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This week: the new politics of hiring and firing, the Oxbridge problem, and the social intelligence of horses.
FiveThirtyEight has an excellent discussion, led by reporter Clare Malone, of sexual harassment in political journalism. One of Clare's guests used to work for Mark Halperin, the former head of politics at ABC and around 2008-2012, America's senior political journalist. After Weinstein, numerous women came forward to accuse him of harassment, which he's now admitted to. In his (otherwise contrite) statement Halperin was able to say that nobody filed a complaint against him at ABC. But that was because none of the women felt that they would get a fair hearing from their employer. One of the points made in the discussion, by a lawyer who represents harassment victims, is that employers cannot afford be passive about this stuff. They can't wait for official complaints - if they hear even a rumour of a rumour, they need to vigorously investigate it. The burden of action should not be on the victims. That comes through loud and clear in this intense, gripping interview of NPR's boss, by an NPR journalist, about another male journalist who finally got found out (I recommend you listen rather than just reading the transcript).
Further to pro-actively pursuing sexual harassment, I think we're seeing a change in the norms of what's considered an acceptable way to hire/promote without prejudice. Until now, employers have been expected to meet an essentially passive standard: don't consciously discriminate. The new standard is more stringent. Increasingly, employers are expected seek out their "unconscious" biases and address them; to use data to temper old habits and intuitions. Google led the way in framing the issue this way (whether or not they have succeeded in tackling it themselves is another question). But it isn't just a question for tech companies, as ex-Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman is finding out. I actually have some sympathy for her here. She's been holding herself and the magazine to the first standard, and right at the end of her tenure the standard switched, and quite quickly; she can be forgiven for not catching on right away. I also think her discomfort with the appointment of Edward Enninful is mainly to do with the fact he's a stylist, not a journalist. I mean OK it's not quite George Osborne at the Standard but...
THE OXBRIDGE BOTTLENECK
A few weeks ago the Guardian ran a story accusing Oxford and Cambridge of racially discriminatory admissions processes. There's no question that not enough black students are getting to Oxbridge - whether that can all be laid at the door of those universities is another question. I don't know enough about this to have a strong view, but I did find this note from Rebecca Allen really interesting. Allen is the head of a think tank called Education Datalab and one of the smartest, sanest voices in that field. Her point is that Oxford and Cambridge should matter less. This is a signalling problem. Employers need signs of a potential employee's ability and one of them ought to be how well they did at university. But it's increasingly hard to tell that, because the degree classification system has been rendered useless by grade inflation (the University of Surrey awards first-class degrees to over 40% of its students). The upshot is that students can only signal their intellect to future employers by attending highly selective courses and colleges. Rebecca also makes the point that the interview process tends to discriminate against children from less advantaged backgrounds (something I've touched on before with reference to Lauren Rivera's work). Several years ago I sat next to an Oxford sociologist at dinner and I recall him saying that if there was one thing he would do to make the application process fairer it would be to abolish interviews.
Horses can read your body language.
BRITAIN IN THE WORLD
The recent New York Times op-ed on Brexit was very thin stuff but it got a lot of praise from Remainers because it made an argument we want, in a grim way, to believe. Sunder Katwala - one of the shrewdest, fairest, most undeceived guides to the politics of Brexit out there - explains what it got wrong in a short thread.
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
I mentioned the extraordinary progress we're seeing in energy efficiency in my first letter. If you want more good news - I mean maybe you're sick of all the good news, I don't know - then read this list of seven mega-trends that could beat mega-warming.
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