Friday, August 29, 2014

8 easy steps to build the perfect board

by Roger Barker
Originally Published: August 29th, 2014

1. Understand what it does

Boards govern companies. They provide entrepreneurial leadership, while ensuring risks are understood and managed within a framework of sensible, effective controls. They set out the company’s values, ensuring these underpin shareholder and other stakeholders.
They also approve the company’s strategic direction, ensuring the necessary resources are in place to meet its objectives. The official, legalese-filled extent of a board’s authority will be outlined in the Articles of Association, the company’s constitutional document.

2.  Figure out what you need

For most companies, there are no rules about the board’s internal composition of skills and experience. The exception is audit committees in large companies, which are required to have members with recent and relevant financial experience.
Specialists from areas such as finance, HR and marketing, while each having a very different focus, can all play their part in determining strategy and deploying resources effectively. Of course, no two companies are the same, but as a rule a board should be ‘a cabinet of all the talents’.

3. Size it up

There is a legal requirement for limited, privately owned companies to have at least one director, while plcs must have two. Beyond this, the ideal size of a board depends (unsurprisingly) on a number of factors including the age, ownership, structure and financial profile of a company.
The average size of effective boards in the UK is somewhere between 6 and 12 directors, depending on the size and complexity of a company. More than this and the board is in danger of becoming a speaking shop rather than a genuine decision-making body.

4. ‘I agree with Nick…’

All directors must be able to apply clear and independent thought to the challenges a company faces. ‘Group think’ should be avoided at all costs – it’s far more likely to mean decisions are insufficiently thought through.
There is, then, a clear business case for director diversity in gender, age, background and other factors. However, many organisations are still very conservative in their board appointments, which can make for homogenous, less effective groups of decision makers.

5. Go indie

The huge complexity of large organisations makes full and proper oversight extremely difficult, but the consequences of failure can be devastating. Enron or, more recently, The Co-operative Group are two powerful demonstrations of what happens when oversight and governance procedures fail.

Non-executive directors (NEDs), who the UK Corporate Governance Code 2012 recommend should be in the majority on listed company boards, are there to act as critical friends, providing objective, strategic advice to, and oversight of, the executive team. Non-listed companies, on the other hand, can basically make their own decisions on the proportion of executive/non-executive directors .

6. First day at school

There is not much scope to learn on the job as a director - liability and accountability exist from day one, and continue even after a director has left a board. So, as a starting point, all new directors should be provided with an induction (where they already take place, they’re often organised by the company secretary).
This might include an induction pack, presentations from key managers, discussions with the chairman or company secretary, meetings with other directors, reports from external analysts and site visits to give a balanced, real-life overview.  Otherwise, they could be as out of their depth as on their first day at school.

7. Train ‘em up

Incredibly, pretty much anyone over the age of 16 years old in the UK can become a board director, with no requirement for any qualifications or training.  A targeted programme of training and professional development can give directors a better appreciation of the complexity of their role and its legal and regulatory requirements, especially if they have no experience of sitting on a board before.

8. The next generation

Supporting board-level diversity should start close to home, with a review of succession planning and talent spotting in-house.  Mentoring talented individuals can do a lot to get the right people putting themselves forward for board positions.

Dr. Roger Barker is the director of corporate governance and professional standards at the Institute of Directors.

Read the original article from Management Today here: 

Flexible working: Have you got the right tools in place?

by James Campanini
Originally Published: August 29th, 2014

More employees are working from home than ever before. But are they fully equipped for this new way of working?

The implementation of the government’s flexible working legislation on June 30, 2014 has served as a call to action for businesses across the UK. With clearer guidelines around employee rights, this legislation has affected companies in several ways. Employees have the option to choose part-time, compressed or flexible working hours. It is also possible for employees to build a work schedule tailored to their personal needs with the option to work from home altogether.

Changing working patterns and behaviours look set to have a massive impact on businesses. Empowering more staff to work flexibly will have a positive impact on employee satisfaction, but businesses need to ask themselves; how they can continue to drive productivity?

In the first three months of 2014, the number of people working from home in the UK reached a record 4.2m (which is nearly 14 percent of the workforce), according to the Office for National Statistics. It’s clear from these figures that there is already enthusiasm to embrace remote working and it will be interesting to see how the number of remote workers grows following the recent government legislation over the coming months.

Despite progressive changes in the law, businesses are still concerned that accommodating flexible working will increase business costs or compromise on productivity. Putting the right foundations in place to utilise the full power of their workforce is therefore essential – it’s the only way to adapt to this new way of working.

