Wandering Hands and Worse

I’m sure even the most reclusive hermit is aware of the allegations of sexual abuse and harassment sweeping through the world of UK politics and the film industry at the moment. Big names such as Harvey Weinstein, Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey in Hollywood, and Michael Fallon in Westminster have had some serious allegations flying in their direction. The #MeToo campaign has given a voice to victims of abuse who previous felt unable to speak about their experiences, and like ma

ny a viral meme the number of accused and victims has spiralled. It hasn’t just been women who have been coming out, men too have revealed unpleasant experiences at the hands of men (and so far it has only been men) in positions of power.

Workplace Cultures

The film and entertainment industries and government are two areas of work full of people who wield tremendous power, desire fame and wealth, and have massive egos. Consequently, it attracts people who would do anything to get into these careers, no matter how compromising it might be. It is hardly a coincidence that that these fields take advantage of unpaid internships to feed a steady stream of impressionable young wannabes who lack any power in their destiny. So it must of little surprise that those higher up are emboldened to treat younger aspirants like playthings and take advantage of them. Of course, looks also play a big part in Hollywood (but very much less so in government), so add a sprinkling of glamour and you’ll be sprinkling hormones all over the working environment to spice up the mix even more.

One problem with these particular work areas is that they aren’t exactly a meritocracy. You don’t reach the top purely based on talent and hard work. In politics, it’s who you know, and of course being able to bullshit to a level that would make a second-hand car dealer blush. It’s little wonder politics is dominated by the privately educated, where the old boys (and girls) network operates and self-confidence – or maybe even self-delusion – is in-grained. The entertainment industry is also dominated by the well connected these days, but good looks and the right accent get you a long way too. Any industry where success is dependent on factors beyond the basic talent and skills at the job will encourage dubious techniques to become successful, and abuse will be natural side-effect of this. They are also very stratified work environments, where those at the very top earn great wealth, and have power and fame; but there are many levels below, way down to the bottom with people working for next to nothing with little hope of ever getting up the very long greasy pole. Those at the top know they can get away with liberties when dealing with those below them, as those below don’t want to ruin their chances of scaling the pole.

In my world of engineering, certainly from my experience, things could not be more different. To get ahead in engineering, you do need skill and talent, and it is far more of a meritocracy. That’s not to say luck, good connections and some brown-nosing doesn’t help get you ahead. But you certainly won’t get ahead on good looks and a nice accent alone! Even in older, larger companies with traditional structures, there is less of a distance between the top level engineers and the new starters. Even the most experienced engineers will know that a young new starter will have skills they don’t. So there’s a far smaller disparity of power and potential for abuse compared with politics and entertainment. We all know engineering is a male-dominated industry, but I’ve always felt most male engineers aren’t usually the macho, alpha-male types who need constantly prove their masculinity. They tend to be rather reserved and hide their sexuality under a bushel. I’ve known a fair number of gay engineers, and you would have needed a well-tuned gaydar to have been able to spot them. I suspect a fair few of my colleagues having even fallen into the much ignored asexual category. While I can’t speak for my female colleagues, I’ve never had one mention any sort of sexual abuse or harassment in the workplace. The worst they’ve ever mentioned are some simplistic stereotypes, but nothing ever lewd or nasty. Of course, I’m not going to be told of every single incident from all my female colleagues, but I’ve always got the impression they consider it a safe industry. Many other organisations have different cultures from the ones I’ve worked for, which may paint a different picture. But if you’re a woman looking for a career where sexual harassment is unlikely to be a problem, then engineering (and science in general) is a good one to choose. I also like to think that the typical engineer or scientist is highly intelligent and thus well behaved!

Educational Background

I decided to do a little background research on some of the politicians accused of inappropriate behaviour, and there was a list of ten names doing the rounds (it would have been useful to have more). I decided to look up their educational background to see whether it aligned with my suspicion that they were privately educated. Of the ten, four were privately educated, three went to grammar school, two state and one unknown. Also six of those (I think, but can’t be sure) were also boys-only schools. Now, that last figure does start to make you think, does a single-sex education distort boys views of girls?

I know those who support single-sex education like to highlight that the educational achievement is better (though I am sceptical of that claim, due the selective nature of single-sex schools), but at what cost to social skills of the pupils? If you’re in an all-boys school, you never get to see girls as equals, doing the same things as you. They become even more mysterious and treated as different beings. The result can go in two directions, one is that you become scared and in awe of girls, and the other is that you see girls as inferior or to be taken advantage of. I’m not saying all boys at single-sex schools end up at either of these extremes, but it surely must magnify any differences. When I was at university I knew a few students who went to single-sex schools (both boys and girls), and they all seemed to view the opposite sex with a certain amount novelty, and not just treat them as just another student to be an equal friend with. Many soon adjusted, but the male students who were getting all excited over being in close proximity to women were usually from all-boys schools.

