Watching a Big Move to Help Women in Tech

A recent announcement by Facebook and LinkedIn that the two entities are joining forces to boost the dwindling numbers of women 462444481 -- women in techstudying technology and working in the field is certainly worth watching.

Short on a lot of details about the collaboration, the announcement still got an amazing amount of press because of the two parties involved — led, in part, by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Sandberg has been a prominent advocate for women in the workplace, ever since her 2011 book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead came out. (Here is one of many pieces we’ve posted about her book and her premise that women need help fighting the barriers — some within themselves — that keep them from achieving leadership positions. Here is one other, primarily about her book and the “Lean In” support circles it aimed to spark in workplaces nationwide.)

As the first post quotes her from her book:

“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. [The result is that] men still run the world.”

Whether Sandberg and the people she’s working with think this inability to effect their own progress is a primary reason behind women’s dwindling numbers in technology studies and jobs isn’t real clear. Nor is it clear how much money each company is committing to this effort, or just how it will function. (The announcement simply says Sandberg and LinkedIn CEO Jeffrey Weiner will be “launching mentoring and support programs at colleges to get more women involved in studying technology in general, but also as future employees for their companies.”)

What is clear, though, is the fact that the talent pool is shrinking. According to the announcement, the percentage of people enrolled in undergraduate computer-science programs who are women peaked at 35 percent in 1985 and is now down to about 17 percent.

Clearly, something needs to be done. Will be interesting to see just what this initiative is and what it can do.

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Workplace Romance Seems to Be Alive and Well

187334194 (3)I’m sure no one needs a reminder that tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day. Ads on TV. Messages rotating on electronic billboards on your commute to work. Product displays at your neighborhood pharmacy. Valentine’s Day spam in your email. And, oh yes, at least for me, the barrage of press releases that arrive in my Outlook sharing the findings of this or that study on workplace romance.

Normally, I might give those press releases a quick read and hit the delete key. But a couple did catch my eye this time around. Take the following office-romance poll issued by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder. According to the poll, which was based on a representative sample of 3,056 full-time, private-sector workers, 37 percent of the respondents said they have dated a co-worker; and 30 percent of those office romances have led to marriage.

To me, those numbers are higher than I would have thought, but what do I know?

Harris and CareerBuilder then went on explore what work-related traits would make someone “undateable.”  Here’s what they found:

  • Doesn’t work on a consistent basis: 39 percent

  • Has already dated someone else at work: 25 percent

  • Travels extensively for work: 21 percent

  • Has to work nights: 8 percent

  • Earns less money than me: 6 percent

  • Has to work weekends: 6 percent

In case you’re wondering, women were much less likely than men to date someone who doesn’t work on a consistent basis (52 percent versus 28 percent of men), has previously dated a co-worker (29 percent versus 21 percent) and earns less than them (10 percent versus 2 percent).

Next up: Vault’s 2015 Office Romance Survey found 51 percent of business professionals said they participated in some type of “workplace relationship.”  (Again, higher than I would have thought.) Of those respondents, 21 percent reported they had an ongoing, yet casual relationship; 18 percent were involved in a random office hookup; 16 percent said they enjoyed a long-term serious relationship with a co-worker; and 10 percent said they met a spouse or partner at work. (Three percent selected other.)

“Regardless of success or failure, 63 percent said they would do it again,” the press release said.

The Vault findings also suggest that office romance is becoming more acceptable, with just 5 percent of the respondents saying no office romances are appropriate, down from 11 percent in 2011. (More respondents than ever—29 percent—are of the opinion that all romantic connections in the workplace are appropriate, including those between managers and their direct reports.)

It’s also worth noting—the Vault press release describes it as “the most surprising finding” of all—that HR professionals are among the most likely to have had some kind of fling with a colleague: 57 percent of respondents in the field admitted to having participated in a workplace romance at some point in their career.

At the other end of the spectrum, believe it or not, are marketing professionals (43 percent).

Not what I would have expected.

