I hope …
April 1, 2014
Every era has its hiring challenges. In the Dirty Thirties, when there was no work, men spent more time in soup lines than job lines. “You couldn’t even buy a job,” so went the popular catch phrase of the era.
By the 1950s, there was plenty of work, although the best jobs were reserved for men. Here’s a typical scenario from that time:
“Toots” (her name was actually Margaret), only managed to get a job as a receptionist at this company, although she was qualified for sales. Once she was in the door (that’s all she needed), she slowly revealed her smarts to a sympathetic male colleague while keeping her Harvard M.B.A. a secret from the rest. After a decade, Margaret (still “Toots” to the guy in HR) was finally moved into sales. Throughout the 1960s, the men she trained were repeatedly promoted ahead of her while she caught and discreetly corrected their missteps. By the late seventies, with her sexual appeal no longer a distraction and her seniority beyond dispute, Margaret was promoted to Chief Sales Officer.
Now it’s 2014 and a different mix of circumstances has resulted in a hiring pattern that’s affecting young women and men alike. It centres around the options available once you’ve completed your first internship, then your second, your third and, maybe, you’re even considering a fourth because the exposure of the first three hasn’t yielded fruit … yet.
Getting a job has always required hustle, grit and persistence. Guarantees? Are you kidding me? There are none. But in the last two decades, more businesses have been turning up the dial on unpaid labour. For most of us — and I include myself in this — we were either too busy and ambitious to notice what was happening (after all, we got great internships) or too polite, paranoid or privileged to point out how the practice was starting to get out of control.
Through all four of my internships (1990, 1992, 1993 and 2004), I was acutely aware of being on the right side of luck. Sure, I wrote my way in every time with a compelling cover letter, then secured scholarship money from my university when the internships didn’t or couldn’t offer a stipend (however, three of my four internships did pay me almost minimum wage). I also had a restaurant job and my parents to fall back on when times got tough. Coincidentally, so did every other intern around me when I was at The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. and the Art Institute of Chicago (not the restaurant job, the parents). Not so at the Musée D’Orsay, where I worked with French and Dutch research interns and fellows who were fully subsidized by their governments. These students didn’t have the shiny hair, expensive watches and delicate jewelry we all had in Chicago, Washington and Toronto. They seemed not to have two sous to rub together and lived on coffee, cigarettes and paperback classics. But that was cultural, not from a lack of assistance.
Before I segue to the present, I want to do a shout out to my parents, Catherine and Trevor. They were so pro-arts, it was laughable. I’m still smiling at their warped priorities, and taking great pleasure in the beautiful books on art and culture they presented me over the years, and which now line my apartment. About twice a week, I interrupt my writing and drawing efforts to throw my thanks to the sky, “You guys rock!”
• • •
I kept tabs on the interns I worked with over the years and all of us hustled once again to find entry-level positions in galleries, film production companies, magazines and academia. In the nineties, entry-level jobs had not been wiped out by unpaid internships. And this is what differentiates the circumstances facing young people today. Unpaid internships turned into a more widespread practice when the Great Recession and social media hit simultaneously in late 2008. That’s when “free is the new business model” became the catchphrase of this era and magazines, like Toronto Life, dropped the $500/month stipend for interns. Now students of means have an even more distinct advantage than they did in my day. Although, the cost of four years of journalism school is way more prohibitive and questionable than an internship, as Kat Tancock pointed out in a discussion this week on Facebook. Educational institutions, she said, continue to try to make money training people for a career with bad job prospects.
The moment free labour went viral, at least in my mind, was last September when the upscale Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver placed an ad in the local papers for intern bus persons. That was when the argument, ”It’s good experience and great exposure,” showed just how rotten to the core it had become. For veteran broadcast journalist, Howard Bernstein, who set up and lobbied hard to establish an internship program for journalism students at Ryerson University, the turning point for him happened when he discovered talented interns were being charged with producing segments on prestigious news shows … without pay. He stepped in. “I’m not against internships, I’m against what’s happened to them,” Bernstein told Jesse Brown in a really good interview last October on Canadaland, the source for all of Bernstein’s quotes in this paragraph. “When you get used to getting things for free, you expect it,” Bernstein said. “It’s a horrible practice.” Over the years, Canadian broadcasters would phone Bernstein and ask, “How many [interns] can we get this year?” The number they were requesting kept going up. In 2004, when I was a paid intern at Toronto Life’s old Front Street location, we alternated between two or three interns every four months. Maybe the size of the room dictated that number? When the Ministry of Labour touched down last week, there were seven unpaid interns at Toronto Life (now on Queen Street East) and eleven interns at The Walrus. I’m wondering if these magazines even need freelance fact checkers any more if the interns are handling it all? After my internship ended, all us former interns picked up good gigs fact checking for $22/hour with Toronto Life.