Going back to our politicians’ schools, where more than half either went to a private (called public schools in the UK, rather confusingly) or grammar (free, but selective) schools. While private schools can offer an excellent level of education, they also seem to instil a level of self-confidence into most of the pupils. Of course, many of them come from privileged backgrounds, which also helps this level of self-confidence. But this self-confidence, if not restrained, can turn into arrogance and entitlement.

A Power Trip?

I’ve read many articles which postulate that the sexual abuse cases are men exerting their power over the women, and they are using sex to put them in their place. I’m not so sure about this, as there are many ways to exert power without using sex, so why do it that way with the inherent risks it carries? As I just mentioned in the educational upbringing, I see it more of a sense of entitlement, rather than exerting power. These men feel entitled to treat women (and men) as they want, and feel immune to any possible repercussions, as they’ve grown up without anyone challenging them, or questioning their actions.

I also think the fundamental aspect of sexual desire is overlooked in many articles too. We’re sexual beings, and if we see someone we find attractive, we’ll have sexual feelings towards them. Of course, the vast majority of us keep such thoughts to ourselves and not make those feeling felt. These over-entitled men appear not to have the restraint, or empathy towards the other person and therefore externalise their inner thoughts, and act on their basest instincts. Because of their lofty positions, they get away with their behaviour and this results in a power trip. So I think power is more a result of their behaviour, not really the cause.

The Police

One really glaring omission from all these reports of abuse is any mention of the police getting involved, or any of the alleged victims reporting any incidents to the law. Some of the incidents appear to be very serious, including rape, so why aren’t the police involved? I know the police have a lamentable track-record when handling rape and abuse cases, and it is notoriously difficult to convict; but you would have thought amongst all these allegations a few would have been reported? Is it really easier to reveal the abuse you’ve received to millions on social media on the back of a campaign, rather than report it in confidence to the police? While I generally believe the allegations that have been made, it does make your wonder whether some are jumping on the bandwagon and taking advantage for a moment of fame. The result is those who have genuinely been abused may not get taken seriously. I wonder whether some of these high profile figures accused of rape and other abuse will get convicted, or slip through the net due to their status and access to the top lawyers?

Too Much Variety?

The #MeToo campaign has revealed hundreds, if not thousands, of allegations of abuse and harassment, revealing how widespread the problems are. Many of these particular allegations have made the headlines due to the profile of the person making them. However, the nature of the the allegations vary from violent rape down to a tap on the knee or a risqué comment. While these latter incidents may have caused distress at that time, they can end up drowning out more serious cases because of the profile of the people involved. The trouble with internet memes is that everyone wants a piece of the action, and you end up with people coming up the most trivial incidents imaginable being giving the same exposure as criminal and life-changing events. I’m not saying harassment should be swept under the carpet, but maybe dealing with the perpetrator or the organisation it happened in more directly, rather than just Tweeting about it would be more useful.

Who is Doing This?

If you look at all the articles and social media on this subject you may get this impression it is all men, and only men, doing this. Of course, many articles will state otherwise. The Kevin Spacey reports have also revealed it isn’t just women who are victims too. From my personal experience I have received low-ish level sexual abuse and harassment from women, but not men (I don’t count getting wolf-whistled by some gay guys as harassment, and was rather flattered by it as it was done in good humour). I also personally don’t know any men who have sexually abused or harrassed anyone, but that’s maybe due to the sort of people I mix with. I think there’s a very small minority of people who do abuse and harrass, but they do it a lot and to lots of people. So maybe instead of being hung up about a widespread culture of abuse, maybe really trying to deal with the abusers will remove the majority of the problems. It’s rather like when the police catch a burglar (yes, I know that’s a bit of a far-fetched idea), and the number of burglaries plummets in the area. The hundreds of break-in weren’t done by hundreds of burglars, but one burglar doing hundreds of burglaries.

Move the Line?

The last decade or so has one of most puritanical periods since the 1950s. Compared to the late 1960s to 1980s, our attitudes to sex have become more prudish. This may be due to a reaction against that more sexually libarated era, which many people enjoyed the benefits of, but also many people (and particularly women) felt threatened by. These days even the sightest hint of flirtation between people who aren’t already in a relationship seems to be frowned upon, and could lead to serious trouble in the workplace. The only way we seem to be able to meet anyone these days is via online dating, and any real-life approaches are now virtually impossible it seems. Has the line been placed to what is and isn’t acceptable too far over to the converstive (very much with a small C!) side now? Are the rules so constraining now, so when someone breaks them, they go to the other extreme and end up abusing as many people as they can?

Maybe if we loosened up a bit, and tolerated a little bit of flirting now and again, and allowed people to be adults on a equal footing, it might prevent some people going off on these extreme pathways to abusive behaviour. It may also allow people to feel more comfortable about answering back confidently without offending when they aren’t interested. Do you think the current zero tolerance attitude is counter-productive, or would a more relaxed attitude be too risky?

