Category Archives: corporate culture

Sad State of Parental Leave

Tuned into a pretty interesting, if not depressing, Facebook Live session on Wednesday. Seems the at-least-slow progress in paid parental leave we’ve been writing about here on HRE Daily and on our HREOnline website isn’t as promising as some think.

At least that’s according to the Society for Human Resource Management, which released during the session its National Study of Employers — a self-described “comprehensive look at employer practices, policies, programs and benefits that address the personal and family needs of employees.” (Here’s the press release for those of you who don’t have the time for an entire study right now.)

Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, talked during the session about the study’s key findings — namely that, despite reports from well-known companies (such as Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson and Ernst & Young — see our own posts linked above) announcing their expansions of paid-parental-leave benefits, the average amount of caregiving and parental leave provided by U.S. employers has not changed significantly since 2012.

Specifically, over the past 11 years, the number of organizations offering at least some replacement pay for women on maternity leave has increased from 46 percent to 58 percent. But the study also found that, among employers offering any replacement pay, the percentage offering full pay has continued to decline, from 17 percent in 2005 to 10 percent in 2016.

In fact, of all employers with 50 or more employees, only 6 percent offer full pay. In addition, daily flexibility, the kind needed for emergencies, has gone down actually, from 87 percent in 2012 to 81 percent in 2016, a statistic Galinsky called “critical.” She added:

“The fact that that kind of flexibility has gone down is a critical [and alarming] finding.”

According to Galinsky, HR has a major role in turning this around. As she put it during the session:

“Flexibility is now the norm. HR should be thinking this way. It used to be, ‘Should or shouldn’t we provide flexibility?’ Now it’s a given that we should.”

Unfortunately, she said, HR needs to do a better job of telling workers what is offered at their organizations. The study found only 23 percent of companies making a real effort to communicate the programs they have.

Here are some other key findings:

  • Small employers (50 to 99 employees) were more likely than large employers (1,000 or more employees) to offer all or most employees 1) traditional flextime, the ability to periodically change start and stop times (36 percent versus 17 percent), 2) control over when to take breaks (63 percent versus 47 percent) and 3) time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay (51 percent versus 33 percent).

  • Growth of workplace flexibility has been stable over the past four years. Out of 18 forms of flexibility studied, there were only four changes:

  1. An increase in employers that offer telework, allowing employees to work at least some of their paid hours at home on a regular basis (40 percent in 2016 versus 33 percent in 2012).
  2. An increase in employers that allow employees to return to work gradually after childbirth or adoption (81 percent in 2016 versus 73 percent in 2012).
  3. An increase in organizations that allow employees to receive special consideration after a career break for personal/family responsibilities (28 percent in 2016 versus 21 percent in 2012).
  4. A decrease in organizations that allow employees to take time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay (81 percent in 2016 versus 87 percent in 2012).

In Galinsky’s words:

“Whether high-profile companies offering paid [parental] leave are out of step with the majority of employers or leading the way remains to be seen. Given our findings that 78 percent of employers reported difficulty in recruiting employees for highly skilled jobs and 38 percent reported difficulty in recruiting for entry-level, hourly jobs, these high-profile companies could be leading the way in the strategic use of leave benefits.”

And, apparently, that’s not happening. Not yet anyway.

Uber’s Toxic Workplace Culture

A company director shouting a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a meeting. A manager groping female co-workers’ breasts during a company retreat. A manager threatening to beat an underperforming employee’s head in with a baseball bat. All of these incidents — and more — are described in a fascinating front-page story on Uber’s workplace culture by New York Times reporter Mike Isaac, who based his story on interviews with 30 current and former employees of the ride-hailing service and reviews of internal emails, chat logs and tape-recorded meetings.

As you’ve probably heard, Uber found itself thrust into the spotlight after former employee Susan Fowler published a blog post last Sunday about her experiences working for the company. Fowler, an engineer, said she and other women were sexually harassed and discriminated against by her manager and little to nothing was done about it, even when she reported it to HR, because the manager was a “high performer.” (Fowler’s descriptions of her interactions with Uber’s HR department are particularly damning: For example, when she noted to an HR representative how few women were in her engineering department, the rep allegedly told her that she shouldn’t be surprised by the ratio of women in engineering because people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others.)

