10 Biggest Career and Workplace Stories of the Decade

Published: Dec 13, 2019

 Finance       International Students       Technology       Workplace Issues       
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Here are the 10 most important and influential career and workplace stories of the past 10 years.

10. Women finally get some big seats at long tables.

Although there are still too few women in leadership positions at U.S. employers, strides were made in the past decade to close the C-suite gender gap. In 2012, Facebook COO Sheryl “Lean In” Sandberg was named to the world’s most powerful social media company’s board of directors, becoming its first female member. Also in 2012, Yahoo named Marisa Mayer its new CEO. Mayer, a former Google executive behind Google’s spare, white home page, was six months pregnant when she joined Yahoo, a fact which spawned many necessary conversations, articles, and blog posts asking, Can women really have it all? In 2013, a woman finally took over the reins of one of Detroit’s Big 3 automakers when General Motors named Mary Barra its CEO (Barra initially joined GM as an intern 33 years earlier). In 2015, Cathy Engelbert became the first female CEO of Deloitte and of any Big 4 firm, and KPMG’s Lynne Doughtie became the first woman to hold both the CEO and chairwoman positions at a Big 4. Also in 2015, Google poached Morgan Stanley’s Ruth Porat and named her its new CFO. Porat had held the CFO position at Morgan Stanley for five years and was widely considered to be the most powerful woman on Wall Street. (Incidentally, to this day, no woman has ever held the CEO position of a major Wall Street firm.)

9. The Uberization of work.

Today, 36 percent of U.S. workers are part-time independent contractors or freelancers. That’s a huge increase from the 20 percent who were contractors in 2016 and the 12.5 percent who were in 2000. Given that latest estimates put the number at 57 percent by 2027, work as we know it has changed forever. This change has sometimes been called the “gig economy,” and other times the “Uberization” of the workplace—named after the ride sharing company Uber, which was founded in 2009 and now employs 22,000 full-timers (who receive employee benefits) and 3 million drivers (or contractors, who receive little to no employee benefits). That is, less than 1 percent of the people who rely on Uber for at least some of their earnings are full-time employees. The Uberization of work/gig economy has been widely praised for giving efficiencies to employers and flexibility to employees but widely criticized for its poor treatment of contractors—who typically don’t receive health care benefits or retirement saving plan benefits, and who often deal with the lack of income in between gigs. This, observers say, could be a massive economic drain on millions of middle class Americans in years to come.

8. CEOs held accountable for asinine public statements.

During the decade, big swinging male executives began to be held accountable for their actions—and words. And 2014 was a particularly memorable year when it came to executive insensitivity. Consider these three cases during that year alone: (1) In February, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong publicly justified scaling back AOL’s 401(k) plan on rising health care costs like those associated with “two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure were O.K.” As it turned out, one of the so-called distressed babies’ mothers, the wife of an AOL employee, was a novelist in between books, and she wrote a widely read and commented on article criticizing Armstrong that went a long way toward spurring a helpful conversation about the lack of decent benefits for working mothers. (2) In April, Donald Sterling, now the former owner of NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, was recorded as saying, among other racist things, to a former girlfriend, who’d posted a photograph of herself with NBA legend Magic Johnson to her Instagram account: “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people … you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.” After thousands of people chimed in on Sterling’s comments—President Obama called them “incredibly offensive racist statements” and said they pointed to the United States’ struggle to “wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and segregation”—Sterling was ultimately booted from the league and forced to sell the (pre-Kawhi) Clippers. And (3) In October, at a conference for women in tech no less, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that women shouldn’t ask for raises but just have “faith” that “karma” will reward them. This was widely interpreted to mean that women should just keep their heads down and mouths shut and pray that the gender wage gap is narrowed—by their male managers! On the bright side, Satya’s words spurred a much-needed public discussion about the gender wage gap and lack of women in tech, not to mention the lack of emotional intelligence and sensitivity on the part of men in tech.

7. The rise and fall and rise and fall of Uber.

Not to be outdone by its business model, Uber itself topped many headlines, for better or worse, this past decade. Most notably, it became the face of the hard-charging bro culture inside many a tech firm. In 2017, not long after the company sent an insensitive tweet in the wake of a presidential executive order on immigration (more on that order below) and a massive #DeleteUber campaign ensued, Uber employee Susan Fowler claimed that Uber’s HR department tossed aside her harassment allegations because the person alleged to have harassed her was considered a “very productive employee.” There was also the case of Amit Sing, an Uber exec reportedly previously canned by Google over sexual harassment allegations (allegations not caught or not thought to be a big deal before Uber hired him). Not long after that, CEO Travis Kalanick took a wild and crazy backseat ride in one of his own Ubers, a ride that got a lot of press due to Kalanick’s shimmying alongside his two female passengers as well as for the argument over Uber fares he started with the driver (one of his contractors). In addition, Kalanick’s old reference to his firm as “Boober”—because, he’d said, it got him a lot of dates—resurfaced. All of which ultimately led to Kalanick’s forced resignation in June 2017 and for many to take a hard look at the questionable and, in some cases, illegal culture inside certain Silicon Valley firms. In the end, Uber found a new CEO, Kalanick stayed on its board (and a major shareholder), and Uber went public in a massive $8 billion IPO in early 2019. Since then, Uber’s share price has fallen by 33 percent. But the company is still worth $72 billion.

