Thursday, May 15, 2014

What would Sheryl Sandberg say about Jill Abramson's firing?

As a journalist who grew up reading the New York Times -- and as a woman whose interest in news and writing inspired her to become a journalist -- I’ve been following the coverage of Jill Abramson’s firing closely, looking for clues about why she was kicked out of the top position at the New York Times so abruptly on Wednesday. For those of you who aren’t quite as immersed in the insider-baseball world of print journalism, you can find a few good articles about the situation below:

Sultzberger Swings the Axe: Why He Fired Abramson

Jill Abramson Was Everything to Young Women at the New York Times

Jill Abramson Being Replaced as Top Editor at Times

Was Jill Abramson Fired After Complaining About Pay Discrimination?

In a nutshell:

As the news broke, the New York Times itself added fuel to the speculation fire, stating at the end of it’s first article about it that “the reasons for the switch were not immediately clear.” Politico, relying on two unnamed sources within the NYT newsroom, reported that the decision stemmed from “an issue with management in the newsroom.”

Other publications have offered up other possibilities. New York Magazine mentioned that Abramson recently found out she was being paid “considerably less” than her predecessor, Bill Keller. Several outlets have said that Abramson wasn’t interested enough in the Grey Lady’s digital and video initiatives. She reportedly incurred the wrath of newly appointed CEO Mark Thompson last year by sending a reporter to investigate his role in the Jimmy Savile scandal at the BBC after Thompson had agreed to join the Times (but before he his first day on the job). Her relationship with her boss, Times Company Chairman Arthur Sultzberger Jr., has been described as tense. The final straw, apparently, was her decision to recruit a co-managing editor without consulting her current managing editor.

And then there’s the unflattering 2013 portrait of Abramson published by Politico in which she was described as “stubborn and condescending” and “difficult to work with”; it also pointed out that while staffers agree she’s a skilled and experienced journalist, they “question whether she has the temperament to lead the paper.” Though some dismissed it as a hatchet job when it came out, others are turning to the Politico profile now as proof that Abramson had her abrupt dismissal coming.

It’s no surprise that the same qualities prized in male leaders are often derided in female ones -- if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been called “aggressive” or “bossy” instead of “goal-oriented” or “authoritative,” I could have retired comfortably in my mid-30s. Still, I’m hesitant to chalk Abramson’s firing up to gender issues or feminist failings. Her presence at the head of the New York Times table was inspiring to plenty of people, and the fact that she appointed a significant number of women to the masthead has expanded the perspective offered by the paper. And out of the ashes of this incident rises a phoenix of sorts: Managing Editor Dean Baquet was named as her successor, becoming the first African-American executive editor at the New York Times.

I’m pleased to see a person of color at the helm, of course, but as a woman I can’t help but wonder: What would Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg say about Abramson’s firing?

"Women are held back by many things. We're held back by bias, by lack of flexibility, by lack of opportunity," Sandberg said in the trailer for her book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead." "We also hold ourselves back. We don't sit at the table, we don't raise our hands, we don't let our voices be loud enough."

So, lean in... just don’t fall over?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Continuing the STEM Conversation

Over at U.S. News & World Report I've been wading deep into the STEM debate, overseeing our reporting on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education and employment, coordinating coverage of  our annual STEM Solutions Conference, and launching special reports about Common Core -- which was created in part to address the STEM skills gap in the United States -- and our new STEM Index -- the first comprehensive measurement of STEM activity in the U.S. over time.

The STEM Index was created with support from Raytheon; it's a gigantic data project, made up of thousands of data points divided into 93 sub-indices and eight component indices. We dug into the data and found that after a long period of flat to down indicators, there has been some upward movement, particularly in the actual number of STEM degrees granted at the undergraduate and graduate levels. But as I wrote in my first analysis piece, even with those numbers on the rise, as a proportion of total degrees granted they still hover close to the same levels that existed  in 2000, indicating that the education pipeline to fill the current and future jobs that will require STEM skills still isn’t producing enough talent. Here's the rest of that article: New STEM Index Finds America's STEM Talent Pool Still Too Shallow to Meet Demand.

The controversial Common Core State Standards plays a part in solving the STEM problem, but the there's plenty of confusion about how it does so. In March, we created A Guide to Common Core, reporting on both sides of the debate, to help readers understand what's really at stake.

Last week, I had the opportunity to put all the parts of the STEM debate together when I moderated a discussion for the Massachusetts Governor's STEM Advisory Council. The event brought together academic and industry leaders, all of whom had plenty to say about STEM.

(Photo courtesy of Elena Fernandez of Dassault Systemes.)

