrating.  

Even the night of the talk, while at dinner, Susan noticed the group dynamic at a nearby table, where the men were literally holding a separate conversation with each other, talking over and above the women sitting at their table, as if they were not even there. Even when a woman gains a seat at the table, she still may not be heard. This is likely the case for other minorities.

And, this is here, in a modern, civilized, progressive society. Reading the book, The Underground Girls of Kabul, by Jenny Nordberg, makes you appreciate the rights and freedoms enjoyed here, and makes your heart break for the plight of women in horribly backwards countries, such as Afghanistan, where a woman’ s worth is defined by her wedding dowry and her ability to birth sons. Jenny Nordberg is part sociologist, part anthropologist, and part reporter. Her book takes readers on a journey to explore the practice of parents ‘turning’ a girl into a boy, by dressing the girl in boy’s clothing, in order to gain greater honor for the family (a family with no sons is looked down upon) and possibly, magically, make it more likely that the next  child born will be a boy. This entire structure is based on bad science, given that the sex of a child is actually determined by the father’s sperm, and yet the blame for not birthing boys is placed entirely on the mother. One of the greatest challenges to change there is that it is impossible to hold a scientific or rational discussion with people who refuse science and are not rational.

These girls, dressed as boys, are known as bachaposh, and get to enjoy all the freedoms and liberties of boyhood – going to school, playing outside, flying kites, helping out at their fathers’ stores, and being treated as a boy. Until puberty, when they are turned back to being girls, and get married shortly thereafter. A hard transition, after living life as a boy.

Even in the U.S., there are differences in the way that men and women are treated, but it is far more subtle. Elizabeth Gilbert, before Eat, Pray, Love fame, wrote an article, titled “My Life As A Man,” for Gentlemen’s Quarterly (August, 2001), and reported on how differently she felt as she got into character, and how differently she was treated.

So, I can almost understand where a remark came from, after Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer, when Bruce revealed that he was transgender, feeling like a woman living in a man’s body, and wanted to transition to live life as a woman. One man was heard saying that he didn’t think many men would understand or be very sympathetic to a guy who wanted to be a woman. A friend who heard this remark responded, “How can you have anything but compassion, when you see someone hurting and in so much pain?”

I never did follow the Kardashians, but there was another unlikely source of wisdom as this story unfolded. Apparently step-daughter Kim Kardashian was very upset, and it was Kanye West who explained it to her this way: “I can be married to the most beautiful woman in the world, and I am. I could have the most beautiful little daughter in the world, and I do. But I’m nothing if I can’t be me. If I can’t be true to myself, they don’t mean anything.”

So, Caitlyn, welcome to the world, good luck, and just keep being you!

Or, to borrow a quote from Oscar Wilde:

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken!

 Be confident, even when you’re afraid. Don’t let fear stop you. Or discomfort.

One of the best experiences in my life was getting a part in our high school musical senior year: Showboat. It definitely pushed me outside my comfort zone. And now, when I need to be someone a little braver and a little stronger than I feel at a given moment, I go to that place, such as when I’m raising my hand to ask a question, and someone is handing me a microphone. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, and for what you need. Have the vision to see doors and windows where there are now only walls, and see that change is possible.

To be continued…

Coming Next
Showboat and New Orleans re-visited. Saturday marks ten years since Katrina made landfall and the levees breached that morning, Monday, August 29th, 2005.

Post-Post Script
Thanks to Taylor Swift for her great quote during her acceptance speech at the Video Music Awards Sunday night, August 30, 2015:

“I’m just happy that in 2015 we live in a world where boys can play princesses and girls can play soldiers.”
And congrats to the first two women soldiers to graduate from Army Ranger School! First Lieutenant Shaye Haver and Captain Kristen Griest were among the graduating class of 96 soldiers who earned the honor on Friday, August 21, 2015.
Post Script
I am embarrassed to admit that, upon seeing myself on TV, my first reaction was, “Dang, that haircut looks good,” followed by “Gee, I wish I’d been a little more eloquent in asking my question.” Anyway, quite apropos, as I’d landed a seat at the talk, quite by surprise, next to Kenneth Wildes, the owner of the hair salon where Susan and I have been going for years. I was delighted to find a friend in the crowd.

Since the talk, there have been many highs and lows on the diversity front. Frank Kameny, long-time champion of LGBT civil rights for federal workers, was inducted into the Department of Labor Hall of Honor on June 23, 2015.
And just a few days later on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court made its historic ruling on same-sex marriage. Truly, a historic day. Now, same-sex marriage is just marriage.
Since June, there have been other epic, pivotal, historic rulings by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July, essentially recognizing that discrimination against transgender people or on the basis of sexual orientation in the federal workplace is discrimination covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Macy v. Department of Justice; Baldwin v. Department of Transportation).
And yet, even as we enjoy these advances here, we see in the news and on Twitter, the recent reports of ISIS executing ethnic minority men and boys, and taking the women and girls as their sex slaves. Gay men are also reported to have been the target of exceptionally brutal killings (beheadings, stoning, being thrown from buildings), simply because they are gay. It’s easy to understand how futile the hopes for change might feel in so many corners of the world.

In times like these, we need art to lighten our soul more than ever, to connect, and express ourselves, saying what words alone cannot.

Advance Notices:

Art Exhibit: Out of the Earth
Artist: Joe Caruso
Sep. 2 - 27, 2015
Receptions: Sep. 4, 11, 27
Gallery: Galatea Fine Art, 460B Harrison Ave., Boston, MA

Oct. 3 - 10, 2015
Boston, MA
Check out the events posted so far, advance registration is available. Some are free and some require paid tickets. It’s an opportunity to get together with some of the great minds of Boston, use various locations across the city to gather in these various living rooms. The week-long event is described as “where art, science and technology collide” – or is it more of an intersection? Meeting? Merging? Fusion? What is the relationship between art, science and technology? What is our relationship with technology?

Registration is now open for 27 live events. My top picks right now are:
Sunday, October 4 - De-Stress Boston (hosted by Massachusetts General Hospital).
Sunday, October 4 – Fenway Forum: What’s The Right Thing To Do? A philosophy class at Fenway Park by Harvard Professor Michael Sandel.
Monday, October 5 - STEM Event (MGH)

Women In STEM Summit
Oct. 22, 2015
Bentley University, Waltham, MA.

Boston Book Festival
Oct. 23 - 24, 2015
Copley Square, Boston, MA


Brandpoint. 2015. Why a diverse workforce works. March 25, 2015.
Guynn, Jessica, 2015. Diversity Gets Googled. USA Today. May 7, 2015.

Nordberg, Jenny. 2014. The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. New York: Crown Publishers.

Welch, Jack, and Suzy Welch. 2015. The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

© 2015 Rosemary A. Schmidt
Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted. If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact me. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not reflect those of any other entity, person, agency, or organization.