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Dating Tumbleweed

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It’s been over 8 months since I started on this online dating mission, and things haven’t exactly turned out quite as hoped. If you’re read my previous blogs you’ll know I’ve been using Tinder, POF and happn to search for women. Since then, I’ve also added Lovoo and Badoo to the mix. As you can guess this was due the the lack of success on the original three apps. You would have also read I’ve had a couple of dates, one of which ended up ghosting me after a promising start, and the other leaving me in the dreaded friendzone. So what’s been happening since then?

To cut a short story even shorter: sod all, sweet FA, diddly squat, nada. Well, not strictly true, as I did manage one other date, and she did seem reasonably pleasant and we got on, but she lived far too far away to even consider taking any further. But apart from that, nothing.

App success

Comparing the apps in terms of getting dates directly can be a little tricky as the type of feedback varies. In Tinder you only know about mutual matches, and never about people liking you when you didn’t like them. In POF, you are informed when someone likes you, and you receive messages from anyone. happn (I wish they’d capitalise their first letter, I hate starting a sentence with a lower-case letter!) also only report mutual matches, as do Lovoo. Badoo give some indication of who’s visited your profile and those that who have liked you.

So how much success have I had? Well on Tinder I had one match from someone who lives in a different country (must have been visiting the UK at the time to appear), and that’s it. Given I’ve been swiping nearly every day, that’s a massively disappointing hit-rate. With POF I’ve managed a couple of matches, but not had any replies when trying to start a conversation. However, I had received a lot of likes and messages from non-matches, so some women clearly like me. The downside all these women seem to be at least 10 years older than me, and look at least 20 years older. I’ve also tried messaging several women who I’ve taking a liking too from the search, but haven’t received a single reply. Sending messages can be tiring, as I don’t just want to say ‘Hi there!’, and rather say something based on their profile to start a conversation; so it does need some thought, which after a day working and dealing with the kids, I don’t much energy left to do.

On happn I’ve had one match (after 8 months of nothing!), and tried to start a chat, but got no reply. Lovoo, I had a match from someone far too far away. Badoo has shown a little more promise in that I’ve actually struck up a couple of conversations on there, but they seem not to be the most articulate women in the world. One word answers are bad enough, but one letter answers?! What’s happening to the literacy in this country?

So what next?

I know I’m not the greatest catch out there, and being a man, I’m up against a vast amount of competition, but I really was hoping for better. Have I stepped over the age threshold where I’m now considered too old by most women (except for 50-somethings it seems)? Does my profile stink? Are my photos rotten (personally I think they give a good impression of me)? Is my particular taste in women not reciprocated by those women? It’s not like I haven’t put the effort in on the apps, searching on most days, so being very active. I’m really feeling like the invisible man now, without the actual benefits of being invisible.

So what do you think I should do?

Women in Engineering

I’ve been in engineering for a quarter of a century now, and have worked in a number of places, both large and small. I’ve also spent time attending conferences, meetings and workshops; and, of course my career started after attending University. Over all that time there has been a distinct lack of women in the field. Without having exact figures to hand, I would say it has varied between 20% at best and zero at worst in all those different situations.
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Can We Blame Engineers?

Clearly there’s a problem somewhere if there’s such a lack of women in engineering. I’ve never met a single male engineer who doesn’t want more women working with them. OK, there’s a lot of engineers who don’t want anyone else working with them, but they don’t discriminate when it comes to being anti-social. Even amongst my most lewd and politically-incorrect colleagues I’ve never met one who thinks women aren’t capable of doing the job. So I’ve seen very little evidence that the workplace and engineers themselves are off-putting to women. However, perceptions may differ from reality when looking from the outside. The media often portrays engineers as socially inept, introverted, either huddled over a computer, or getting themselves dirty on machinery. While there might be some elements of truth in any stereotype, engineers do come from a range of backgrounds with a wide variety of personalities and interests outside of their jobs. Some of them even shower more than once a week. But the media does have a lot to answer for when it comes to portrayal of engineers.

Who Gets Recruited?

So what about recruitment? To be honest, I haven’t been too involved with recruitment in my career, but have spoken to plenty of colleagues who have. While it depends very much on the position being advertised for, it isn’t unusual to receive 500 applications for one vacancy with only 5 women applying. So all things being equal, there’s a 1% chance a woman would get recruited. So either the problem lies in the process of job advertising or goes further back than that. Given that most job adverts aren’t placed in Loaded and Playboy magazine, we can probably discount any significant discrimination on that front. So we must step back further. My engineering course at university (a top-10 Russell group one, so a semi-humble brag) was around 95% male. Other engineering disciplines varied a bit, but still very much male dominated. So what’s holding back women from applying to university engineering courses?

Is It A School Problem?

