Posts belonging to Category diversity



Study: Diversity Not So Good for Creativity

After all the positive press that diversity in the workplace has been getting over the years, including here at HRE, a surprising study published in a recent issue of the Academy of Management Journal presenting an actual negative caught my eye.

dv496065aConducted by Prof. Roy Y.J. Chua of the Harvard Business School, it suggests — make that shows — that creativity in multicultural settings is highly vulnerable to what Chua calls “ambient cultural disharmony.”

In three distinct studies, the overall research finds that the presence of conflict or tension between two people of different cultures — whether the cause of strife is culturally based or simply due to personal antipathy — diminishes the ability of others to think creatively in multicultural ways, according to the research report. The paper, “The Costs of Ambient Cultural Disharmony: Indirect Intercultural Conflict in Social Environment Undermine Creativity” (subscription/registration required), appears in the December/January issue of AMJ.

“Creativity is not necessarily about producing a completely new idea or product that never existed before [but] oftentimes involves combining existing ideas in new ways that are useful toward solving practical problems,” Chua says. “To solve problems creatively in a global multicultural context, problem-solvers need to first see non-obvious connections among ideas from different cultures … . Ambient cultural disharmony motivates people to shut down the search for connections and patterns involving ideas from different cultures because they have come to believe that such intercultural connections are not feasible.”

How much of a problem could this be, going forward, in the global marketplace?

“It’s not clear how serious a problem this is,” Chua says, “since this is the first work to show creativity loss resulting from ambient cultural disharmony. Yet, the fact that intercultural conflict affects so many more people than those directly involved [a key finding of the research] and diminishes something as critical to organizational success as creativity suggests that what this research has uncovered is more than a minor drawback of diversity.”

The G Quotient: Why Gay Executives Excel

I was intrigued to find a book review in an academic journal about a study that was done all the way back in 2006 on the dearth of gay executives in corporate America. Intrigued on two 454213821 -- Letter Gcounts actually: 1) that I had never heard of this study and 2) that the review was appearing so long after it was conducted and published. Well, it turns out, the answers to both are kind of interrelated.

The very title of the study, and book , by Kirk Snyder, a professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, says a lot — The G Quotient: Why Gay Executives are Excelling as Leaders … and What Every Manager Needs to Know. The findings are also substantive and compelling: As Snyder was studying employee engagement, he noticed that employees of gay executives often had higher levels of job satisfaction than employees of other leaders.

“What he noticed was a connection between some characteristics of gay male executives and what were considered desirable [business leadership] principles, including diversity, creativity and emotional intelligence,” writes Irene F. Stein, an associate core faculty member at the University of the Rockies, in her book review (same title as the book) that appeared in the November 2013 issue of the Journal of Psychological Issues in Organizational Culture.

Snyder then explains the reasons he thinks many gay executives operate naturally under what he has named the “G Quotient” — seven principles of leadership he found he could actually measure using a simple assessment: inclusion, creativity, adaptability, connectivity, communication, intuition and collaboration.

“Much of the connection [between gay business leaders and these seven principles] stems from growing up knowing they are different, and having to adapt to the realities of their environment to feel safe,” Stein writes. “Consequently, gay men develop three fundamental learned skills — adaptability, intuitive communication and creative problem solving — skills that are often demonstrated by gay executives.” Not to mention effective leaders.

So why did Kenneth Sherman, editor-in-chief of JPIOC, assign this fascinating book review to Stein some eight years after Snyder’s study and book publication? Because, as he told me when I called him, too few people have heard about it (myself included). More importantly, at the time it was written, no Fortune 500 CEOs were openly gay and “I still haven’t heard of a single CEO coming out since.”

So does Sherman think corporate America actually needs this infusion? Well, yes, he does. But it goes beyond simply being gay. He says the real message here for employers and HR leaders is that gay business leaders’ effective leadership skills come from the ways in which “they developed their own pathways of adult development and [the fact that] the things they may have encountered at various stages of their lives have predisposed them to certain sensitivities that aren’t really negative things, but positive things.”

If more top business leaders would “simply go around the room” at the next staff or business — or even executive-leadership — meeting and “hear their people’s stories about the challenges of their lives and the things they have rebounded from and now champion,” he says, “the business world would be less rigid,” and all employees would be more engaged and satisfied.

“And guess what,” he says, “companies are going through difficult and strenuous times too.” In other words, he explains, the dialogue could go both ways and workforces would be connected and more productive in ways we can only imagine at this point. “Change,” he says, “comes in small increments.”

I called Stein, too, just to get her take. She says she agrees with Snyder “that the more we can accept everyone’s perspective, including gender identification, the better it will be for business.”

