Designing the Future of Work

Posts tagged ‘culture’

Global Mobile Workers in Color

faces of colorThe internet promised many things upon is inception. To democratize knowledge by sending information to the farthest cornors of the earth, to shed light on the evils and corruption of governments, and to break down the barriers of gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. You could chat with people all over the world and they wouldn’t know your gender, your age, your race, whether you were fat or thin, tall or short. It was a golden era.

One would like to believe that for freelancers it still exists. Clients on Upwork, Guru, 99Designs  and are making their decisions based on a robust description of skills and past accomplishments. Certainly, their choices are based on rational facts, relevant statistics, valid assessments. Well, maybe not.

As the sharing economy evolved there was a drive to create a sense of instant trust. It led to the decline in online anonymity, which has introduced its own problems.

You’ll buy from an unknown retailer on Amazon because you can see the seller’s rating. On Amazon there are no photos, just facts. But, when you get to sites like Uber and Airbnb trust is created because you know up front the driver’s name and license plate, or you’ll rent someone’s private home because the host has a public identity, a woman in Los Angeles who loves to eat at the Jewish deli two blocks away. She looks perfectly nice in her profile photo.

We digital nomads of color face a different world when we travel the globe. Recent disclosures about bias on Airbnb reminded me that the world is far from fair and impartial. The bias that is attached to a face and a name can impact where a digital nomad can stay, and most importantly, opportunities for freelance work.

Airbnb While Black Podcast
Click here for a Transcript of airbnbwhileblack – How hidden bias shapes the sharing economy

In #AirbnbWhileBlack: How Hidden Bias Shapes The Sharing Economy, the experiment run by researchers Michael Luca and his colleagues Benjamin Edelman and Dan Svirsky at Harvard Business School was explored. They sent out 6,400 requests to real AirBnb hosts in five major American cities—Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington.

All the requests were exactly the same except for the names they gave their make-believe travelers. Some had African American-sounding names like Jamal or Tanisha and others had stereotypically white-sounding names like Meredith or Todd.

Hosts were less likely to accept guests with African American sounding names. Researchers found discrimination across the board: among cheap listings and expensive listings, in diverse neighborhoods and homogenous neighborhoods, and with new hosts as well as experienced hosts. They also found that black hosts were also less likely to accept requests from guests with African American-sounding names than with white-sounding ones.

The findings are in line with the degree of racial discrimination found in other studies about who gets taxi tips or job call-backs or good rates on classified ads. Similar results have turned up on eBay. Black Americans even have trouble getting email responses from government officials.

Names - CopyThe Airbnb experiment was modeled off a well-known study that found racial discrimination in the job market when they sent out resumés with black- and white-sounding names. The Airbnb study even used the same names: Tamika vs. Laurie, Darnell vs. Brad and more.

My partner and I noticed it immediately when we started using Airbnb with my profile. We changed to using her, she is White, and got much better results, internationally.

This unconscious discrimination isn’t harmless for either party. The researchers found that the discrimination was costly for hosts, a lesson that extends beyond Airbnb. Hosts who rejected a Black guest often never found a replacement customer for those same dates. As a result, the researchers calculated that individual instances of discrimination translated to forgoing about $65-$100 in revenue. Washington Post

To See the Full Report

What is Unconscious Bias?

It’s natural. It’s unintended. It can affect decisions. It can be mitigated.

Unconscious bias occurs when people favour others who look like them and/or share their values. For example, a person may be drawn to someone with a similar educational background, from the same area, or who is the same colour or ethnicity as them.

Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) offered a helpful description.

A manager who wasn’t successful at school may listen to, or be supportive of, an employee who left school without qualifications because, subconsciously, they are reminded of their younger self. The same can be true of a manager who is educated to degree level, favouring employees who have also been to university. This is known as affinity bias, because they feel an affinity with the person as they have similar life experiences.

And then there is the halo effect. This is where a positive trait is transferred onto a person without anything really being known about that person. For example, those who dress conservatively are often seen as more capable in an office environment, based purely on their attire. People notice behavior that reinforces the bias and ignore behavior that does not.