In the UK, the traditional path into university is after taking A-levels at 18 years old, either at school or a 6th form college. Most people take 3 or 4 A-levels (it was only ever 3 in my day when they were a lot harder – but that’s another hot topic!), which are chosen at 16 years old. So at 16, you’re narrowing down your subjects to specialisms you’ll most likely be using to start your career. If you want to be an engineer one of those A-levels will be at least maths (yes, with an ‘s’!), and a science (physics being a good choice for many engineering disciplines). This doesn’t leave much space for a breadth of choices, so if you want to become an engineer you’re probably committed to that path at 16. If you want to leave your options open for other career paths, you might not be able to choose the A-levels required for an engineering career. Maybe at 16 boys tend to have a clearer idea of what career they want than girls do? It’ll be interesting to hear you views on this.

Before A-levels, there are of course the GCSEs, which are taken at 16 years old. Usually pupils take between 8-12 of them, and if I remember correctly I took 10. So there’s plenty more scope for a diversity of subjects there. I remember doing art, French, a science and geography amongst mine, so a good mix even if most of that knowledge as long since evaporated. At GCSE level there are a variety of subjects which help in the background to learning about engineering, such as maths, physics, chemistry, computer science and design & technology (I going by the names they were called when I was at school a long time ago!). From my memory, the male to female ratio did vary a lot in these. Maths was compulsory, but girls dominated the top set, so clearly not a lack of ability there. However, computer science and design & technology was pretty much entirely male. So the polarisation of the genders had already set in at that stages. I don’t remember any girls being discouraged by teachers from taking these subjects, so what put them off? Was it peer pressure, lack of interest, parental influence, or the general stereotype of gendered subjects?

Hobbies

When I was a lad, many many years ago, I was constant tinkerer. Whether making Airfix models, building machines with technical Lego, constructing electronics circuits or writing BASIC programs on my early 80s home computer; they was rarely a time where I wasn’t building or designing something. I learnt so much from this play, that it made much of my formal education much easier as I had gathered the basics at home at a younger age. In those pre-internet days, much of the information was gathered from magazines and from my dad who was also very practical. Some of my school friends also had similar hobbies, and we often swapped ideas and proudly showed off our creations to each other. However, I don’t remember any female friends or sisters really having any similar hobbies, with even Lego being considered a boys toy back then (despite it being very non-gendered in those days). They simply didn’t seem interested in such pastimes and would rather do more ‘girlie’ things.

I certainly wasn’t forced into the hobbies I did, and much of it was really from taking an interest in what my dad was doing. Having said that, I also enjoyed helping my mum with baking and she encouraged my more artistic side (which I’ve long since lost). My sisters were simply not interested in what my dad was up to, but he never said they shouldn’t take an interest in those things.

So I think if you want girls to consider engineering and STEM in general, they really need to be exposed to interesting hobbies when young. Looking at my own children I would say they really start to specialise in interests around the age of 6 to 8. Both my children (one of each) love their Lego, but do play in rather different ways. The girl is very much into building houses where her figures have distinct personalities and do quite real-world things. Whereas the boy is very much into goodies and baddies, and building things that fly or drive. However, both are actively building and designing their models, so they are both engineering. I try to ensure there’s plenty of practical things around for them to play with, but try not to force anything on them, and certainly don’t tell them they should play with something as it’s only for boys/girls. So if you have a girl, make sure there’s plenty of opportunities for her to access practical toys and technology that allows creativity and logical thinking. Also, make sure you as a parent (or friend, or relative) are seen doing practical and creative things and be ready to get them to join in with you, or at least talk to them about it.

Encouragement

There’s a fine line between encouragement, where a child is doing something willingly and enjoying it, and hot-housing a child into something a parent wants them to excel at. Children can quite easily dive into something with massive enthusiasm for a few weeks or days and then lose interest and never come back to it again. Occasionally some activities will stick and they’ll persist with them for much longer. I’m sure we’ve seen toys that are always out and others which get used once and collect dust in the back of the cupboard. It’s important to spot which activities an child takes an interest in and encourage them along, particularly if it is something which is enhancing their development. However, if you get too forceful with this encouragement, it can put them off and they’ll end up never wanting to do it again. Sometimes its difficult to tell how forceful you are if it’s something you’ve got an enthusiasm for yourself. But, never try and put children off from doing things, particularly if they start to feel it is something they shouldn’t be doing through peer pressure.

So to start to get more girls into engineering, they need encouragement at a very young age to take up hobbies and in their play. But you should never force them into things if they show no interest in them. I’d much rather see a girl who is a passionate fashion designer than a reluctant engineer. But if she does show interest in engineering and science, make sure it isn’t only in school where she gets to learn about it, give her all the encouragement you can. It becomes particularly important through the adolescent years when peer pressure and hormones can pull them away.

Will We Ever Reach 50%?