There are a number of tools on the market that can help businesses manage a flexible workforce in this new age. For example, market research body,, recently conducted a national survey showing that if an in-person meeting is not possible, more than half (54 percent) of respondents would choose videoconferencing as the next alternative, highlighting that employees prefer to explore different tools to connect with one another.

So, how can businesses help employees enjoy flexible working whilst still maintaining a collaborative and efficient business?

Enable communications irrelevant of location
Some organisations, particularly those with a global footprint, will already have measures in place to support remote working. For example, videoconferencing services might be used to help initiate an instant face-to-face conversation. In a business setting the constant sharing of ideas and documents is key and communication channels need to facilitate this exchange.

Assess working hours to ensure the utmost productivity 
London is a hot-spot for international business and, as a result, very few Londoners are working a 9-5 day. According to a recent annual study by Blue Jeans Network, while days begin at 8am and wind down at 6pm for most of the EU, the peak hours for London activity are spread more broadly – starting at 7am and slowing down at 9pm. However, the recent flexible working legislation offer Londoners the option to negotiate their working hours that ensure their utmost productivity. For example, if an employee has a majority of American clients, they could log on from lunchtime to early evening in order to connect with these colleagues.

Making systems and organisations work together
When international companies find the need to connect with other businesses across different time zones, interoperability is especially important. Solutions that seamlessly work well together offer increased flexibility to users, providing the option to communicate and collaborate in a way that suits them. This increased flexibility provides users with a choice to connect how and where they want, without compromising effective working connections.

Nearly two months after the flexible working legislation, businesses are having to make a real transition towards the “flex-working” mentality. However, the future of flexible working relies upon how businesses succeed in maintaining a collaborative and efficient communications set-up. As we look ahead to the flexible working infrastructure impacting more and more businesses, it will be important to evaluate communications processes in order to manage this. After all, as employees expect and are encouraged to embrace a new age of smarter working, so too must their employees.

Read the original article from Channel Pro here: 

How Racism Creeps Into Medicine

by Hamza Shaban
Originally Published: August 29th, 2014

In 1864, the year before the Civil War ended, a massive study was launched to quantify the bodies of Union soldiers. One key finding in what would become a 613-page report was that soldiers classified as "White" had a higher lung capacity than those labeled "Full Blacks" or "Mulattoes." The study relied on the spirometer—a medical instrument that measures lung capacity. This device was previously used by plantation physicians to show that black slaves had weaker lungs than white citizens. The Civil War study seemed to validate this view. As early as Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, in which he remarked on the dysfunction of the “pulmonary apparatus” of blacks, lungs were used as a marker of difference, a sign that black bodies were fit for the field and little else. (Forced labor was seen as a way to “vitalize the blood” of flawed black physiology. By this logic, slavery is what kept black bodies alive.)

The notion that people of color have a racially defined deficiency isn't new. The 19th century practice of measuring skulls, and equating them with morality and intelligence, is perhaps the most infamous example. But race-based measurements still persist. Today, doctors examine our lungs using spirometers that are "race corrected." Normal values for lung health are reduced for patients that doctors identify as black. Not only might this practice mask economic or environmental explanations for lower lung capacity, but the logic of innate, racial difference is built into things like disability estimates, pre-employment physicals, and clinical diagnoses that rely on the spirometer. Race has become a biologically distinct, scientifically valid category despite the unnatural and social process of its creation.

In her recent book Breathing Race into the Machine, Lundy Braun, a professor of Africana studies and medical science at Brown University, reveals the political and social influences that constantly shape science and technology. She traces the history of the spirometer and explains its role in establishing a hierarchy of human health, and the belief that race is a kind of genetic essence. I spoke with her about the science of racial difference, its history, and its resurgence.

Hamza Shaban: How did the idea of race corrections and differing lung capacity come about?

Lundy Braun: My research suggests that Samuel Cartwright, a Southern physician and plantation owner, was the first person to use the spirometer to compare lung capacity in blacks and whites. The first major study making racial comparisons of lung capacity with a large sample size was the anthropometric study of Union soldiers directed by Benjamin Apthorp Gould, published in 1869.
The idea about the pathology of black lungs circulated in medical groups in the late 19th century but the next scientifically modern racial comparison was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1922. This paper was followed by a flurry of studies in the 1920s, some of which continue to be cited in the 2000s. Gould's book also continues to be cited.

Shaban: So within the medical community this is a well-established concept?

Braun: If you look at the scientific literature, virtually everyone in the world has lower lung capacity than people classified as whites. There is a scientific consensus. The question I’m interested in is: How did this idea of difference get into science? And how was difference explained? The problem here is the survival of the framework of innate racial difference.

Shaban: Race correction is actually built into the spirometer, right?

