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A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

What’s Really Behind Why Women Earn Less Than Men?

Though headway has been made in bringing women’s wages more in line with men’s in the past several decades, that convergence seems to have stalled in more recent years. To help determine why,  Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, the authors of a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research parse data on wages and occupations from 1980 to 2010. They find that as more women attended and graduated college and headed into the working world, education and professional experience levels stopped playing a significant role in the the difference between men and women’s wages. Whatever remains of the discrepancy can’t be explained by women not having basic skills and credentials. So what does explain it?

The largest factor in the persistent wage gap is the dearth of women in specific jobs and industries, the researchers found. That means that narrowing the wage gap further requires making high-paying, male-dominated industries like STEM fields and tech companies more enticing and welcoming to women. And even before that, encouraging women and girls to take advantage of opportunities to explore and learn about fields like coding and science that remain male-dominated at both the professional and...

Effective Leaders Know How to Focus on the Future

The demand for measurable outcomes has historically posed an enduring challenge for strategic foresight projects both within and beyond government. As Robert Shea observes in his recent post, Advancing the Evidence Agenda in the Next Administration, the U.S. Government has long sought better nuance in measuring outcomes and to more readily show whether programs are actually effective. However, in the case of strategic foresight, common notions of outcomes and effectiveness may not apply. This difficulty is no reason to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Rather, it is an opportunity to sharpen the governmentwide understanding of what strategic foresight does and does not do, and to continue refining our measurement and evaluation toolkit. 

Understanding Foresight 

Strategic foresight is a set of techniques and processes designed to help managers orient policies and actions toward the future, in part by stressing that policies and actions in the present help to shape the future. In everyday parlance, foresight and the work of futurists are often conflated with our simplest notions of prediction, the idea that someone might see into the future and know what, when and where an event will happen. This is wrong. Those who work in strategic foresight...

When Employees Allege Wrongdoing, Tread Carefully

If you lead a large organization, chances are you will at some point receive an email from an employee, addressed directly to you, alleging he or she has suffered some workplace related wrong at the hands of one of your subordinate managers. In some cases the email will seek your intervention, as the boss, to fix it. Ignoring such correspondence isn’t a good idea, but getting personally involved is an equally bad idea.

In an age where transparency, accessibility, engagement and responsiveness are hailed as the hallmarks of sound leadership in public organizations, the notion that everyone in an organization should feel free to communicate with senior leaders sounds quite reasonable. Most senior leaders do care about the welfare and workplace satisfaction of those they lead. So when they receive compelling sounding stories about perceived workplace wrongs, it’s hard to resist the temptation to jump headlong into the conversation, often with a promise to personally “look into” or “get to the bottom” of the allegations. If you find yourself in such a position, resist that temptation.

Demonstrate trust in your organization’s grievance redress process. The rights of federal employees to be protected from all manner of unsafe...

10 Ways To Empower Government Employees

Public servants have faced the threat of a government shutdown more than once. Though fortunately these were averted, the sensation of having your head on a chopping block (even if temporary) can leave you unsettled and afraid. But we can empower government employees to have more control over their (our) own fates by implementing some structural changes that would promote and reward for productivity and efficiency -- facilitating effective government from the inside out.

A few areas where we can do this in a low-cost, high-impact way:

Mentoring: Times are changing quickly and employees need to learn to adapt their skills accordingly. An on-the-job buddy at a higher level can be an invaluable asset in retaining good employees and helping them learn the often-subtle skills they need to contribute effectively. And it doesn't cost anything other than time.

Technology training: People who do things the old way when there are faster, cheaper, better ways to get the job done may be comfortable, but also wasting taxpayer money and their own opportunity to grow professionally. Let this be the year we learn how to use technology. Again, it doesn't have to cost a cent if you get skilled employees to...

Small Changes in Your Digital Routine Can Make You Smarter–and More Sane

Back in the 13th century, scholars, and clerics complained about having an overwhelming abundance of books to read. One wonders what they would make of the constant stream of animal videos, articles, lists, gifs, blog posts and status updates that characterize the digital age.

Many people today struggle with information overload. We shift our attention between online and offline activities every 45 seconds, according to Gloria Mark, professor of informatics at the University of California at Irvine. Performing these kinds of mental gymnastics can lead to fatigue, stress, and poor decision-making. In a survey of 2,000 listeners for my podcast, Note to Self, 65 percent said that information overload affects their sleep. Over 45 percent reported headaches as a result of too much social media, email and online browsing. Nearly 30 percent had an internet-bred eye twitch. And one in three said that information overload was affecting their close relationships.

Clearly, we need to think harder about what all this information consumption is for—and how to address its impact on our work, relationships and health. With that in mind, Note to Self has been exploring how daily behavior modifications and specific goals can help people find focus (and...