Fowler and other current and former Uber employees told Isaac that HR would excuse poor behavior by their bosses because the managers in question were top performers who benefited the health of the company. The company’s culture — set by Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick — emphasizes getting ahead at all costs, the sources told Isaac, even if it means undermining co-workers and supervisors. One group in particular that was shielded from accountability was “the A-Team,” the sources said, a group of executives close to Kalanick.

Since Fowler went public with her accusations, Kalanick has brought in former Attorney General Eric Holder and board member Arianna Huffington to conduct an independent investigation of the issues Fowler raised. He said the company would release a full diversity report shortly and that 15.1 percent of the engineering, product management and scientist roles at Uber were held by women and that that number “has not changed substantively in the last year.”

In a statement to the Times, Uber CHRO Liane Hornsey said “We are totally committed to healing wounds of the past and building a better workplace culture for everyone.”

Hornsey, who joined Uber in January (its former HR chief, Rene Atwood, left in July to join Twitter) and who will assist with the investigation, spent nine years as Google’s vice president of global people operations. Hopefully she’ll be able to put her experience and expertise to good use at a company that appears to sorely need it.

Job Candidates’ Strange Behavior

One job candidate told her interviewer that if he wanted to get to heaven, he’d hire her. Another asked where the nearest bar was located. Then there’s the candidate who  bragged about being in the local newspaper for allegedly stealing a treadmill from someone’s house. It’s that time of year again: CareerBuilder has released its annual list of the strangest interview mistakes hiring managers say they’ve witnessed while assessing job candidates, based on a survey conducted on its behalf late last year by Harris Poll among approximately 2,600 HR and hiring managers.

Some other examples of strange interview mistakes:

  • Candidate ate a pizza he brought with him (and didn’t offer to share).
  • The candidate asked to step away to call his wife to ask her if the starting salary was enough before he agreed to continue with the interview.
  • Candidate invited interviewer to dinner afterwards.
  • Candidate said her hair was perfect when asked why she should become part of the team.
  • Candidate ate crumbs off the table.
  • Candidate asked the interviewer why her “aura” didn’t like the candidate.

This year’s survey finds that half (51 percent) of employers say they know within the first five minutes of an interview whether a candidate is a good fit for an open position, virtually identical to the findings from last year’s survey (50 percent).

Of course, candidates are also scrutinizing their potential employers during the interview process, and some don’t like what they see. The Execu|Search Group’s 2017 Hiring Outlook, for example, finds that 34 percent of working professionals say their job interviewer could not convey the overall impact their role has on the company’s goals, and that 45 percent did not feel their interviewer made an effort to introduce them to the company culture.

And when it comes to strange experiences, think of the poor candidates who find themselves struggling to answer the bizarre “brainteaser” questions asked by some companies during job interviews, which was the subject of a  Glassdoor report last year. Among the more notable questions:

  • What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer? (Trader Joes, position unspecified)
  • How would you sell hot cocoa in Florida? (J.W. Business Acquisitions, for a human resources recruiter position)
  • How many basketballs would fit in this room? (Delta Air Lines, for a revenue management co-op position), and:
  • Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses? (Whole Foods Market, for a meat cutter position)

 

Now THAT’s Honest Feedback

There’s a saying that people want the truth until they get it.

Consider the leadership team at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, who might regret asking interchange manager Michael Stuban to fill out an exit survey on his last day before heading into retirement.

Stuban, who spent 35 years with the organization, offered his two cents and then some.

In a recent interview with The Philadelphia Daily News, Stuban described the “brutal” frankness with which he approached the online questionnaire.

“When they asked for an honest exit interview, I gave them one,” Stuban told the paper, with a bit of a laugh. “I sent it minutes before I officially retired.”

For what it’s worth, the 58-year-old Stuban wrote that he didn’t really want to retire just yet, and that he actually liked his job.

He may have enjoyed his work, but it seems he wasn’t so crazy about the people he worked for.

The “out of touch” executive-level managers at the helm of the “rudderless” agency, for instance, are “only looking out for themselves,” according to Stuban. He characterized the past five years at the commission as “terrible,” with “no morale” among employees.

