Category Archives: gender equity

Privacy May Trump Fed Data Demands

A judge’s early ruling in Google’s complex legal battle with the U.S. Department of Labor highlights a new argument that other companies may use in fighting regulators’ demands for HR data: The government can’t be trusted to keep it safe from hackers.

The ruling came after the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs had been auditing the company’s compensation practices for much of 2017, according to a blog post by Google vice president for people operations Eileen Naughton. Federal officials first requested documents in September 2015.

The Labor Department has not publicly accused Google of any specific violation, but critics have claimed the company—and others in tech—pays men more than women for the same work. Naughton, however, maintains that company data disprove this claim. “Our own annual analysis shows no gender pay gap at Google,” she writes.

The company had been cooperating with the audit, providing the government more than 329,000 documents and “detailed compensation information,” Naughton writes. Included were records on more than 21,000 employees.

But the two sides reached an impasse over the summer after the Labor Department demanded more information in June, according to a summary of the case by San Francisco-based administrative law judge Steven B. Berlin accompanying his July 24 preliminary ruling in the case (posted here, thanks to the Washington Post). The agency and company found compromises on some requests but remained at odds over others, Berlin writes.

According to Naughton, Google balked after DOL auditors wanted “employees’ compensation and other job information dating back 15 years, as well as extensive personal employee data and contact information for more than 25,000 employees. We were concerned that these requests went beyond the scope of what was relevant to this specific audit, and posed unnecessary risks to employees’ privacy.”

In his July decision, which is not yet final, Berlin granted a portion of the DOL request, but ruled that the request for employee contact information was “over-broad, intrusive on employee privacy, unduly burdensome, and insufficiently focused on obtaining the relevant information.”

Noting that hackers have accessed the federal government’s own employee records in a well-publicized 2015 data breach at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the judge outlined his other main objection to the DOL requests: “My concern centers on [the] extent to which the employee contact information, once at OFCCP, will be secure from hacking, OFCCP employee misuse, and similar potential intrusions or disclosures. OFCCP has already collected for 21,114 employees information such as name, date of birth, place of birth, citizenship status, visa status, salary, and stock grants. That information, if hacked or misused, could subject tens of thousands of employees to risk of identity theft, other fraud, or the improper public disclosure of private facts. Adding contact data, such as personal phone numbers and email addresses, increases the risk of harm to Google’s employees. The contact information could ease the efforts of malicious hackers or misdirected government employees.”

What does this mean for HR?

One employment attorney says the lesson for employers is to respond cautiously to government demands for sensitive employee data.

“The July order demonstrates that employers can, and should, take steps to protect their employees’ confidential information—even when such information is demanded by the government,” writes Margaret C. Inomata of the Washington, D.C. office of Vedder Price, in a blog post. “By resisting the OFCCP’s overbroad requests, Google managed to significantly pare down the scope of the agency’s demand and forced the OFCCP to take additional steps to protect its employees’ contact information,” she writes “Like Google, other employers should consider creative solutions to defend against the unnecessary disclosure of sensitive employee data and maintain their employees’ trust.”

 

Taking On Banks Over Gender Pay

Figured the day before Equal Pay Day (that’s right, that’s tomorrow!) would be a perfect time to tell you about a pretty interesting teleconference I sat in on recently.

The topic, you guessed it, was gender-pay equity. Two women — Natasha Lamb, managing director and lead filer of gender-pay resolutions for Arjuna Capital, and Former Lt. Gov. of Massachusetts Evelyn Murphy, founder and president of The WAGE Project Inc. (an activist group dedicated to gender-pay equity) — were filling listeners in on Arjuna’s next bold move: making the banks come clean on what it sees as their backward pay practices when it comes to women.

See, Arjuna was the activist investment firm (with U.S. headquarters in Boston) that took the lead last year in getting seven of nine targeted tech companies (eBay, Intel, Apple, Amazon, Expedia, Microsoft and Adobe) to include data on their pay practices in their proxy statements.

Now, said Lamb in the teleconference, her firm is going after six top banks and credit-card companies that it has financial stakes in — Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan, MasterCard and American Express — to pressure them to do the same by officially considering its proposal in this year’s annual proxy statement.

Unfortunately, she pointed out, all but MasterCard are opposing Arjuna’s proposal requesting reports from the banks on the percentage pay gap between male and female employees across race and ethnicity (including base, bonus and equity compensation; policies to address that gap; the methodology used; and quantitative reduction targets).

Citigroup specifically came out and said in its proxy statement that such gender-pay-gap reporting would be “costly and time-consuming.” In fact, here is Citigroup’s entire board recommendation from that statement:

“We remain committed to our ongoing efforts to promote diversity in the workplace and believe we are making demonstrable progress in building a diverse company and compensating our employees based on performance. [Arjuna’s proposal] calls for a report on the company’s policies and goals to reduce the gender-pay gap, which would be costly and time-consuming, and in light of our many efforts in this area, would not offer stockholders meaningful additional information. As such, the proposal would not enhance the company’s existing commitment to an inclusive culture or meaningfully further its goal and efforts in support of workplace diversity; therefore, the board recommends that you vote AGAINST this proposal.”

That said, however, Citigroup spokesman Mark Costiglio did tell me his company has “had productive discussions with Arjuna Capital on its proposal and looks forward to continued engagement on this issue.” So we’ll see.

