The Push for Gender Wage Equality

On the heels of Patricia Arquette’s call for wage equality at last Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, Arjuna Capital issued a press release yesterday referencing Arquette’s remarks and calling attention to eBay’s decision to oppose the wealth-management GettyImages_478267645firm’s gender-pay-transparency proposal.

Could proposals like this one be a preview of things to come? I would think many HR leaders probably hope they won’t be.

Here are some specifics from the Arjuna’s release …

“eBay’s Board has committed to publicly oppose a shareholder proposal filed by Arjuna Capital … requesting eBay publicly report the pay disparity between male and female employees and set goals to close the gap.

This is the first year the issue of gender wage equality has been put to the proxy ballot of a U.S. corporation and the Company’s opposition comes in the face of public outcry and regulatory efforts … .

The eBay Board has stated that it believes that implementation of this proposal is not in the best interests of eBay and its stockholders.”

Arjuna’s proposal calls for eBay to issue a report that would be “adequate for investors to assess eBay’s strategy and performance” and “would include the percentage pay gap between male and female employees, policies to improve performance and quantitative reduction targets.”

In case you’re not familiar with Arjuna (I certainly wasn’t), here’s a snippet from its website …

“Our mission is twofold: Through our research and activism, we seek to advance the understanding of what sustainability means for investor returns and corporate profitability.

We bring the fruits of those efforts to our clients in the form of the most diverse, sustainable, profitable and suitable investment opportunities on offer.

We work to build and preserve our clients’ wealth while serving the common good through enlightened engagement in the capital markets.”

In its response to Arjuna, eBay wrote …

“We remain committed to our ongoing efforts to promote diversity in the workplace and strongly believe we continue to make demonstrable progress in building a diverse eBay. As such, the Board feels that the proposal would not enhance the Company’s existing commitment to an inclusive culture or meaningfully further its goal and efforts in support of workplace diversity.”

Natasha Lamb, director of equity research and shareholder engagement for Arjuna Capital, said the eBay proposal is Arjuna’s first and only attempt to seek information on pay gaps. “But our goal,” she explained, “is to invest in companies committed to the innovation and success diversity fosters, and we intend to continue to seek more transparency on these issues.” (She said she’s heard similar proposals, independent of Arjuna, were sent to the boards of ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart for the current proxy season.)

Lamb said she was surprised by the board’s opposition, since the eBay proposal is clearly in the interest of enhancing shareholder value.

Of course, not everyone agrees that would be the case.

Yesterday afternoon, I spoke with Alan Johnson, managing director of Johnson Associates, a New York-based compensation-consulting firm, who told me he wasn’t at all surprised eBay’s board would reject the proposal.

“In terms of eBay,” Johnson said, “the assumption is being made that the jobs are the same, but the reality is that that may not be the case. eBay, for instance, may have a big call center staffed by females. If that’s true, it would skew all the numbers.”

Johnson noted that the Arjuna proposal is an attempt to put “a lot of pressure on fixing something that may not be correctable” and could ultimately “do a lot of harm” by encouraging employers like eBay to offshore jobs or hire part-time workers.

Apparently not one to mince words, Johnson described the effort as “naïve” and a “big, expensive distraction.”

Like I said, not everyone agrees the proposal is a good idea.

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Can You Hear Me Now?

It’s tough to be a good listener in the workplace these days — even if you consider listening one of your strengths. That’s according to #ListenLearnLead, a new survey out from Accenture today based on responses from 3,600 professionals from 30 countries.

Nearly all of the respondents (96 percent) consider themselves to be “good listeners,” yet 98 percent report that they spend part of their workday multitasking and 64 percent say that listening “has become significantly more difficult in today’s digital workplace.”

Interestingly, though, despite the plethora of smartphones, tablets and other must-have yet highly distractable devices in today’s modern office, the most-cited distractions by the respondents were of the more old-school variety: When asked what interrupts their workday the most, 79 percent cited telephone calls and 72 percent cited unscheduled meetings and visitors. That compares to the 30 percent and 28 percent, respectively, who cited instant messaging and texting.