These same co-workers were asked to take part in classes “where we were told we are not political,” wrote Stuban, who opined that the commission frequently hires incompetent employees “based on political connections,” according to the Daily News.

Stuban didn’t mince words when it came to the idea that corporate politics were not at work within the organization.

“That’s bulls—,” he wrote. “Jobs/promotions are filled by the politicians … it’s who you know, not what you know. Positions [are] created for people who are not qualified.”

And, Stuban apparently felt so strongly about the thoughts he was sharing that he had to disseminate them throughout the organization. Stuban emailed his completed exit survey not just to the HR department from which it came, but to more than 2,000 colleagues as well, according to the Daily News.

At least one of them found some levity in Stuban’s sentiments.

“Want to get away? Southwest is offering great fares … ” replied the employee, in a reference to the airline’s well-known commercial tagline.

Turnpike Commission Chairman Sean Logan didn’t find Stuban’s candor quite so funny.

Logan, a former Pennsylvania State Senator, was equally blunt in his reply, which went out to those same 2,000-plus turnpike employees, the Daily News notes.

“Mr. Stuban … I don’t believe we ever met, and after reading your exit questionnaire, I am grateful that we didn’t.”

According to the paper, Stuban was made aware of Logan’s brusque response, and, perhaps not surprisingly, felt the chairman failed to see the point of his missive.

“If it was an effective company and someone told you there are problems and no morale, you don’t have to believe me, but maybe someone should check into it.”

No one outside this particular organization can really say how accurate Stuban’s depiction of its culture may or may not be. And who knows how the commission has responded, or plans to respond, to the issues that Stuban alleges exist within the agency.

But if morale really is a problem there, then Logan’s reaction to Stuban’s candid, albeit harsh, feedback probably won’t encourage other workers to offer their honest (and invaluable) opinions to those above them. And that’s the organization’s loss.

Undervaluing the Human Element

If you’ve heard it from one CHRO, you’ve heard it from a hundred: Our people are our greatest asset.

A new Korn Ferry Institute study suggests that most CEOs also appreciate the hard-working employees within the organizations they lead—just maybe not quite as much as they value technology.

More specifically, the recent survey saw 63 percent of 800 business leaders from multimillion-dollar global organizations saying that technology will be their greatest source of competitive advantage in five years. In addition, 67 percent said they believe technology will create greater future value than human capital will within their firms, and 44 percent said the prevalence of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence figure to make people “largely irrelevant in the future of work.”

As if that wasn’t hard enough for employees to hear, consider that people didn’t crack the top five in terms of assets that CEOs predict will be most critical half a decade from now. Technology ranked No. 1, followed by research and development, products/services, brand and real estate (offices, factories and land, for example.)

“CEOs have a significant blind spot in the way they perceive people,” according to the Korn Ferry Institute study, “tending to undervalue human capital.”

These “distorted perceptions” demonstrate the extent to which the individual is being pushed to the periphery of tomorrow’s workplace—and the danger in failing to recognize the potential of employees to generate value, the report continues.

In placing a greater emphasis on technology and tangible assets, chief executives “may be demonstrating, in a big way, what experts call tangibility bias. Facing uncertainty, they are putting a priority in their thinking, planning and execution on the tangible—what they can see, touch and measure.”

In the report, Korn Ferry Search Vice Chairman, CEO and Board Services Alan Guarino cautions against taking that approach while overlooking human capital.

“Leaders are placing a high emphasis on technical skills, technological prowess and the ability to drive innovation in their new senior recruits—elements critical for modern organizations,” says Guarino. “However, the financial reality proven by this study—that the value of people outstrips that of machines by a considerable distance—must give CEOs pause for thought.”

The ability to lead and manage culture—”so-called ‘soft skills,’ ” says Guarino—will become “critical factors of success for companies in the future of work, as they seek to maximize their value through their people.”

Who knows the organization’s people better than the HR executive? And, if what Guarino says is true, one could look at this study’s findings as a tremendous opportunity for the HR leader to help the CEO see the tremendous worth of human capital, and to help make the organization’s workers an irreplaceable, invaluable part of tomorrow’s workforce.

