Thursday, June 23, 2016

Harassment Training Doesn’t Work?

Or maybe just not in the way we intend

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace released its report this week with findings that may surprise some about the effectiveness of workplace anti-harassment training. It doesn’t work. The report is rather long, so if you’re pressed for time read the executive summary.

If we’re honest with ourselves and brave enough to admit it, we’ve known this for a while. The number of claims to the EEOC involving harassment for 2015 was 27,893– and those are just the cases filed – many more go unreported. That number hasn’t varied much over several years.

Interestingly, the EEOC isn’t the first to tell us that training doesn’t work. Several fairly recent academic studies (including UC Berkeley), highlighted in this article from The Guardian tell the tale. In some cases, the anti-sexual harassment training seemed to make men less likely to consider behavior as harassment, and less likely to report it if observed. Some of the reasons posited by these studies include that the training may make some men feel threatened or afraid they’ll face false accusations, and may respond in a defensive manner; or that the training may trigger implicit gender biases, making it more likely for them to stereotype women. Since there are few studies that show that such training has positive effects, it’s difficult to know the reasons it’s not effective.

The real question is, what do we do about it? The agency certainly isn’t backtracking on its position on training. If you’re the target of an investigation and you haven’t done any training, you’re going down. 

The EEOC report does give several examples of things it feels will help make anti-harassment efforts more effective. Many of them are not new to most HR pros. Getting buy-in and support from top leadership, including the time and resources for proper training; and utilizing live, in-person training presented by someone who knows your workplace. Yes, sometimes having an outside trainer can be helpful. However, that person doesn’t know your company, doesn’t know the day-to-day culture of your workplace or how things play out in your world. Having someone who is not in-the-know do the training can result in your employees feeling a disconnect between the training content and their real world. And just sitting someone in front of an off-the-shelf online video is rarely effective.

The report also outlined a few points that I think are important and have been undervalued and underutilized in many workplaces. Specifically, holding people accountable, at all levels. Making mid-level managers and front-line supervisors accountable for both preventing and reporting harassment is too often ignored. Let’s face it, HR can’t possibly be the only one carrying the banner or being responsible for the results!

Creating a culture that doesn’t tolerate harassment or discrimination is important and is the goal for most workplaces. But I don’t think it goes far enough, or is done in an effective way. Too often these efforts become words on a policy or a poster in the cafeteria –symbolic compliance. It should go further and have real meaning and real consequences when it goes wrong. Creating a civil workplace in which bad behavior is not tolerated, is addressed in a fair, consistent manner and is proportional to the severity of the offense is critical. It’s critical that a company’s commitment to keeping its workplace free of harassment and discrimination – even if it doesn’t rise to the level of being illegal – be obvious to all employees. You can’t smooth over the actions of someone who is high performer, just because he/she is a high performer. It just doesn’t float.

Recognizing the dearth of research around the effectiveness of harassment training and therefore substantive guidance on what is, and what is not useful, there are also several statements included that the EEOC should include in its conciliation efforts and settlements of claims, the agreement that employers allow researchers into their workplaces to study these issues. While I agree more study needs to be done, I’m not sure that requiring employers to facilitate it is workable. 

I was very happy to see the agency feels it should have a conversation with the NLRB concerning the "confidentiality of workplace investigations, and the permissible scope of policies regulating workplace social media usage" and the "permissible content of workplace "civility codes." I’d love to be a part of that conversation! Since the NLRB seems hell-bent on eliminating the expectation or requirement for civil behavior in the workplace, I think the EEOC has a tough row to hoe on these issues. 

All in all, it’s a very interesting report. Again, not a whole lot of new insight, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

On being (professionally) Brave

Despite the risks…


In today’s business world, there is much being said about being confident, "leaning in" and taking charge of your career – especially in terms of being a female in business. Much of this has to do with being brave at work. What does that mean and what happens if you’re brave at work and what happens when you’re not? That probably depends on you, your personal circumstances and your level of comfort. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

I believe that bravery in your professional life has a lot of moving parts, depending on the context and the environment.