The story most commonly shared to explain the impact of unconscious bias is the transformation of symphony orchestras. Some brilliant artist suddenly realized men were being favored over women, and that perhaps the best musicians were not on the stage. The leading symphony orchestras started auditioning musicians behind a screen. A simple curtain doubled the talent pool and transformed what orchestras look like, says Iris Bohnet, a behavioural economist and professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Dear Clients – What about Steve Jobs?

An example of how this works in the work world is highlighted by a study from the job site Indeed, which discovered that bosses who attended a top-ranked college preferred to hire employees who also graduated from a prestigious institution. Specifically, 37 percent of managers who said they went to a top school said they like to hire candidates from highly regarded universities. That compares to just 6 percent of managers who didn’t attend a top school.

On the flip side, 41 percent of managers who didn’t graduate from a top-ranked college said they consider candidates’ experience more important when making hiring decisions. Just 11 percent of managers who did attend a prestigious school said the same.

Despite their desire to bring in employees from highly regarded schools, most managers agree that going to a highly rated school doesn’t translate into being a top performer. Just 35 percent of all of the bosses surveyed said top performers generally come from top schools. Instead, the managers surveyed said the ability to work well with others, strategic thinking, and self-direction are much more indicative of high performance.

Here unconscious bias works against the interest of the client or employer.

What’s a Freelancer to Do?

One step some companies are taking when hiring? Stripping resumes of names and other identifying information and assigning numbers. So perhaps that is something that freelancer websites should explore. Perhaps it should be standard to select an avatar that reflects how we view ourselves and have a name like Upwork Rising Star #106.

How Does Race and Ethnicity Affect Digital Nomads?

Being different in a small pond - CopyAs I sit in the middle of Europe amid the emotionally inflamed dialog about immigration, being other and different in a new country resonates. When travel is part of your life, and sometimes part of your job, how does one cope?

While listening to a podcast about the current state of Venezuela I was confronted with my own unconscious bias. The host introduced her guest “back with Nicholas Casey, The New York Times Andes bureau chief, who’s based in Caracas, Venezuela and covers the region. He previously worked at The Wall Street Journal. He led the paper’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reported on the Arab Spring. He was also based in Mexico City for five years.”

And then the host asked:

I’m wondering if, in covering Latin American countries, as an African-American, if you’ve faced any kind of racism. Race is different in Latin America than it is in the United States. Are there any stereotypes that you have to confront? And how do racial issues compare, in the countries you’ve been in there, to the United States?

Casey was African American!

And, he had quite a bit to share on the topic, which I suggest you hear straight from him. Nicholas Casey Fresh Air Podcast


So Now That You Know What Are You Going To Do About It?

Change begins by just being aware that we have unconscious bias, because we all do. Focus on the positive behavior of people and not negative stereotypes. If you are an Airbnb host read the person’s review, and try to get past the name and the photo and the unconscious images that creates for you.

Another useful exercise is to imagine a positive contact with the group toward whom you may have a bias. Research has shown that simply visualizing a particular situation can create the same behavioral and psychological effects as actually experiencing it. For example, in tests, individuals who imagined a strong woman later showed less gender stereotyping than people who had imagined a vacation.

If you are an Airbnb user try  a browser plugin called Debias Yourself that Airbnb users can install in Chrome to scrape names and photos off of the home-rental site. (“That isn’t quite what Airbnb intended,” the researchers explain of their plugin, “but it’s your computer, and it’s your right to configure it as you see fit.”)

Google has committed to tackle this problem in their own workforce and shares the unconscious bias training they have developed online. It’s free, it’s painless, why not try it.

Rework with Google – Unbiasing

Google Bias Training on YouTube

If you want to test your on implicit bias, go straight to Project Implicit. Again it’s free; maybe not painless. Be Brave!

For realistic picture of what it means to Black in America, only one of the places I’ve experienced being Black, and after three years of international travel, by far the worst, take a look at When Whites Just Don’t Get It.

