Author: Fiona McQuarrie

a few words

MIXTAPE, My New Book

I’m delighted to announce that my new book MIXTAPE: 21 SONGS FROM 10 YEARS (1975-1985) is now on sale, at the retailers listed here. It was a lot of work to write but also a great deal of fun. I hope you’ll check it out!

Unionizing Starbucks

Just a few years ago, if someone had said that more than 200 Starbucks outlets in North America would be unionized, the response would have been something like this.  Yet here we are, just after Labour Day, and….more than 200 Starbucks outlets are unionized, including several in Canada. These unionizations are remarkable not just because they’re happening, but also because the successful unionization campaigns look nothing like what unionizing efforts are supposed to look like.

Starbucks is a huge and very wealthy international corporation, so it has lots of resources to oppose unionization in its “stores”. With many of its locations in the US, it benefits from US labour laws that are generally less union-friendly than in Canada – for example, captive audience meetings are banned in Canada but permitted in the US – so US employers tend to be more successful at resisting unionization. And because of how Canadian and US labour laws are structured, unionizing a company like Starbucks, with multiple locations, generally means the union has to run an organizing campaign at each individual location, rather than being able to unionize all of them at once. (In 2021 Starbucks had over 1300 locations in Canada and nearly 9000 locations in the US, in addition to licensed outlets operated in partnership with other retailers.)

Most traditional union organizers would look at this situation and say that it would be just too difficult and too expensive to organize unions at Starbucks, and that any attempt to do so would probably fail. To have any chance at success, a union would have to be very experienced, and have skilled organizers and major resources, to combat the extensive anti-unionization campaign and anti-union tactics that Starbucks would undoubtedly roll out. Also, because the food service sector tends to have high rates of employee turnover, most large unions have avoided organizing workplaces in that sector, because of the very real possibility that workers supporting the union might leave or be fired before the union is formally recognized.

So it’s incredible not only that there are now so many unionized Starbucks locations, but that (more…)

Just Say No

In every workplace there are tasks that aren’t enjoyable to do, or that aren’t part of formal job descriptions but are important for building positive relationships and community. However, research has shown that these kinds of tasks – which some researchers have labeled “office housework” –  tend to be done more often by women and by members of demographic minorities. It’s also been suggested that doing these tasks can have a negative impact on the careers of those who regularly take them on.

The new book The No Club: Putting A Stop To Women’s Dead-End Work, by Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, and Laurie Weingart,  is a very thoughtful analysis of this phenomenon. Coincidentally, I came across the book when I was thinking about how “office housework” functions in academic workplaces. I recently left an academic job, but I still regularly get requests to (more…)

The Weight of a Name

When an organization is hiring someone to fill a job, it’s very difficult to avoid bias in the hiring process – because, at some point, the hiring decision is subjective. The applicants for the job may have very similar qualifications and experience, which then usually leads to assessments such as how well each applicant would “fit” within the organization. “Fit” is a subjective assessment, and when subjective assessments become an exercise in “how much is this person like the people that are already here”, that’s when unintended or explicit bias can affect the hiring decision.

Numerous studies have shown that hiring decisions can be biased by factors like the ethnicity of the applicant’s name, their appearance, and their social class. Now, two economists, Qi Ge and Stephen Wu, have published a very interesting research study of another possible source of bias in hiring: how difficult it is to pronounce the applicant’s name.

The data that these researchers used for their study was taken from (more…)

Fact-Checking Card-Checking in British Columbia

In April, the British Columbia government introduced legislation that would change the Labour Relations Code and allow automatic certification in union organizing campaigns. This change would make it much easier for unions to become the legal workplace representative for employees. The usual pro-business pro-management organizations – Chambers of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Business Council of BC – are complaining that this change would “weaken the democratic right for workers to exercise choice through a secret ballot”.  The Business Council has also sent a letter to BC Premier John Horgan with a lengthy list of complaints about the legislation’s potential impacts.  And the “non-partisan” Fraser Institute has called the proposed legislation “unfair to workers”.

At best, these statements are misleading. At worse, they reflect an implicit belief that unions can only hurt businesses’ operations and profitability – a belief which is also highly inaccurate.

To understand why these statements are so troubling, it’s useful to know what automatic certification is. When a union (more…)

“All About Work” is 10 Years Old

March 2022 (March 16, to be exact) is the 10th anniversary of All About Work.

It doesn’t feel like 10 years have gone by, but who doesn’t say that on an anniversary? When I started this blog, I didn’t have any goals about keeping it going for a certain length of time. I decided to just start it up and see what happened. I wanted to have a place to discuss work and organizational issues in a more informal style than academic writing uses, and where I could write for whatever length I thought was appropriate, without external editorial constraints like the dreaded Reviewer #2.

Writing and running All About Work has been an incredible education. I’ve learned a lot about how online publishing works, and about how to communicate ideas in different ways and to different audiences. I’ve written nearly 350 posts on this blog over the past 10 years. Some of them have had almost no readers, and some of them have had thousands of readers. All About Work has also been an opportunity for me to explore ideas and information beyond my work-related interests, and I appreciate the faithful readers who are willing to take a look at a post regardless of its topic.