Taking Time Off for Election Day

I got to my local polling place at 6:50 a.m. today, pretty pleased with myself for having the foresight to show up 10 whole minutes before the polls opened.

I knew I wouldn’t be the first in line. But, based on what I saw as I pulled into the parking lot, I’d say at least 150 to 200 of my fellow Harleysville, Pa., residents had thought much further ahead than I had.

As heartened as I was by the sight of democracy in action, I wasn’t as excited about standing in the line that snaked down the sidewalk outside of Oak Ridge Elementary School. Sub-40 degree temperatures and cranky back aside, my biggest worry was that I might wind up getting to work later than I had planned when I carefully mapped out my election day schedule last night.

Petty concerns on a day of this magnitude, to be sure. And I was actually able to wrap up my civic duty and get on my way to work in about 25 minutes. And, we have flexible schedules here at HRE headquarters anyway, so it really didn’t matter when I showed up at the office. I just didn’t want to feel like I was running behind all day long.

Some workers won’t face such dilemmas today.

As the Washington Post reports, a handful of companies including General Motors, Patagonia and Western Union are giving employees the day off so they can go vote. (Patagonia “is taking it a step further and closing its stores,” according to the Post.)

These organizations are among the 330 joining a Twitter campaign that maintains a running list of companies that offer employees time off in order to vote, according to the Post, which notes that the social media movement began this summer when venture capitalist Hunter Walk asked California-based start-up founders to provide employees with time off on election day.

Arlington, Va.-based Distil Networks is one of these companies. CEO Rami Essaid, 33, came to America from Syria at a young age and, with early help from government technology funding, founded Distil in 2011 and has since grown it to include a few hundred employees, the Post notes.

Coming from a country that’s currently wracked by civil war and a subsequent refugee crisis, the gravity of this election isn’t lost on Essaid. He tried to impress its importance on Distil employees in an impassioned, companywide email.

“Once every couple of years, we get a chance in the U.S. that many people around the world don’t ever get the opportunity to experience,” he wrote, “and that is to choose who will represent us nationally and globally.

“ … As a Syrian-American, I can’t take the opportunity to vote for granted and I ask that you don’t either,” continued Essaid. “On election day, DO NOT come to work UNTIL you vote.”

Essaid, who in an interview with the Post declined to express support for either candidate, told the paper that Distil is also sponsoring an election day happy hour for employees showing their “I voted” stickers.

Encouraging or even incentivizing employees to vote is one thing. Trying to influence who workers choose at the ballot box is quite another, of course. Reston, Va.-based technology company Canvas is treading lightly.

According to the Post, Canvas chief executive James Quigley has given all employees the day off today, “but not before he made them check their voter registrations online, handing out mobile devices for them to do so.”

While noting that Canvas employees are generally “aware of some company leaders’ [political] leanings,” Quigley also pointed out that he hasn’t “explicitly push[ed] employees” to vote for one candidate or another.

“Clearly we live in a very blue area, and the company in general has more of those values,” Quigley told the Post. “It was clear what some members of our senior staff thought, but we tried to be soft about pushing people one way or the other.”

Women’s Disparity, Dearth in STEM

When I was 10 years old, my father put a microscope/chemistry set under our Christmas tree — not for either of my studious siblings, 538088903-women-in-sciencebut for me, the nutty little gymnastic tumbler who rarely stopped long enough to observe much of anything, let alone how the world worked.

Years later, when I asked him about it, he told me he put that there because he sensed in me the inquisitiveness and intuition of a future scientist, like he had become and his father before him.

I never lived up to his hunch, though I did love math, and I certainly chose an inquisitive career. But I’ve often wondered what stopped me. Was there something in me or my environment that never allowed that chemistry set to become more of a beacon than a toy?

A new study from the University of Washington, Why Are Some STEM Fields More Gender Balanced Than Others? suggests there well may have been, a force that persists to this day, and one that could account for the varied representation — as well as the under-representation — of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

According to the study’s report, the most powerful factor driving this disparity and dearth is a “masculine culture” that makes many women feel like they don’t belong.

Granted, the masculine force in my case was completely encouraging, but was it the rest of my world around me — the lack of female role models in scientific jobs, the other stuff I was given to play with, the general expectations of what drives women onward and our perceptions of the fields that seem so out of reach?

