All posts by David Shadovitz

Pay Gap Favoring Men Isn’t Universal

The gender pay gap, where men typically earn more than women, continues to persist. But according to a story posted on Time’s website today, there’s at least one segment of the workforce where the gap now favors women.

In a just released analysis of data from 2,000 communities, Slingerlands, N.Y.-based market research firm Reach Advisors reports that the median full-time salaries of young women who are unmarried, childless and under 30 are 8 percent higher than men in their peer group in 147 of  the 150 biggest U.S. cities.

Because the research was intended primarily for market-research purposes and not to shed light on HR practices, Reach Advisors’ president James Chung declined to comment for this blog post. But in the Time article, he primarily credits education for the difference.

“For every two guys who graduate from college or get a higher degree, three women do,” the Time article said. “This is almost the exact opposite of the graduation ratio that existed when the baby boomers entered college.”

Chung’s conclusion is certainly in line with other studies that show college degrees result in better wages.

Though the economic advantage sometimes disappears as women age and have families, Chung told Time he believes women may now have enough leverage so their financial gains aren’t completely erased as they get older.

In time, I guess we’ll find out whether Chung is right. But at least for now, it’s nice to see study findings that suggest the pay gap in favor of men isn’t true across the board.

As Jobs Decline, So Do Workplace Fatalities

Some encouraging news from the Department of Labor yesterday: Preliminary data by the agency revealed a double-digit decline in workplace fatalities in 2009.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “fatal work injuries” in the U.S. fell 17 percent in 2009—or 3.3 per 100,000 workers, down from a final rate of 3.7 in 2008 (though the agency adds that the counts are likely to increase with the release of final numbers in April 2011). 

The 2009 preliminary data follows two years of more modest single-digit declines.

The improvement was visible in most sectors and categories. Even workplace suicides, which had been on the rise, showed some improvement, down 10 percent in 2009 from its high of 263 in 2008. (Look for a story on this topic in HRE in the fall.) Workplace homicides, meanwhile, declined just 1 percent.

While the preliminary data is heartening, however, it’s still premature to say workplaces are becoming significantly safer places. As the BLS approporiately points out in its press release, the economy—and the loss of 4.7 million jobs in 2009—clearly played a “major role” in the betters numbers.

 So how big a role is a “major role?” I’ll leave it to others to speculate?

In Search of Diversity

In April, I wrote a story for HREOnline™  about the efforts of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, to initiate a survey of Fortune 500 companies to see “if the boardrooms high atop Wall Street look like what we see every day walking down Main Street.”

Well the findings are now in—and aren’t pretty. Though voluntary, the survey reaped an impressive response of 219 Fortune 500 corporations and 71 Fortune 100 corporations. It found that minorities represent a total of 14.5 percent of directors on corporate boards and overall have less representation on executive teams than they do on corporate boards.

Hispanics, the study found, are the least proportionately represented on boards and fared even worse on executive teams. They comprise just over 3 percent of board members and just under 3 percent on executive teams.

Obviously, the findings confirm what everyone pretty much already knows: That employers still have much more work ahead when it comes to diversifying their executive ranks.

In releasing the findings, Menendez didn’t suggest a legislative response. But he did offer the following recommendation: creating a task force with select corporations, executive search firms, board members and other experts to help companies move in this direction.

Sartain Joins Manpower’s Board

It’s hardly a tidal wave, but slowly but surely companies are waking up to the merits of having someone with a solid HR background on their board of directors.

The latest example: Manpower. Yesterday, the Milwaukee, Wisc.-based workforce solutions firm named Libby Sartain, former chief human resources officer of Yahoo! Inc. and Southwest Airlines, to its board. (A story on the Milwaukee Business Journal website notes that five of Manpower’s 11 directors are now women or minorities.)

“Libby’s distinguished 30-year career in human resources will be a great asset to our company as we continue to strengthen our position as a multi-faceted provider of HR services that complement and expand upon our roots in the staffing industry,” said Jeffrey A. Joerres, Manpower Inc.’s chairman and CEO.

As the press release goes on to point out, HRE named Libby one of the 25 most powerful women in HR when it last compiled such a list five years ago.