On the panel were Secretary Greg Bialecki, the chief housing and economic development adviser for Massachusetts;  Al Bunshaft, senior vice president of Americas Organization at Dassault Systemes; Gail Deegan, a director at EMC and iRobot and a Trustee of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Dr. Rick Miller, president of  Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass.; and Kelly Powers, a computer science teacher at the Advanced Math and Science Academy in Marlborough, Mass., who is also co-president of the greater Boston Computer Science Teachers Association chapter and the recipient of the 2013 STEM Teacher of the Year Award at the STEM Summit. Gary Beach, the former publisher of CIO Magazine and the author of "The U.S. Technology Skills Gap," gave a lecture on how the skills gap is affecting the U.S. economy.

Personally, I think that we focus a great deal STEM fields and whether students are opting to earn degrees in science and technology, and not enough on skill sets and how traditional STEM skills like analysis and problem solving are needed in all types of jobs. As I said during the Dassault Systemes event, I don't know of any employer who would look at a candidate and say, "No, I really don't want someone who good problem-solving or analytical skills." Similarly, skills that have been regulated to the arts and humanities -- writing, creativity, drawing -- are much needed in traditionally STEM fields like engineering and manufacturing. At its core, mechanical engineering is about dreaming up a new idea, designing it and bringing it to life -- that's a classic combination of art and science.

We used to think of an auto mechanic as a person with greasy hands and dirty overalls, but these days a mechanic needs to be able to understand computers, analyze data, and maybe even code. We used to think of a computer scientist as an anti-social guy hunched over a computer in a basement lab somewhere, but modern computer scientists need to hone public speaking skills and write documentation that makes sense to users of all ages. Isn't it time we marked progress in STEM by measuring the number of people who have mastered the skills they need to succeed in any field?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering JFK, 50 Years Later

My latest special report for U.S. News & World Report is live! JFK: 50 Years Later is a comprehensive look at President John F. Kennedy's legacy, on the 50th anniversary of his death. I wasn't around in 1963, but after looking through reams of old photographs and reels of old video, after reading U.S. News coverage from Dallas on the day itself and interviews with news makers during the aftermath, I can't help but feel the impact this amazing man has had on this country.

Click here to see the entire project

I was also fortunate to be able to interview a man who was there at the time. Now 73, Don Rickel was a doorman in the House of Representatives in 1963, and shared his memories with me.

"Friday the 22nd of November in Washington, D.C., the city was very quiet for a Friday afternoon," he told me. "Back up on 'The Hill' in offices of the members of Congress people were dazed, crying, just sitting looking out into space with television sets and radios all telling the story of what was happening in Dallas."

"My personal memories were of the hundreds of people waiting in the lines in the cold to view the body laying in state in the capitol rotunda," he continued. "The number of world leaders that came to pay their respects to a fallen President -- they may have disagreed with his politics, his religion, his family, etc., but came to pay respects to a leader of the USA. At the grave, I was standing behind several of these world leaders, in fact just 10 feet from Charles DeGaulle."

You can read the rest of his story, and view a video of JFK's funeral, at

Thursday, September 5, 2013

On selfies and social media: Raising boys to respect girls doesn't mean forbidding them to be friends

Miley Cyrus’s VMA twerking exhibition has triggered a wave of helpful and not-so-helpful advice aimed at America’s teenage sons and daughters. Most of it has been levied at the girls, with messages that pretty much all boil down to “You don’t need to make a spectacle of yourself to get attention”; far fewer have reached out to boys to tell them “Please don’t treat women like that.”

So when this post from popped up in my Facebook feed multiple times, I clicked through. Titled “FYI: If You’re a Teenage Girl,” it’s written by Kim Hall, a mom of four (three boys, one girl) telling her son’s female friends that they really need to watch what they post on social media.

“If you are friends with a Hall boy on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, then you are friends with the whole Hall family,” she writes, after noting that her sons’ friends sure do seem to share a lot of photos of themselves in their bedrooms, posing in pajamas (or less) and obviously not wearing their bras.

She shares a few photos of her own, pictures of her strapping teenage boys and their sweet little sister, making muscles and posing in bathing suits on the beach. Which seems fine and wholesome until you keep reading: If she sees an inappropriate, half-naked picture of a girl among her son’s friends, she's sorry to have to say, that girl is getting blocked.

“I know your family would not be thrilled at the thought of my teenage boys seeing you only in your towel. Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it? You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?” she writes. “Neither do we. And so, in our house, there are no second chances, ladies. If you want to stay friendly with the Hall men, you’ll have to keep your clothes on, and your posts decent. If you try to post a sexy selfie, or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – you’ll be booted off our on-line island.”