Fun fact discovered in my research. According to the U.S. census 90 percent of people with the last name Washington are black and 75 percent of those named Jefferson are black. Are founding fathers really got busy on their slave plantations.washington and jefferson



No Place Like Home


It’s natural that I would take stock of my time in Seattle on the day of my departure. It’s been an impactful trip. I am glad my reintroduction to the United States was in a city I didn’t know well. I could say hello to my country with a fresh perspective. With the same sense of wonder I greet each new city in my travels.

For Digital Nomads a sense of home is always a challenge or at least a peculiar idea. Home in any traditional sense, the country of your birth, is often a storage space or friend’s and families basements and garages. It is always a conversation, at least in our heads, where is the place we should plant every last possession we own. Each city you visit is answering that question. Is it the place you want to get nest like in the old days. So, when I touched down on the land of my birth it was a test of belongingness.

It has been a wonderful adventure. I’ve explored the city just enough to want to come back. I’ve had brilliant surprises like running into a SWA friend at a coffeehouse in the city. I’d gone there to write and had forgotten my converter for my now Czech laptop charger and it was just about to die. I was lamenting how I would entertain myself for three hours, before I could head to Oyster Happy Hour at Flying Fish. And then, a miracle. A friend walked by, looked about, our eyes met and we screamed. “Ray?” “Robin?” We were both incredulous to see each other in a Seattle coffeehouse. He was in town for a wedding and I was in town for work.

Robin and Ray Take Over Seattle

We spent three delightful hours learning about each other’s lives. It felt like kismet and karma and a plain good time. Ray was my people. Someone who loves travel as much as I do and integrates it in his life in powerfully creative ways. Ray is a dancer who uses his body as an instrument, and treats it well so that he can dance all across the world. Ray shared the amazing video he had made in cities like Paris and we talked about the travel show he is born to do. You can see his brilliant work @ Ray Takes Over the World

I’ve enjoyed the city. It surprised me with its beauty. Seattle is a town begging the sun to come and doing it justice when it arrives. The city is filled with balconies, rooftop gardens and restaurants with outdoor seating. Seatlites are prepared to celebrate the sun. I shared several sunny days while nesting in this city. Every outdoor deck was filled with smiling citizens. And, I saw Seatlites tuck under when the rain came. Umbrellas optional. There are plenty of fun and funky places to shelter, so it’s not so bad.

Two Tech Cities on the Bay

Seattle has been an amusing opportunity to see another city built by tech, whether it was internet or aerospace. And, the one thing Silicon Valley and Seattle have in common is traffic. So, I’ve enjoyed Seattle. At the same time, I have felt good about moving on. Two minutes on any news channel in my 700+ channels of nothing to watch, the reminder of how things have become dark in America settled my thoughts on exploring other pastures. I packed all the goodies that I could only get here in my suitcase (astonished it all fit) to head back to the city I’ve fallen in love with. That’s the life of Digital Nomads, we can love many cities. We enjoy each one for its unique beauty, tastes, and entertainment.



They Got MeI noticed the other day when I powered up that before Microsoft will let me type in my password, which I have tried multiple times unsuccessfully to make it stop asking for, before it will let me in it starts the wifi – wants to be connected to the MotherShip.  It is all becoming just too creepy.  My phone just updated all the Google apps like gmail and calendar.  When I launched them again they had reached out in cyberspace to tell me as much as possible about everyone I’m in cyber contact with, and in photos.  Photos that came from who knows where from who knows when.  Who am I not in cyber contact with?  With whom is my relationship strictly analog.  I’m even in email contact with my 80-year-old cousins.  And now that I’ve left the land of my birth it’s the only way for me to be in contact with the vast majority of my life.  THEY GOT ME.


Narrator:  It wasn’t until 20__ they became suspicious of their machines.

The New Innovators – Generations Take to the Road


The Streets of Prague. by cichutko

As I was walking through the streets of Prague, lost again, I realized how much being a foreigner fires up your brain cells.  I can’t help but be more creative in a new country because I am trying to figure out what’s going on 24/7.

There is a peacefulness to it.  I’m not bombarded with news broadcasts because its all in Czech.  I must look for clues to assess the state of the nation – the economic viability of my new home.  After all, as a freelancer I am at the mercy of a positive business climate.