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Shoring Up Pension Plans

About two-thirds of companies that sponsor defined-benefit plans plan to take steps this year to protect their bottom lines from expected rises in premiums from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

That’s according to a new survey from Aon Hewitt, which queried 183 DB plan sponsors about their current and future plans. Twenty-two percent said they’re “very likely” to offer terminated vested participants a lump-sum window this year, while 19 percent plan to increase cash contributions to their plans to reduce PBGC premiums in the year ahead and 21 percent will consider purchasing annuities for some of their plan participants.

“A growing number of plan sponsors anticipate increasing pension plan costs due to recent changes to the Society of Actuaries longevity models and rising PBGC premiums,” said Aon Hewitt’s Ari Jacobs, its global retirement solutions leader.

President Obama has once again proposed giving the PBGC the power to raise premiums on single and multiemployer DB plans, a strategy that would raise a projected $19 billion over the next decade (Congress rejected the President’s previous proposal). This move is staunchly opposed by many in the business community, however — including the ERISA Industry Committee –  who say it would “create a direct conflict of interest.”

“This proposal continues to resurface each year, and policymakers appropriately have rejected it as an inappropriate and impractical expansion of government authority that would hurt plan participants and plan sponsors,” ERIC CEO Annette Guarisco Fildes said in a statement.

Although the PBGC is now on sturdier financial footing than in previous years — thanks in part to an improving economy — the agency still faces considerable deficits in its single-plan and multiemployer insurance plans. The annual report estimates that the multiemployer plan has a 90-percent chance of running out of money by 2025.

Late last year Congress passed the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act, which makes it easier for sponsors of plans that are at serious financial risk to reduce payments to retirees, with the intent of reducing the risk that the PBGC will need to take over the plan.

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Bound for a Breakdown

burnoutEmployees who describe themselves as perfectionists who take work home with them and can’t bear the thought of being average sound like a manager’s dream, right?

Not necessarily, according to new research that finds employees with such workaholic tendencies may not always work out so well.

In its recent study of 1,385 individuals taking a “Type A Personality Test,” online psychological assessment provider PsychTests found 86 percent of respondents classifying themselves as workaholics saying they push themselves to accomplish their goals. Sixty-five percent of those in this group said they take work home with them, with 63 percent claiming they “hate the idea of being considered an average performer.”

That all sounds fine and good, but there’s a downside to an intensely driven personality that can manifest itself in some nasty ways.

For example, 73 percent of those who consider themselves workaholics said they have trouble unwinding at the end of the day. The same number reported getting angry with themselves when they “don’t finish everything they wanted to do.” (These folks aren’t exactly thrilled with co-workers they see as creating distractions, either, as 68 percent said they “can’t tolerate people who slow them down.”)

In addition, 60 percent said they tend to be overcompetitive and impatient with co-workers. Fifty-eight percent report feeling tense, 49 percent have trouble falling asleep and another 46 percent find their lives are too stressful.

These figures certainly aren’t the first indication that workers who regularly push themselves to extremes may be barreling toward a breakdown—and may end up taking some of their colleagues along for the ride. And, other studies offer evidence that this type of employee often reaches a point where his or her efforts simply become counterproductive.

Just last week, in fact, HRE Managing Editor Kristen B. Frasch reported on recent Stanford University research findings that suggest employees working more than 50 hours a week are essentially spinning their wheels soon after hitting the half-century mark.

In that piece, work/life experts urged employers and HR leaders to implement initiatives such as paid-time-off banks and flexible hours for all employees as a way to encourage better work/life balance among the workforce.

While making such options available is certainly a positive first step, PsychTests President Ilona Jerabek advised managers to be a bit more direct in dealing with hard-charging workers who may sometimes need saving from themselves.

“This kind of extreme, ‘Type A’ personality has a shelf life as an employee, as [such an employee] cannot keep up this kind of schedule and work dedication for a sustained period of time,” Jerabek recently told Bloomberg BNA.