To be brutally honest, I don’t think we’ll ever see engineering being 50% female. My main reasons for this do come from observing how children play, and despite many people’s efforts to not restrict play along gender lines, generally speaking girls and boys do play differently. However, that doesn’t mean we should just give up, as there are plenty of girls how there who would take to engineering brilliantly and they should be encouraged. So we need parents and teachers to really show the way and ensure girls are given the opportunities to learn and enjoy engineering-related activities, and that they retain this while growing up. So I think we can increase the number of female engineers, but it’ll take a long time and the focus should be on the young and not on employers’ recruitment methods.

In the Friendzone

dating8So I’ve suffered the ignominy of been ghosted, and wondered what else the world of online dating relationships could throw at me. I had met another woman via one of the dating sites a few months ago and we clicked on the first date and starting meeting up on a reasonably regular basis. Bear in mind my situation of being a working parent with little spare time, so the regularity of these were every couple of weeks or so.

From day one we seemed to get on pretty well and soon seemed to feel relaxed with each other. We’d chat on the phone every couple of days or so, and talk about everything under the sun. There seemed to be a good chemistry building and we started to understand each other’s little quirks and happy to wind each other up a bit. When she’s had some bad days I’ve tried to comfort and cheer her up, and be a sympathetic ear for her. I really felt like we were in a proper relationship where both of us could be ourselves and not have to put on a ‘dating face’ for each other.

However, there was one major thing lacking. After a few months and many dates, I had never had more than a peck on the cheek from her, usually when saying goodbye. She also seemed unwilling to invite me to her place, even though she had a place of her own. She had shown some interest in visiting me, but seemed to find excuses not to at the last minute. She seemed to show no desire to take the relationship to the next level, to use baseball parlance: to first base. I’d rather use a cricket analogy being British, so I’ve just taken the first wicket, but the second wicket doesn’t appear to be coming and the batsmen have made a century partnership. Any hint of flirtation from me seems to get an abrupt put-down. In all my previous relationships, things got a lot more affectionate way faster than this (at least 5 wickets down within a couple of months!).

So it seems I’ve ended up in the dreaded friendzone and that’s where the relationship is stuck. Now, I can understand the friendzone phenomenon when you’ve met someone in ‘real life’ where there hasn’t been the pre-selection of a dating website, and the mutual attraction isn’t clear. But I met this woman on a dating website, where she has chosen me as someone she finds attractive. So have I turned out to be unattractive to her, but just pleasant company to be with? Have I done something to be be a turn-off? Is there something in her psyche that prevents her showing affection and desire?

I’m confused and dejected over this, and not sure whether to stick or twist on this one. We seem to get on well and enjoy each other’s company, but I’m keen to have more than just another friend.

My Room 101 – Shop Greeters

I’m going rather off my usual topics here and having a little rant about something in modern life I think should be consigned to Room 101*. Today’s subject will be: shop greeters.

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I’ve just come in for a banana, not a full tour of everything you sell.

In the UK this is a phenomenon that’s appeared in the last 5 years or so, and has spread quite widely across many shop chains around the country. If you go into a shop these days, you’ll be often confronted with a young (they are nearly always the younger members of staff, rarely the older ones) shop assistant standing right in front you and greeting you with a cheery ‘good morning’. If you don’t move quickly enough, they may follow up with a ‘can I help you find what you’re looking for?’. I soon got wise to that and now side-step like a top rugby winger before they can latch on to me.

So why do I dislike these greeters? I’ve got nothing against the individuals doing the job they have to do. However when I go into a shop I like to be left alone, unless I decide I need some assistance, and then I’ll ask someone. But I rarely need any assistance, as I either know what I’m going to buy, or am just having a look around has have no intention of buying anything. Also, my experience of asking for help is usually fruitless as the assistant often hasn’t a clue what I’m asking for or where it is in the shop.

One of my early experiences involved the greeter asking me what I was looking for as soon as I got through the door, not giving me any time to think or browse around. She whisked me off to the area selling what I was after and pretty much jammed it in my hand and escorted me – so very helpfully – to the checkout. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but I was going to buy several other items, but I didn’t want to turn around at the checkout and go back into the shop to find the other things. So thanks to the overly helpful greeter the shop actually sold less than they would have done if I was left in peace to select what I wanted.

Another thing I dislike about it is the false sincerity of it all. In Britain, while we respect politeness and good manners, we also like people to be natural and honest. I know these greeters couldn’t care less about the customers walking through the door, and certainly really don’t want to waste their time helping them. They are probably on the minimum wage just waiting from 5:30pm to come along so they can go home. To me it just feels very American, and something we should not adopt in this country. Surely it would be more satisfying for a member of staff to genuinely help a customer who asks for help, rather than just gormlessly grinning a cheerful hello to everyone that came through the door?

Thankfully, independent shops seem to steer clear of using greeters, mainly because they often don’t have the spare staff to do such thing and are probably aware of how irritating it is. It’s shame there are so few independent shops left these days with high streets all looking identical and anonymous now.