Without a nightly economic forecast I have to listen to the Czech English speakers I meet.  They are cautiously optimistic, which is for a highly pessimistic people (a Czech person would jump in here and correct me with “realistic.”) high praise.  I look at all the construction projects around the City.  New giant glittering malls opening up just in time for winter where a captive audience, hoping to stay warm and have fun at the same time, will flock to them.  I note the number of companies establishing European headquarters here or building Innovation Centers, like Microsoft and Eaton.  Leaders at these companies share why they opened here – it’s in the center of Europe, high quality of life, educated population, good universities and favorable cost of living.

Now that my mind is not plugged into the machine that was tasked with spoon-feeding me a selected reality (aka U.S. news) I am using my brain to get to the truth.  I humbly recognize I have much to learn.  I am still one of the people who hasn’t been here long enough to say this time last year the weather was……! So, I patiently wait for the time when I’ve got history here and in the meantime I enjoy the chance to reignite brain cells that may have grown a bit dormant.

It’s that kind of creative opportunity hat attracts a range of generations to the experience of being a foreigner.  It’s not just young people with backpacks anymore.

My mentor in adventure had raised two girls and sold a house to launch herself into the unknown.  Karen, of Empty Nest Expat  ,has now become a successful award winning blogger, reporting from Istanbul at a time when it’s a place that really matters.  Instanbul from an American woman guarantees a different perspective.

Young professionals are seeing the benefits on an international experienced designed in their generation’s image; flexible, with big risks, but with the potential payoff of a lifestyle that dosen’t leave you anxious and on Prozac.  Legal Nomad’s Jodi Ettenberg, has created a life that has her wintering in Southeast Asia and summering in New York to stay connected to her market, while reporting on street food in Southeast Asia.  It means living out of suitcases and storage spaces, but it feels right for her now.Jodi-Ettenberg

There are young people like my daughter, Jovan, who has fallen in love with a Region and is sharing her new passion through video blogs and travel ventures.  Introduced to Bangkok while working at a travel startup, she feels a since of wonder about Thailand and the surrounding countries.  She was swept away by the emerging travel market in Myanmar and spent a week there documenting the culture.  You can see a bit of it here.


Her desire to be a global citizen has pushed her creative button and inspired her to shape ways to create income through things she loves to do in  a place she loves to be, while enjoying the “what next” question.

Outdoor Yoga in Bangkok

Intentional Foreigners like us are the kind of people you want to have on your project, to bring on your team, to have on your side.  Curious and engaged we are the New Innovators.

Digital Nomads Aren’t Just Hippies

guy in cargo shorts

An image has developed of a Digital Nomad.  He, yeah it’s usually a guy, is dressed in cargo shorts with a bandana around his neck and a backpack at his feet.  And, yes, there are many of those among the digital nomad community.  But it is a wildly diverse community.


My friend, Suzy, not her real name because I ddidn’task her permission and because it sounds cool to say with a British accent, which is where Suzy is from, is a professional woman.  She works for a corporation in a role that requires her to travel globally and where she lives doesn’t matter so much, so she picked Prague.  She, like many digital nomads, has cargo shorts days and days where you put on a suit.

ditial nomad on a surfboard

Then there’s my colleague who as a gay man prefers to live in the U.S. and not the headquarters of the Swiss company he works for.  His location requires global travel anyway so he home bases with his partner in the U.S. and nomads where and when called for.

The hybrid digital nomad comes from the corporate world and has escaped through social media.

Jodi-EttenbergFolks like Jodi Ettenberg had the guts and the passion to disconnect from the machine and find unconventional ways to generate revenue while living in places so cheap you don’t have to generate so much.  Jodi stays connected to her traditional community who are now her potential audience.  This YouTube video is an excellent example of how she has harnessed social media to spread her message and increase her revenue.



Corporate digital nomads rely heavily on technology tools to keep them connected to a professional network.  They are the ones to ask about connective technologies.  I have had to work with many CRM systems as a consultant.  The current project I am working on has me testing InsightlyInsightly

My last project was on ZoHo.  Not a fan.