Rampant multitasking is a routine part of the workday, judging by the survey’s results: Eight in 10 respondents say they multitask on conference calls with work emails, instant messaging, personal emails, social media and reading news and entertainment. Perhaps this is something to keep in mind for your next conference call: if you’re the presenter, try and keep things lively, quick and fast, otherwise your presentation could lose out to the latest goings-on of the Kardashian clan as bored attendees seek relief via their smartphones.

In keeping with general trends, respondents have mixed views on the benefits of technology in the workplace: 58 percent believe technology enables leaders to communicate with their teams easily and quickly, and nearly half cite its ability to enable flexible work from anywhere. However, 62 percent of women and 54 percent of men view technology as “overextending” leaders by making them too accessible. Majorities also agree that information overload (55 percent) and rapidly evolving technology (52 percent) are among the top challenges facing leaders today.

 

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A ‘Smarter’ Look at Transparency

Here’s an interesting twist of business-world irony: While a  company’s culture of transparency may help increase accountability, collaboration, knowledge sharing, innovation and productivity, it can also undermine it.

At least that’s the view being espoused by Harvard Business School’s Ethan Bernstein in a piece that recently appeared on the Wall Street Journal site.

Bernstein, an assistant professor of leadership and organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School, writes that quantity should never trump quality when it comes to how an organization approaches the issue of transparency:

The problem, I believe, is the conviction that when it comes to transparency, “more is better.” But more transparency isn’t necessarily better. Rather, smarter transparency is better. If leaders can adopt a transparency strategy that strikes a balance between openness and privacy, that tears some walls down while leaving others in place, they are more likely to get the results they want.

In the piece, Bernstein shares three guiding principles employers should follow in order to strike the right balance of openness and opacity within their organizations, including his take on open-office designs.

One global company Berstein studied had recently transformed its headquarters from traditional to open offices, he writes, and so he measured face-to-face and electronic interaction of its staff both before and after the redesign.

After the redesign, interactions between individuals who weren’t on the same team jumped more than 50%. Sounds good, right? Except that interactions between individuals who had to work together to get things done fell by almost an equivalent amount, and the total amount of interactions actually fell.

The moral of that particular story, he writes, is that organizations adopting transparent workplaces “need to think even more about who should observe whom, not just leave it to chance.”

And the key for organizations, he writes, is for company leaders to strategically consider when observation will improve productivity, and when it will undermine fertile soil for innovation:

As with all transparency efforts, a lot of good can come from putting everybody on stage some of the time.

But, he concludes, requiring “a constant performance [by employees] comes with a high price: the loss of experimentation and learning. It’s a price that companies should be unwilling to pay.”

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FMLA Update Redefines ‘Spouse’

same sex marriageAnd the reverberations of the United States v. Windsor decision continue to be felt.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced yesterday that workers in legal, same-sex marriages—regardless of where they live—will now have the same rights as those in opposite-sex marriages to federal job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a spouse with a serious health condition.

The announcement comes not quite nine months after the DOL issued a proposed rule to change the FMLA’s definition of “spouse” in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision.

That June 2013 ruling, of course, struck down the Defense of Marriage Act’s provision interpreting “marriage” and “spouse” to be limited to opposite-sex marriage for the purposes of federal law.

According to the DOL, the rule change updates the FMLA regulatory definition of “spouse” such that an eligible employee in a legal same-sex marriage will be able to take FMLA leave for his or her spouse, regardless of what state the employee calls home. The previous regulatory definition of “spouse” didn’t extend to same-sex spouses if an employee resided in a state that did not recognize the employee’s same-sex marriage.

Under the new rule, eligibility for federal FMLA protections is based on the law of the place where the marriage was entered into, according to the DOL. This “place of celebration” provision allows all legally married couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, to have consistent federal family leave rights regardless of whether the state in which they currently reside recognizes such marriages.