Considering the business Manpower is in, it’s a no-brainer to add a top-notch former HR leader to its board (or that it has decided to assemble a board that is one of the most diverse around).  But when you contemplate the kinds of HR-related challenges awaiting companies in the coming years, I would think someone with a strong HR background is going bring a valuable perspective to most boardroom discussions—even if they’re not in the business of providing “workforce solutions.”

In Pursuit of Board Diversity

Investors have a bit more information to go on these days as far as evaluating the diversity levels of boards, since the Securities and Exchange Commission approved late last year rules to enhance the information provided to shareholders.

Calvert Asset Management, a mutual-fund company that invests in socially responsible companies, has been leading the charge when it comes to board diversity, with its most recent victory, involving Netflix, announced yesterday. Along with Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, Calvert reported the successful resolution of its efforts to promote board diversity at the entertainment distributor. Netflix, headquartered in Los Gatos, Calif., recently named its first female director, Ann Mathers, to its board.

The Securities and Exchange Commission rules are vague when it comes to defining the word “diversity,” but pretty much every proxy now at least mentions it. Yet while everyone agrees race and gender diversity are important, Henry Stoever, a spokesman for the National Association of Corporate Directors in Washington, stresses the importance of the board reflecting the skills that are needed to achieve a business’ strategy.

For now, employers can expect investors such as Calvert to continue to apply pressure. Aditi Mohapatra, sustainability analyst for the Bethesda, Md.-based company, reports that her firm has been issuing a steady stream of shareholder proposals on board diversity, roughly nine or 10 per year, since 2002. “We’ve been targeting the bottom of the bunch, those companies where we see a lack of commitment,” she says.

Nor is it alone in its efforts. “We’ve had seven or eight different firms file proposals with us,” Mohapatra points out.

Some Final Thoughts on SHRM

As the 2010 SHRM conference draws to a close, here are a few final (and random) thoughts about the event (and my first blog post filed from an airplane).

Best news coming out of the conference: 11,000+ attendees! After a couple of years of major belt tightening, companies appear to be spending once again.

Most discouraging observation: On day one, folks stuck around to hear Steve Forbes pretty much until the end, even though he had little to share on the topic of HR strategy. In contrast, on day two, I’m told they left in droves soon after a panel of senior HR executives began to tackle some of the profession’s more pressing challenges. What gives?

Best performance by a ’70s band: Hall and Oates (so what if they were the only ’70s band to perform).

Most popular show giveaway: You guessed it, the iPad. (If you want to know what next year’s big giveaway will be, just check out Apple’s product pipeline.)

Longest line for a  ’70s celebrity on the expo floor: Attendees (mostly women) who were eager to meet and greet Erik Estrada (of CHiPs fame) at the Columbia Southern University booth. (Didn’t personally see, but was told he looks the same.)

Worst part about the venue: Overcast skies pretty much the entire time, with cooler than usual temps for San Diego.

Best part of the venue: It wasn’t 95-degree, 90-percent humidity New Orleans! (Remember last year?)

 

Lessons in HR Transformation

As I prepare for the SHRM conference each year, I often lament that there aren’t more HR executives presenting.  Personally, more often than not, I much rather hear what they have to say about a particular issue or topic, rather than a consultant or vendor.

That’s why I was pleased to see the Tuesday morning program open with a General Session panel featuring senior HR executives. (Hopefully we’ll see more sessions like this in the future.) It’s also why I set aside some time later that morning to catch a Mega Session entitled “HR Transformation: What Comes Next” by one of the opening-session panelists.

Conrad Venter, global head of HR for Deutsche Bank AG, detailed some of the steps taken by the bank to transform its HR function. Deutsche began its HR transformation efforts in 2005, during a period when the firm was facing some formidable global challenges.

In response, Venter said, Deutsche set out to restructure HR, putting “the right work in the right place.” Those efforts included moving much of the transactional work outside of HR.

What were some of the lessons that were learned along the way? First, he said, “we learned that one size doesn’t fit all.” He also noticed the importance of being “fluid” and continuing to “tweak things” long after they’ve been implemented.

“The soft stuff is really the hard stuff,” he said.

Repeating a comment he made during the opening panel, Venter also suggested that HR leaders might want to describe what they do as “people strategy” rather than “HR strategy,” to create more buy-in and less finger pointing.

Innovating in Turbulent Times

Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, innovation clearly matters.

