Category Archives: gender diversity

Diversity Memo Causes a Stir

The tech world is chattering today about a widely circulated internal memo from a male software engineer unhappy with Google’s diversity practices.

Posted in full over the weekend by tech-oriented websites Motherboard and Gizmodo, the memo argues that innate biological differences between men and women account for underrepresentation of women in the upper reaches of the industry.

“I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ, in part due to biological causes, and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership,” the memo reads.

The engineer also argues that Google’s diversity practices amount to a politically liberal orthodoxy “that can irreparably harm Google.”

In response to the memo, which drew a harsh response from some Googlers on Twitter, the company’s vice president of diversity, integrity and governance offered a memo of her own. Danielle Brown had been on the job just a few weeks when the controversy erupted.

“Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate,” she writes. “We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul.”

Addressing the complaint about what the engineer perceived to be a pervasive liberal ideology at Google, Brown writes: “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”

(By Tuesday, word emerged that Google had fired the engineer for violating its code of conduct.)

Keeping a Distance Between Genders

If you believe the findings of a recent survey, conference rooms at the average company look like the gym at a typical middle school dance: boys on one side and girls on the other.

All jokes aside though, the results of a new poll conducted for the New York Times paint a picture of modern workplace dynamics that should be a bit unsettling.

For example, the survey of 5,282 adults asked respondents whether it was proper to take part in a variety of activities—enjoying a drink or a meal, driving in a car—alone with someone of the opposite sex who was not their spouse.

With respect to the workplace, 25 percent of women said having a one-on-one work meeting with a man would be inappropriate. Twenty-two percent of men said the same about private meetings with female colleagues. Overall, close to two-thirds of respondents said employees “should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work,” according to the Times.

In interviews conducted with survey respondents, some depicted the workplace as a “fraught atmosphere in which they feared harassment, or being accused of it,” the Times reports.

At first blush, it might be startling to think that roughly one quarter of employees feel this way. But consider recent developments at companies such as Uber and Fox News, for example. One can certainly hope that organizations like these are outliers; exceptions rather than the rule. But the headlines are inescapable, and the specter of sexual harassment looms a bit larger than usual at the moment. And some employees are apparently nervous about how their private interactions with colleagues of the opposite sex—however harmless they might be—could be perceived.

Count construction worker Christopher Mauldin among the apprehensive.

“When a man and woman are left alone, outside parties can insinuate about what’s really going on,” Mauldin told the Times. “Sometimes false accusations create irreversible damages to reputations.”

Without a doubt, those on the wrong end of unfounded harassment allegations can pay a steep price. As do victims of actual sexual harassment.

Just ask Kathleen Raven, a science writer in the office of communications at Yale School of Medicine.

While telling the Times that she “considers herself to be progressive in many ways,” Raven says she no longer conducts closed-door or offsite meetings alone with men, because she has been sexually harassed in the past. Raven also says that she “tries to avoid being too friendly, to ensure she doesn’t give the wrong impression.”

Hannah Stackawitz, on the other hand, can’t imagine a professional life that doesn’t include taking solo meetings with men.

“I do it every day, honestly,” the Langhorne, Pa.-based healthcare consultant told the paper, adding that her husband has frequent one-on-one meetings with women as part of his job.

Employers and HR have a duty to ensure that male and female colleagues feel this comfortable working with each other.

However, not a lot of companies have been able to do so, according to Kim Elsesser, author of Sex and the Office: Women, Men and the Sex Partition That’s Dividing the Workplace.

“Organizations are so concerned with their legal liabilities, but nobody’s really focused on how to reduce harassment and at the same time teach men and women to have working relationships with the opposite sex,” Elsesser told the Times.

This recent New York Times poll suggests that the problem Elsesser describes is a very real one. Stackawitz makes a very simple case for why fixing it is important.

“There’s no way that women or men can become their full and best selves,” she said in the Times piece, “by closing themselves off.”

Uber’s Sex-Harassment Inquiry

In case you missed it over the long holiday weekend, there’s plenty of trouble brewing over at ride-share app Uber.

It’s now so serious that the company hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether the company has appropriately addressed discrimination and harassment claims made by female workers.

The investigation comes after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti posted her story on Sunday, detailing her experiences enduring sex harassment at the hands of her direct manager, as well as the stonewalling she says she was subjected to by the company’s HR and leadership after she repeatedly brought the claims to their attention.

According to Fowler Rigetti:

On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with.

It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.

Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on – unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently.

