Archive for April 2007

What’s behind the gender pay gap? Really?

April 29, 2007

I saw this on CNet news

More girls joined the classes and, according to Nourbakhsh, they turned out to be more talented programmers than the boys, dispelling an age-old stereotype. Kids taking robotics classes where Terk is used now include the artists, environmentalists and literati instead of just the techies, Nourbakhsh said. That’s exactly the effect Nourbakhsh says his group hoped to achieve.

Which surprised me, because I’ve been thinking about a new, more detailed study published last week. One of the comments in the Times is this:

Catherine Hill, the organization’s director of research, said: ”Part of the wage difference is a result of people’s choices, another part is employer’s assumptions of what people’s choices will be. … Employers assume that young women are going to leave the work force when they have children, and, therefore, don’t promote them.”

As usual, the media coverage and comments in some blogs reiterate the usual explanations about all the possible explanations. Depending on political viewpoint, either the gap is all the result of women’s choices, or the gap is all the result of a vast right-wing antifeminist conspiracy.

Read the actual study, and the difference is more subtle.

One year after college, there is already a 20% pay gap. But three quarters of that gap is readily explained by differences in choices between men and women graduates: Women enter lower paying fields, are more likely to choose nonprofits, and work fewer hours. But there is still an unexplained 5% difference in pay between men and women. For me, the most striking difference is in education, almost hidden away on page 11: Women in education average of $520 a week; men in education make $547 a week. These are, at this stage, mostly teachers, with very similar roles and environments, and very similar qualifications. Indeed, elsewhere the study reports women do better, as a group, in school than their male counterparts. How can we explain that $27?

The standard explanation is that women take more time off, work fewer hours, and focus more on having a family than having a career in the first then years. That is, to some extent, true: Women are three times as likely to take several months off, and that leave is almost always paid leave. Those women also work fewer hours, are more likely to take time off to care for sick kids, and are less likely to take on management roles.

Those women are less likely to get promotion opportunites, less likely to get “choice” assignments, and are more likely to viewed as less committed to the workplace. There was also the surprising finding that while women who have children work fewer hours, men who have children work more hours. There is some sort of “motherhood penalty” both in hours worked and in perceived value to the organization. There is also a “fatherhood bonus.”

The problem, however, is that the same thinking is applied to women who do not have families. Women, it seems, are always “potential mothers” who will abandon their duties to be a (potential) drain on the organization.

I have a personal stake in this, on two levels.

First, this is just a justice issue. Women should not face discrimination in the workplace, and neither should men. Both women and men should be evaluated on their contributions to the organization, and both men and women should be able to balance work and family according to their own choices.

Second, Teela is now about a decade from entering the workforce.

So, there is a five percent unexplained gap between men and women in their first year in the workplace. The unexplained part of the gap grows to 11 percent ten years later. I am less worried about the explained part of the gap, though I understand that real market forces don’t drive the differences in pay between occupations.

I worry, though, that the attempts to “do something” about the explained parts are somehow generating the unexplained, gender biased, differences. Women can take time off to have children, so managers assume that they will, and treat even women who don’t accordingly. That shouldn’t happen.



Planning for FY08

April 28, 2007

With the HST contract signed, we will probably do another staffing plan. Fortunately, we have a running start because of some JWST staffing exercises that Tony Krueger has been leading.

The details are still being worked out, but the main message is that work on the planning systems will start to ramp up significantly the rest of this year and into FY08. If the budget numbers turn out where we expect them to be, we will be hiring several people.

Some of the new hires will come in as junior people, and may be working on HST efforts in order to free up our current staff to work on JWST. Because JWST is a very different observatory, there is a lot of different work, though we will leverage a lot of what we learned from HST.

A big problem looming next year is housing, both for people and for systems. I had a conversation with a JWST lead about the need to find room for JWST development servers. There is room for a few servers, but not for more than a few. Similarly, there is currently room for a few new people, but not for more than a few. We may be looking for space in Bloomberg again, though who would move over is hard to predict.

So, by the end of FY08, we will be very busy:

  • Serious work on JWST development will be underway
  • Kepler will be very close to launch
  • HST SM-4 might actually be in progress.

That last one is hardest to predict, but a three week slip would make October 1st EVA day two. That, I think, would be cool. 🙂


Moving to System Engineering

April 19, 2007

It’s official, I’m moving over to lead the System Engineering Branch.