“You need to give them permission to take it easy,” she said, “and explicitly tell them to take some time off.”

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The Challenges of Walking While You Work

Good news for those of you who believe that treadmills and office desks go together like peanuts and chewing gum!

New academic research based on a 12-week study of overweight employees by an Oregon State University researcher found that the increase in physical activity from using a treadmill desk was small and did not help workers meet public health guidelines for daily exercise.

And while their positive effects may be small, introducing treadmill desks in the workplace also can pose big logistical challenges that may not make such a program feasible for many companies, said John M. Schuna, Jr., an assistant professor of exercise and sports science in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.

In a small study of treadmill desk use by overweight and obese office workers, Schuna and his colleagues found that workers who used the desks increased their average number of daily steps by more than 1,000, but did not record any significant weight loss or changes in Body Mass Index after 12 weeks. The employees only used the treadmills about half the time they were asked to, averaging one session and 45 minutes a day on the machines.

“Treadmill desks aren’t an effective replacement for regular exercise, and the benefits of the desks may not justify the cost and other challenges that come with implementing them,” Schuna said.

His findings were published recently in the “Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.” Co-authors include Damon L. Swift of East Carolina University and several researchers from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The research was supported by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana.

Interestingly enough, researchers faced several challenges with the study, including difficulty recruiting employees to participate. Initially, more than 700 employees of the company were targeted for recruitment, with roughly 10 percent of them expressing interest in participating. Some of those employees were deemed ineligible for the study for a variety of reasons, while others did not receive approval from a supervisor.

They also found work considerations often kept employees from using the desks, even though the company had approved and encouraged employees to participate in the program. Employees shared the treadmill desks, which required scheduling the time they would be using them.

Schuna said the findings from this study indicate that future research on exercise in the workplace should focus on interventions that avoid some of the pitfalls that come with treadmill desks.

“We need to identify some form of physical activity that can be done simply and at a low cost in an office setting,” he said.

Preferably while sitting.

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Putting Pre-Release Prisoners to Work

So many of the budget and spending decisions coming out of Washington leave me scratching my head. But one I saw last week, 126268666 -- prisoner workingthis announcement by the U.S. Department of Labor about a $5 million funding opportunity to link inmates to jobs before they’re even released, makes a whole lot of sense.

It also makes sense that this opportunity — providing employment services pre-release and steady support as they transition back to their communities — is open to county, municipal and regional jails and correctional facilities. It’s these prisoners — convicted of lesser crimes, for the most part, than those housed in federal institutions — who probably just need that kind of boost to turn their lives around and stop lingering, dangerously, outside the mainstream.

The grant supports a pilot project announced last year, Linking to Employment Activities Pre-release (click the link provided on this linked page), that places American Job Centers inside these local jails. There, soon-to-be-released inmates can access job-placement services and counseling to increase their chances of getting work without going through that uneasy “limbo” between living behind bars and earning a living.

“There is no such thing as a spare American,” says U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, “so we need to meet people where they are and help them overcome barriers. These grants will give soon-to-be-released inmates a real shot at success, keep our communities safe and go a long way toward breaking the cycle of incarceration that has plagued so many families around the country.”

Amen to that. I know such a family. I can attest to the heartache each member of that family feels watching their loved one struggle and stumble and wade through the uncertainty and disillusion of trying to land a job fresh out of a county jail. The level of the offense that put him there pales in comparison to the crime of his feeling turned away, time after time, as applications are completed, resumes sent, and calls for interviews just never come.

I pray for him every day that he’s not becoming tempted to give up on the rest of his life altogether.

It’s heartening to see, in this list of felon-friendly employers on the exoffenders.net website, just how many organizations have acknowledged the part the business community can play in giving ex-cons a chance. At the time I’m writing this, I count 129 companies, though the list is ever-changing.

Granted, there are many more groups forming and efforts under way to put ex-cons to work, but it’s nice to see — on the felon-friendly list — that just-released prisoners have a place to go to get started and stand a fighting chance.

