Series of bad news, fears hit global stock markets; Nobel Prize and a message for India & Pakistan; Microsoft, male culture and gender pay gap

1 Series of bad news, fears hit global stock markets (Nick Fletcher in The Guardian) Global stock markets have come under renewed pressure in a widespread sell-off prompted by fears of a global economic slowdown, tensions in the Middle East and the spread of the Ebola virus. After another volatile week, the FTSE 100 slumped to its worst level since 9 October last year, falling 91.88 points or 1.4% to 6,339.97.

Germany’s Dax dropped 2.4% on Friday to 8,788 and France’s Cac closed 1.6% lower at 4,073. After European markets had closed, Finland was stripped of its top-notch triple A rating and France warned it faced the risk of further downgrade to its AA rating. S&P was the first of the major ratings agencies to cut Finland’s prized rating because of its fear the country could suffer “protracted stagnation” and its exposure to Russia and the eurozone. Only Germany and Luxembourg remain triple A rating in the eurozone.

This week’s market declines followed news that the International Monetary Fund had cut its global growth forecasts for 2014 to 3.3% from the 3.7% it was predicting in April. While it expects a pickup to 3.8% in 2015, it warned its predictions could still be too optimistic.

The outlook for China has been preoccupying investors recently, given the country is the driving force for much of the global economy. Recent data raised fears of a slowdown, with a disappointing service sector survey this week adding more evidence. Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, added to the gloom on Thursday by saying in Washington that the eurozone recovery was running out of steam.

News that the first case of Ebola outside West Africa had been confirmed in Spain added to the market pessimism. On top of that came the current geopolitical tensions, with air strikes on Isis, the Ukraine situation and the repercussions of the recent protests in Hong Kong. The prospect of a global slowdown also hit oil prices. With oversupply and falling demand, Brent crude fell more than 3% over the week, standing at just over $89 a barrel on Friday.

2 Nobel prize and a message for India & Pakistan (Jawed Naqvi in Dawn) By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Pakistan’s Malala Yousufzai and India’s Kailash Satyarthi on Friday, at a time when their militaries were locked in a volatile spiral on the borders, the Nobel Committee has shone the torch on a more real enemy the countries jointly confront — jeopardised future for millions of their children, analysts said.

Ms Yousufzai did not lose time to broach the idea of India-Pakistan peace, saying the award had emboldened her to invite the two prime ministers to the prize ceremony in Stockholm in December. Mr Satyarthi and Ms Yousufzai spoke on the phone and decided to persuade their leaders to come to Stockholm where the two would hopefully end their self-imposed aloofness with each other.

At the age of 17, Malala is now the youngest Nobel Prize winner ever. She and Mr Satyarthi will share the $1.11million prize to be awarded in Oslo on Dec 10. Mr Satyarthi would find that children in Pakistan too are engaged in child labour, including in agriculture and in the worst forms of child labour in bonded labour. Ms Yousufzai would find that millions of Indian girls of different religions, castes and regions face problems that are similar to the ones she confronted at home — a patriarchal resistance to their growth.

3 Microsoft, male culture and gender pay gap (Straits Times) A well-known picture in tech circles, taken in 1978, shows the first 11 employees at Microsoft. Two are women. One of them left two years later after a pay dispute. Almost four decades later, the ratio has improved: About a third of Microsoft’s 110,000 or so employees are women.

But the company’s pay practices and attitude toward women are still open to question and will likely be taken up at the board level, according to one director, Maria Klawe. The issue hit the headlines and social media when new chief executive officer Satya Nadella suggested women in tech shouldn’t ask for pay raises but should instead trust the system and rely on “karma” to get what they deserve.

He later said he was wrong, but the damage was done, reinforcing the view that Microsoft – and the tech industry generally – is a boys’ club. Klawe, 63, said she has been pressing for hiring and promoting women at Microsoft since she joined the board five years ago, but the issue of pay raises for women had not been discussed by the board. “I suspect it might be now,” she said.

Microsoft has never been a beacon of diversity. Karin Carter, who worked at the company in its heyday from 1983 until 1997 and went on to write a book about the experience, said there were only five or so women programmers at Microsoft when she joined, with the vast majority of women in support positions.

The issue of unequal pay looms large. Numbers from job site Glassdoor show that men tend to earn more doing a similar job than women at Microsoft, though the data is far from complete and based on voluntary disclosure. Microsoft is not alone. Data from the Bureau of Labour Statistics shows that men earn 24 per cent more, on average, than women in the tech sector.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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