Corporate culture wasn’t built for women. Here’s how to fix that.

Here's how corporations can bring women out from the "leadership pipeline" and into actual leadership.

TINA BROWN: Well, there's no doubt, I think, that women are scrutinized and blamed far more than men are in the executive positions that they take—in any leadership positions that they take. And the tone of dismissiveness about women is remarkable very often. It's as if they just don't have the same kind of gravitas just because they're women. And it's a very irksome thing, I think, to many a woman artist, CEO, achiever of any kind, that they always feel that they have to be gold in a silver job, that they have to be an exceptional perfectionist, unimpeachable figure just to get to first base of the high leadership stakes.

And I don't know that that's really changed. I think we are definitely seeing a rolling pushback that's gathered enormous momentum, which is very exciting. There's a sense that all the talking, all the blow-hardery about women in the pipeline, women executives, we have to mentor women, we have to have diversity programs—frankly, that's just been a free pass to so many corporates over the years, which is, 'Yes, yes, well, we mentor women. We have a lot of women in our pipeline' and whatever. Well, frankly, that pipeline has exploded, guys. The pipeline has been stuffed. And women are saying we're tired of being, quote, "in your pipeline."

Well, first of all, I think it's very important that we, as women, don't put ourselves under so much duress that we think that we have to keep on adapting and adjusting all the time. Clearly, we have to come together as a group, as a lobbying group as such, to insist that we can thrive as women and also do our jobs.

It also, of course, means that there are times when your life and your career go into different phases, that there are cycles of being for a woman that are emergeable from in a way that's productive. Because you may need to take that time where you're dialing back because your children are young, but you fully intend to ramp back up afterwards. And you've got to find a way, and companies have got to find a way, to keep women engaged throughout that process, so they don't sort of disappear, and then all of a sudden, they want a job back, and of course, they're out of date and out of touch, and they find it very difficult to get back in.

So one thing, I think, that enlightened companies are doing—I know that MasterCard has worked very hard on this, actually—is about how you keep women engaged throughout this dial-back times and find ways for them to keep working in a smaller way for the company, while at the same time being able to grow and keep in touch, so that when they're ready to come back they can.

Secondly, I think the parental leave has to be so imaginatively structured. I mean, personally, I'm actually not of the belief that it's helpful to kind of disappear on maternity leave or paternity leave for six to eight months and then come back absolutely rattled by the pace of work.

I actually think it might be more useful to have segments and periods where you can take trenches of time throughout your career as an employee and as a parent. Because people get very exhausted. It's almost like it would be more valuable to work three weeks out of four during a period when your kids are young, than it is to take huge chunks of time and then have to come back in one big rush.

So I think that this question of creating new patterns is very much an experimental one. We saw that the Gates Foundation recently said we gave parents a year off and they had children. We find that's not viable.
And I thought that was an honest, at least experimental way of looking at that problem. So we tried that. That didn't work. OK, so what does work? And I think companies have got to be, I think, very adventurous now about figuring out what really works best, while at the same time, getting the job done. Because this is not a charity you're in. You're actually in a business. And you've got to get the business done. So how you use your orchestra has become far more creative. I mean, HR now has to be a really innovative activity, which it really wasn't and hasn't been in the past.

  • Women in high-stakes positions are scrutinized far more than men, says Tina Brown, to the point that they feel they have to be "gold in a silver job" and be absolute perfectionists to merely keep their position.
  • For women, being a parent necessitates parental leave and companies must develop ways to keep females engaged so that they are able to integrate back into work smoothly. Women, too, must lobby for this change.
  • Six to eight months of sequential parental leave may not be the best approach for keeping women engaged and on their career paths, says Brown, who thinks it might be more productive to take trenches of time throughout your career as a parent, as opposed to one huge chunk.

    Photos: Courtesy of Let Grow
    Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
    • The coronavirus pandemic may have a silver lining: It shows how insanely resourceful kids really are.
    • Let Grow, a non-profit promoting independence as a critical part of childhood, ran an "Independence Challenge" essay contest for kids. Here are a few of the amazing essays that came in.
    • Download Let Grow's free Independence Kit with ideas for kids.
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    The surprise reason sleep-deprivation kills lies in the gut

    New research establishes an unexpected connection.

    Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
    Surprising Science
    • A study provides further confirmation that a prolonged lack of sleep can result in early mortality.
    • Surprisingly, the direct cause seems to be a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species in the gut produced by sleeplessness.
    • When the buildup is neutralized, a normal lifespan is restored.

    We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?

    A new study answers that question, and in an unexpected way. It appears that the sleeplessness/death connection has nothing to do with the brain or nervous system as many have assumed — it happens in your gut. Equally amazing, the study's authors were able to reverse the ill effects with antioxidants.

    The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.

    An unexpected culprit

    The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

    What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

    "We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

    "Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)

    fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

    Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

    The experiments

    The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

    You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

    For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

    Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

    The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

    However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

    The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

    As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

    The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

    The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

    "We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

    Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

    Withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants can last over a year, new study finds

    We must rethink the "chemical imbalance" theory of mental health.

    Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
    Surprising Science
    • A new review found that withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants and antipsychotics can last for over a year.
    • Side effects from SSRIs, SNRIs, and antipsychotics last longer than benzodiazepines like Valium or Prozac.
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    Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

    Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

    Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
    Culture & Religion

    Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

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    Is there a limit to optimism when it comes to climate change?

    Or is doubt a self-fulfilling prophecy?

    David McNew/Getty Images
    Politics & Current Affairs

    'We're doomed': a common refrain in casual conversation about climate change.

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