And granted, these businesses aren’t the only ones that “get it,” that recognize the positives — not just to society, but to their organizations as well, through branding, recognition and the ability to cast a wider net to find the right person for the job.

In a story we published five years ago about a similar effort, at Connection Training Services, a Philadelphia-based organization helping recently released offenders re-enter the workforce, Ronnie Dawson, a job developer at CTS, points out one more positive:

“In most cases, people who are being released from incarceration can be your hardest-working employees because they need the job versus wanting the work.”

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A Low Bar for Re-entry?

Most organizations are going to want to avoid bringing back former employees with performance and behavioral issues, right?  I think we can all pretty well agree. But according to a just-released government report, the Internal Revenue Service isn’t one of them.

153475640According to the latest Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report, released yesterday, the IRS rehired hundreds of former employees who had substantiated conduct or performance issues. In fact, the report said the agency brought back 141 former employees with prior substantiated tax issues, including five who the IRS found had willfully failed to file their federal tax returns.

The report noted that …

 “Problem behaviors have included employees who willfully failed to file their taxes, gained unauthorized access to taxpayer information, abused the agency’s leave policy, misused IRS property, falsified official forms, did a bad job or had behavioral or legal problems off-duty, such as alcoholism or bankruptcy.”

TIGTA found that the IRS met the Office of Personnel Management’s suitability standards (e.g., determining whether applicants had prior criminal activity or engaged in drug use), but still rehired many former employees with prior conduct or performance issues.

In a press release on the report, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George said these rehires put both the agency and taxpayers at risk.

During the audit, the report said, IRS officials acknowledged that prior conduct and performance issues do not play a significant role in deciding the candidates who are best qualified for hiring.

The audit—which reviewed a random sample of more than 300 employees with significant prior performance or conduct issues who were hired between January 2010 and July 2013—cited one case in which a former employee was rehired despite a note from a division head saying “ ‘do not rehire’ because the individual had been absent without leave for a total of 312 hours.”

The IRS said it believes its current process is adequate to mitigate any risks to American taxpayers, though TIGTA said it isn’t so sure.

As a next step, the IRS, at TIGTA’s suggestion, is now working with the General Legal Services and the Office of Personnel Management to figure out what changes might be warranted.

For now, though, I think we’ll probably skip calling the IRS the next time we do a story on best rehiring practices, since, at least on the surface, it would seem the agency could be adding special meaning to the term “boomerang employee.”

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GM Takes Care of its Hourlies

blue collarGeneral Motors is still digging out from the onslaught of legal bills, settlements and recall costs of its faulty ignition-switch debacle that’s been directly linked to at least 51 deaths so far. Costs for the nation’s largest automaker stand at nearly $3 billion and counting.

That has not, however, stopped GM from awarding its unionized hourly workers record bonuses of up to $9,000 apiece based on the company’s performance last year. Excluding settlements and other costs linked to the recalls, GM’s North American division would have seen a whopping $9 billion in pretax earnings last year, reports the New York Times. Recall costs whittled that down to $6.6 billion. GM’s strong financial position was partly enabled, of course, by its $49 billion bailout by the federal government.

“I thought the recalls were going to kill us,” GM worker George McGregor, president of the United Automobile Workers local at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant, told the Times. “We had the big check coming. We shouldn’t have to pay for their defects.”

GM’s unionized hourly workers are to be given annual bonuses based on the company’s financial performance, as per its current contract with the UAW. A spokesman told the Times that CEO Mary T. Barra decided that the workers had done their part to help the company meet its performance goals and should not be penalized because of the failures and mistakes made by others in leadership positions.

GM may also have had its eye on upcoming contract negotiations with the UAW this summer. “General Motors’ announcement today leaves no doubt about the strong, stable environment the G.M.-UAW collective-bargaining agreement created,” UAW President Dennis Williams said in a statement yesterday.