To her, she says, “it’s really the same kind of thing with what women can bring to the workplace … kind of having a more holistic view of employees [and business leaders] and wanting them to bring their whole selves” to work.

I guess considering Stein’s point about women, Sherman’s “small-increments” reference makes sense. Look how long it’s taken us to fully incorporate women into the workplace. And we’re still not there yet, not in terms of pay equity, executive ranks, board representation … or, yes indeed, female CEOs.

 

Religious-Discrimination Claims Rising

Muslim woman at workAccording to a recent Wall Street Journal piece, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 3,811 religious discrimination complaints last year.

While this number represents a dip from the record 4,151 religious-discrimination claims brought to the EEOC in 2011, the article notes that religion-based complaints have more than doubled in the past 15 years, and are growing at “a faster clip” than claims involving race, age, sex or disability, for example.

Part of this uptick “comes from employees—Muslims, Christians, Seventh-Day Adventists and others—who were denied requests to avoid work on Sabbath days,” according to the article. “Conflicts have also erupted over workers’ appearance, particularly in jobs requiring uniforms, involving food preparation and in image-focused fashion retailing.”

In September, for instance, New Albany, Ohio-based clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch settled EEOC lawsuits involving two Muslim women and their hijabs, the veils typically worn to cover the head and chest of Muslim females. In one case, former employee Umme-Hani Khan said she was fired after an A & F manager said her hijab violated the company’s “Look Policy” dress code. The other suit alleged Abercrombie refused to hire an applicant who wore a hijab. Per the settlement, the retailer will inform applicants that exceptions to its “Look Policy” may be available, and must also regularly review its religious accommodation decisions and report to the EEOC twice annually.

Also in September, the EEOC sued Canonsburg, Pa.-based Consol Energy Inc., alleging the company pushed a long-time employee to retire after he objected to using a new biometric hand scanning device that tracks employee time and attendance. According to the claim, the employee repeatedly told mine officials that submitting to a biometric hand scanner violated his beliefs as an Evangelical Christian, and wrote a letter explaining the relationship between hand-scanning technology and the Mark of the Beast discussed in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament.

Earlier this year, the EEOC filed a suit charging that Star Transport Inc. refused to provide two employees with an accommodation of their religious beliefs when it terminated their employment because they refused to deliver alcohol.

Despite the growing number of religious discrimination complaints being brought to the EEOC, it remains a small number that actually reach the litigation stage. In fact, the EEOC filed nine religion-based lawsuits in fiscal year 2012, a drop from 15 in 2011 and 24 in 2010.

Still, settlements of religious discrimination claims such as those leveled against Abercrombie & Fitch often oblige companies to provide training and meet other requirements, as seen in Abercrombie & Fitch’s case. Other organizations may be wise to take note, as these settlements should serve “as a teaching example for other employers,” Jeanne Goldberg, senior attorney advisor with the EEOC, told the Wall Street Journal.

Getting White Men to Open Up

diversityDiversity initiatives tend to — fairly or unfairly — have a bad rap among white males in the workplace. Many worry these programs serve nothing more than to paint a big “X” on their backs as insensitive oppressors, while others just consider them a waste of time.

(Editor’s note: A new survey from Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion finds 50 percent of straight, white male respondents report “hiding their authentic selves on the job.”)

But with the nation’s workplaces growing ever-more diverse, yet many women and minorities nonetheless reporting they still feel excluded (although a recent story by my colleague Kristen Frasch appears to rebut some of this), HR clearly isn’t serving the organization’s best interests by choosing to simply do nothing.

Catalyst suggests talking things out. The New York-based womens-advocacy group just released its latest report detailing a major initiative going on at technology giant Rockwell Automation. The company is working to help its North American sales group — which consists mostly of white males — build a more inclusive workplace. As part of the effort, more than 700 managers and 2,700 non-managerial employees throughout the organization took part in training (conducted by White Men as Full Diversity Partners) designed to help them become better, more empathetic listeners and handle potentially difficult, emotionally charged issues. After the training, Catalyst reports, employees said they felt they could have more honest discussions about discrimination “without worrying they’d be treated negatively.”