Talented young journalism students, some of them editors in chief of their school papers, have been emailing me over the past few months, and several touched base again last week after the Ministry stepped in. What should we do? they all ask. It’s such a loaded question. I would not be writing for magazines if were not for my Toronto Life internship (but now blogs are a way to get discovered too, so …). Still, I’m not the only one genuinely disturbed by the way the programs have evolved over time. Remember, in the early days interns did not replace anybody. They were there to observe and were even thought to be a bit in the way. “An internship should be a learning opportunity,” Bernstein reiterates. And as Derek Finkle, Toronto Life’s very first intern, pointed out yesterday in his piece for Storyboard, students can still apply for paid internships at Maclean’s, Canadian Business, Azure, The Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star, among others.
As for the publishers who are cancelling their unpaid internship programs, Finkle asks what the Silent Majority has been thinking all along: has the money really disappeared or just been redistributed? That’s the other big story of our era.
March 16, 2014
When Anne-Marie Slaughter stepped away from a possible promotion at the U.S. State Department in 2010 — “my moment to lean in” — she unwittingly became the voice for a generation of women who were reassessing the feminist narrative they had grown up with and always championed: the one that said women can do and have it all.
At the time, Slaughter chose to put her family’s needs over her career advancement. But the lead-up to that decision was so fraught, she later realized, because of the way she and so many of us have been socialized to champion work over family. We don’t typically challenge why men’s work — and women who perform typically men’s work — is advantaged over caregiving responsibilities, she said in a TED talk last summer (see below). “But in the workplace, real equality means valuing family just as much as work, and understanding the two reinforce each other. As a leader and as a manager, I have always acted on the mantra, when family comes first, work does not come second — life comes together.
If Sheryl Sandberg’s message to “Lean In” was a cheerleading push to get women to believe in their talents and negotiating powers, Slaughter’s TED Talk, while it didn’t disagree with Sandberg, finally broached the issue society’s been avoiding for decades: It’s time to enlist men in this balancing act women have been shouldering alone. Why? Because half the population is starting to crumble under its weight. (Happy wife, happy life … all true) In Slaughter’s words, ”Changing our workplaces and building infrastructures of care would make a big difference, but we’re not going to get equally valued choices unless we change our culture, and the kind of cultural change required means re-socializing men.” (Applause). It gets better:
“Increasingly in developed countries, women are socialized to believe that our place is no longer only in the home, but men are actually still where they always were. Men are still socialized to believe that they have to be breadwinners, that to derive their self-worth from how high they can climb over other men on a career ladder. The feminist revolution still has a long way to go. It’s certainly not complete. But 60 years after “The Feminine Mystique” was published, many women actually have more choices than men do. We can decide to be a breadwinner, a caregiver, or any combination of the two. When a man, on the other hand, decides to be a caregiver, he puts his manhood on the line. His friends may praise his decision, but underneath, they’re scratching their heads. Isn’t the measure of a man his willingness to compete with other men for power and prestige? And as many women hold that view as men do. We know that lots of women still judge the attractiveness of a man based in large part on how successful he is in his career. A woman can drop out of the work force and still be an attractive partner. For a man, that’s a risky proposition. So as parents and partners, we should be socializing our sons and our husbands to be whatever they want to be, either caregivers or breadwinners. We should be socializing them to make caregiving cool for guys.” (Applause)
But Sandberg gets it. Her current initiative with Getty Images to rid stock photography of sexist stereotypes is one of many things we need to do to recalibrate our cultural expectations and pull men into the household fold. So no more pics of harried working moms balancing briefcases and squawking babies, no workplace bitch slaps staged for the camera, or career women stabbing prostrate men with their stilettos. How about more pics of women looking natural in the workplace and men looking natural being caregivers to their children? Oprah’s favourite mantra, “you gotta see it to be it” — she uses it most often to encourage girls to be astronauts and anchors — applies equally to men. Sandberg knows the power of visuals is undeniable in setting cultural tones around the world. So is, I might add, the power of magazine cover lines. You NEVER see any that ask, “How does he do it all?” Answer: he’s doesn’t.