Lead researcher and author Sapna Cheryan, a UW associate professor of psychology, says maybe so — maybe all that and more:

“Students are basing their educational decisions in large part on their perceptions of a field. And not having early experience with what a field is really like makes it more likely that they will rely on their stereotypes about that field and who is good at it.”

She and her fellow researchers analyzed more than 1,200 papers about women’s under-representation in STEM fields and, from those, identified 10 factors that impact gender differences in students’ interest and participation in STEM. Then they winnowed the list down to the three factors most likely to explain gendered patterns in the STEM fields — a lack of pre-college experience, gender gaps in belief about one’s abilities and that most powerful one, that masculine culture that discourages women from participating.

Cheryan isn’t the only one taking the declining, diverging number of women in STEM careers seriously. On Thursday, Accenture and Girls Who Code released their joint research finding that the share of U.S. women in technology jobs will decline from 24 percent to 22 percent by 2025 — “a new low over the next 10 years, despite so much focus recently on closing the gender gap in tech,” says Accenture’s report. In the same token, it states:

“[I]nterventions to encourage girls to pursue a computer-science education could triple the number of women in computing to 3.9 million, growing their share of technology jobs from 24 percent today to 39 percent in the same time frame.”

I’ll never forget my interview a few years back with Colleen Blake, one of our 2013 HR’s Rising Stars.  At the time, she was the senior director of global people operations for San Jose, Calif.-based Brocade Communication Systems Inc.

A busy mom, but with a rich past in information technology and science, she was also passionate about encouraging women in STEM careers. Her company, in fact, realizing its own deficits in that area, asked her to be its liaison and mentor for women pursuing those fields.

As she recalls, Brocade leaders “had approached me when I returned to work [after her daughter’s birth] and said, ‘Colleen, we have this problem encouraging women in this field.’ To be tapped on the shoulder like that felt like a real sign for me, that I was meant to do this — not just for me, but for my daughter as well.”

It does kind of baffle the mind that, with so much attention to the problem and with crusaders like Blake, we’re getting worse, not better. What this means for you, I can’t pretend to know, though creating better support systems for women in tech does come to mind. Perhaps it’s best to leave you with two cogent quotes from the Accenture release. The first, from Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code:

“Despite unprecedented attention and momentum behind the push for universal computer-science education, the gender gap in computing is getting worse. The message is clear: A one-size-fits-all model won’t work. This report is a rallying cry to invest in programs and curricula designed specifically for girls. We need a new mind-set and willingness to prioritize and focus on our nation’s girls, and we need it now.”

And this, from Julie Sweet, Accenture’s group chief executive for North America:

“Dramatically increasing the number of women in computing is critical to closing the computer-science skills gap facing every business in today’s digital economy. Without action, we risk leaving a large portion of our country’s talent on the sidelines of the high-value computing jobs that are key to U.S. innovation and competitiveness.”

Couldn’t agree more.

Zenefits: Unicorn Comeback?

Remember Zenefits — the cloud-based benefits-administration startup that was going to revolutionize the industry by providing a benefits platform to small and mid-sized businesses and which was valued at $4 billion just two years after it was founded? The high-flying unicorn plummeted back to earth amid revelations that Zenefits’ co-founder and CEO, Parker Conrad, led an effort to help the company’s sales reps skip over state insurance-licensing requirements so they could start selling as soon as possible. More fuel was added to the bonfire when details started emerging about Zenefits’ rowdy office culture, in which managers had to send out a memo specifically banning employees from having sex in the building’s stairwells. The company parted ways with Conrad, laid off hundreds of employees, and cut its valuation in half in order to avoid a lawsuit by investors.

Now the company is struggling to regain its once-lofty perch, but its got robust new rivals to contend with. In today’s New York Timestechnology columnist Farhad Manjoo interviews Zenefits’ current CEO, David Sacks, about its soon-to-be-released software redesign, the internal reforms he undertook to fix the company’s culture and its new branding campaign, which include billboards throughout Silicon Valley that ask: “What is Z2?” In the wake of Conrad’s resignation, Manjoo writes, Sacks worked hard to rebuild Zenefits’ reputation by being open and honest about previous wrongdoings, describing his strategy as “admit, fix, settle and repeat.”