So this is a call to the major chain stores in the UK: please can you put a stop to these greeters, and let them go back to roaming around the shop floor, discretely keeping an eye out for customers who really do look like they want to ask for help?

*For those who aren’t familiar, Room 101 is a BBC TV programme where guests choose things they really dislike and would like to be consigned to Room 101. Room 101 originally came from the George Orwell’s novel 1984, where it was a torture chamber.

Ghosted

dating7Where’s Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray and the other two when you need them? For the uninitiated, ghosting is when somebody stops communicating with you and they just disappear off the face of the Earth. But unlike ghosts, who may come back to haunt you, these people never return.

It appears I’ve become a victim of ghosting and it has affected me more than I would have imagined. I’m a pretty pragmatic and realistic person, who never takes much for granted, but this particular ghosting was quite unexpected and has left my questioning my own personality and judgement of others.

The Beginning

I managed to get myself a very rare match on one of the online dating apps, and after striking up a conversation with the woman, we organised a first date. All went surprisingly well on the date, she was extremely attractive, intelligent and good company. Too good to be true I thought, so I was expecting that to be the end of things. If you’re going to get ghosted, it’ll be straight after the first date; but no, she’s kept in contact afterwards. We met for a couple of further dates, and we began to enjoy each other’s company and I began to feel more relaxed with her, and we had plenty of messaging between us on a daily basis. So things were looking good.

Busy Lives

We were both busy people, both parents with full-time jobs, so finding time to meet up was difficult. But we both understood that, and she always seemed keen to meet again once we’ve got our various distractions out of the way (usual things like winter bugs, weather, work and so on). There was even talk about maybe meeting at either of our houses, which of course would be a major step forward. That idea certainly got my interest up! It was just a case of finding a suitable day to do this, and in the meantime we kept the messages going, discussing our daily lives, and learning more about each other. Everything was going well, and I really felt we were forming a good relationship that had serious potential.

The Silence

She sent me a message one morning, which was nothing unusual in content or timing. I replied to it a couple of hours later, and said nothing particularly unusual, just something benign, but the sort of the thing that would normally be answered. We were never quick repliers to messages, as we’re busy people, so not getting a reply for several hours was normal and fine. However, I’d noticed by message hadn’t been read, which was less usual. I followed up with a couple more short messages to check if she was fine, but they weren’t read either. I was now starting to get worried, as she would normally reply within a day, and would have at least read them, but not this time. I decided to call her in the evening the next day, but it either went straight to voicemail or just rang unanswered.

The Concern for Her

After a couple of days of no response to my messages, which were still unread, or to my calls (just a couple of them, I didn’t want to appear overly persistant), I assumed she was having some problems. Maybe a family problem? One of her children was ill? Was she ill, or worse? I was now getting very worried for her. Why hadn’t she even let me know?

All I had was her phone number, I didn’t know her address, and I didn’t even know her surname (she did casually mention it, but I didn’t really mentally take note at the time). So there wasn’t much I could do. So all I could was wait and hope she’s get back to me. So I waited and waited…

The Realisation of Ghosting

After a few days, it began to dawn on me that I’d been ghosted. She clearly didn’t want me contacting her as a later attempt at a message didn’t even get delivered, so I seemed to have been blocked. Her profile on the dating app has also been blocked to me. I wasn’t just been ignored, I’d been actively blocked off from her life. I tried to recollect what may have triggered this, but there was nothing to suggest she wasn’t interested anymore. She never read the reply to the last message she sent me, so it’s not like there’s anything I said that would have caused the sudden cutting off. Maybe she had another man (or men) on the go from her dating activities, and decided to plump for one of them instead of me. It would have been nice to know where I stood, but I was just left hanging for days on end without knowing. In fact, I still don’t know the reason.

This rejection really hit me hard, as we had been on a few dates and really felt we were gelling and getting closer. On the last date, she was getting quite flirtacious, and the body language was very positive, so I things were really heading in the right direction. She was always on my mind, and I hadn’t felt that way about anyone for a very long time. I simply do not meet women like her, so I didn’t want to miss out on making something of this. So when I realised she had rejected me after such a build up, it felt like the last fish in the ocean had been hooked away from under my hose.

The Undigified End

What really rankles with a ghosting like this, is that she never had the decency to let me know it had ended. Even just a message to say “I’m not interested anymore, so will not be talking to you anymore”, would have been better. At least it would have been an instant line in the sand, and I could move on. I would have preferred an explanation, so I knew what I could work on if it was something at fault with me. To me, she is just a cold-hearted coward. Does she do this to all the men she meets? I can tolerate a ghosting after a first date, as it almost goes with the territory, but not after a series of increasingly better dates.

Even now, several weeks after I was cut off I still think about her, and wonder what I could have done to not get rejected. I’m always wanting to know more about her, but I don’t want to end up as some bitter stalker, trying to track her down. That would just be bad from every angle, and I just have to move on, and respect the fact that she’s now back to being a person I don’t know anymore.