Here are some samples of what the employees who took part in the training told Catalyst:

[There was an instance where] front-line employees … squelched a conversation that was happening and they supported each other and said this is not where we want to go. They cut it off. –Peter

We could now have these conversations, and it would not change the way you were treated in the workplace (in a negative way). –Tom

[The client was making] off-color jokes, and my manager pulled it right back in. He felt very confident and comfortable about pulling that conversation back in without offending the customer or the distributor. –Elisa

 

Catalyst’s latest report is a follow-up to a report it released last year titled Calling All White Men: Can Training Help Create Inclusive Workplaces?, which also chronicled the work being done at Rockwell Automation (We reported on the findings here).  The organization lists some of the take-aways from the training in its latest report, which include: dialogue is essential for inclusion — but it needs to be taught; talk leads to action — as long as it’s the right kind of talk; and, inclusive behaviors have a ripple effect outside the company. Finally: conversations must continue for lasting change.

Disabled Shouldn’t Mean ‘Unemployed’

“Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision.” That’s a quote from Stevie Wonder, who didn’t let lifelong blindness stop him from becoming one of the most successful pop musicians in the world. However, given that his fellow disabled Americans currently have a labor force participation rate of only 20 percent (compared to 70 percent for non-disabled Americans) and an unemployment rate of 14 percent (compared to 7.6 percent for their non-disabled counterparts), it’s a good bet that there’s a lot of talent going to waste due to a lack of outreach and accommodation by companies that may never know what they’re missing out on. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is trying to change this via its partnership with the U.S. Business Leadership Network to highlight “inclusion practices related to disability employment.”

Last week, the two organizations hosted their second annual disability summit, which highlighted companies that can serve as models for the rest of the business community for their efforts in attracting and retaining disabled employees. “Leveraging the skills, talents and experience of workers with disabilities is not only essential to our workforce competitiveness, but it’s also the right thing to do,” said Chamber CEO Thomas J. Donohue, in announcing a new report (titled Leading Practices in Disability Inclusion) that summarizes what those companies are doing.

The report doesn’t contain anything truly groundbreaking, but it does serve as a good reminder of the importance of reaching out to organizations that work with disabled people to ensure they know about job opportunities and the resources available to help them succeed in those jobs. The companies profiled include Florida Blue, Florida’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurer, which since 2006 has participated in Disability Mentoring Day. During the event, disabled participants are paired with a mentor to experience a “day in the life” of working at the insurer and are then matched with recruiters who provide them with career advice to assist them in their job search. Florida Blue also provides various internship programs for people with disabilities and tries to help its non-disabled employees understand what it’s like for their disabled counterparts via a voluntary program where they experience having a disability in a simulated work environment.

IBM, meanwhile, partners with the American Association for the Advancement of Science to provide internships and full-time job opportunities for the disabled and provides its recruiters, employees and managers with disability awareness training. It also provides consulting services to other companies that seek to “integrate accessibility solutions” into their corporate activities. Microsoft, like many of the companies profiled, offers an employee resource group that serves disabled employees as well as the parents of disabled children. The technology company also developed a “disability tool kit” for its recruiters to ensure they engage in effective and respectful communication when working with disabled job candidates. Here at HRE, we’ll also be focusing on disability in the workplace with a three-part series beginning with our November issue that will profile companies that are standouts for going the extra mile to reach out to disabled workers.

Remembering a Force in Diversity

I heard yesterday morning the sad news of the passing of Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr., who is often (appropriately, I might add) referred to as the “father of diversity.”

I first remember hearing Roosevelt speak at a Society for Human Resource Management conference I attended years ago.  At the time, I thought to myself, “Here’s someone I better add to my Rolodex.” (That should give you a sense of how long ago it was.)  Since then, Roosevelt has become a fixture on my must-call list whenever I need a fresh, independent perspective on topics related to diversity and inclusion.

Color Photo of Dr. ThomasFrom a journalist’s perspective, Roosevelt was a first-rate source. He was passionate about the work he did. What’s more, he never held back in telling you what he really thought.

In our June 2 edition of HRE, which is on the way to the printer, we’re publishing just the latest example of this. In response to a disturbing study on the lack of progress that’s been made on the workplace desegregation front since the passage of the Civil Rights Act study (Documenting Desegregation: Racial and Gender Segregation in Private-Sector Employment Since the Civil Rights Act), he authored an opinion piece for us on the “shamming of diversity.” In it, he lays out, in blunt fashion, how this “sham” came to be and what businesses ought to be doing about it.  (The piece will be posted on our website and featured in print in early June.)

Truth be told, Roosevelt’s wheels were always turning. (We exchanged emails as recently as last week on the latest project he was working on.)  When it came to sharing his perspective, he was as generous as they come.

To be sure, Roosevelt’s impact on the business world is very well documented. He was elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources, has been recognized by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top 10 consultants in the country, was awarded the “Distinguished Contribution to Human Resources Development” Award by the American Society of Training and Development, and was named to HRE’s list of “HR’s Most Influential People.”

