Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Ridiculous news stories

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Today, I encountered two stories on Spiegel Onlinew that really made me cringe (and, regrettably, are good stand-ins for greater problems).

The first discusses how Miss Piggy (of Muppet fame) has been awarded a feminist prizee. (An English piece reporting on the same topic with differences in detaile.)

Let us see here: Miss Piggy is shallow, conceited, belligerent and over-aggressive, (extremely) prone to violence, lacking in self-perspective and self-understanding, and so on and so forth. When Kermit lamented that “it’s not easy being green”, I have long suspected that she was one of the main reasons… Miss Piggy is in many ways a caricature of a (particular type of) woman.

The motivation for her receiving the award appears to be (lacking a formal statement, I read between the lines) that she was a strong woman who made it in a man’s world. To this I will re-iterate a point that I have often made in the past: The common complaint that strong women are often seen as bitches by men, that men are afraid of strong women, whatnot, is an utter misunderstanding or misrepresentation of what happens. The simple fact is that many of the women who are considered strong by feminists are in fact just bitches, often displaying a behaviour which would not be tolerated in a man, or bullies just as bad as the worst of men. They rarely share the characteristics of a strong man. Indeed, I strongly suspect that this behaviour is actually usually driven by fear and weakness rather than strength in the first place. In contrast, truly strong women are rarely called by the name—those who stand up to and conquer adversity instead of bullying weaker people into submission, stubbornly insisting that they are right even in the face of proof of the opposite, or over-aggressively attacking anyone who dares to criticize them. Miss Piggy is a bitch and a bully. No matter how funny she is when viewed from afar, if I ended up with her in real life, I would pick up my legs and run.

In addition, picking a fictional character is somewhat dubious per se. Picking one where the character’s creator is dead and unable to confirm or reject the chosen portrayal—well, that raises some serious ethical issues.

The second relays a suggestion by Ellen Pao to ban salary negotiationse—in order to reduce differences in outcome between men and women. (An English piece reporting on the same topic with differences in detail.e)

The premise (with which I concur) is that men tend to negotiate tougher than women and thus earn higher salaries; the conclusion (with which I strongly disagree) is that everyone should be payed the same based on position.

First off, I must admit that I have toyed with ideas of removing negotiations from the picture myself, being a man who has historically had a more female negotiation style and likely have less accumulated earnings than I should have because of it. The underlying problem is real: Some people get more than they deserve measured by accomplishment because they negotiate well; others get less than they deserve because they negotiate poorly. However, setting salary by position alone is not viable.

To state some obvious, but probably incomplete, counters to the proposition and the reasoning behind it:

  1. Other and better solutions to such problems exist, including better performance reviews, better tracking of accomplishment, and interviewers and negotiators who are better at judging ability (as opposed to superficial impressions).

  2. This is not a matter of men and women but of good and poor negotiators. If women are less willing to negotiate or less good at it (on average), then this is irrelevant. Any individual has the same choices to make and the same options open—man or woman. This is not a matter of sexual discrimination, it is a matter of discrimination by behaviour. If anything, this type of reasoning should be used to counter e.g. claims that women earn less merely through being women—the reality is that they earn less through behaving differently, making different choices, etc. (In as far as they do earn less at all: With the common positive discrimination of women and alterations in the demographics of education, this is not universally true anymore.)

    In many ways, this is as stupid as the nutcases who want to lower physical criteria for firemen so that more women are eligible—without considering the consequences on performance.

  3. The conclusion ignores the down-side of taking an aggressive negotiating position: The risk of getting nothing… Indeed, male unemployment is typically higher than for women and some portion of that is almost certainly explained by an unwillingness to take a position that is not attractive enough. Furthermore, in a twist, if negotiations were banned, some of these people would be back in contention for lower paying positions—and thereby forcing some others out of a job.

  4. Finally, and likely most significantly: A premise of this type of idea is that people working in the same position bring the same amount of value to their employers.

    This is utterly, utterly wrong.

    In reality, even low-level employees at McDonald’s (who have a very different amount of leeway for negotiations to begin with) differ significantly in terms of performance, value-added, whatnot. When we look at e.g. my own area of work (software development), the differences are gigantic. In fact, they are so enormous that I do not hesitate in saying that typical intra-company salary differences are far too small to fairly reflect the situation.

    That the best and worst in a given team differ by less than the two-fold in terms of performance is the exception; that it reaches the ten-fold is not unheard off. Indeed, I have had a few colleagues, who through their lack of understanding of what makes good and poor code, their laziness, their destructiveness, …, actually hurt the team/the project/their employer by their presence.


    Side-note:

    A discussion of what makes good code/a good software developer goes far beyond the scope of this post. However, I stress that it is not just a matter of having a certain number of lines of code, or just whether a certain feature works. (Such misconceptions being one of the reasons why there are many poor software developers out there.) Other highly important factors include whether the code is understandable, maintainable, extendable, …; whether it is well tested, preferably with automatic tests; how many bugs there are; whether the documentation is adequate; …

    Much of the issue can indeed be summarized simply by asking: What will this piece of code cost me/us/my employer/… not just today when it is written—but tomorrow, next week, next month, next year?


In addition, where there is a well-intended rule that does not match the will of the ruled, circumventions tend to be found. Here an obvious such circumvention would be to simply create more positions with different salaries and then to hand out positions based on old criteria.

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Written by michaeleriksson

June 6, 2015 at 12:30 am

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