After receiving less-than-enthusiastic support from HR, she describes how she came to know other women at Uber who had experienced the same harassment and subsequent stonewalling, and how those women decided to use a strength-in-numbers approach to alert HR to the seriousness of the ongoing issue:

Myself and a few of the women who had reported him in the past decided to all schedule meetings with HR to insist that something be done. In my meeting, the rep I spoke with told me that he had never been reported before, he had only ever committed one offense (in his chats with me), and that none of the other women who they met with had anything bad to say about him, so no further action could or would be taken. It was such a blatant lie that there was really nothing I could do. There was nothing any of us could do. We all gave up on Uber HR and our managers after that. Eventually he “left” the company. I don’t know what he did that finally convinced them to fire him.

After the story initially broke, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick tweeted that the behavior mentioned in the post was “abhorrent & against everything we believe in. Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.”

Hiring someone like Eric Holder will definitely add credence to an investigation that had previously looked paper-thin. And while only time will tell if Holder uncovers any more stories like Fowler’s, I get the feeling this sordid story isn’t over by a long shot.

Language Matters in Job Listings

In the New York Times this week, Claire Cain Miller wonders why more unemployed men aren’t going after jobs in the industries that are growing the most, such as healthcare.

One key reason behind “one of the biggest economic riddles today,” she writes, is that “these so-called pink-collar jobs are mostly done by women, and that turns off some men.”

Seattle-based software provider Textio recently dug a bit deeper into this conundrum, examining the terminology used in listings for the 14 fastest-growing jobs between the years 2014 and 2024. Their analysis found the way the descriptions of these roles are worded has led to an overabundance of unemployed men and plenty of jobs going unfilled at least partly because they’re perceived as being “women’s work.”

I’ll stop here to point out that the software Textio provides is designed to, in the company’s own words, “optimize job listings for more qualified and diverse applicants.” And, I’m not exactly sure how Textio is defining terms used in job listings as being “masculine” or “feminine.”

All that said, they found some interesting evidence to support the idea that language matters in job listings.

In its analysis, Textio found that the descriptions for these quickly-growing positions “used feminine language, which has been statistically shown to attract women and deter men,” according to the Times.

Consider home health aides, the number of which is projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to grow by 38 percent by the year 2024.

Currently, females hold 89 percent of these positions, according to the BLS. The job listings for home health aides—which Textio found to be the most “feminine”-sounding—commonly contain key words such as “sympathetic,” “care,” “fosters,” “empathy” and “families,” and are more appealing to female applicants, according to Textio’s analysis. Textio found the job descriptions and requirements for many other predominately female-held roles—nurse practitioner, genetic counselor and physician assistant, for instance—frequently include similar key words and phrases.

On the other hand are cartographers, who find themselves in “one of the few fast-growing jobs that is male-dominated,” according to the Times, noting that cartographer jobs are expected to increase by 29 percent in the next seven years. (Men currently represent 62 percent of the profession.) In evaluating the wording typically used to advertise these jobs, Textio found “masculine” terms like “manage,” “forces,” exceptional,” “proven” and “superior” were often thrown around.

But health aides need to be “exceptional” and “proven” too, writes Cain Miller, adding that the reverse is not automatically true.

“Cartographers don’t necessarily need to be ‘sympathetic’ or ‘focused on families’ to excel,” she says. “That might be one reason that women have historically entered male-dominated professions, like law or management, more than men have entered female-dominated ones, like teaching or nursing.”

As Cain Miller points out, some healthcare employers have tried to use more manly language in an effort to reverse this trend, “like talking about the ‘adrenaline rush’ of being an operating room nurse.” Rather than rewriting “feminine” job descriptions in hopes of appealing to male candidates, or vice versa, Textio suggests using more gender-neutral lingo.

The latter approach is more effective, according to Textio, which says replacing words such as “world-class” and “rock star” with terms like “premier” and “extraordinary” improved the candidate pool for a software developer position, for example. Textio also claims that more gender-neutral wording enables employers to fill jobs 14 days faster in comparison to posts with a gender bias, in addition to attracting a more diverse collection of applicants.

That makes sense. And, while the Textio analysis focuses primarily on the healthcare sector, it’s probably safe to say that taking this kind of tack could deepen the candidate pool in any number of industries—at a time when finding the necessary talent is becoming more and more difficult.

Trump Win Good for Biz Women??

Not one for post-election posting here, but this LinkedIn piece by Sallie Krawcheck caught my eye. As a woman watching and dv496065aweathering the campaign, and now the transition to a Trump presidency, I wanted to make sure as many women — and men — as possible saw it too.

Her premise that “Donald Trump as president of the United States could just be the best thing that has happened to professional women in a long time … huh? what?” is right in Krawcheck’s wheelhouse. She’s the CEO of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women; chair of Ellevate Network, a global professional women’s network; and author of Own It: The Power of Women at Work, to be released in January. As she puts it,

“We’re awake now. That’s because it’s all out in the open: the Billy Bush conversation, the recent New York Times OpEd on “bro talk on Wall Street,” even the light sentence for Brock Turner.  And while as a mother and an aunt, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it that we haven’t made more progress for younger women, this does represent an odd form of forward motion: We can’t really deal with an issue until we fully understand the issue.”