I learned enough from running this blog to start a second blog, Writing On Music. As its title suggests, that blog is more focused on my freelance music writing career. In the 10 years since this blog started, some bloggers have moved over to more writing-focused sites like Medium, or started producing email newsletters using something like Substack. But I like the format of blogging on WordPress, and I like not being tied to a regular schedule and having the flexibility to post whenever I have something to say.

All About Work has been a little quiet of late because I’ve been working on a major project. I hope to wrap that up soon and start posting more regularly. But in the meantime, I want to express my thanks to everyone who’s read, shared, or commented on All About Work posts over the past decade. It’s been a trip, and it’s one I intend to continue.

“It’s Beyond Frustrating”: Why Athletes are Still Being Abused

The Olympics are supposed to be an exciting and enjoyable experience, for athletes and for spectators. But for figure skating fans, the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing could best be characterized as stressful and depressing.

After the team event – the first skating event on the schedule – it was revealed that 15-year-old Kamila Valieva, the favourite to win the women’s event, had previously tested positive for a banned drug intended to treat chest pain. After an emergency hearing by the Court for Arbitration in Sport, Valieva was allowed to continue competing, but the medals in the team event were not awarded. Valieva ended up placing fourth in the women’s event, and her teammate Alexandra Trusova, who came second, had an emotional meltdown at rinkside, shouting that she hated skating and would never go on the ice again.

While watching all of this drama and turmoil unfold, I couldn’t help but think that for almost 30 years we’ve known there were problems in the sport of skating. In 1995, sportswriter Joan Ryan’s book Little Girls In Pretty Boxes painted a terrible picture of abusive coaching, unhealthy training practices, and incredible stress placed on young figure skaters and gymnasts. Thankfully, as an adult skater, I got into the sport when I was old enough to be in control of what I did. But it’s no secret to anyone who follows skating that, even after well-documented investigations like those in Ryan’s book, there are still very significant problems within the sport.

So I decided to get in touch with Ryan and see if she would be willing to be interviewed about whether anything has changed, 30 years after her whistleblowing. She kindly agreed, and we talked this week. Here’s a transcript of our conversation.

 

Fiona McQuarrie [FM]: What’s your take on the doping scandal at the Olympics?

Joan Ryan [JR]: The Washington Post asked me to write an op-ed on that a couple of weeks ago, and, you know, I wrote this book 27 years ago now. There has been change on the gymnastics side, unfortunately because of Larry Nassar, and because of the gymnasts themselves. They have risen up like an army, and they are the ones that are going to make sure it finally changes. That’s the only reason I have any hope that it’s going to change now after all these years.

I haven’t followed figure skating as closely over those 27 years, but the US skaters certainly seem healthier to me. I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but clearly the total destruction of two of the three Russian figure skaters is a clear sign that it’s dysfunctional. There’s clearly (more…)

Medals Medals Medals*

2022 is an Olympic year, and as the Beijing Olympics unfold, the focus of a lot of the media coverage is on the medals. It’s great for any athlete to win, especially at such a high-profile event – but a lot gets lost when the Olympics, or any major sporting event, are framed mostly in terms of who wins.

Leadership theory tells us that a leader can’t be a leader without followers. Similarly, a winner is only a winner if they have competitors to beat. Everyone competing at the Olympics has worked incredibly hard, spent a lot of money (or a lot of their parents’, sponsors’, or sports federation’s money), and sacrificed opportunities to do other things. Viewership for Olympic TV and streaming broadcasts has been declining and maybe, just maybe, the nationalist focus on only the athletes who win medals is starting to wear a little thin.

Prior to the Games, the Globe and Mail newspaper ran an extremely interesting article on how Norway increased the number of medals won by its Winter Olympic athletes. Many countries have programs like Canada’s Own the Podium, which use medals as the measure of success in sport, and direct funding to the sports and athletes perceived as most likely to win medals. That strategy usually requires identifying potential medalists as early as possible, and then supporting those athletes in intensive training in a single sport. Norway took a completely different approach. (more…)

I See You: The Effects of Representation

Many organizations think that being inclusive is simply an issue of hiring members of underrepresented groups. But people hired on that basis are not going to stick around if they feel isolated or that they stand out, or that they’ve been hired just because they’re “diverse”. One very important element in inclusivity is representation; people want to see others like them, and also want to see those other people being respected and valued.

Part of a new study by a group of US researchers looks at the effects of representation in a place that isn’t often examined: the readings that students are assigned in university courses. There has been plenty of discussion over the past few decades about “the canon” in various academic fields and what determines whether a work is a “classic”  that all students should be familiar with. The researchers investigated whether the gender balance of assigned readings in a political-science course – the number of readings written by men and the number of readings written by women – affected female and male students’ self-efficacy: their confidence in their own ability to succeed. The study looked at (more…)