from Equals:

How letting women fail can help them succeed

Aug 29, 2014 15:15 UTC

In life, and especially at work, women often are afraid to break the rules. They are also afraid to fail in ways that can differ from men. Often, this holds them back in their careers. It isn't an irrational position. Instead, it’s more likely a reaction to social pressures that tell them they will be more harshly judged than their male peers on their perceived missteps.

Over at the Harvard Business Review blog this week, Tara Sophia Mohr writes that she is skeptical of the “confidence gap” as a reason that women aren’t getting as far up on the career ladder as their male peers. She did a survey of professionals and asked them: if they looked at a job, but decided not to apply, why not? It usually wasn’t because they didn’t think they could do the job well, she says.

Instead, she found that most often, men and women don’t apply for jobs because they feel that they don’t meet all the requirements in the job description. In other words, “what held them back from applying was not a mistaken perception about themselves, but a mistaken perception about the hiring process.”

Here’s the full division of answers:

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It’s interesting how little variation between men and women there seems to be. Where there are differences, they are that 1) women are afraid to fail and 2) women believe they must follow the guidelines as written. These two issues seem to be rooted in traditional notions of femininity: women are expected to be gentle and deferential.

This is important because it’s not just about how women think of themselves, but about how people perceive those women. It isn’t an accident that women internalize these expectations. We expect women to act that way. Then, generally, reactions to women in the workplace fall in line with those expectations.

This is where personality comes in. In the same situation, a man may be considered confident, whereas a woman would be called abrasive. And that affects who gets the job or who gets promoted. In another informal study out this week, Kieran Snyder looked at the performance reviews of high-achieving men and women. She found that even in positive reviews, women are more likely to receive critical feedback.

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Snyder writes that, “negative personality criticism—watch your tone! step back! stop being so judgmental!—shows up twice in the 83 critical reviews received by men. It shows up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women.” The two polls, taken together, paint a picture of women being more risk averse than men — for very practical reasons.

Mohr’s post points to the fact that women need to break the rules more often. But with Snyder, it’s unclear that women who break the rules are rewarded in the same way as their male counterparts, so that can’t be the only answer. We probably make small judgements daily that contribute to the continuation of this way of thinking. It can only stop if we make ourselves stop.

Women shouldn’t be afraid to fail. But we as a society (men and women), need to stop judging women so harshly for their flaws. For them to be equally good, it has to be okay that they are equally bad sometimes.

The expense of sprawl

Aug 26, 2014 20:32 UTC

It’s expensive to live in a big city. But what if it’s more expensive to live in a small city? The Citizen’s Budget Commission, a non-profit financial watchdog organization in New York, took a look at housing costs in US metro areas recently, then added in transportation costs. By these two metrics, New York City (and most dense metro areas with good public transportation) is one of the cheaper urban options.

This is what housing and transportation costs look like for a typical household in various urban areas around the country (New York is highlighted because that’s  the CBC’s focus)*:


Added together, that looks like this:


Obviously more goes into the cost of living than just these two data points, but it does highlight just how expensive urban sprawl can be.

(h/t City Lab)

*What’s a “typical household”? From the report: “This policy brief uses data for what HUD defines as the “typical regional household.”2 This household is a statistical creation based on average values for selected characteristics – median income, household size, number of workers in the household, and commuting patterns for the workers – of households in the area. For example, a typical household in New York City has 2.69 people, 1.2 commuters, and annual income of $63,915.”


Bank of America’s big fine

Aug 22, 2014 16:24 UTC

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Bank of America settles crisis-era mortgage cases with the U.S. government once a week or so. But the one this week, at $16.65 billion, is the big one. That is, it’s the biggest settlement to date, eclipsing not only previous settlements by the bank (which now come to a total of about $65 billion), but also all of the similar settlements reached by other banks. JP Morgan paid $13 billion and Citigroup $7 billion recently for similar reasons. The bank will pay “$9.65 billion in cash to resolve more than a dozen federal and state investigations, and provide $7 billion in help to struggling homeowners and communities,” according to Reuters.

Here’s our updated chart of the biggest bank settlements in history:

bank fines (again!)


No individuals were charged, but Bank of America has admitted to some of its terrible pre- and post-crisis behavior. There are, as usual, some embarrassing emails involved. Here are some details from the Reuters story:

Under the out-of-court settlement, Bank of America acknowledged that Merrill Lynch told investors in subprime mortgage bonds in 2006 and 2007 that the loans generally complied with underwriting guidelines, though reviews suggested as many as 50 percent did not.

A statement of facts cites one email in which a Merrill employee wrote: “(h)ow much time do you want me to spend looking at these (loans) if (the co-head of Merrill Lynch’s RMBS business) is going to keep them regardless of issues?”

Bank of America also acknowledged that Countrywide did not generally tell investors the extent to which it made exceptions to its own internal guidelines.

The settlement also covered some post-crisis conduct, including Bank of America’s admission that from 2009 to 2012 it submitted loans for government insurance under the Federal Housing Administration that did not qualify.

Europe’s economic disaster

Ben Walsh
Aug 21, 2014 18:18 UTC

Wonkblog’s Matt O’Brien looks at the current state of Europe’s recovery and calls it “one of the biggest catastrophes in economic history.” Paul Krugman agrees with that assessment. More than six years since the financial crisis began, Europe still hasn’t had a real recovery, “and… that’s about to make it worse than the worst of the 1930s.” Wonkblog puts the current malaise in context by charting how many years it took after other crises to return to pre-crisis peak gross domestic product. The current era is the black line, and it’s not pretty:


All the more galling, O’Brien argues, is that this is a “policy-induced disaster” of fiscal austerity and weak monetary stimulus. Ryan McCarthy pointed out in 2012 that the pattern to “Euro crisis flare-ups is getting very familiar”: problems get contained but fundamental causes remain unaddressed. The head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, has rolled out a negative interest rate on bank deposits to try to spur lending and boost inflation. Draghi is also talking about quantitative easing, but it’s not clear that he has the power to implement such a policy.  Unfortunately, that means there’s not that much more monetary policy can realistically do to offset disastrous fiscal policy.