Braun: When I interviewed physicians they were sort of vaguely aware of race correction. But they don’t necessarily know that they’re activating a correction factor when they push the button or select a certain drop-down menu. Some even argued that they didn’t race correct, interestingly enough, but when I looked at the specification sheet, a correction factor was built into the machine.

Shaban: When a patient goes to see their doctor about their lungs, how does the doctor racially classify their patient?

Braun: In my interviews I asked physicians how they assessed race. I got a variety of responses. Many said they just "eyeballed" it—and never asked the individual any questions about their race. Others asked people to self-identify. But it can be awkward to ask someone their race for a lung function test. Patients might wonder why race is relevant for this particular test. So, in general, my research suggests that operators/clinicians simply guess a patient's race based on the usual simplistic physical characteristics historically associated with "race," like skin color—a poor marker for race globally. This guess may have little to do with how someone self-identifies or the richness of their ancestry.

"Race correction" is built into the software of the spirometer globally.  To evaluate lung function and to make a recording, the operator/clinician must determine a patient's race.  For most modern spirometers, this entails selecting a race option from a drop down menu or pressing a button. And the options vary by manufacturer.

Shaban: Early and rigorous critiques of a racialized understanding of lung capacity were made by leading black intellectuals: W.E.B Du Bois and Kelly Miller. They recognized how these studies lent support for racist ideology and prejudiced public policy. Why were their criticisms drowned out, even when they pointed to dubious science?

Braun: The short answer would be racism. The more complex answer is that they were almost alone in arguing against racism in science. Then, as now, it’s hard to shift mainstream thinking. Lung capacity difference was a deeply entrenched idea by the late 19th century.

An alternative narrative that I point out was by the physician Jedidiah H. Baxter.

Shaban: Baxter did a separate study of black Union soldiers that showed no difference in lung function, right? His findings conflicted with Gould’s.

Braun: Yes. And what’s interesting there, it gets to the tension between knowledge produced by qualitative and quantitative research: Quantitative data is stripped of context. Gould’s was just numbers assembled into a table. He hardly comments at all. His work looks very, very objective, and very scientific.

Baxter produced quantitative data, but he also included rich narratives from army surgeons in the field. These narratives are racist but the army surgeons weren’t willing to write blacks off as having lower lung capacity or that they were incapable of fighting for freedom. The two studies produced different results, and although Baxter’s narratives were acknowledged, Gould’s study is cited in science journals even today.

The argument I make is that Gould’s study looked most legibly scientific—and it drowned out Baxter, and it drowned out Kelly Miller, and it drowned out Du Bois.

Shaban: Why have environmental or socioeconomic explanations for differing lung capacity never been taken seriously over some innate racial factor?

Braun: There have been scientific studies showing that people who live around high pollution areas have lower lung capacity. High pollution areas also map onto minority status. Why we have chosen both in the U.S. and internationally to focus on race to the exclusion of social class, I can only speculate. One piece of the story is that the accumulation of scientific research around a particular idea can make it hard to dislodge. With the spirometer, having the correction factor actually built into the machine makes racial assumptions invisible.

This is a problem not just with lung capacity measurements but with health inequality more generally. There’s vastly, vastly, vastly more research on genomics than on the social determinants of health. Part of the problem is the infrastructure of science. What kinds of questions are considered scientific?

Shaban: When you look at the race categories of the U.S. census and medical dictionaries throughout history, you find a baffling array of contradiction, bias, and hierarchy. Why has race as a biological concept, rather than a social or historical one, continued to attract scientific inquiry?
Braun: I wish I had an answer to that. Why race science is getting reinvigorated at this particular moment, I think is very interesting. Why is race-as-biology being reinvigorated at a time when we are claiming to be color-blind?

One possible piece of the puzzle is: There’s a long history of using science to solve social problems. And genomics is very exciting and it seems apolitical. The actual science of it is appealing. It’s been sold to the public as a solution to health. But addressing the social aspects of racism and class and gender discrimination is not something we have taken on, or wanted to take on, for centuries.
I am not making an argument never to use race in health research.  I think the use of race as a social category is entirely appropriate to study the health effects of a discriminatory social world—but always in combination with gender and measures of class.

It’s an entirely different matter to use race as a natural/scientific category to study genetic difference.
Shaban: In the scientific community there’s this insurgent belief that political correctness is getting in the way of discovery. This argument holds that the question “Is race real?” is a scientific problem whose truth should be pursued, whereas “Should we study it?” is a different, political question, one that scientists shouldn’t be too concerned about. What’s your take on this point?

Braun: The scientific and the social are inextricably linked. From the questions that you decide to ask, from the design of your study, from the way the science is interpreted, it’s always bound up with the social.