During the teleconference, Lamb lit into the entire banking industry, with direct reference to Citigroup:

“You just can’t get around the fact that big banks are in the stone ages when it comes to gender-pay equity.  Big tech stepped up in 2016 and took real action to address the legitimate concerns of long-term shareholders and women.  Yet the banks are sticking their heads in the sand, which makes you wonder: What do they have to hide?

“It’s a continuation of the status quo where bank leadership paternalistically pats investors on the head and tells them to trust them.  Unfortunately, we already know that banks are among the worst offenders when it comes to how women are treated in the workplace.  How can we hold Amazon to one standard on gender equity while Citigroup pretends it’s 1957, not 2017?”

Last year, eBay, Google and Facebook were all opposed to the pay transparency and improvement campaign. But, “when peer group after peer group agreed to it,” Lamb said, “eBay actually switched to 51-percent approval.” Though Google and Facebook remain opposed, requests to them have been resubmitted, she added.

The business case for pay equity can’t be denied, Murphy chimed in. “In the last seven years, [it’s] been very strong,” she said.

One caller asked if the tech companies have actually done more than simply become more transparent. “Have they taken more steps to close the gender gap?” she asked. Lamb’s response:

“Yes, they have.”

But the banks are going to be a tougher nut to crack, since finance is a heavily male-dominated field with one of the highest disparities of all industries examined by Glassdoor, the release points out.

Apparently, Arjuna is up for the challenge.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in a silghtly different take on this issue, you might want to tune into this roundtable discussion tomorrow at 11 a.m. PDT hosted by PayScale and moderated by its vice president, Lydia Frank.

The gist of that discussion, Gap Analysis: What Equal Pay Day Gets Wrong, will center on the premise that the oft-quoted “women earn 80 cents for every $1 earned by men” is actually an unfair representation of the gender-pay problem because it doesn’t reflect men’s and women’s pay for the same job (which PayScale claims is actually 98 cents on the dollar).

PayScale believes that the pay gap is, instead, an opportunity gap since women tend to find themselves in lower-paying jobs than men and are also left behind men when it comes to leadership roles or promotions in the workplace.

Wherever the truth lies in all of this, I say it certainly doesn’t hurt to get more employers, whatever their industry, to open their books and start tackling discrepancies.

Lessons from the Sterling Scandal

With the salacious details of the Sterling Jewelers pay-discrimination lawsuit still sickeningly fresh in our minds, many of us have been asking how such behavior — as alleged by some of the 69,000 former employees involved in the suit– could happen at such a large company.

From security guards with overactive wands to district managers with overheated libidos, the sexual-misconduct accusations truly run the gamut of the perverse, according to court filings.

“But don’t they have programs in place to prevent this sort of behavior?” we wonder.

For its part, the company has denied any wrongdoing. On the matter of pay and promotion discrimination, the accusations are “not substantiated by the facts,” Signet Jewelers Limited, the parent of Sterling, said in a statement. In addition, Sterling said it found the claims of sexual misconduct to be without merit.

But today’s New York Times takes a look at some of the programs that may have unwittingly contributed to the harassing behavior being alleged by the suit plaintiffs:

…[L]awyers and academics who specialize in gender discrimination say the documents — more than 1,300 pages in total — provide a rare insight into how a company’s policies work in real life. Whether it is a not-so-confidential tip line or an in-house court, they say, some widely used corporate procedures can mask problems that women often face in the workplace. Here is a look at what the documents revealed.

The Times article looks at three employee-centric programs in particular: the company’s employee hotline, its arbitration policy and its “tap on the shoulder” promotion policy.

The entire article is well worth a read, if only to remind HR leaders that, just because you have a program in place to remedy a problem, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily working. In fact, it could actually be covering up more issues than it is resolving, as Sterling is now learning the hard way.

 

 

 

 

 

Critical Uber Blogger Lawyers Up

Things just keep getting worse for Uber.

Various media outlets are reporting Susan Fowler, who wrote a scathing blog post about her alleged experiences with sexual harassment and stonewalling from Uber’s HR department — has lawyered up.

Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer whose Feb. 19 essay detailed myriad examples of sexism, tweeted Thursday that “Uber names/blames me for account deletes, and has a different law firm – not Holders (sic) – investigating me.”

Fowler also said in her tweet that she has retained the employment law firm of Baker Curtis & Schwartz.

According to USA Today, on Feb. 24, Fowler tweeted that “research on the smear campaign has begun,” and she urged her friends not to provide personal information should they be contacted. She then added that she didn’t know “who is doing this or why.” At the time, Uber denied any knowledge of a smear campaign, and called such behavior “wrong.”

CEO Travis Kalanick and other execs then held long meetings with upset employees, and faced criticism from investors who blasted the company’s “toxic” environment and urged wholesale changes lest the company lose its way.

Kalanick addressed the issue directly in an emotional meeting with 100 female engineers.

“I want to root out the injustice. I want to get at the people who are making this place a bad place,” Kalanick said.

“I understand this is bigger than the Susan situation,” he said, adding that the topic was “a little bit emotional for me.”

Given the pervasive nature of Silicon Valley’s sexual-harassment problem, it’s not hard to imagine that almost every one of those 100 female engineers has a story similar to Fowler’s.

 

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.”