But Zenefits’ path to redemption faces roadblocks in the form of  new, well-funded competitors such as Gusto, which has 40,000 paying customers and was recently valued at $1 billion, Manjoo writes. Gusto has a much different corporate culture than did the earlier incarnation of Zenefits, where the philosophy had been “ready, fire, aim”: Gusto is taking a slower, more deliberate approach to building its business under the leadership of its CEO, Joshua Reeves. Its offices “has the air of a meditative retreat,” Manjoo writes, with plants, couches and a ban on wearing shoes “to make it feel more like home than work.”

Yet regardless of whether Zenefits or Gusto ultimately prevails, this heated competition for the SMB market probably means the ultimate winners will be the small to mid-sized companies that had previously been unable to afford the sort of benefits-administration software that large companies have long enjoyed. Despite the sordid behavior that marked its rise, Zenefits’ early founders at least deserve props for being one of the first to use the cloud to help this long-underserved market.

 

Being a Black Professional Woman

I’m probably wrong going into this: posting something about what it’s like to be a black woman in corporate America when I’m white.

523400310-black-professional-womanI probably don’t get extra points for being a member of a mixed-race family
either. In today’s
hypersensitive, hyper-volatile,
racially divisive
environment, I tend to shy away from my biracial nephew’s political Facebook posts and stick to our shared summer-vacation pictures, and our beautifully diverse family updates. What right have I to even “Like” something I can’t possibly know?

But I decided to post this release anyway, about a documentary airing this coming Wednesday in Oakland, Calif., Head Not The Tail Productions’ Invisible Women: Being a Black Woman in Corporate America. Not because I’m vying for any points, but because what happens to black women in or pursuing corporate careers should be something we all take seriously. And dealing with it should be all our jobs as well.

The disappointment, discrimination and rejection described by the many women in the documentary (the link above includes another link to a short teaser trailer worth watching) is often subtle, say diversity experts, as is corporate unconscious bias, which we’ve reported on on our website and here on HRE Daily.

“In conducting the research, we found the corporate practice of discrimination to be a common harsh reality faced by countless women of color,” says Melody Shere’a, HNTT Productions’ founder and CEO, and director of the film. As her release states,

“The playing field isn’t level and well-qualified black women are too frequently denied the opportunity to explore similar career-growth opportunities as their white and other female counterparts. The facts and details you will learn from this documentary will surprise you.”

Granted, most of you are nowhere near Oakland, Calif., but I imagine a call to Shere’a at the number provided in her release would prove fruitful in getting your hands on the film. It’s worth a try. You can’t improve diversity in your corporate culture if you don’t fully understand all forms of discrimination and how they’re being perceived by those on the receiving end.

For that reason, I encourage you to give this a read as well, a professional black woman’s response to a white friend of hers asking for a better understanding of white privilege. Like the documentary, this piece by Lori Lakin Hutcherson, founder and editor-in-chief of Good Black News, centers on the subtleties she has had to contend with throughout her career — including her education at Harvard University. As she details for her friend:

“When I got accepted to Harvard — as a fellow AP student, you were witness to what an academic beast I was in high school, yes? — three separate times I encountered white strangers as I prepped for my maiden trip to Cambridge that rankle to this day.

The first was the white doctor giving me a physical … .:

Me: ‘I need to send an immunization report to my college so I can matriculate.’

Doctor: ‘Where are you going?’

Me: ‘Harvard.’

Doctor: ‘You mean the one in Massachusetts?’

The second was in a store, looking for supplies I needed from Harvard’s suggested ‘what to bring with you’ list:

Store employee: ‘Where are you going?’

Me: ‘Harvard.’

Store employee: ‘You mean the one in Massachusetts?’

The third was at UPS, shipping off boxes of said ‘what to bring’ to Harvard. I was in line behind a white boy mailing boxes to Princeton and in front of a white woman sending her child’s boxes to wherever:

Woman, to the boy: ‘What college are you going to?’

Boy: ‘Princeton.’

Woman: ‘Congratulations!’