The Management

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I’m sure we’ve worked in different companies and organisation in our careers where you and your colleagues talk about ‘the management‘ or ‘them upstairs‘. Do we ever refer to them with fondness or true reverence? No, I rarely think so. Yet when we want to progress in our careers the path is assumed we’ll end up being managers regardless of our backgrounds. Anyone who decides to stay as a ‘mere’ engineer is somehow deemed less worthy and inevitably gets paid less. This is certainly my view from a British viewpoint, but the culture may differ elsewhere in the world. I’m also just an engineer, I haven’t done any management courses (bar some project managements odds and ends), let alone done an MBA, though I have done a fair bit of ‘managing’ in my time.

Layers

How many managers have you got? Or rather how many managers do you need to go through to get to the top dog? Three, four, maybe? Some larger organisations it can be into double figures. I’ve worked in places where I couldn’t count how many levels I would need to get through before hitting the ceiling. Many of these layers just consisted of one person reporting to another. While I can appreciate an organisation with thousands of staff are going to have some sort of layered structure, it often seems that many of them are unnecessary, inefficient and cause discontent.

The hierarchical structure of most organisations is a legacy of the military, where rigid structures, layers and deference are long traditions dating back to Roman times (I’m no historian, but I’m sure someone can tell me more about this). Britain has always been in awe of its military, particularly in the years of Empire when we took over the world, by fair means and mostly foul. We’ve had our world wars and a few invasions since to sooth the ego of our leaders, control the flow of money, and put our stamp on the world stage. As the military had these strict hierarchical structures, it made sense that the business world followed suit. Even one our greatest inventions, the NHS, has traditionally followed this structure with its staff. You have people at the bottom doing the least skilled jobs, then you step up to those with more skills who may need to manage the less skilled below them. This continues up through the strata as each layer does more ‘managing’ and less actual productive work. While this might work in a military situation where those in the lowest ranks are essentially cannon fodder, and if you survive and get promoted you move away from the dangerous stuff and are then allowed to force those below into the dangerous roles. In the military, you do what your superior tells you and that’s that. Whereas in the business world, the people at the sharp end doing the productive work (whether making, designing, or providing the service) do and should challenge and steer what their ‘superior’ wants. It’s not a one way flow of orders and instructions, but a two-way process. This is one reason why a multi-layered, purely hierarchical structure doesn’t always work.

Reporting

Another problem with layers of management is that each layer will need reporting between them. I’m sure we’ve all played Chinese whispers as kids, and the more layers you have the greater loss and misinterpretation of information that occurs. Another problem in hierarchical structures different branches are isolated from each other, so useful information rarely makes it across and has to go all the way to the top and back down again. This results in different departments either working on the same thing (duplicating effort) or simply doing completely contradictory tasks.

The more layers you have the more reporting that’s required, and it ends with with middle managers just being conduits for information without doing anything with it. They hassle their underlings for some bullet points, shove into the dreaded PowerPoint presentation, present it to the manager above, who picks out the headlines and repeats the process. Vital points get lost, or often misunderstood, and it often doesn’t end up with who would find the information most useful.

Types of manager

The term ‘manager’ seems to be a rather simplified catch-all title for a wide variety of different roles and required skills. There’s project managers, line managers, strategic managers, and many more covering all different levels and responsibilities. Let’s compare project managers and line managers –

  • A project manager needs to plan out a project, allocate resources, maybe deal with some budgeting, have a technical background in the project itself and communicate between the people on the project. For an engineer, many of these things are quite natural, whereas some aspects of the job would be less comfortable (I’ve rarely met an engineer who enjoys the accounting side of projects).
  • A line manager is usually responsible for dealing with a team of staff, ensuring they are performing properly, they are getting the right training, receive communication on company activities and policies, and being a friendly ear for your staff. There’s very little in common with a project manager, and the skill set is very different. For an engineer, line management isn’t the most natural fit. But that’s not to say an engineer can’t become a good line manager, but they aren’t going to be doing much engineering when line managing.

Despite these two roles having very different skill sets and responsibilities, it is very common for the same person to be doing the both jobs rolled into one. The result is often a massive compromise in both areas, and often conflicts of interest in dealing with staff and colleagues. It also makes even less sense for an engineer to be expected to metamorphosize into one of these roles without both training and the desire to do that sort of work. While technical knowledge is vital for these management roles, it doesn’t need to be at the depth required for the engineers doing the work, so why waste a highly skilled and experienced engineer and turn them into manager? It’s like asking Lionel Messi to play in goal as he’s your best player, rather than finding a proper goalkeeper.