“I know that sounds harsh and old-school, but that’s just the way it is under this roof for a while,” she continues. “We hope to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.”

Hypocrisy aside – featuring half-naked pictures of your sons in a post in which you tell their female friends to cover up? -- it's interesting that she holds the girls responsible for posting the unacceptable pictures, but isn't holding the boys responsible for looking at them. It's like saying that girls shouldn't wear miniskirts while giving boys a pass for ogling at them -- the old "boys will be boys" excuse that blames women when men behave badly.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Last-minute Mothers Day: A way to help others

What do moms really want for Mothers' Day? Someone to say that they get how hard -- and how wonderful -- it can be.

"I always thought that Mothers Day was great, but it always felt like something was missing," Julianna W. Miner, who blogs at Rants from Mommyland, told me in an interview. "I wanted someone to see me and tell me that it was enough. That even though I was not doing everything right, that my efforts counted."

Figuring that plenty of women might feel the same way, Miner teamed up with e-card and gift company Naughty Betty to create Mothers Day cards to honor all moms and say what they really want for Mother's Day. The cards are more than just clever -- they also support a good cause: If people share the free e-cards in time for Mothers Day, will donate up to $10,000 to Shelter House, a safe haven for homeless families and victims of domestic violence.

As I mentioned on Yahoo! Shine earlier this week, these Mothers' Day cards speak the truth. Click through to see more...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Barbie Dolls of the World collection: stunning or stereotypical?

Mattel has been offering Barbies dressed in traditional, ethnic outfits since 1980, when it launched its Dolls of the World collection, aimed at kids and adult collectors alike. The first three dolls represented France, England, and Italy, and the line has expanded to include more than 200 different dolls. But the most recent versions, especially ones representing Latin America, are causing controversy online. The 2012 Mexico Barbie is dressed in non-traditional pink, has kind of a princess hairstyle, and carries a chihuahua tucked under her arm; it's being called out by critics for being offensive rather than educational.

If Mattel was looking for authenticity, Mexico Barbie "should have braids woven through with ribbons," Adriana Velez, who describes herself as Mexican-American, writes at Cafe Mom. "She could have a white blouse with colorful embroidery and a woven shawl. Hell, they could have just called up a photo of the most iconic Mexican ever, Frida Kahlo, and copied the look. Instead they gave her some vague pink thing with ruffles."

The interesting thing is, though, that earlier versions of Mexico Barbie looked almost exactly as Velez describes. So what was the reason behind the change?

I called Mattel up to find out, and a representative told me that the company's goal is to introduce girls to the world through play. "We consulted with the Mexican Embassy on the Dolls of the World Mexico Barbie, especially with respect to the selection of the Chihuahua," a Mattel spokesperson told me.

After looking through the entire collection, I think the problem goes beyond the Latina dolls. Over at Yahoo! Shine, I've pulled together a slideshow of some of the most-popular dolls in the collection. Take a look and decide for yourself: Are these ethnic Barbie dolls stunning, or just stereotypical?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Two takes on the Newtown Shootings: What caused them, and why the National Review is wrong about it

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, everyone was trying to find a way to understand what caused the massacre. Too many guns? Not enough guns? Mental health issues? All of the above. Here's my analysis for Yahoo! News, plus an opinion piece I wrote in response to The National Review, which blamed "too many women" for the tragedy.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Spending $500 on school supplies? How to keep costs down

I was happy to return to Fox 25 News in Boston today, this time to talk about how to save some money while back-to-school shopping. Here's the clip from the show:

Consumer experts are saying that parents plan to spend $500 or more on back-to-school items this year; the number sounds outrageous, but once you add electronics and school clothes into the budget, it's easy to see how parents can spend that much or more per child. Over at Yahoo! Shine, I interviewed frugal shopping expert Mir Kamin of about ways parents can keep costs reasonable.

Kamin suggests that people pay attention to store sales and shop "outside the box," keeping an eye out for deals at the grocery and drug stores as well as office supply centers and warehouse clubs.

"The thing to remember is that 'loss leaders' like 10-cent Crayolas and such are there to bring you into the store and make you feel like that overpriced comic-character notebook is a deal because you saved so much on glue and erasers," she explains. "So basically, watch the sales flyers, grab the cheap stuff when it comes up -- and grab extra, so you don't need to re-buy halfway through the year -- but don't buy the stuff that isn't dirt cheap."

You can read the rest of her tips here: ""Back to school spending: $500 per shopper?"

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tricky interview questions, and how to answer them, on "The Shine"

When I'm not tapping away at my computer, I'm often in front of the camera, talking about news, workplace, and parenting trends. This week, I was back on "The Shine," Yahoo!'s fantastic talk show (you can find previous episodes at Host Alesha Renee and I were chatting about crazy job-interview questions and how to answer them. Here's the clip!