The last three years, as I’ve done less development work and more management, I’ve also been drifting in the direction of focusing on interfaces and architectures. I’ve also been working with Melissa on metrics, and I have a very good working relationship with her. Leading SEB will let me keep doing both of those things, and spend some time looking at the “big picture” as we get into more details on the JWST systems, and the interfaces between systems.

A lot of the cross-system integration will be Mark Abernathy’s baliwick, as the system integration manager and “middle part” Chief Engineer. Most of the work I was doing while in SAS was work for Mark, so I’ll still be doing some of that work, and helping Melissa manage some of it.

So this should be interesting. 🙂

Telecommuting is bad for people who don’t do it?

April 10, 2007

An article in the April Communications of the ACM takes an unusually rigorous look at the effect of telecommuting on productivity. The study is done with call center workers, so they have a direct measure of productivity, intensity and efficiency. It’s a long study, so they can deal with temporary effects of new telecommuters versus the long-range effects. While it is a small study, they were careful to look at pre-telecommuting differences, deal with possible placebo or Hawthorne effects, and look at the effects on both people “in the office” and telecommuters.

The surprising result for me is that while telecommuters are indeed more productive, productivity declined among non-telecommuters doing the same jobs.

Other possible effects turn out to be a wash: Telecommuting doesn’t affect absenteeism, and productivity is not a selection effect: Telecommuters were not being selected because they already had high productivity. Their productivity actually did improve.

However, if you telecommute and I stay in the office, telecommuting is good for you, but bad for me. Why that seems to be true isn’t clear, but it is potentially very disturbing.

I’d love to think of a way to replicate the study using our staff. I may try mining the CVS repositories to see what’s in there.


PMI MetSIG World Congress 2007

April 9, 2007

I’m “attending” the PMI MetSIG virtual World Congress this month.

PMI is the Project Management Institute, MetSIG is the Metrics Special Interest Group.  The “Global Congress” is being done as a series of webinars — web seminars that include a powerpoint presentation and an audio conference by phone.  You can ask questions via a web chat interface.  I’m interested in both project management metrics and software metrics, and so far what I’m learning is disappointing.

Time and Budget, which are two of the three elements of the triple constraint, are easy to understand.

Time passes, the Universe expands and cools, and with little adjustments for things like sick days and vacations, everybody has pretty much the same understanding of Time.

Budget is dollars, and for labor-intensive activities like software, the number of dollars being relocated from the project to various individual bank accounts is also pretty easy to understand.

When we get to Scope, there is lots of hand waving.  Software systems start out very ill-defined, so there are often lots of disagreements about what is in or out of scope.  One of the webinars  started to discuss scope changes, but what it boiled down to is that if the project manager thought she could add or improve features without increasing cost, it didn’t count as a scope change.  If the customer wanted something other than what the team had planned, and the project manager thought it would cost more, it was a scope change.

That’s roughly the same as saying “If I like it, I’ll do it.  If I don’t like it, you have to pay for it.”  In fairness, the speaker went on to describe a negotiating process  for possible scope changes to see where “blame” for scope changes belongs.

The other topic has been trying to quantify the  value of a Project Management Office.  PMOs are supposed to provide a way for senior managers to align project activities with the strategic objectives of the enterprise.  Their argument gets a little wierd, though.  It boils down to “Senior managers will find PMOs valuable if they charter them, but if a PMO isn’t chartered by senior managers, it won’t be seen as valuable.”

Well, duh. Once you talk yourself in to investing in a PMO (not cheap) you’re not going to readily decide it was a bad idea.  Your boss may, so you look for “Payback models” that include dollars saved, or new projects launched that create dollars earned, or you get in a bind and talk about “intangibles.”

If you are concerned about strategic alignment — only doing the things that have strategic value for the organization — then a PMO may be just the cost of doing business.   If you don’t care much about strategic alignment, because you have spare resources, or you’re in a very experimental enterprise, or you are not so concerned about ROI, then a PMO probably can’t be justified.

And there we are.


Things to see with your kids in Baltimore

April 5, 2007

Chris Anderson used my comments about Geek Dad stuff in Baltimore on his GeekDad blog. I love the idea of sharing ideas for seeing “geeky” stuff with your kids, and I’m happy I was able to contribute.