But at a SHRM session entitled “Innovation in Turbulent Times” held earlier today, Dr. Iris Firstenberg said innovation is often best manifested when times are tough.

Companies would be well served to let go of their traditional ways and look for fresh perspectives, said Firstenberg, an adjunct professor in the Department of Pyschology at the University of California in Los Angeles.  

“Once we have a story, we tend to hold onto it,” observed Firstenberg.  Instead, she said, companies need to “tap into the wisdom that’s out there.”

Firstenberg pointed out that many companies are slow to react to innovation. She cited the slow response of competitors when Johnson & Johnson launched the market’s first non-aspirin product, Tylenol. “When Tylenol came on the market, what did the aspirin makers do? Nothing. So Tylenol had the market to itself for eight years.”

Another example she cited was Blockbuster, noting that it failed to recognize how the Internet was changing its business.

To innovate, Firstenberg said, companies need to pursue the perspectives and “wisdom” of others.

Firstenberg pointed to Cemex, a Mexican-headquartered cement producer, as an excellent example of a company that was able to do just that. In the ’90s, she said, the firm was struggling, partly because of its inability to deliver its products on time.

In response, she said, Cemex visited with companies that excelled in on-time delivery, such as FedEx (24-hour delivery), Dominos  (delivery in 30 minutes or less) and 911 in Houston (where response time averaged just four minutes).

Through those conversations, Firstenberg said, Cemex was able to identify what it needed to do to address its challenges. Today, she added, the company is an industry leader with an on-time delivery rate of 98 percent.

That’s not just an improvement, she told attendees, “that’s a revolution.”

From Cradle to C-Suite

You can never get started too early when it comes to building the workforce of the future.

Certainly that premise is at the heart of SHRM’s decision to join a business coalition, managed by the Pew Center, to study later this year what steps employers should be taking to prepare the nation’s infants and toddlers so they’re able to lead tomorrow’s businesses. The initiative was mentioned during a press briefing held on the conference’s opening day.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that meeting the needs of the workforce of the future means meeting the developmental needs of children today,” explained Deb Cohen, chief knowledge officer of SHRM.

A SHRM brochure describes the challenge as follows: “In order to compete, U.S. employers must attract and retain a team-capable, job-ready workforce that can spur and maintain continual innovation. The foundation of skills required to achieve that end is built in the earliest years of life—between birth and age 5—yet we do not give our young children the early educational, health and social supports they need to get there.”

BP’s ‘Human Face’

BP seems to have a regular spot on the front page of the New York Times lately, thanks to the Gulf of Mexico disaster. In today’s edition, two front-page stories touch on BP and the oil leak, including one focused primarily on the verbal missteps of BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward.

Nicely titled “Another Torrent BP Works to Stem: Its CEO,” the story dissects some of the more memorable “gaffes” from Hayward, including one in which he said the spill is not going to cause big problems because the gulf “is a very big ocean” and “You know, I’d like my life back.” Responding to the latter, Hayward apologized to the families of the 11 men who died on the rig.

The story, for the most part, explores how Hayward’s comments have turned into something of a public-relations fiasco for BP. But I have to also believe they haven’t been much of a motivator for those BP employees (and contractors) who now face the monumental task of fixing the leak. Would imagine they’d be a lot better off were they to have a CEO at the helm who managed to not make news himself.

Ironically, just about the same time BP started making headlines, John Hofmeister’s book, Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider, arrived in the mail. Hofmeister is one of the handful of HR leaders to be promoted to president of a major corporation, in this case Shell Oil Co. (2005-2008). Perhaps, had Hofmeister’s book come out in the fall, BP’s latest fiasco (remember, BP was hit just last October with the largest OSHA fine ever) might have received a paragraph or two in Hofmeister’s book, which explores the oil industry’s image-management problems.

“Best practices doesn’t just mean taking credit for the positive steps the industry has taken; it also requires public exposure by top executives, a human face on a complex organization, consumer empathy and engagement, obvious and intentional,” Hofmeister writes. “Twenty-first-century engagement demands a commitment to transparency.”

OK, I guess you can say Hayward is showing BP’s “human face.” But I suspect that’s not the kind of “human face” Hofmeister is referring to in his book. Nor is it the kind of face that’s going to inspire BP’s engineers to come up with a solution that works.