But at the risk of this brief tribute sounding a bit like a eulogy, I think his most lasting legacy will probably be best reflected in those he’s been able to touch and influence over the years. I feel privileged to be among them.

Rewards, Referrals and Raises

All’s fair in love and recruitment.

Robert Mellwig, SVP, Really Cool People, Destination Hotels & Resorts/Lowe Enterprises, offered no apologies for his company’s “shameless” search function, external referral program and other outreach efforts.

124322561Mellwig was part of a panel that offered a variety of tips to HR professionals at the HR in Hospitality® Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.  Other panel members included Dina Barmasse-Gray, SVP, HR, Cheesecake Factory; Rebecca Henry, VP, People Services, Allegiant Travel Co., and Diane Turek-Pire, SVP, HR, Wyndham Hotel Group. Bruce Tracey, associate professor, school of hotel administration, Cornell University, moderated the panel.

Members had plenty to say about how their HR function operated. Henry explained that HR contacts its alumni group (former employees) several times a year for referrals, connects its HR system with its ticketing system to drive efficiency and spends 80 percent of its efforts on the top 20 percent of the company’s highest performers. Barmasse-Gray discussed the company’s video café, featuring employee videos addressing work tips, and how diversity is never taken for granted but is no longer a “top strategic imperative”. Turek-Pire mentioned a move from individual toward constellation or team awards and that HR was shifting its focus from employee engagement to trust, which builds loyalty.

Surprisingly, no one seemed concerned over Obamacare. Henry said the biggest needle-mover was getting spouses or adult children involved in healthcare. “People have the highest level of dissatisfaction when they don’t understand how it works,” she said.

Mellwig appeared to be the rebel of the group. He said HR awards employees for their contributions, not tenure, and ignores routine raises. “We believe in wild (salary) swings that are performance-driven.  It creates controversy but we get better results.”

Taking Aim at Pharma, Again

It’s been roughly three years since we reported that East Hanover, N.J.-based Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp., the U.S. arm of the Swiss drug maker, had been fined $250 million in punitive damages. It ultimately agreed to pay $152 million.

We mentioned at the time that the jury verdict served as a reminder of the very steep price companies can pay if they’re on the losing end of one of these class-actions.

Glass CeilingOf course, that was prior to the Supreme Court’s Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes decision, which made it a lot more difficult to certify class actions.

Well, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the Novartis case, Sanford Heisler LLP, are back, this time announcing a class-action case against Tokyo-based Daiichi Sankyo, in which six current and former female representatives are alleging discrimination.

In the complaint, the plantiffs’ attorneys allege that …

Daiichi Sankyo pays female sales employees less than male employees for doing the same work; promotes or advances female sales employees at a slower rate than male sales employees; treats pregnant employees and working mothers of young children adversely compared to non-pregnant employees, male employees, or non-caregivers; and subjects women to other discriminatory terms and conditions of employment.

And that …

 … a discrete group of predominantly male Daiichi executives and senior sales managers keep a tight rein on employment decisions, including decisions regarding sales employees’ compensation, advancement, and other terms and conditions of employment. Through this male-dominated leadership structure, the company has approved and implemented policies, practices and decisions that have systemically discriminated against female employees.

Several reporters were told by the company via email that it does not comment on pending litigation and “complies with all laws regarding equal opportunity and non-discrimination.”

I spoke to Tom Lewis, shareholder and chair of the Employment Litigation Group at Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville, N.J., to get his thoughts on the action.

Lewis predicts that the plaintiff’s attorneys will likely put “front and center” the fact that the firm is Japanese … that “a Japanese company wouldn’t treat its female employees as well as an American company would.”

“But let’s remember,” he adds, “that a class-action lawsuit like this has to be proven”—and that may not be easy.

Lewis notes that he’s represented many foreign-owned companies and his experience is that they “often go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that, culturally, they’re complying with the laws of this country.”

He also suggests it makes perfect sense that the plantiff’s attorneys would select San Francisco to file the suit in, since the employment laws in California are much more employee-friendly.

We’ll have to watch and see how this case eventually plays out. But this much is certain: The plaintiffs in this case will have a tougher hill to climb in gaining class-action status.

EU Gender-Quota Proposal Creates Quite the Stir

It appears agreeing on a proposal to require company boards in the European Union to be made up of at least 40 percent women is a bit dicier than some thought.

At least that’s what’s implied by Viviane Reding’s comments in this New York Times report about the European Commission postponing its decision on the proposal due to tough opposition and concerns over its legality. The proposal was initially scheduled for a ruling Oct. 23 and will now come up for discussion again on Nov. 14. (Here’s an earlier Times story that provides more background on the proposal.)