Slaughter, with her government background and connections, seems poised to lead the charge in changing how we view and deal with what he’s not doing. And she’s embracing it with grace, a steady and searching intelligence and a sense of investment that comes from working through these really tough issues with her own family.
But I don’t want to give away her thunder. Ladies and gents, please welcome to the TED stage Anne-Marie Slaughter:
March 15, 2014
I felt a clearing in my mind
As if my brain had split;
I tried to match it, seam by seam,
But could not make them fit.
The thought behind I strove to join
Unto the thought before,
But sequence ravelled out of reach
Like balls upon the floor.
March 13, 2014
Appearing on the same Contributors’ Page as Wendy MacNaughton feels like an arrival. Seriously. This clip is from a forthcoming issue of The Block, a cool new mag that focuses on the workspaces of Canada’s brainiest tech and design innovators. Details to follow next week.
Do you guys know about MacNaughton? I’ve culled together some of my favourite pieces of hers. You can also click here to learn more about her life and work.
March 10, 2014
“When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’ Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead.”
This problem isn’t new, but using social media to create an awareness of the word is.
If you’re girl or a guy and you agree that the “B-word” is one more double standard that needs to go “Poof!” then please get on board with the Ban Bossy initiative, started by by Lean In and the Girl Scouts of America. Let’s give girls the chance to assert their best energy and ideas. Let’s also give boys the chance to get used to it. No, really. The Good Men Project was inspired by a similar need to challenge accepted cultural norms about what it means to be a “Real Man.” “Sensitive,” “kind,” and “considerate” aren’t emasculating words, they’re humanizing. Besides, not all guys want to be like Norman Mailer, nor should they feel pressured to follow his example when Jimmy Stewart is more their style.
Negotiating how we share space on this earth takes patience, persistence and the right choice of words. So let’s get talking.
Turn bossy → Badass. This video should help.
March 8, 2014
It’s time to ditch the winter wardrobe.
March 4, 2014
The bodies are buried.
The house is sold.
And the dust has settled.
But not for you.
You keep turning the soil.
You’re digging for worms, not coins,
And sinking further into the soil yourself.
But you’re a writer, you said,
Can’t you see this is material?
At your insistence, I took ownership of the package of bundled letters.
They sat undisturbed in my hall for three years as the leftover Viagra packs slowly expired.
You dropped those in the envelope to make a point about men and marriage,
Then chased your tail even faster.
On the day I finally opened the bulging scripture,
And saw the dedications to one goddess after the next,
My eyes gravitated, instead, to the array of hotel stationary logos.
Design history at my fingertips.
The sight of the word “pining” three times in one paragraph, though,
Made me shut the deck for good.
John Updike might have had a heyday with this story line.
And Gay Talese would have been remiss not to have added it to his sources,
But not today.
That moment of urgent originality has passed.
The shock of the new has died from constant exposure.
Besides, this needs heavy editing.
And I’m not the one to do it.
See it for what it is:
A souvenir from a time
When domestic doubt took hold of great minds.
Along with The Pill and Vietnam, this rush of new storytelling
Took regular hits at America’s perfect paint job.
It dinged and keyed us, and crashed our ideals off cliffs and into guard rails.
Literature had finally stopped alternating between lofty treatises and virile adventures.
And homes were opened to air, light and a stream of words.
Over the decades,
The revelations multiplied.
The keyboards of much lesser writers clacked
As they tried to capitalize on this trend.
And the once chunky broth thinned to a dull, watery liquid.
But domesticity was on high boil again in the seventies
When Alice Munro and Mary Pratt elevated dirty dishes to high art.
Even the goings-on in janitorial closets got their due.
But if the subjects weren’t memorable,
The artistry was and is.
The cycle repeated itself.
As it always does.
Soon the zipless fucks and the fish on bicycles
Got papered over by a brand new batch of opportunists.
This time it was female newspaper columnists pressured by tasteless editors
To dedicate their inches to ticking clocks and The Great Size debate.
Looking at our package.
It’s not Updike or Munro.
It’s not even Harlequin,
But it is our reality.
I’ll keep the moons of Jupiter and the caged birds.
I’ll even keep the pompous Bertrand Russell books — and not because they’re first editions —
But for the soft pencil markings mapping one man’s head and heart,
Scribbled at a time when so much was at stake.
Our futures, no less.
But you keep the letters.
I’m putting this rabbit to rest.