Category Archives: gender equity

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.

‘Flexing’ to Close Gender Gap

Seventy percent of working mothers say having a flexible work schedule is extremely important to them, according to a Pew survey. (So do 48 percent of working fathers.)

To that end, a new job board is looking to leverage workplace flexibility to help close the gender gap, according to this new piece in the New York Times Upshot section:

A new job search company, Werk, is trying to address the [gender-gap] problem by negotiating for flexibility with employers before posting jobs, so employees don’t have to.

Facebook, Uber and Samsung are among the companies with job listings on the Werk site, in which all the positions listed “are highly skilled jobs that offer some sort of control over the time and place of work. People can apply to jobs that let them work away from the office all the time or some of the time, and at hours other than 9-to-5, part time or with minimal travel.”

Another option the site offers gives workers the freedom to adjust their schedules, no questions asked, because of unpredictable home and/or family obligations.

The story quotes Gerard Masci, founder and chief executive of Lowercase, a start-up eyeglass maker in Brooklyn, who just hired a vice president for communications on Werk. The company’s new hire works part-time and remotely, except for monthly in-person meetings.

“I don’t care if this week you work less if in a month you work more, and whether they work in the space or not is irrelevant,” Mr. Masci said. “All I care about is the productivity in the end.”

The full story is well worth a read for any HR leaders who are looking for ways to improve flexibility efforts without sacrificing productivity or quality talent.

 

Discriminatory Dress Codes in the U.K.

Over on the other side of the Atlantic, a storm is brewing over the unequal treatment of women in the workplace. The United Kingdom has a law in place — the Equality Act of 2010 –intended to prevent such treatment. However, that apparently hasn’t stopped U.K. employers from ordering their female employees to wear high heels, dye their hair blonde and dress themselves in revealing outfits. That’s according to a recent report by the British Parliament, undertaken in the wake of a petition signed by more than 150,000 people calling for a law that would ban organizations from requiring women to wear heels at work. The parliamentary investigators received complaints from hundreds of U.K. women who said they were subject to sexist dress codes by their employers.

As reported in yesterday’s New York Times, Nicola Thorp started the petition after she was sent home without pay from her job as a temporary receptionist for refusing to comply with an order that she get herself a pair of shoes with heels that were at least two inches high. Turns out that Portico, the receptionist-services firm that formerly employed Thorp, had quite an extensive employee dress code that covered just about every aspect of a woman’s appearance, including hair (“regularly maintained hair colour — if individual colours hair — with no visible roots”), makeup (“makeup worn at all times and regularly reapplied … “) and footwear (“Heel height normally a minimum of 2 inches and maximum of 4 inches, unless otherwise agreed by the company”). The code even suggested the palette of nail polishes that was acceptable. Portico said it changed its policy after Thorp raised the issue, the Times reports.

Thorp told the Times that part of the reason she started her protest was concern for the health effects of wearing high heels throughout the workday: “The company expected me to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I told them that I just wouldn’t be able to do that in heels.”

Thorp is hardly alone in her concern about the physical effects from being forced to wear high heels all day: “We heard from hundreds of women who told us about the pain and long-term damage caused by the wearing of high heels for long periods in the workplace, as well as from women who had been required to dye their hair blonde, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply makeup,” the report said. It cited longstanding medical evidence showing that women who wear high heels for long periods of time can suffer physical damage, including stress fractures.

U.K. lawmakers expressed concern that the Equality Act has not been effective in preventing employers from applying sexist dress codes. The report calls for “urgent action” by the government, including increased financial penalties for employers that break the law. However, Thorp said she wasn’t satisfied, telling The Guardian she was “absolutely chuffed to bits” that the report’s recommendations didn’t go further.

“The petition took off and I was very pleased to see the debate over heels grow to one about clothes, and continue moving on to other aspects of how women are treated in a work environment,” she told the paper. “We now need to see the government take these recommendations on board. The law should not just be changed but enforced.”

Under current U.K. law, instructing women to wear high heels at work “isn’t necessarily sex discrimination, ” Julia Wilson, an employment lawyer at Baker McKenzie, told British newspaper The Independent. “If [members of Parliament] want clear rules and fines for companies in relation to dress code practices, that is likely to require a change in the law.”

Pay Equity for Lower Ranks Only

We’ve been focusing, along with the rest of the media, on gender pay equity and wage gaps for some time now. (Witness searches on  this HRE Daily site and our magazine website, HREOnline.com, alone.)

But this latest study from the Academy of Management that’s going into the February issue of the Academy of Management Journal shows something we’ve never reported on: the fact that women managers foster pay equity between the genders, but only for low-ranking employees.

The study, based on actual manager-subordinate reporting relationships in 120 branches of a large U.S. bank, takes into account two different approaches to combatting pay inequity. One consists of pay formalization, which seeks to minimize personal biases by mandating the use of detailed written rules to determine compensation. The other, less formalized approach, looks to the increasing number of female managers in the workforce, and the power they wield to set pay.

According to an email I received on the study:

“… both formalized and less formalized approaches to pay equity come into play in each locale, with employee annual bonuses being awarded on a highly formalized basis but branch managers, almost half of them women, having considerable leeway in determining employees’ base salaries. Thus, [researchers had] a rare opportunity to compare the efficacy of formalized and less formalized approaches in achieving pay equity between men and women workers — specifically, how this is affected by manager gender.

“Unsurprisingly, the paper finds little or no gender gap in the formalized segment of pay — that is, in the amount of annual bonuses, standards for which are spelled out in detail by the company. In contrast, there was significant gender inequality in the less formalized component of pay, base salaries, which constituted the lion’s share of compensation, with greater imbalance occurring on average under male managers than under women.”

Yet, in the words of the study,

“Concluding that female managers redress inequality is incomplete because once organizational level is taken into account, it becomes evident that female managers only reduce inequality for employees at the lowest-level organizational position of teller.”

So … as the study paints it, controlling for a host of relevant factors, female tellers in branches headed by women had base salaries that were about the same as those of male tellers; yet, female tellers in branches headed by men had base salaries about 7.5 percent less than male tellers.

In sharp contrast, women’s wages for all other positions ranged from 4 percent to 13 percent less than those of men holding the same job, regardless of whether the branch was headed by a man or a woman.

What accounts for the fact that women branch managers eliminated the gender pay gap for female tellers but not for higher-status female employees? Does this confirm the “queen bee” effect, which contends that women who have been successful in male-dominated contexts try to keep other women from getting ahead? Mabel Abraham of the Columbia University Business School, the study’s researcher and author, answered this for me:

“Any suggestion that this is a queen-bee phenomenon would be purely speculative. It just as likely is a matter of women showing an extra measurer of concern for lower-income workers. The value of the research lies elsewhere — in highlighting a nuanced approach for organizations in striving for gender pay equity.”

What are employers and their HR leaders supposed to do with this new information? In Abraham’s opinion:

“In order to develop appropriate strategies for reducing gender pay inequality, organizations must concurrently consider the potential role of both female managers and the level of the employee they oversee.”