Engineering glass ceiling

If you’re an engineer who doesn’t want to end up being some sort of manager, as a result effectively give up on doing any engineering work, then you’re going to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not going to be hitting the top ranks in an organisation with the resultant rewards. I’ve been an engineer for over 20 years, and in that time may have seen maybe two or so engineers ending up in the sort of positions reserved for top management and still retaining engineering as their main role. Not only does this glass ceiling restrict progress and recognition for engineers, it doesn’t help any company to lack the expertise in the board room and other areas of influence. This is certainly a problem in the UK, but maybe things are better in other parts of the world. Again this is a symptom of the hierarchical and over-layered approach of many organisations.

How can we spot a good manager

Of course it is very subjective on what makes a good manager. Take football as an extreme example, and Jose Mourinho as our manager. His teams have won many trophies over the past decade or so, so he’s clearly doing something right in his job. But take his last season at Chelsea, when as reigning champions, they were 16th when Mourinho got sacked. Clearly some things were going very wrong, and Mourinho must have made some big mistakes along the way. We can hazard (and Hazard was one player who didn’t perform that season) a guess that he had lost influence with the players and he couldn’t motivate them any more. The incident surrounding the club doctor may have contributed towards this. So despite his previous successes as a manager where the results appeared good, he clearly had some serious flaws that came to a head and ended up in the team’s performance slumping.

In the world of engineering we don’t have obvious results as we do in football. If we’re designing products and they end up working well and selling lots, then that’s clearly a success, but that could be due to many non-engineering reasons too. At the research end of engineering, results are very difficult to assess, and even failures can be valuable in a company’s success. So managers can’t always be judged by results, but they can be judged on the people they work with. A good manager ought to:

  • Make life easier for their team members. Such as ensuring tasks are clearly defined, not overloading them, and removing tasks they do not need to do.
  • Respect the judgement of their team members. In engineering the manager may not be the best expert, and therefore should listen to those in the team who know more.
  • Allow all team members to work in the way that suits them the best. Not everyone is the same, some people just prefer to work along in peace, others like to work closely with other and talk a lot. A good manager will spot these differences and allow for this, and not try to fit square pegs into round holes.
  • Not play the blame game. If something is going wrong in a project, a good manager will look at how to get things moving in the right direction and not dwell on who has done what to make it go wrong.
  • Be a listener. Give time and space for your team members to talk to you and really take on what they are telling you.
  • Not have meetings for the sake of it. If you’re a good listener you should finding out what’s going on. Meeting aren’t there just for you to gather information for yourself. They need to be beneficial for the team members too.
  • Not micromanage. You may have noticed I have a fondness for Lego, and the Lego Movie featured the evil micromanager robots. They hit the nail on the head with these, nobody like to be micromanaged. Give your team space and enough respect of their abilities to approach things in their own way.
  • Say “I don’t know” occasionally. Many managers feel the need to be decisive all the time, but this can lead to rash decisions. If you are really not sure about something, don’t be afraid to admit it, and maybe someone else will have a better idea. Sometimes it’s worth hanging back on a decision and then getting it right, than getting it wrong and having to backtrack.
  • Not act superior. You may be managing people who may have different skills and expertise to you. You are no better, or no worse than them. Treat everyone as an equal and remember you are acting as the oil in a machine. Without it, the machine will grind to a halt, but it can’t work without all the gears either.
  • Set a good example. It might be macho to work all hours on the day and night, but your team will start to feel they need to keep up too, and end up exhausted and ineffective. A worn out and stressed manager isn’t good for anyone.
  • Explain things clearly and appropriately to the right people. Whether it is explaining technical plans to the team, or passing on details of a project to another department with no expertise in the area, it is important to pitch the information in a way that can be understood. If you can’t do this, then there might be a team member who can do it for you.
  • Delegate fairly. If you’re handing out tasks to team members, don’t hog the interesting and glamorous stuff yourself, and ensure everyone gets something they’ll revel in doing.

What can companies do to make things better?

Again, I would like to emphasise I’m not a management expert, and it is not a subject I’ve studied. However, I’ve observed a lot from the point of view of an engineer and have some management tasks myself. Here’s a few ideas that could improve things:

  • Try to reduce layers, and make the company as flat as possible. This should improve communication and flexibility.
  • Don’t generalise managers’ skills. There needs to be people who can plan projects, organise people, lead individuals, mentor, communicate to others, negotiate with internal and external groups, plan budgets and so on. No single person can do all these things, so spread these responsibilities across different people who have strengths in these areas.
  • Don’t assume anyone can morph into management, so identify those who do have particular talent for particular responsibilities and ensure they get trained or are given the opportunity to grow into those roles.
  • Provide a good career path for engineers (are any other non-management roles) that doesn’t require them to become managers. Put in the pay grades to allow your top engineers to move into, and break this glass ceiling.
  • Instil a good work/life balance in your company and ensure managers provide a positive example to others and don’t become power hungry egotistical slave drivers.
  • Provide a working environment that suits the different personalities and working styles. Diversity is more than just physical characteristics.
  • Ensure the ratio of the lowest to highest salary does not increase. It only creates resentment and divisions.

So what are your views of management in your workplace? Does it vary in different parts of world?