Woman, to me: ‘Where are you sending your boxes?’

Me: ‘Harvard.’

Woman: ‘You mean the one in Massachusetts?’

I think: ‘No … the one downtown next to the liquor store.’ …

The point here is, if no one has ever questioned your intellectual capabilities or attendance at an elite institution based solely on your skin color, this is white privilege [or bias, as some might say].”

A later example comes from Hutcherson’s work as a film and television writer/producer:

“While writing on a television show in my 30s, my new white male boss — who had only known me for a few days — had, unbeknownst to me, told another writer on staff he thought I was conceited, didn’t know as much as I thought I did, and didn’t have the talent I thought I had.  And what exactly had happened in those few days?  I disagreed with a pitch where he suggested our lead female character carelessly leave a pot holder on the stove and burn down her apartment. This character being a professional caterer.

“When what he said about me was revealed months later — by then he’d come to respect and rely on me — he apologized for prejudging me because I was black and female. I told him — not unkindly, but with a head shake and a smile — that he was ignorant for doing so and clearly had a lot to learn. It was a good talk because he was remorseful and open. [The subhead of her piece, by the way, is “Nobody is mad at you for being white.”]

“But the point here is, if you’ve never been on the receiving end of a boss’ prejudiced, uninformed ‘how dare she question my ideas’ badmouthing based solely on his ego and your race, you have white privilege.”

If ever there was a compelling treatise on what goes on between the races inside our buildings of business as opposed to the far-more-combustible streets below, especially over the past year, this is it.

Hutcherson’s last example, especially, should give us all pause: Perhaps the only way to shore up the divides, even at their most subtle, is to start — whether we’re the CEO, the head of HR or a direct supervisor — by admitting that certain behaviors or patterns of communication that are allowed to exist in business today are just wrong. Then start the conversation.

And then the training, if necessary.

Engaging the Talent of Tomorrow

ThinkstockPhotos-494940180Diane Gherson, CHRO at IBM Corp., laughs when she recalls the role technology played in improving the employee experience when she first joined the Armonk, N.Y.-based technology giant 14 years ago.

At that time, she says, managers received emails notifying them when team members’ birthdays were coming up, for example.

“And that was really exciting,” Gherson told the audience at this morning’s opening session at the HR Technology Conference at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

Now, she says, managers receive frequent messages with much more information on their employees. For instance, managers get notes telling them that a given employee hasn’t received recognition for his or her role in, say, a special project.

Gherson’s example was just one illustration of how technology has changed the way managers and employees do their jobs at IBM. As part of this morning’s “Engaging and Retaining the Talent of Tomorrow” panel discussion, moderated by Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist and Starfish Media Group CEO Soledad O’Brien, Gherson was one of four HR executives sharing the stage, and sharing insights into how the employee experience continues to change, and how HR is using technology to meet changing employee expectations.

Along with Dermot O’Brien, CHRO at ADP, Scott Pitasky, executive vice president and chief partner resources officer at Starbucks, and Francine Katsoudas, chief people officer at Cisco Systems, the assembled HR leaders also examined recent research findings that illuminate just how much those expectations are changing.

ADP’s recent Evolution of Work study found, for example, that 58 percent of workers saying they believe that traditional hierarchical structures in the workplace will soon be a thing of the past. The survey also found 95 percent of employees saying they believe they will soon be able to work from anywhere.

The number of workers who anticipate working where and when they choose presents opportunities as well as challenges, says Katsoudas.

At Cisco, “we believe in a concept that everything good happens in teams,” Katsoudas told the audience.

That said, teams can still thrive while working in disparate locations, she adds. Katsoudas and the Cisco HR team has focused on helping managers “really connect with their team members, and really connect them with the strengths of their individual team members.”

For example, managers rely on the company’s talent management platform to check in to see how their team members are progressing on a given project or task, and tweak their roles if need be. Managers can also send brief surveys to their direct reports, to get a feel for the level of engagement throughout their teams, and solicit suggestions on how to improve the employee experience.

As how, when and where employees work continues to change, “technology can actually reconnect us to the workforce,” says ADP’s O’Brien.

And, “it provides us with enough data,” adds Gherson, “to help us find ways to make the employee experience better.”