And what about GM’s salaried, white-collar workers? They, too, will get bonuses that will be unaffected by the automaker’s recall costs, two sources told Bloomberg News. Those bonuses are based on a blend of regional and global results, they said.

Barra and her top team will, however, see the recall costs eat into their own compensation, the sources said.

“The optics of not reflecting the recall costs into executive bonuses would be really bad,” Maryann Keller, an independent consultant, told Bloomberg. “In this case, the recall was precipitated by past management, but that’s just the way it is.”

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Sizing Up Succession Management

successionIt’s a fact of corporate life, and it happens all the time: executives leave companies, just like employees at every other level do.

In fact, we’ve seen two CEOs depart from large, high-profile organizations in just the past nine days.

On Jan. 28, the Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s Corp. announced that CEO Don Thompson would retire at the end of February. That news came just two days after Mattel Inc.’s Bryan Stockton resigned from that company’s top post.

Both of those organizations looked within their own walls to replace erstwhile chief executives. Chief Brand Officer Steve Easterbrook will take the reins at McDonald’s, while  longtime Mattel board member Christopher Sinclair was named the El Segundo, Calif.-based toymaker’s chairman and interim CEO.

Korn Ferry’s new Succession Matters report suggests that most executives favor such an approach to executive succession; one that relies more on “building” (developing from within) than “buying” (hiring from the outside) when sourcing leadership talent.

More specifically, the poll of 1,009 C-level respondents found most executives reckoning the right mix of “build” versus “buy” should be 2:1. Nevertheless, close to half of the survey’s respondents—from companies ranging in size from 500 to more than 50,000 employees—said their organizations depended more on outside hires to fill leadership positions.

And, looking more broadly at succession management, it seems many executives have issues with their companies’ efforts that go beyond where they’re looking for C-level talent.

Overall, just 36 percent of executives said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their company’s succession-management programs. Less than one-third (23 percent) reported having a solid pipeline of “ready now” candidates for leadership roles.

Part of the problem is that many succession-management programs “don’t go deep enough into an organization” in search of executive-caliber talent, says Jim Peters, lead for global succession management at Korn Ferry.

For example, the study finds 78 percent of executives saying their organization’s succession-management programs only include the title of “vice president” and above.

“I often say to CEOs: ‘There are several potential CEOs within your organization; you and many others at different levels in the leadership pipeline, with one being an individual contributor in Mumbai,’” says Peters. “[I ask these CEOs] ‘Do you know who she is? And if you know who she is, what would you do to ensure that she would have the skills and capabilities to lead the enterprise 15 or 20 years from now?’”

Building a “world-class” succession-management program requires integrating talent processes that make the whole “much greater than the sum of its parts,” adds RJ Heckman, president of Korn Ferry’s leadership and talent consulting business.

“Companies that do not have a ready supply of leaders leave talent processes separate and unintegrated,” says Heckman. “Recruiting is not related to performance, is not related to learning, is not related to succession … and lo and behold, you don’t have a ready slate of candidates when the proverbial emergency hits and you need candidates [for] senior positions.”

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Another City Tackles Paid Sick Days

The Philadelphia City Council today is debating a hot-button topic with potential HR ramifications that may reach far beyond the city’s limits: whether to enact a paid sick days bill into law.

If passed, the City of Brotherly Love will join San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Portland, Ore., New York City, Jersey City, Newark and the state of Connecticut as municipalities with such laws on the books.

While the debate around such laws has been growing over the years, momentum for its passage increased after President Obama’s recent State of the Union Address, which called for cities to ensure paid sick days for millions of Americans. The president is also urging Congress to require companies to give workers up to seven days of paid sick leave a year.

According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, San Francisco became the first locality in the nation to guarantee access to earned paid sick days in 2006.

In 2008, the District of Columbia and Milwaukee passed paid sick days standards that included paid “safe” days for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. In 2011, the Connecticut legislature became the first in the nation to pass a statewide paid sick days law, and Seattle became the fourth city, with Portland, Ore., and New York City joining their ranks in 2013.

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