It’s a compelling piece and worth the read, whatever your gender or persuasion, political or otherwise. This new Trump era, ushered in by stepped-up conversations about the treatment of women, comes with “some proof that we can’t rely on others to fight this battle for us, and so we must redouble our efforts,” Krawcheck says. “… I’m hearing from more and more women that we must ‘put on our big-girl pants’ and do this ourselves..”

And it’s not like women don’t have the resources, she adds. “[W]e control $5 trillion of investable assets, we direct 80 percent of consumer spending, we’re more than half of the workforce. We’ve got a lot of power.”

Krawcheck’s list of what to do to claim and use that power is impressively detailed, and long. Just some of her many suggestions — some we’ve heard and written about, some we haven’t — include mentoring and sponsoring other women, amplifying what other women say in meetings, pointing out to others when they interrupt other women or ignore them in meetings, pointing out when the words they use to compliment men (“aggressive” or “go-getter”) are used to put down women and refusing to work at the company that doesn’t “get it” on making the work environment one in which you can be successful.

She also bangs the political drum some, post-election, suggesting women start donating to female candidates whose views line up with theirs, and start running for office and encourage other women to run for office.

And the financial-independence drum:

“[D]oing all that we can to be in financial control feels more important today than it did [before the election]. It’s important that we break the old gender norms of ‘the man manages the money; I manage the household.’ That leaves us retiring with two-thirds the money of men … but living five-plus years longer than they do. …

“[P]lease get yourself a financial plan and invest.”

All politics and election furor aside, Krawcheck gave me some serious things to think about. If any of this gets you thinking about new approaches to help the women in your organization claim their power and succeed, then all the better.

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.

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.

Gender Parity: Lead the Way, HR

For a study to find that women are underrepresented at the chief-executive level is not at all surprising. That much we already knew.

New research from Korn Ferry provides more evidence of the disparity between men and women in the executive ranks. The same study, however, finds one segment of the C-suite where something resembling gender parity may actually exist: HR.

Overall, the Los Angeles-based people and organizational advisory firm’s analysis found just 5 percent of the CEOs at the top 1,000 U.S. companies by revenue were women; a percentage that remains flat from 2015.

By industry, the highest percentage of female CEOs can be found in the consumer sector (9 percent), followed by energy (6 percent), financial and technology (both 5 percent), industrial (4 percent) and life sciences (less than 1 percent).

The numbers aren’t much higher throughout the C-suite. For instance, just 12 percent of CFOs across industries are women, while 19 percent of women occupy the chief information officer’s seat, and 29 percent of chief marketing officers at the top 1,000 revenue-generating companies are female.

You get the idea. There aren’t a lot of women holding the top spots within the top organizations. Except in HR, where 55 percent of CHROs are women, according to the Korn Ferry study.

“In our research, we find that women rank higher on key competencies needed in the CHRO role, such as collaboration and negotiation skills, the ability to balance multiple constituencies and an appreciation for the dynamics of the overall business,” says Joseph McCabe, vice chairman in Korn Ferry’s Global Human Resources Center of Expertise, in a press release highlighting the firm’s recent C-suite analysis.

“Interestingly, other Korn Ferry research shows a distinct correlation between CEO and CHRO competencies, but women are still not making it to the very top spot at the rate they should.”

In the same statement, Peggy Hazard laments the glacial pace of progress on this front.

“Study after study shows that diverse senior teams provide better corporate results,” says Hazard, managing principal at Korn Ferry. “Having more women at the top is a priority for our clients. However, the needle is not moving as quickly as any of us would like to see.”

A collaborative effort will be required to get things moving more briskly in the right direction, in HR and elsewhere, she says.

“In every industry we analyzed, there’s a tremendous need for improvement to bring more women to the C-suite. This is a joint responsibility of the women to seek out experiences and development that can help them lead and succeed, and for organizations to create an environment where women feel empowered to progress in their careers at all levels.”

Setting a Strategy for Transgender Employees

Transitioning transgender employees. It’s a conundrum. And there’s a whole lot to consider. Such was the message Tuesday at the annual ThinkstockPhotos-531246420SHRM conference, in a workshop titled “Intel’s Strategy to Support Transgender Employees.”

Speaking were Eva Breslin, HR legal representative for Intel Corp. in Rio Rancho, N.M., and Keith Epstein, HR legal representative in the company’s Hillsboro, Ore., office.

In careful, thorough detail, they laid out all the impacts and ramifications Intel faced, which led to a comprehensive transgender strategy the company set in stone a couple years ago. After one male employee came running to Intel’s HR department complaining that a (transgendered) female was using the men’s room … it had to be done, they said.

