Category Archives: HR profession

Fix STEM Gap by Making Science Fun

Anything that encourages and inspires the mastery of science in this country raises my interest. I come from a long line of scientists who — aside from being brilliant heroes of mine — always found ways, and time, to give back to schools and students to encourage a love of science.

My late dad, an oceanographer, told me more than once that the key to the math and science problem in America (i.e., not enough college graduates entering the workforce with science, technology, engineering, and math mastery and career plans) is that too few schools are making STEM fun. How can you be inspired by something that     isn’t at least a little bit fun?

Which is why this release about the 11th Annual Arizona Regional Science Bowl held Saturday before last caught my eye and had me reading on, not just about Arizona’s competition, but the national one as well, the one that all regional meets feed. There’s even a National Ocean Sciences Bowl. Not sure my dad knew about that one. He would have loved it.

Organized and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy since its inception back in 1991, the National Science Bowl follows a quiz-show format, with a buzzer system in place for contestants to signal their answers. Students compete in teams starting in their regional middle- and high-school competitions with the goal of getting an all-expense-paid trip to the national bowl if they win. This year’s national event takes place in Washington from April 27 through May 1. (Here’s a video from last year’s national competition in case you’re as curious as I was.)

My sense of it after reading up on both the regional and national events is this bowl idea sounds far more exciting, engaging and competitive than most other organized attempts to instill the love of science in tomorrow’s workforce. It also sounds fun.

I guess you could say it feels like the difference between a health-risk and body-mass assessment and a wellness program that gets participants truly engaged and enthused.

At a time when employers, particularly those in tech-reliant industries, are bemoaning the dearth of STEM-educated job candidates (consider what we’ve written here on HRE Daily and on HREOnline.com, for instance), it makes a whole lot of sense for businesses to support these regional bowls, and our national one.

Not only are you helping your high-tech talent-pipeline, you’d also be doing something very nice for your reputation as a community/U.S./future-workforce supporter.

LGBTQ Protections Spared — For Now

Given the combative tone of the first week of the Trump administration (at least as it related to Mexicans, Muslims and the media) it may have come as a surprise to some to learn President Trump will maintain workplace protections for gays and lesbians instituted during the Obama administration, according to multiple news reports.

“The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump,” the administration said in a statement.

USA Today reported that gay rights groups had expressed concern that Trump would reverse that order, but White House aides said such a step has not been contemplated. Drafts of proposed orders to roll back the Obama order had circulated through Washington in recent days, which caused concern among LGBTQ activists and others.

The Washington Post’s coverage includes a statement from Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in which he says he and other activists remained concerned that the new administration could still undermine other legal protections based on sexual orientation or gender identify:

“Claiming ally status for not overturning the progress of your predecessor is a rather low bar. LGBTQ refugees, immigrants, Muslims and women are scared today, and with good reason. Donald Trump has done nothing but undermine equality since he set foot in the White House,” Griffin said. “Donald Trump has left the key question unanswered — will he commit to opposing any executive actions that allow government employees, taxpayer-funded organizations or even companies to discriminate?”

The New York Times first reported the decision by the White House to stick with the Obama-era protections.

 

Make Those Vacation Plans Today

Just a heads up that, if you’d like to join forces with the Entertainment Benefits Group and Project: Time Off in encouraging employees to take all their vacation time, today (Tuesday) is the day to get them poring over their calendars.

Both groups have joined together in a Jan. 31 “call to action” for more American workers to get a “jumpstart on planning their vacation,” according to this release from the EBG. In the words of Brett Reizen, president and CEO of EBG:

“[Our] mission is to bring fun and happiness to people’s lives by providing employees nationwide direct access to special offers on top travel and entertainment products across the country. Living in a work-driven culture where vacation and time off is essential, we embraced the chance to … foster work/life balance, boost employee happiness and increase productivity in the workplace.”

(EBG, a U.S. corporate travel and entertainment benefits program, will support the initiative by providing employers and their employees access to exclusive offers on premier travel and entertainment experiences through its corporate programs division — TicketsatWork, Plum Benefits and Working Advantage.)