Years of living dangerously

Aug 20, 2014 20:06 UTC

Yesterday, the Islamic State released footage of the beheading of American journalist James Foley, who was captured in Syria two years ago. The group also says it may execute another American journalist depending on the next moves of President Obama.

Reuters reports that the gruesome decapitation video seemed to suggest that the Islamic State was opening a new anti-U.S. front that could result in attacks on U.S. interests or even American soil. “The stronger the war against the States gets, the better this will help hesitant brothers to join us,” said one Islamic militant.

Iraq has by far been the most dangerous country for journalists over the past two decades, with 165 journalist deaths there since 1992.

But press freedom is threatened even in countries that don’t necessarily resort to violence against journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the countries with the most journalists in prison include Turkey, China, Iran, Eritrea, and Vietnam:

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China’s military corruption problem

Ben Walsh
Aug 19, 2014 19:37 UTC

China’s military is by far the largest in Asia. Reuters Ben Blanchart and Megha Rajagopalan report that despite its budget being second only to the United States, “serving and retired Chinese military officers as well as state media are questioning whether China’s armed forces are too corrupt to fight and win a war.” Reuters Graphics charts China’s military might compared to its neighbors:



But many domestic critics says those numbers paint a misleading picture of China’a actual ability to fight wars. “What worries some generals and other Chinese experts is that the buying and selling of senior jobs – long an open secret in China – has led to those with talent being cast aside,” Blanchard and Rajagopalan write. This bribery then leads to more corruption, because “for officers who pay bribes to be promoted, corruption is a way to make a return on their investment.”

Poor and poorer

Aug 18, 2014 19:11 UTC

Like a lot of U.S. suburban areas around the country, Ferguson, Missouri is getting poorer. Underlying the weeks-long protests against the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager happening in the small suburban city north of St. Louis this month is a rapid demographic shift. Today, the Brookings Institution takes a look at how the poverty rate has changed in just the last decade:




Just how much poorer has Ferguson gotten? “The city’s unemployment rate rose from less than 5 percent in 2000 to over 13 percent in 2010-12. For those residents who were employed, inflation-adjusted average earnings fell by one-third,” writes Elizabeth Kneebone (who, it should be noted, has literally written the book on this trend). And Ferguson is not alone. In the first decade of the 21st century, poverty rates grew in suburban areas around the country, and already poor areas saw poverty become more concentrated.

Kneebone points out that one of the issues with increasing suburban poverty (besides, well, everything) is one of scale: “Ferguson is just one of 91 jurisdictions in St. Louis County. This often translates into inadequate resources and capacity to respond to growing needs and can complicate efforts to connect residents with economic opportunities that offer a path out of poverty,” she writes.

Think about that for a moment. Whatever the failings of the war on urban poverty, suburban poverty stands to become an even bigger problem.

Mapping Iraq’s displaced

Ben Walsh
Aug 15, 2014 19:40 UTC

Reuters Graphics maps the swelling number of Iraq’s uprooted. In recent weeks, thousands of members of the ethnic minority Yazidis have fled their homes in Northern Iraq as the militant Islamic State gained territory. Most of the Yazidis who were besieged on Sinjar mountain have been able to escape and President Barack Obama announced yesterday that the Mt. Sinjar siege was over. But that’s cold comfort for those still left homeless in a conflict-torn region. The U.N. warned in June of the impending mass displacement, citing the danger to civilians due the fact that Syria’s ongoing war has created more 2.8 million refugees itself. That influx has already overwhelmed surrounding countries’ aid networks–and the crisis won’t ease anytime soon. 


The diversity of American police forces

Aug 14, 2014 19:33 UTC

Does the local police force reflect the racial makeup of your community? According to an interactive chart created by the Washington Post today — following this week’s protests over the police killing of an unarmed black teenager in the largely black community of Ferguson, Missouri — the answer is probably not.


The Post analyzed Census Bureau data, finding that that the vast majority of cities have a police presence that is a lot whiter than their population.

The dots in blue are cities where the police force is more white than the community. The gray are cities where the opposite is true. One of the most interesting things about this chart is the prevalence of dots at the very top: that’s where 100 percent of the police force is white, even when the community is relatively diverse.

Check out the full interactive for more detail.

And here, Reuters looks at the Ferguson PD specific situation:

Mapping Islamic militants’ increasing control of Iraq’s wheat

Ben Walsh
Aug 13, 2014 21:48 UTC

Iraq’s militants “now control yet another powerful economic weapon – wheat supplies,” Reuters’ Maggie Fick  and Maha Dahan report. Fighters from the Islamic State have overrun large areas in five of Iraq’s most fertile provinces, where the United Nations food agency says around 40 percent of its wheat is grown:

Now they’re helping themselves to grain stored in government silos, milling it and distributing the flour on the local market, an Iraqi official told Reuters. The Islamic State has even tried to sell smuggled wheat back to the government to finance a war effort marked by extreme violence and brutality.

This graphic maps out Iraqi wheat production by province and towns held by various militant factions. A total of 1.1 million metric tonnes (about 1.2 million U.S. tons)  out of Iraq’s total annual wheat production of 2.9 million tonnes (3.2 million U.S. tons)  is in conflict areas. Iraq imports about the same amount annually to meet consumption of 6.5 million tonnes (7.2 million U.S. tons).


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