We’ll see what this means for employers and HR. But yesterday’s announcement marks a step toward fulfilling the “basic promise of the FMLA,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in announcing the updated rule.

That guarantee, he said, “is that no one should have to choose between the job and income they need, and caring for a loved one.

“With our action today, we extend that promise so that no matter who you love, you will receive the same rights and protections as everyone else,” added Perez. “All eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages, regardless of where they live, can now deal with a serious medical and family situation like all families—without the threat of job loss.”

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Making Workplace Meditation Work

Mindfulness appears to be alive and well in Fort Collins, Colo. Or at the Fort Collins Housing Authority anyway.

139980668-- meditationJust before the holidays, I came across this release about the FCHA completing a month-long mindfulness program for its staff.  Seems the organization’s top leaders took its annual wellness survey seriously when a common complaint came back suggesting improvements in work/life balance and health and general well-being were needed.

In the words of FCHA Chief Executive Officer Julie Brewen: “We are committed to implementing new programs for the health and well-being of our staff.”

In an industry that deals with tough issues such as poverty, homelessness and families in crisis, she says, the program was a step in the right direction. The program consisted of daily, hour-long sessions during work hours that blended presentations, group discussion and meditation practice.

The results? According to Brewen, lowered stress and depression, and an increase in work/life balance.

What’s even more impressive is what she shared with me just recently, that her organization’s commitment to this lives on, with additional mindfulness training planned for this year, and some added questionnaires and wellness-survey questions designed to keep a close eye on the workplace well-being meter.

“Many of the participants [intend] to continue [their] meditation and mindfulness exercises” into the rest of 2015, she says.

Of course, putting this kind of program together takes a huge and collective commitment to the idea and the practice. It needs to come from the top and be ingrained into the culture, as this column a year ago (to the month) by our benefits columnist, Carol Harnett, suggests.

Her column also suggests the concept could use some booster shots in the business community. “In my experience,” she writes, “most employers pay scant attention to stress and defer to employee-assistance programs as check-the-box solutions — despite poor utilization of this service.”

So what’s it going to take for the Fort Collins approach to become the approach of most? Perhaps when employers start acknowledging they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, even as it relates to your brand and reputation. As Harnett writes:

” … mind-body curriculums will please a growing portion of your employee population and improve your workers’ perceptions of the workplace culture. And that may be an employer’s greatest consideration of all.”

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Rethinking a Few of the Millennial Myths

At the risk of exceeding our quota for stories about millennials (both our Jan./Feb. and upcoming April issues explore different aspects of this workforce demographic), here’s some new research coming out of IBM yesterday that’s worth a closer look.

485373695Not surprisingly, the study titled “Myths, Exaggerations and Uncomfortable Truths” identified the difference between millennials and older employers when it comes to things like digital proficiency. But on issues such as career goals, employee engagement, preferred leadership styles and recognition, the study shows that Gen Yers share many of the same attitudes as their Gen X and baby boomer counterparts.

More precisely, the IBM research took aim at the following five myths:

Myth 1: Millennials’ career goals and expectations are different from their elders (i.e., unrealistic).

Rather, millennials want financial security and a diverse workplace just as much as their older colleagues.

Myth 2: Millennials need endless praise and think everyone should get a trophy.

For Gen Yers, the idea of a perfect boss isn’t someone who pats them on the back, but someone who is ethical and fair, and shares information. Thirty-five percent of boomers and millennials listed this as the top quality they seek in a boss. (Someone who asks for their input is last on their list of priorities.)

Myth 3: Millennials are digital addicts with no boundaries between work and play.

Not really. The research reveals that they are less likely than older generations to use their personal social-media accounts for business purposes. Twenty-seven percent of millennials said they never do so—compared to only 7 percent of baby boomers.

Myth 4: Millennials can’t make a decision without crowdsourcing.

Millennials value others’ input, but the research suggests they are no more likely to seek advice when making work decisions than Gen Xers. (Even though they think gaining consensus is important, more than 50 percent of Gen Yers believe that their leaders are most qualified to make business decisions.)