As Reding, the European commissioner for justice, said in the Oct. 23 piece, the figure being considered ”is still 40 percent. But the way to arrive there has been looked at in a different way.”

The debate ”was very intense,” she said, explaining that the discussion on the legality of any quota was one reason the meeting that day in Strasbourg, France took the several hours that it did. No doubt other reasons included Reding’s proposed penalities and sanctions that companies and organizations would face if they failed to improve their boards’ female representation.

According to the story, the issue has divided the European Union, with Britain leading the countries that regard the proposed rule as counterproductive and unworkable. Other countries taking that view include The Netherlands, Malta, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Bulgaria.

I went searching for the latest rundown on where all countries — including the United States — stand on female representation on boards of directors. Not a whole lot out there, but I did find this paper (free download included) by University of Pittsburgh School of Law professor Douglas M. Branson, An Australian Perspective on a Global Phenomenon: Initiatives to Place Women on Corporate Boards of Directors. According to his report on research he did:

The statistics indicating the representation of women on corporate boards vary widely from country to country. Norway, which passed its controversial quota law in 2003, in effect mandates that 40 percent of a public company’s directors be women by 2008, a goal which has been achieved.

According to Catalyst Inc. [a New York-based organization promoting inclusive workplaces], in the United States, the proportion of women on boards of large, publicly held companies stands at 16.1 percent, but with the proportion stagnant from 2004 onward. Portugal has the fewest females on corporate boards of publicly held corporations, accounting for just 6 percent.

Overall, the 2010 European average was 11.7 percent but, again, the numbers varied widely. After Norway, the highest five were: Sweden (28.2 percent), Finland (26 percent), Netherlands (20.9 percent), Denmark (14 percent), and the United Kingdom (11.5 percent). Besides Portugal, the laggards included Italy (3.6 percent), Luxembourg (6 percent) and Germany (7 percent).

Two years [2010 to 2012] have seen significant change, to between 13 percent and 14 percent. France, which adopted a quota law early in 2011, is thought to be responsible for half or more of the EU increase, with the percentage of women directors increasing from 12 percent to 24 percent in 14 months.

On the Pacific Rim, Australia leads among the countries from which statistics are available, with 13.8 percent. New Zealand follows with approximately 10 percent. Others in the queue include Hong Kong (8.9 percent) and Peoples Republic of China (7.2 percent). The caboose is Japan (1.4 percent).

Not sure where I stand on all this. Not sure quotas ever really improve the overall makeups of organizations or countries. My guess, though – having not been invited to that fiery Oct. 23 meeting – is that the lower-scoring entities “may protest [the most], methinks,” to (sort of) quote Shakespeare.

 

 

Diversity and Retirement Savings

A new report from Vanguard shows that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to take loans and hardship withdrawals from their 401(k)s than whites and Asians — but all of those groups borrow roughly the same amount. 

The report — Diversity and Defined Contribution Plans: Loans and hardship Withdrawals — states “there was no meaningful difference in 12-month loan default rates among groups. This higher incidence of loans among blacks and Hispanics occurs after controlling for income, account balance, and other demographic differences.”

The implications of such activity, according to Vanguard, is:

Loans and hardship withdrawals offer participants pre-retirement liquidity from DC plan savings, and are thought to increase plan participation and contribution rates. Our findings suggest that blacks and Hispanics disproportionately make use of these features, although the fraction of account wealth “at risk” among individual black and Hispanic participants is not meaningfully higher.

These findings may also reflect other unobservable characteristics, such as differences in financial literacy, trust in financial institutions, or constrained access to credit outside the plan.

For sponsors concerned about participants borrowing from retirement savings, one plan design strategy is to consider limiting participants to one loan outstanding and/or other modest borrowing restrictions. This strategy appears to reduce borrowing levels across all participants and all racial and ethnic groups.

Personally, while I understand employers are concerned about workers saving enough for retirement — and it certainly is a totally valid concern – I think it oversteps the boundaries for any employer to limit the availability of an individual’s own money when he or she may be in dire straits pre-retirement.

And if the worker is raiding their retirement savings to foolishly waste his or money now, that’s the individual’s choice. It’s a choice with consequences — and employers should attempt to increase financial literacy efforts — but I don’t believe most workers will be willing to cede control over their own funds.

And I wonder what the impact would be on participation in defined-contribution plans should that occur. That’s another choice with potential consequences.

The study looked at 2010 data for nearly 250,000 participants in seven large defined-contribution plans.