Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fun Impinging on Women's Work

The 9/17 issue of the Weekly Standard includes a diatribe by Matt Labash against corporate cultures incorporating Dilbert-esque enforced "fun." It's a length read (I printed it and took it on the subway) but among Labash's sarcasm and vitriol, I found some oblique references to women in the workplace that I think are worth noting.

The first is obvious sexism: Labash visits a "Funsultant" business (note: a "funsultant" is one who consults to bring "fun" to the office), and meets with the firm's Marketing Maven (her actual title) Jayla Boire. His discription of her follows:

I met one of their four principal partners for dinner--Jayla Boire. Her title is Marketing Maven (nobody in the company has a traditional title). She looks like a Marketing Maven too. She is bouncy, perky, tall, and blonde, with sculpted tan legs that start just above her ankles and end right below her clavicle. I wouldn't call them sexy--HR wouldn't approve--but they're fun to look at.

Very professional. I wonder if Boire has read this piece and knows that in addition to making fun of her work, Labash is also pasting her into the article as a piece of tasty meat. When he introduces her male colleagues, there is no description of them outside of their work. Sexism at its best in journalism.

The other part that really caught my eye was how, in creating a "Fun Department" at AstraZeneca--at the expense of women's ability to pump breast milk at work:

Dave later tells me that at AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company, the Fun Department has even taken over the company's seldom-used lactation room, dressed it up as a doctor's office complete with a doctor character and a gum-cracking assistant, and wrote "prescriptions to play" while treating people "for terminal seriousness."

I wonder how women at AstraZeneca now store breast milk while on the job. Obviously, the corporate need to inject fun into the work culture overrides a nursing mother's need to pump milk. I'd bet my life this was a decision made by a man.

If you check my booklist, you know I've been reading Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men--And What to Do About It by Evelyn Murphy. The book spends a lot of time outlining the conditions and discriminations women face and how it affects their paychecks. I can see this one fitting right into the book. A woman needs to pump breast milk, the provided facility is taken away, she is told she can't do it at her desk and no other space is provided, and she ends up either in pain from blocked milk ducts or quitting so she can actually nurse. Really, if you're a woman in the working world, you should read this book. The descriptions of working conditions that cause women to quit and lose pay-benefiting positions/seniority makes my blood boil.

It's enough to make a working woman scream.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Obesity Is Not Contagious

Like most people, I was mildly disturbed by the headlines last month proclaiming the results of a study that claimed that people with overweight friends tended to become overweight over time. Like a lemming, I mentally thought over the size of my friends, and then shook my head. I know my weight gain is based in a bad reaction to a medication. It has nothing to do with how much my friends weigh.

So I was pleased to run across an article helping to put the results in context. I'm not going to say "debunk," although that's close. An excerpt:

On what firm foundation of scientific evidence are they basing this almost comical, yet somehow still unnerving claim? In fact, it is based on an observational study of some 2300 people from the "offspring cohort" (siblings) of the original Framingham Study. The researchers looked at the body mass indices of individuals that these cohort offspring indicated on their original administrative tracking sheets for the Framingham study as people they would recommend to contact (otherwise known as friends and families) to help facilitate follow up of the study. They then compared BMI changes measured in these individuals during numerous three year periods between 1971 and 2003 with BMI changes of the people in the cohort. What were the startling findings? An individual's chances of becoming obese were 57% greater if they had a friend who became obese over a certain period of time. And what was the authors' conclusion?

"It's not that obese or non-obese people simply find other similar people to hang out with, rather, there is a direct causal relationship".

How does one conclude a direct causal relationship from an observational study? Bald men are more likely than men with a full head of hair to have a heart attack. Can we conclude from this that they should buy a toupee or begin using Rogaine lotion to lower their risk? And what about that little nasty episode with hormone replacement therapy just a few years ago? Remember when women were told that since there was much more heart disease observed after menopause the reason must be the loss of hormones - and that therefore hormone replacement therapy must be the answer? Oops, wrong again. The bottom line is that what you get from observational studies like this one are hypotheses which then must be validated by research that actually implements experimental interventions to prove or disprove them.
I wish I had been clever enough to notice the observational setup of the "experiment" when reading the original write-up. After all, I spent that whole semester in Research Methods in graduate school.