Myth 5: Millennials are more likely to jump ship if a job doesn’t fulfill their passions.

The IBM research suggests that millennials change jobs for the same reasons other generations do and are no more likely than older colleagues to leave a job to follow their passions. In fact, millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers are all two times more likely to leave a job to enter the “fast lane”—i.e., to make more money and work in a more innovative environment—than for any other reason, including saving the world.

In light of these findings, IBM’s advice to employers is to stop relying on generational stereotypes when planning and serving their workforce. Instead, they should be pursuing more robust, nuanced talent strategies and analytics to better understand employees as individuals to make the most of their skills.

Considering the source, it’s no surprise IBM might offer up such advice. But that said, there’s no denying that placing entire generations in single buckets is never a good practice and treading carefully as you formulate strategies like this usually is a sound idea. (As most of us know only too well, there’s often another study lurking just around the corner that could turn the latest one on its head.)

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Wal-Mart’s Big Move

Wal-Mart has long been the McDonald’s of discount-chain stores: It’s big, it’s everywhere and — when people get angry about the social issues of the day, whether it’s outsourced manufacturing or low-wages for U.S. workers — it’s often the biggest target (so to speak).

Now the Bentonville, Ark.-based company is making a big move that will doubtless be watched by everyone else in the retail space: It’s spending $1 billion to raise the wages of many of its U.S. workers, improve the training they receive and adjust its scheduling practices to give part-timers more regularity in their hours.

Wal-Mart is also implementing programs to make it easier for employees to map out careers at the company, according to the Associated Press.

“We are trying to create a meritocracy where you can start somewhere and end up just as high as your hard work and your capacity will enable you to go,” CEO Doug McMillon told the AP.

The low wages paid by the retail and fast-food industries have become a flashpoint in recent years, with thousands of hourly workers striking and holding demonstrations over the issue. Fast-food workers in New York, Chicago and other large cities have held protests demanding that their wages be raised to $15 per hour.

The protests appear to be having an impact: Companies such as The Gap and IKEA have raised their starting wages to $10 an hour or more. Last fall, voters in several states — including Wal-Mart’s home of Arkansas — approved raising the states’ minimum wage. And Hartford, Conn.-based insurer Aetna recently announced that its lowest-paid workers would get a boost in their rate to $16 per hour.

At Wal-Mart, entry-level wages will be raised to $10 per hour by next February (new hires at its Sams Club division will get $10.50 per hour). A new program will allow some part-time workers to choose the same hours every week. Hourly workers will receive training in areas such as teamwork, merchandising and communications. The company will invest $100 million with its nonprofit Walmart Foundation over the next five years to “support programs that help advance careers for entry-level workers in the industry,” according to the AP.

Wal-Mart still won’t be a high-wage paradise by any stretch of the imagination, but the company clearly recognizes its image problem and is attempting to do something about it.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Ed Lazear, a Stanford University economics professor who advised Wal-Mart told the AP.

 

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Shaking the Mental Health Stigma

mental healthJust a few short weeks from now, our March issue will see the light of day. In it, you’ll find the second installment of a three-part series on employee health.

This Carol Patton-penned feature looks at how more employers are “recognizing the destructive footprint of depression on their workforce and bottom line, and are taking direct aim at the illness.”

There’s no doubt that many companies have made great strides in identifying the signs and understanding the insidious impact of this illness, and are acting to help employees affected by depression as well as those dealing with other mental health issues.

But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a ways to go.

The Disability Management Employer Coalition’s just-released 2014 Behavioral Risk Survey posed 42 online questions to 314 employers of various sizes between July and August of last year. The results suggest the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace still very much exists, to say the least.

For example, respondents were asked what level of, or change in, stigma associated with “having a psychological/psychiatric problem” they have witnessed in the last two years. (DMEC conducts its Behavioral Risk Survey on a biennial basis.)

Overall, 41.4 percent of respondents said the stigma remained the same, with 25.1 percent indicating that the stigma has actually decreased in that time.