PTO’s release on the big day tomorrow is full of some stats from a recent survey it conducted that you might find interesting — if not alarming — such as:

“Americans leave 658 million days unused each year. The single-most important step workers can take is to plan their time off in advance. Yet less than half — 49 percent — of households set aside time to plan the use of their vacation time each year.”

Also, according to the PTO research, 51 percent of those who plan their vacation took all of their time off, where just 39 percent of non-planners did, and 69 percent of planners took a week or more of vacation time, where just 46 percent of non-planners did.

We’ve posted our own vacation red flags and statistics for employers here on HRE Daily, including the huge number of “under-vacationed” employees and some of the reasons for it, such as the fact that others in the workplace — managers and co-workers — tend to shame vacation-takers.

If reading up on the merits of enforcing or, at least, encouraging the taking of all allotted vacation time, consider these additional stats from PTO’s research:

  • The time spent planning correlated with greater happiness in nine categories, including:

    • 85 percent of planners report they are happier with their relationships with their significant other, compared to 72 percent of non-planners.
    • 69 percent of planners, compared to 60 percent of non-planners, report being happy with their relationships with their children.
    • 81 percent of planners say they are happy with their financial situation, compared to 71 percent of non-planners.
    • 90 percent of planners are happy with their professional success, compared to 82 percent of non-planners.

Now, whether taking vacations led to this increased happiness and success or happy, successful people are the ones more likely to take all of their vacation time is unclear.

What is clear, to me anyway, is employers have nothing to lose and a lot to gain, including in employee productivity and engagement, by making sure employees are getting out of the office as much as they’re entitled to.

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.”

Commander-in-Chief or CEO?

From Truman to Trump, a handful of U.S. presidents have made their way to the Oval Office via the business sector.

If a recent Korn Ferry Institute survey offers any clues, it might be a while before we see another commander-in-chief who’s taken that route.

In a poll of 1,432 corporate executives, an overwhelming majority of respondents showed no signs of aspiring to the highest political office in the land. Given the choice, 85 percent of executives said they would rather be CEO of their own organization than lead the country, according to Korn Ferry.

While recognizing the similar requirements for both roles—the ability to drive growth, manage crises, think strategically and manage finances, for example—most business leaders allow that the president has even more hats to wear.

Indeed, 81 percent of the executives polled said they think the U.S. president has a more complex job than they do.

“In a way, you could consider the U.S. president [to be] the national CEO,” says Rick Lash, senior partner at Korn Ferry Hay Group, in a press release summarizing the findings. “While serving as a corporate CEO is generally considered a very challenging role, executives acknowledge the U.S. president faces hurdles that are much higher than those faced by a leader in corporate America.”

In addition to complexity, you can put compensation on the list of reasons why your CEO isn’t likely interested in leading the free world.

Seventy-one percent of executives, for example, reported feeling that the U.S. president—at $400,000 annually, as determined by Congress—is underpaid. Nearly half (48 percent) said the president should receive at least $10.4 million per year; the current average compensation for a CEO at an S&P 500 company. And exactly 0 percent cited salary/compensation as the top reason someone would want the job of U.S. president. But money, or a lack thereof, isn’t the only thing deterring executives from someday pursuing a presidential run.

The position of U.S. president “comes with extra scrutiny as well,” according to Korn Ferry.

Donald Trump, for example, “has been president for less than a week and he’s been questioned about his every action, from the serious (the words he used during his inaugural speech and his choice of cabinet members) to the silly (whether the dance with his wife, Melania, at an inaugural ball was ‘awkward’),” notes the aforementioned release.

“A corporate CEO may be questioned on his or her firm’s stock price and business strategy, but usually isn’t scrutinized for dancing ability.”

Philly Bans Salary Questions

Philadelphia, well known as this country’s Cradle of Liberty, may soon become known as a Grave of Salary Questions.

According to this Associated Press report, Philadelphia has joined other cities and municipalities that have banned employers from asking potential hires to provide their salary history, a move supporters say is a step toward closing the wage gap between men and women.