Being brave means taking action despite fear, the perceived personal risk, and the uncertainty of how things will turn out. We often overestimate the chances that things will go wrong (due to our fear?) and don’t trust our own abilities to handle the results – either success or failure. We tend to lean toward the idea that doing nothing is safer and less costly than taking the risk. And we also worry a lot about what other people will think of us – or what we fear they will think of us. How valid is all this, though?

What happens when we give in to unnecessary fear? A lot, actually.

Apologizing unnecessarily is not being brave. Making an impassioned argument is not something you should apologize for, yet many of us do just that. We often will begin by saying "I’m sorry, but….." or "Forgive my directness, but…..", or something similar. You don’t usually hear men offer an opinion with an opening apology. Don’t mistake getting angry (again, not without due cause) with being passionate about your position. Apologizing simply because your position may make others unhappy will only serve to allow them to hold the balance of power in our lives and often negates what we have to say.

Being humble and working behind the scenes can sometimes be positive traits, but allowing others to take credit for your work can make you a doormat and possibly damage your career. There’s a difference between being a grandstander and being a team player who makes significant contributions and expects recognition for those contributions.

Playing it safe rather than speaking up, making a change or taking a chance only to regret it later, or failing to stand up for others is not brave. It may be risky, but it’s not brave. Standing up to authority, uncovering mistakes, reducing uncertainty and protecting those in need are necessary and important risks to take. Sometimes we have to make the judgement that something else is more important than our fear. 

Two examples from my professional life illustrate some of these points. I was once in a meeting with staff ranging from supervisors to the executive director. The discussion turned to the organization’s efforts around cultural competency and how our policies, procedures and actions could align with this concept. One supervisor began to opine about how it was possible to be "too politically correct" and that we couldn’t please everyone. Valid points depending on the context and circumstances. However, he became more animated and began deriding and mocking people from other religions, other races, ethnicities and those from other countries ("other" meaning other than his religion, race, etc.). As I sat there, and looked around the room, I saw that no one was reacting to his rant. I first responded calmly by saying our goal was to be more inclusive rather than exclusive. But he continued, and still no one said anything. As an HR pro, I was stunned, and for an organization that is dedicated to an inclusive life for its clients, I was having a hard time understanding why no one else was responding. Finally, I had to speak up. I clearly and directly told him he was being offensive and he needed to stop. What happened then? There was still absolutely no reaction from the assembled group of supervisors, managers or directors.

I took a risk and called this man out in the meeting. I did so because I was personally offended (I’m in an interfaith marriage) and I was professionally offended. I’m an HR pro, and this supervisor was openly expressing his biased and discriminatory views in the workplace, which in turn was very risky to the organization. What happened next blindsided me. I was reprimanded for calling him out in the meeting. I responded by explaining my position, and the affront it presented to my personal and professional integrity. It also opened my eyes. I realized that it was time for me to move on, after almost nine years. I had accomplished a lot (although maybe no enough) and needed a new challenge. I resigned. That took courage; it took bravery, despite the risks. I resigned from a job I loved, from an organization whose mission I was committed to. I loved (most of) the people I worked with and the clients we served. But I had to be true to myself. I vowed to examine the situation and determine if there was anything I could have done before this incident to have prevented it. Did I not educate enough? Did I not convey the value of diversity? What did I miss, or fail to do? Or did I simply not see what was actually there all along?

In this case, I made the judgement that the situation was far more important than my fear of confronting someone openly, and my fear and apprehension over quitting an otherwise great job.