Another 24.2 percent, however, said the stigma has increased since 2012. And, consider that just 7.6 percent reported feeling the same way two years ago.

Troubling as some of these figures are, the survey does show signs that management awareness and acceptance of behavioral health issues is growing, though. When asked how their upper management’s opinion regarding the need to review behavioral health issues has changed over the past two years, for instance, 36.8 percent of respondents replied, “yes, it has become more open” in that time. In 2012, 25 percent of respondents said the same.

In addition, 32.8 percent of survey participants said their organizations screen for underlying psychological or psychosocial issues, marking a slight, 3.2 percent increase from 2012.

In a statement detailing some of the survey’s findings, DMEC Executive Director Terri L. Rhodes described employers’ increased adoption of screening and other tools to identify and address mental health conditions as “heartening.”

But, she adds, “there is much more to be done to reduce the stigma still attached to these illnesses and create a consistently collaborative approach to treating them.”

(A full report on the 2014 Behavioral Risk Survey is available by contacting John Jordan at jjordan@principor.com or 202.595.9008.)

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Promotions on the Rise

If this isn’t a sure sign of an ascendant economy, then I’m not sure what one is: The percentage of employees receiving a promotion on an annual basis has increased from 7 percent to 9 percent since 2010.

This is according to a new survey titled “Promotional Guidelines” conducted by WorldatWork, a nonprofit human resources association and leading compensation authority based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The association conducted the 2014 survey — its fourth such survey — of its membership to better understand the trends in promotional guidelines.

The survey focuses on a variety of practices and policies including what employers consider to be a promotion as well as the standard pay increases that often accompany promotions. WorldatWork conducted similar compensation practices surveys in 2012, 2010 and 2006.

“The steady upward trend of employee promotions mirroring the economic recovery is further evidence that organizations are relaxing their budget purse strings,” says Kerry Chou, WorldatWork senior practice leader. “While the gradual trend is good news, the data also suggests that employee vacancies are helping employers foot the bill for these promotions.”

Additional highlights from the 2014 survey include:

  • Less than half (42 percent) of responding organizations budget separately for promotional activity.
  • In order to define employee movement as a “promotion,” 77 percent of responding organizations require higher-level responsibilities and 75% require an increase in pay grade, band or level.
  • 63 percent of respondents said their organization does not feature or market promotional opportunities or activities as a key employee benefit when attempting to attract new employees.
  • More than 60 percent of workforces consider their organization’s promotional opportunities to have a positive effect on employee engagement and employee motivation.
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Watching a Big Move to Help Women in Tech

A recent announcement by Facebook and LinkedIn that the two entities are joining forces to boost the dwindling numbers of women 462444481 -- women in techstudying technology and working in the field is certainly worth watching.

Short on a lot of details about the collaboration, the announcement still got an amazing amount of press because of the two parties involved — led, in part, by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Sandberg has been a prominent advocate for women in the workplace, ever since her 2011 book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead came out. (Here is one of many pieces we’ve posted about her book and her premise that women need help fighting the barriers — some within themselves — that keep them from achieving leadership positions. Here is one other, primarily about her book and the “Lean In” support circles it aimed to spark in workplaces nationwide.)

As the first post quotes her from her book:

“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. [The result is that] men still run the world.”

Whether Sandberg and the people she’s working with think this inability to effect their own progress is a primary reason behind women’s dwindling numbers in technology studies and jobs isn’t real clear. Nor is it clear how much money each company is committing to this effort, or just how it will function. (The announcement simply says Sandberg and LinkedIn CEO Jeffrey Weiner will be “launching mentoring and support programs at colleges to get more women involved in studying technology in general, but also as future employees for their companies.”)

What is clear, though, is the fact that the talent pool is shrinking. According to the announcement, the percentage of people enrolled in undergraduate computer-science programs who are women peaked at 35 percent in 1985 and is now down to about 17 percent.

Clearly, something needs to be done. Will be interesting to see just what this initiative is and what it can do.

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