(The story notes that similar salary history bans have been introduced in New Jersey, and the city councils of New York City and Pittsburgh as well as the District of Columbia. In November, New York City stopped asking applicants for municipal jobs what they currently earn, and earlier this month Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order banning state entities from asking about pay history. Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s delegate to Congress, has sponsored similar legislation in Congress.)

Mayor Jim Kenney (Democrat) signed the measure on Monday, and said he’s confident the bill can withstand legal challenges, likely led by Philadelphia-based Comcast.

“I know that Comcast and the business community are committed to ending wage discrimination, and I’m hopeful that moving forward we can have a better partnership on this and other issues of concern to business owners and their employees,” he said. “This doesn’t need to be an either/or argument — what is good for the people of Philadelphia is good for business, too.”

However, the report notes, Comcast and the Chamber of Commerce see the bill as yet another roadblock to Philadelphia-based businesses:

“The wage equity ordinance as written is an overly broad impediment to businesses seeking to grow their workforce in the City of Philadelphia,” Rob Wonderling, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an opinion piece to a city business journal this month, adding it “infringes upon an employer’s ability to gain important information during the hiring process.”

Comcast had urged the mayor to veto the bill or face legal challenges, according to a legal memo obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this month. The memo said the law would violate employers’ First Amendment rights to ask potential hires about their salary history.

Comcast referred questions to the Chamber of Commerce for AP’s story.

 

 

Your Job’s ‘Automation Potential’

In case you’ve ever laid awake at night and wondered about the question in this post’s headline, fear not: the McKinsey Global Institute recently released an interactive graphic that shows how much potential specific jobs have for becoming automated in the future.

McKinsey analyzed the detailed work activities of more than 750 jobs in the United States to “estimate the percentage of time that could be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technology.”

According to Fast Company’s take on the McKinsey, graphic, “filling machine operators, dredge operators, medical appliance technicians, graders of agricultural products, sewing machine operators are all 100% automatable, according to McKinsey.

“Also highly automatable are butchers and meat cutters, bakers, bus mechanics and laundry workers. Security guard jobs are 40% automatable (note, this is already happening). And computer system analysts are only 28% automatable. Amongst the least automatable jobs, according to the analysis, are those in PR, legal services, accountancy, and grounds-keeping.”

For those of you wondering just how “automatable” HR jobs are, the graphic illustrates that HR assistants (with the exception of payroll and timekeeping) are 51 percent automatable, while HR specialists are 22 percent automatable and HR managers are 14 percent automatable.

 

EEOC Releases Stats on LGBT Bias

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 91,503 charges of workplace discrimination in in fiscal year 2016 — the second year in a row that the number of charges has increased, the agency reports.  The EEOC says it resolved 97,443 charges of discrimination and secured more than $482 million for victims of discrimination through voluntary resolutions and litigation last year.

That’s according to the EEOC’s just-released annual summary of its enforcement and litigation data for the previous fiscal year, which this year — for the first time ever — includes detailed information about workplace discrimination charges filed by LGBT employees. The agency reports that it resolved 1,650  charges and recovered $4.4 million for LGBT individuals who filed sex discrimination charges with it during fiscal year 2016.  The number of such charges filed by members of the LGBT community has steadily risen since the EEOC began collecting this information in 2013, with 4,000 charges filed between then and 2016.

The agency has been a strong advocate of workplace rights for LGBT employees, arguing that the protections afforded workers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act extend to sexual orientation. In 2015, it ruled in favor of David Baldwin, a former Federal Aviation Administration employee who charged the FAA with discriminating against him because he is gay. In that case, the EEOC concluded that workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation  is indeed “sex-based” discrimination and therefore falls under the protection of Title VII.

It’s filed supporting briefs in a number of federal lawsuits by members of the LGBT community against their employers, including that of Kimberly Hively. Hively, a former adjunct professor at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, claims the college refused to allow her to interview for a full-time position or extend her contract because she is a lesbian. In late November the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in her case and is expected to issue a ruling later this year. According to reports, the 7th Circuit judges expressed sympathy toward the arguments put forth by Hively’s legal team. Should the court rule in her favor, it would be the first U.S. appellate court to expand Title VII’s protections to LGBT individuals.