What happened next was a direct result of my giving in (again) to my fear of taking a risk and being true to myself and fear of the possible consequences. I was offered a position at a company that was a bit of a start-up (a risk?). That company turned out to be the most toxic, manipulative and dysfunctional work environment I have ever experienced. But I stayed with it; I didn’t want to give up. I stayed because I was hesitant to take the risk to start another job search, I was hesitant to stand up for myself when others stole my work and took the credit; I was hesitant to confront the lies I was being told and how I was being manipulated. I tried to positively influence the environment by being the best "me" I could be both personally and professionally. In the end, the decision was made for me because the company was not getting enough business to support my position any longer (hmmm, I wonder why?). Since that time, the company has experienced something like an 80% turnover of staff, and the revolving door continues. People may come on board, but don’t stay long (they were braver than I). I did come away with some additional skills, which have been useful to me, so it wasn’t a complete loss. But I’ve also now had two relatively recent experiences that have taught me I need to be braver in my professional life.

What can you do to be braver in your professional life?

  • Say yes to an opportunity because of how it will help you grow; say no to an opportunity because it won’t allow you to grow.
  • Speak up in a meeting when there are big consequences – positive or negative.
  • Don’t hide the things that matter to you just because it doesn’t matter to people around you.
  • Decide that you can’t always fit in with others’ expectations, because you don’t like the person you become when you do that.
  • Explain to your boss that you think there’s a better way, even if others seem to be against you.
  • Stand up for yourself when others are trying to sway you in your thinking or action and that way is against your instincts.
  • Decide to take a stand in your life, right now, rather than just going with the flow.

I’ll try to be braver, will you?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Is Pay Transparency Good?

It depends…..

Over the past few years, there have been numerous efforts in state legislatures and the federal government surrounding pay transparency. Most of these efforts seem to be indicating that more transparency about wages will help to alleviate wage discrimination in general and the "gender pay gap" in particular. I’ve written recently about the problems with some of the studies of the gender pay gap here.

Several states have passed, or tried to pass laws that would require employers to include a great deal of information in job postings; prohibit asking candidates about current or past salaries, and require more information be included on pay stubs. All of them purport to aid in informing employees about their pay, method of pay, etc., so they might know if they’re being discriminated against in pay practices. Having been in HR for more than 25 years, I’ve encountered very few employees who don’t know what their rate of pay is, or how they’re paid. None of these efforts have adequately explained how these laws will aid in preventing wage discrimination.

And then there’s the EEOC and the new requirements for the EEO-1 reports (see here about half-way into the post). The agency states that this massive collection of aggregate data will "alert" business to possible wage discrimination and encourage them to correct it, and will help the EEOC to target businesses for "review" of their pay practices. In my earlier post, I quote the US Chamber’s response. In essence, there’s no way that the collection and analyses of the data that will be collected in this effort will accomplish anything useful. The categories the EEOC will use will require wildly disparate jobs to be lumped together, with no real consideration for the many factors that go into decisions about pay. If anything, I believe, as many others do, that the use and publication of this mass of data will only cause confusion, misinterpretation and will further muddy the waters.

Now comes a survey that presents some very interesting data. A Point Taken-Marist survey shows that more than 70% of Americans do not think employers should be required to publish employee salaries, either internally or externally, and about 66% said they would not want their pay disclosed to anyone!  Furthermore, 58% say that if private companies make salaries public "it will increase conflict among employees within the company."  Well, that certainly raises some issues with the EEOC’s collection of data!

As an HR pro, I believe that businesses should be more upfront about what a position pays – at least the range – when recruiting. It would certainly make more sense for candidates to select in or out based on that information rather than waste everyone’s time. One cannot always surmise the general rate of pay from a posting’s job title or description. And, I also believe that a candidate’s current or past salary should have limited application in determining what salary will be offered. While knowing past salary can help an employer determine the level of experience, responsibility, etc. the person had in previous jobs, it really shouldn’t factor into what that employer will now pay – the business’s salary budget, the scope of the job, and the value of the position to the business should play more of a role than the candidate’s pay history. Having said that, I don’t believe that legislating the issue will be helpful.

So, whether pay transparency is good or not, depends on whom you ask.