It's a topic I wrote about earlier this year on Yahoo! Shine ("Bizarre Interview Questions (And How To Answer Them)") and it's proven to be pretty popular -- I was tapped to talk about it on Fox Business News as well. Here's a clip of that segment, which aired July 10:

What's the strangest thing you've ever been asked in a job interview?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Friday, July 6, 2012

Revamping your Resume? Keep these items off

I was a guest on Fox Business News recently, talking about the things you should keep off of your resume. It's a topic I've covered for both Yahoo! Shine ("The Worst Things to Put on Your Resume") and for Yahoo!'s talk show, "The Shine,"(you can watch that clip right here) but here's the clip from the folks at Fox:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What to eat if you can't buy organic

I was on Fox-25 News in Boston this morning, talking about the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen Plus" and "Clean Fifteen" lists and offering suggestions about how to avoid pesticides if you can't afford to buy all organic produce. Here's the clip:

Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston

It's worth noting that, if you draw a line down the center of the tablescape (sweet potatoes, watermelon, and asparagus) those things plus everything to the left of them are perfectly fine to buy conventionally -- that is, the pesticide levels on them are so low that it doesn't make much of a difference whether you eat "regular" versions or organic ones. Everything to the right, though? If you have money to spend on organic produce, those are the things you want to buy. A good rule of thumb is that if the produce has a think skin that you can eat -- so, peaches, apples, grapes, berries, lettuce and leafy greens, for example -- you should try to buy organic.

I wrote about the EWG's lists on Yahoo! Shine recently: "When Buying Organic Does (and Doesn't) Make Sense." The "Dirty Dozen Plus" and "Clean Fifteen" lists are pretty straight-forward, but bear in mind that the benefits of eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables far outweigh the risks posed by FDA-approved pesticides -- the EWG found traces of them on their produce samples, not massive amounts. And while some fruits and veggies absorb chemicals or grew from seeds soaked in pesticides, most had pesticide residue only on the surface; a simple wash in cold running water (without soap or bleach) is enough to remove most of it.

In the Fox-25 clip, I point out that locally grown produce is less likely to have lots of pesticides, but there wasn't time to explain the idea fully. Just because something is local does not mean that it was grown organically, but if the produce doesn't have to travel a long distance to the store (and look perfect once it gets there), chances are it will require fewer chemicals to keep it fresh and pest-free. Also: There are plenty of farmers who are not certified organic but who use only a minimum of chemicals and pesticides on their produce. The bottom line? If you're at your local farmer's market, ask whether the food was grown organically or when the last time it was treated. Still feeling worried? Grow your own (some of the most-contaminated produce, like green beans and lettuce, are pretty easy to grow in a garden or even in pots on a balcony).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why I learned how to shoot a gun

I'll just say it: I am scared of guns. At least, I used to be. Back in 2012 I finally decided to try to figure out why; I came up with a host of reasons/excuses, not a single one of which was based on any experience that I'd actually had myself. So I decided to learn how to shoot properly -- to take a course and learn how to handle a weapon, to see if I could figure out what, exactly, I was so scared of.

I wrote about my experience for Yahoo, and got some blowback in the comments (and in real life) because I didn't do a 180 and become a total gun enthusiast. I still think we need to do a better job of enforcing gun control laws, I still think that we need to do a better job of making sure that people with mental illness -- like the Sandy Hook School shooter -- don't have access to guns, whether they've purchased them themselves or acquired them from someone else who purchased them legally. I'm still not a fan of having guns in my house. But I'm not scared of them anymore. In fact, I now have a healthy respect for them -- and a license so that I can hone my target-shooting skills.

I'm Scared of Guns, so I Decided to Learn How to Shoot One. This is What it was Like

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Senior Editor, Yahoo! Shine

As I walk to the rifle range, I find myself thinking, "I am way outside of my comfort zone. I am way outside of my comfort zone. I am waaaaay outside of my comfort zone." As I get closer and see the four weapons laid out on what look like short picnic tables, pointed toward far-away paper targets, the voice in my head changes: "I don't know if I want to do this. I don't know if I want to do this. Do I really want to do this?"

Thursday, May 31, 2012

What not to put on your resume, today on "The Shine"

Today on "The Shine," Yahoo! Shine's new online talk show, I sat down with host Alisha Renee to talk about the things you should never put on your resume. Take a look!

Of course, there's always more... check out the video and my article, "The Worst Things to Put on Your Resume," only at Yahoo! Shine.