TrelloI am also on a new Trello journey – have used it unsuccessfully with another team because of a low adoption rate.  The very techie project manager was way ahead of the crowd.  Yet I couldn’t keep up with it even though I was on a search for a ToDo/Project app.  A search which I have temporarily abandoned and returned to post it notes and scratch paper.

Let me know your favorites.

Of course, we are sharing files on dropbox    Dropbox is a more intimate part of my life than any other application, even Gmail.  So take that google, I’m not riding in your DRIVE.Google Drive Icon


But, I must admit, I was drawn to this life by a guy in cargo shorts and no shirt working from a hammock in Lake Huacachina, Peru, because he could work from anywhere for IBM.  I am happy to contribute to the diversity of images of digital nomads, even though I keep my suit days to a minimum.

Guy in hammock with laptop




When You Redefine Home

No Place Like HomeAs the summer settles into fall I am beginning to realize I am redefining home.  I have had coffee and pivo with other expats to gain a sense of the road ahead.  I’m jarred a bit by the references to a transient life.  I’m not sure it’s what I’m looking for.  Do I want to take on the mantle of Digital Nomad, an interesting group than comes in and out of Prague or do I want to become one of the expats who perks up when they add up the years in Prague; five, seven, twelve.  They smile with a look of still checking this place out, but so far it’s good.

I am struck by how much time I spend pretending to not be an America and how much time I spend pretending America is not considered the greatest nation on Earth.  The mix of admiration and resentment I experience in Prague is received with both frustration and agreement.  There are things my country dominates in and much to be ashamed of.  And, from a distant shore it is easier to see what there is to be proud of.

But, I can’t give up my American digital privileges.  I can’t give up American television, watch hours of it through VPNs.  I even made sure the VPN said we were in America when I reloaded ITunes.  The privileges of being an American push my Blackness to the background.  In Prague as a Black woman with dreadlocks I am perceived as interesting, not threatening.  I wonder about the experience of the Africans here, is it different?  I wonder about the migration history of Africans, many Nigerians, in the Czech Republic.  Is it good or bad?  All I know is I felt none of the weight of it on my shoulders.  And relationships in Europe are largely defined by migration history.  How did you get here? Did we invite you?  Are you contributing anything beyond crime and difficulty?

Being in a European country as an American, where immigration is a constant news item, I see the issues through a different lens.  Here I have no former slaves, or Latino immigrants or Native American victims I feel need to be addressed.  Here the history has a migration story of Jews and Gypsies.  Like Black people who became African American the dominant culture has a strong resistance to call Gypsies what they have asked to be called, the Roma, and I haven’t met enough Roma to tell if they care.  In America the title colored fell hard, but fell, to a stumble of awkward words that often meant the same thing.  The emotion behind the title Jew may or may not have changed at all.  I will leave that to my Jewish friends to comment.  Czechs have rugged opinions of the Germans, Russians and Ukrainians, naturally.  And a gentler, yet segregating opinion of Poles and Slovaks.  Most, from both sides, seem to understand the delicate history and work around it, when possible.

So, I believe there is room for me here to settle now that the Country’s authorities have granted me time to live for a bit, and so I ask myself how long is enough.  What kind of Digital Nomad am I.

Home Is Where TheIs

There are three categories of Digital Nomads.  There is the Road Warrior.  Six month stints in one location, often based on weather conditions.  The Lifestyle Tester, hanging out in an international location looking for the right place to nest.  The Lifer who has found a home away from home and is building a brand where they stand.  They often eventually marry a local, integrate themselves into local culture, and potentially become citizens.

road warrior

Road Warrior  

Several people I’ve met in Prague fit this category.  They are working a backpacker trail through Southeast Asia or Europe and drop into Prague to network with the vibrant start-up community and take a minute’s rest from the road.  Like Mike and Regina, who’ve come in and out of Prague on several occasions promoting their Courageously Free lifestyle which they explain on their website.  Or Colin Wright who allows readers of his blog to vote on his next destination.