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.

More 401(k) Bashing, and a Fix

I posted here earlier this month about a provocative Wall Street Journal piece in which the creators and early adopters of the 401(k) retirement-savings vehicle lament the revolution they started.

Their point: They had no intention of watching the concept turn into the sole — and highly inadequate — savings receptacle for employees.

Now, on the heels of that, comes this piece on the October Three site by benefits expert Larry Sher taking that discussion even further, to a whole lot more wrong with the defined-contribution approach and the people who support it — i.e., the people with skin in its game. As Sher writes:

“For instance, the government tried, unsuccessfully so far, to nudge DC plan sponsors to give participants some sense of how much life annuity their account balances might be able to provide. The push-back was immediate and severe from stakeholders in the DC system.

“Some objected on technical grounds —  the annuity estimate could vary widely depending on a number of assumptions including life expectancies, market interest rates and inflation. Others viewed this initiative cynically, believing that it was just a first step toward mandating annuity availability in DC plans, thus leading to the prospect of huge sums of assets shifting from mutual funds and other asset managers to insurers.”

The chief concern of policymakers, employees and even some of the employers that have embraced the 401(k) concept, Sher says, “can be summed up as the total shifting of risks to employees — the risks that they won’t save enough, the risk that they will use the savings for non-retirement purposes, the risk of unfavorable investment results — culminating in inadequate retirement savings and the prospect of outliving such savings.”

To mitigate the problem of employees dipping into their funds for non-retirement purposes, he suggests employers impose greater restrictions on such withdrawals. Of course, he also writes,

“The best way to close this loop would be to provide a core company contribution for everyone — not just for those who are willing or able to save.”

Here’s one of my favorites of Sher’s points:

“And perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of a DC-only retirement system is the fruitless attempt to make employees into competent investors. Even if investment education works to an extent, the idea of employees spending time, probably mostly work time, to figure out how to best navigate the investment markets is an exercise in futility.

“When someone is sick they go to a doctor, not to medical school. Investment professionals have gone to investment school — a crash course in investments does little, or no more, than give employees a false sense that they know what they are doing. It’s like self-diagnosing a medical issue based on information on WebMD.

“The response from the DC world is default investments, such as target date funds. That helps but it still leaves employees vulnerable to temptations to time the market and apply their [inadequate]knowledge to making investment choices. Inevitably, the result is wide disparity in outcomes among plan participants — those with better outcomes being the better, or more likely luckier, investors.”

Sher’s solution to this DC mess is to establish a combination of a type of cash balance plan with a “market-return,”  so interest is credited based on real-market investment returns rather than high-quality bond yields. He calls this the MRCB. Here’s how it would work, according to him:

“The MRCB will provide much better cost control than a typical CB design — because account balances will tend to move in tandem with the plan’s assets, and regardless of changes in market interest rates. The employer can tune the degree of investment risk it is willing to share with employees by providing more downside protections, possibly in exchange for retaining a portion of the upside investment returns.

“By providing some of the employer benefits through an MRCB, the employer is accomplishing all of the goals that the government and some employers are trying to achieve by changing DC plans to be something they are not meant to be. Employer pay credits would automatically be provided to all participants — no dependency on employee contributions. There would be no diversion of the benefits during employment — no loans or withdrawals. Annuities would be provided directly by the plan — thus avoiding the extra cost of retail-insured annuities.

“Yes, that means the employer retaining some long-term longevity risk — but even that is controllable by how the factors are set and managed over time to convert accounts to annuities. The MRCB typically would allow employees to elect lump-sum distributions upon termination or retirement [equal to account balances, with spousal consent], although the ability to elect lump sums can be restricted by plan design to the extent the employer considers that to be desirable.”

And where would such an approach leave the 401(k)-DC plan? In Sher’s words:

“Just where it should be –as a short-term and supplemental long-term savings vehicle … “

not the only show in town.