Patagonia Shows How to Keep Moms On the Job


Rachel Caiano | Flickr

US public policy and business practices do an abysmal job of taking care of employees who become parents and helping them take care of their families. Out of 41 countries surveyed by the OECD, the U.S. is the only one that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents. That suggests just how far we have to go — so the sooner we start, the better.

As we do, we could take notes on Patagonia’s successful approach. For American workers accustomed to this nation’s sink-or-swim stance towards employees with kids, Patagonia’s parent-friendly policies sound almost utopian (Quartz). The firm provides generous leaves and offers daycare that’s high-quality, convenient, and subsidized (though not free). The policy is intended “not to fix a problem, but to respond to what humans need.”

In practical terms, this means that new mothers at Patagonia return to work 100 percent of the time. More subtly, it means that employees at all levels don’t feel they’re forced to choose between doing right by their company and doing right by their children. How do you quantify that or include it in a bottom line? The economist who can figure that one out deserves a Nobel.

Should Peter Thiel Stay or Should He Go?

Peter Thiel turned heads with his announcement that he was contributing $1.25 million to the Trump campaign at a time when many other donors are running from the candidate. Thiel, who got his start as a Paypal founder, has long been a controversial figure: He’s a business thinker who sings the praises of monopolies, and a gay libertarian who recently secretly funded the legal campaign that brought down Gawker Media.

Now Thiel’s embrace of Trump is spurring calls for prominent Silicon Valley firms and groups to dissociate themselves from him. Among other things, Thiel is on the Facebook board and is a partner at Y Combinator, the startup incubator. Y Combinator head Sam Altman says he’s “not going to fire someone for supporting a major party nominee…That’s a dangerous road to start down…. We can’t start purging people for political support” (Recode).

That’s a defensible stance, but not one likely to satisfy Trump’s critics, who argue that Trump’s campaign normalizes racism and sexism and represents a sui generis threat to democracy. You could also look at the pressure on Y Combinator and Facebook as a new vector of social consciousness into the business world. “This isn’t a disagreement on tax policy, this is advocating hatred and violence,” writes Ellen Pao in explaining the decision of her pro-diversity organization, Project Include, to stop working with Y Combinator.

The billionaire Thiel is in no danger of becoming voiceless or powerless. Would severing ties with him be a “purge”? Freedom of association is also freedom of disassociation. The First Amendment doesn’t say anything about who you partner with or seat on your board. If cutting ties with Thiel sets a thorny precedent, continuing to work with him does so, too.

Mercedes Backs Slowly Away From the Killer Car

You’ve heard of the “trolley problem” as it applies to autonomous vehicles? This is the thought experiment that asks how we should program our AI drivers to respond when they have to choose between potentially harm to pedestrians or to their own passengers. Carmakers hate dealing with this question, but Mercedes recently made headlines when one of its execs forthrightly told Car and Driver that its cars would be programmed to prioritize occupant safety. “If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one. Save the one in the car,” his quote read.

That didn’t last long. Mercedes said its exec was quoted incompletely and incorrectly and his statement didn’t reflect company policy (Jalopnik). Saving riders at the expense of pedestrians would be illegal in Germany, anyway, the company added.

You can see why Mercedes backtracked so quickly. The notion that a luxury car would protect its presumably wealthy riders at the expense of the downtrodden pedestrian would be brand poison in any era, particularly in this moment of resurgent populism. Also: Aren’t we lucky we live in a time when car manufacturers must weigh in on philosophical dilemmas, even at the risk of public-relations disasters?

In the Future, Everyone Will Be Graded All the Time

What if all businesses kept a “customer score” for you, based on your past purchases and actions, predicting your value to them in the future? Wharton School professor Peter Fader is excited about the idea (Inc.). He compares the idea to the credit-score system — which, whatever its frustrations and problems, is more transparent and less prone to discrimination than the closed system it replaced.

With loyalty programs, companies have already taken a crude first step toward this future. In Fader’s scenario, they evolve into a much richer informational system. That could help businesses offer bonuses and privileges to the most valuable customers — while giving the public more insight into why they are or aren’t receiving such benefits.

Drone Advertising Is a Real Thing

This past summer, drivers stuck in Mexico City traffic could gaze through their windshields at a sea of billboard-bearing drones urging them to use Uber instead (Technology Review).

The first question you might ask is: “What fresh hell is this?” Then you might think of some others. Will these ads drop cookies on us, too? What, exactly, might a drone ad blocker look like? And can drone debt collectors — as foretold by Philip K. Dick — be far behind?

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