I’ve done the Road Warrior.  Desperately seeking out internet connections in remote locations.  While fun and adventurous, it is not a steady diet that I crave.  So, I find myself a Lifestyle Tester.  Assessing how long I can spend apart from the people I left a continent away.  Will SKYPE and Google Voice be enough to keep me from missing the one’s I love too much to love the one’s I’m with?

Lifestyle Tester

Some of the Digital Nomads I have met work for global companies that allow them to live anywhere within reason.  They tell stories of storage boxes in their last known location and feeling like everything is an adventure, and no stay is guaranteed for the long-term.  There are an important segment, as was pointed out by me when I was befriending an American Expat.  “Are you really staying because I get tired of making friends and having them leave?”  Makes sense.  Hadn’t thought of that, or being that person, but I can get how frustrating that would be.  I am one who needs meaningful social interaction.  I have been quite busy building up a friendship base and thinking about what is acceptable critical mass to sustain a happy social life.

The Lifer

Olivier is a Lifer.  He doesn’t pretend he has plans to return to France.  He is determined to make his way here in Prague.  As a Brand Creative Lead he has joined the startup movement here in Prague to make something happen in his adopted home.  He knows everyone and is known by everyone, a solid part of a community of fellow expats from around the globe.

So what type of Digital Nomad am I?  Well, so far a Happy One. for Digital Nomads

Best Places to be One

Lessons Learned

Global nomads passing through Prague

What you wish you knew before moving to Prague






Is Entrepreneurship a Culture?

As a Global Mobile Worker I tend to hang out in co-working spaces.  The advantage besides a more disciplined place to work than my kitchen table, is meeting inspiring creative people.  And, the reality is my consulting firm is a startup.  We just celebrated our first anniversary and we have climbed many of the same mountains that any startup faces.  How to be a lean startup.  The best ways reach our customers and tell our story.  And, there is the technology to support the team, which I have already talked about endlessly.working in pajamas

So, now that I am in Prague I take part in entrepreneur groups like Prague Entrepreneurs .  I found them on Meetup (shout out to Meetup for giving me a social life in Prague and someone to watch the World Cup games with).  The quality of folks, all English speakers at some level, has been phenomenal.  Because they come from many different countries, most in Central or Eastern Europe we have had great conversations about the Culture of Entrepreneurship.

Then this week there was a dead on presentation by Adam Somlai-Fischer, Principal Artist and Co-Founder of Prezi launched in Budapest, Hungray.  Prezi is a global hit and there were a couple of things that really made a difference from Adam’s perspective.  First, they worked consciously to build a culture that would attract the best and the brightest and keep them engaged and creative.  Second, they bit the bullet and launched an office in Silicon Valley.  They guessed right that it would help them gain credibility in the U.S. market.  They even ended up as a part of a White House Education initiative.  And, just a little bit, Adam admitted, he learned about the culture of innovation in Silicon Valley.



You’ve got to check this out  Prezi Campaign


Startup guru, Victor Hwang has travelled the globe working to understand what fosters entrepreneurship.

What have I discovered from this voyage?  I’ve realized that, despite outward appearances, the Startup Movement is not just about startups.  It is actually a deeper cultural shift that cuts to the heart of the human condition.  It reflects a dissatisfaction with the way much of the world has gone for the last several decades.  It marks a transformation in how we view our societies, how we convene our communities, how we create value together as human beings.  It’s a counterpoint to the governing economic paradigm – what economists call neoliberalism – which has prized efficiency and productivity above everything else, even when it has corroded relationships that bond us together in our communities and social networks.

Victor Hwang

So is there a culture of entrepreneurship?  Yes, absolutely, and I am learning that it has many different flavors and am enjoying the nuances of Czech, Bulgaria, Hungarian, and Kyrgyzstan entrepreneurship.  I met an ambitious, intense and dedicated entrepreneur, the CEO of who is fiercely committed to fostering entrepreneurship in Central Asia.  And I believe he will.  There is a lot of hungry, educated talent just waiting to build a new engine of growth on economically challenged continents.



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