6. Wall Street addresses work/life balance.

Before 2010, no one questioned the fact that if you work on Wall Street, in exchange for a handsome paycheck, you’ll work, work, work, work, work, work—through the weekend, sometimes all night, sometimes 99 hours a week. But in 2013, after a 21-year-old investment banking intern in London named Moritz Erhardt died after reportedly working three all-nighters in a row, new light was shed on the heavy workloads carried by young bankers on Wall Street. Although the cause of Erhardt’s death wasn’t proven to have been linked to the 72 consecutive hours of work, the tragic story was likely the impetus for Goldman Sachs putting into place a new Protected Saturday policy for its junior bankers, as well as for J.P. Morgan implementing a free-weekend-once-a-month policy for its entry-level staff. Other Wall Street firms copied the policies, and additional work/life balance initiatives followed. In 2015, not long after the apparent suicides of two young Wall Street bankers whose brutal work schedules may have had more than a little to do with their deaths, Goldman Sachs unveiled another new policy that forbade its interns from working past midnight. Although the new no-work-after-midnight policy still means interns can conceivably work 80 hours a week on average, at least they're no longer working 100.

5. The line between Wall Street and Silicon Valley blurs—and fintech becomes a very big deal.

Along with its newfound interest in work/life balance, Wall Street became very interested in tech in the past 10 years. During the three years leading up to 2017, Wall Street had been battling Silicon Valley for talent (and mostly losing), but 2017 marked the point when Wall Street turned a corner in that battle—or, at least, said, “If you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em.” That is, the largest Wall Street firms had become so reliant on technology and technology workers in order to butter their bread that what former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein had said back in 2015 (“We are a technology company”) that most people rolled their eyes at had indeed come to fruition. Today, one third of Goldman’s staff works in technology, and in 2017 the bank jumped headfirst into “fintech” (I bet you’d never heard of that word pre-2010), rolling out the online personal loan business Marcus. Meanwhile, some 30 other big U.S. banks, including global giants JPMorgan Chase, Citi, and Morgan Stanley, got together to create Zelle, a person-to-person payment platform that now goes head to head with Venmo, the giant in the P2P payment industry. Meanwhile, financially minded undergrads and MBAs began to join the fintech industry, shunning Wall Street and traditional Silicon Valley firms. And now, along with fintech giants like Stripe and SoFi, there are thousands of fintech startups in the U.S., thousands more worldwide, and scores of VC firms all lined up to give them billions of dollars in seed money.

4. A presidential executive order on immigration causes fear and loathing in Silicon Valley (and beyond).

At the end of January 2017, not long after taking the oath of office, Donald Trump signed an extremely controversial and confusing executive order on immigration. The order—which banned citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Syria from entering the U.S.—came as quite a shock to many of the country's most prestigious employers, many of which employ many immigrants from these and other countries (it was commonly thought that the order could turn into other orders affecting other countries). Immediately after the order was issued, Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Amazon, Apple, Box, Dropbox, Ford, Foursquare, Goldman Sachs, Kickstarter, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Nike, Salesforce, Starbucks, and countless other firms spoke out against it, with many noting how many of their employees could be affected and how many of their employees (in some cases, their founders) were immigrants. In addition, many U.S. universities, whose student bodies include thousands of international students that could have been affected by the order, spoke out against it. Although the long-term effects of the order are still unclear, what is clear is that international students and holders of work visas such as the H1-B now have a lot more to fear with regard to their futures.

3. Instagram passes the 1 billion-user mark.

Can you imagine a world without Instagram? That world did exist—before October 6, 2010. That’s when Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger gave birth to the social media platform that, not long after its creation, hooked just about everyone and their mother (mine included!). In 2018, in just eight years, the social media platform reached the 1 billion-user mark (that was also the year Systrom and Krieger resigned from the firm they founded; Facebook famously bought Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion, meaning Systrom and Krieger did hang in there for a while under Zuck). Today, just about every adult, teen, company (ours included), product, city, state, and school has an Instagram account. Instagram (Insta, IG, the Gram, whatever its latest nickname is) changed the way organizations market their products, brand themselves, search for employees, even deliver their goods and services. And “social media manager” is now a major profession (in some circles, so is social media “influencer”). Although social media managers still have to manage Facebook, Twitter, Snap, Pinterest, and LinkedIn accounts, there’s no social media platform more powerful, more visible, more addictive (for better or worse) than Instagram. Which has become a huge part of our working and personal lives, whether we like it or not.

2. Apple CEO Tim Cook comes out.

In 2014, the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 turned 50 years old. The act outlawed “discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” and “effectively ended segregation in schools, workplaces, and public facilities.” It was signed by President Lyndon Johnson, and among those present for its signing was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—whose words were invoked in October 2014 by Tim Cook who wrote in a BusinessWeek column that he was “proud to be gay” and thus became the first openly gay CEO in history. The move opened the doors for scores of others, both inside and outside the C-suite, to follow in his steps. It also paved the way for the rise of more open and accepting workplaces everywhere. In perhaps the most moving paragraph of his column, Cook wrote, “Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you're the CEO of Apple.” As a footnote, Cook’s coming out has not only served as a step forward for workplace equality and for civil rights in general but has also forced citizens and organizations of all types to look into the collective mirror and admit that while progress has been made in the area of equality since 1964, there is still a very long way to go.

1. #MeToo.

Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Garrison Keillor, John Conyers, Al Franken, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Oreskes, Mark Halperin, John Hockenberry, James Toback, Mario Batali, and Roy Moore. These prominent men, among scores of others, were accused of sexual harassment on the job in 2017. Many of these men lost their jobs as a result, some resigned, but still others were able to stay employed, despite several harassment claims against them. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the year 2017 began with the Women's March on Washington and ended with the rise of the #MeToo movement. And to be sure, the year 2017 was a giant step forward for women (despite the outcome of the presidential election in 2016). That year (and the past decade) will be remembered for many things. And perhaps above all else, it will be remembered as the long overdue time when men began to be held accountable for their offensive, and sometimes illegal, behavior in the workplace.