Presenting three of their own Intel case studies — a female-identifying male who wanted to send out his transition story in a detailed email, a devout Christian who came to HR deeply hurt and offended by one employee’s change, and a transitioning male-to-female who was ready to leave work Friday and show up Monday as a woman — they discussed what went into Intel’s response to each in hopes it might help other employers (and audience members) facing similar challenges.

In those three cases, considerations included, respectively, the potential dissemination of personal medical information in the email that had to be thwarted and reworked, the need to fully explain and perhaps  enforce the new policy to the religious employee, and the need to step back and develop a cogent transition plan that would last far more than one weekend.

“How you deal with this is extremely important, and can save considerable time and expense,” said Epstein. Before the Intel strategy was adopted, for instance, “every time people were coming to us with a problem or concern, we had to start anew” with discussions and a plan, he said.

So the company established a team that included business HR, HR legal, members of the transgender community and others to put everything in writing, and on the company website.

From that point forward, all employees have been free to use whichever bathroom they prefer, in keeping with the gender they identify with. The company’s values and guidelines in the handling of benefits, name changes, back-office document changes and every other change that must be made are all laid out in black and white for all to see.

Steps for notifying managers and HR ahead of time, so every transitioning employee gets the support and respect he or she needs and deserves, are also detailed now.

“In one early case of ours,” said Breslin, “a manager was completely shocked and speechless for the entire day when an employee came in as a female after leaving the night before as a male. Clearly, everyone involved would have benefited from prior notification.”

Setting up an organization’s communication plan for transitioning transgenders is a complicated and sensitive process, and the ultimate goal should always be to avoid surprises, she said. Does a particular manager need guidance before meeting with employees to announce the change? Who will communicate it, the transitioning employee or the manager? Would the employee like to write a letter to his or her team instead? And should he or she read it and be there for the reaction, or should the manager go it alone, with that employee absent?

How all these issues are handled should be up to the discretion of each and every organization, said Breslin, but it’s imperative that all are addressed to “set the stage for how everyone will feel and might react.”

“It can also help avoid devastating outcomes,” she said.

Two Tough Lessons on Training

New commercial truck drivers must cover thousands of miles with a trainer before they can work on their own. For women, that means ThinkstockPhotos-57533192spending weeks in close quarters with a boss who most likely is a man.

What could go wrong?

A pair of recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cases suggests the situation is every bit as risky — both for drivers and employers — as you might think.

The cases involve two trucking companies that got in trouble over sexual harassment of female trainees. One escaped major sanctions and may even recover legal costs from the agency, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that lawyers call a victory for employers.

The other … let’s just say it didn’t go well.

That company, Missouri-based Prime Inc., is one of the nation’s largest long-haul truck companies. After a female trainee charged the company with sexual harassment and the EEOC sued, the company in 2004 adopted a new procedure: women trainees were paired only with female trainers.

But in the end, the new procedure apparently did far more harm than good.

Because the company had only five women trainers, according to the EEOC, women trainees had to wait a year or more to get in. Men, however, were accepted immediately.

In 2011 the EEOC sued again, and U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Harpool didn’t have much trouble concluding the training practice was discriminatory. In April he signed a consent decree ordering the company to pay $2.9 million to 68 women who had applied to the company’s training program.

The settlements, which include back pay and compensatory damages, ranged from about $29,000 to nearly $92,000 each. The company also agreed to hire all the women immediately. In addition, the company paid $250,000 to another female driver trainee who had brought the complaint to the EEOC.

On top of that, the company — which finally ended its same-sex training policy in 2013, two years after the EEOC filed suit — promised not to reinstitute the practice.

Was Prime’s 2004 training policy a well-intentioned response to the first complaint that accidentally led to a second one? Or a passive-aggressive jab at women who had complained? In a final order in the case dated May 26, the judge says he can’t tell.

“While Prime’s same-gender training policy was illegal, misguided, and ill-advised, the court is not willing to find … [it] was evil or malicious,” Harpool writes.

The other trucking company fared better in its battle with the EEOC. On May 19 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found that Iowa-based CRST Van Expedited Inc. may be entitled to $4.5 million in legal expenses it incurred battling the agency over another sexual-harassment case.

The case stems from a 2005 claim by a female driver trainee who said she was sexually harassed. Two years later the EEOC filed a class-action suit on behalf of 250 women whom it said had been victimized. Most of those plaintiffs were dismissed, however, after the court found the EEOC had not properly investigated their claims.

Employment lawyers lauded the Supreme Court’s ruling as a victory for employers.  The ruling “has made clear that a defendant may be entitled to recover attorneys’ fees even absent a victory on the merits,” write Lindsey M. Marcus and Michael A. Warner Jr., partners in the employment law practice of Franczek Radelet in Chicago.

Though the outcomes were very different, the lesson for folks in HR is the same: Training, like trucking, can be a risky business.