The claim of political correctness is a silencing mechanism. And it’s usually invoked to silence social and political questioning. I think a much more productive and interesting project is to examine how beliefs and values get into science—and medical instruments.

It is difficult to convey that race is real in terms of its social impact on people's lives and health, yet it is not rooted in nature. Humans are diverse, including genetically, but classifying that diversity is fundamentally a social process.

One strong piece of evidence, something we have known since 1972, against the biological/genetic concept of race is that there is more genetic variation among individuals within conventionally defined racial groups than between individuals of different racial groups.  This has been demonstrated by numerous researchers using different methodologies.  It is clear from this evidence that looking to genes according to racial group to explain health inequality is misguided.

Shaban: Is history clear that the science of racial difference has always been used to discriminate against non-whites, minorities, or one’s enemies?

Braun: Here I can speak as someone trained as a scientist; scientists are not trained in history. Many people who are working on the genetics of racial difference are very well-intentioned. They’re hoping to find something that will help people. What that something might be and how you’re actually going to help people through genetics is another story.

There’s also the notion that if you are well-intentioned you can avoid some of the past problems.
Because eugenics became so associated with Nazi experimentation, we actually haven’t fully appreciated that 20th century eugenics was “normal” science. We tend to overlook the normality of works like craniometry, the measuring of skulls in the 19th century. Eugenics was embraced by people across the political spectrum, and it was seen by many as a way to improve society.

I’m not saying we’re in a eugenical period. But the history of the debate around race and science needs to be part of the curriculum in medicine as well as graduate education so that scientists and physicians have a deeper sense of that history, that science is informed by the social and that the social in turn is informed by the scientific.

Read the original article from The Atlantic here: 

Racism Will Not Disappear After Older Generation is Gone Without Change Now

by Austin Channing
Originally Published: August 29th, 2014

"Just wait a few more generations. Soon all the old people will be gone."

"My children's generation is so much more diverse. They'll be better at this."

"The bigotry will end as the generations move further from history."

These are statements I hear pretty regularly after discussing racial injustice. They are followed with stories about how much more diverse suburban classrooms have become, or how much diversity was present at a child's birthday party. Proud parents and grandparents are quick to point to any evidence that counters the narrative of the segregation they faced as children. The difference between then and now, rightfully, offers a glimpse of hope, especially in the midst of a racialized tragedy. These statements are filled with hope that we are getting better, that our children will be different as we move further from the civil rights movement of the 60s. Those who make these pronouncements are well intentioned but ultimately naive.

The idea that we just need to wait for a generation to die, and then things will be better doesn't take into account the fullness of our racialized society in the following ways:

1. It assumes that racist ideology isn't being passed down. It's still happening. Now, I don't know how many parents are saying the words, "we are the supreme race," at the dinner table, but the ideology is certainly being passed down in quite normal and therefore insidious ways. Being taught to fear black men, avoid black women, assume Latino's are not citizens, turn Asians into model minorities, and appropriate First Nations culture while dismissing their history… are all being passed down, along with many other assumptions, stereotypes, and prejudices.

As long as our language continues to uplift one race over others, center one race instead of our combined stories, and perpetuate the idea of racial inferiority, our children will do the same. Though they may never know the name Bull Conner, they will certainly participate in the dehumanization of others, unless it is modeled for them how to be and do better.

2. It assumes racism is only interpersonal rather than both interpersonal and systemic. Even if we managed to rid ourselves of all the problematic racial language/notions around us, we still have a problem. Racism is not only about how we treat one another. There are entire systems of racial injustice that must be dismantled, recreated or obliterated altogether.

Our children will be active participants in racial injustice if we do not begin to name, and teach them how to work against injustice. The systems that uplift one race at the expense of another will survive, whether we get our language at the dinner table right or not. To ignore systemic injustice is to minimize racism and misunderstand how unjust systems will continue to thrive no matter how many generations pass. That's the purpose of a system- to continue regardless of "turnover".

3. It erases the urgency of now. Placing all of our hope in our children to "get it right" while simultaneously waiting for a generation to pass, is quite frankly not very inspiring. It seems both mean and extraordinarily passive to me. But beyond that, it also creates no sense of urgency. It assumes we can afford to wait. It accepts that injustice is okay for now. It's okay for unarmed young men to keep dying in the streets at the hands of police. Its okay for women to remain defenseless against the systems that is supposed to protect them. It's okay for our health disparities, income disparities, ownership disparities, employment disparities, environmental disparities, criminal justice disparities, mental health disparities, and educational disparities to continue.

No. No. No.

That's unacceptable. It's unacceptable right now. Today. In this moment. We must believe the loss of life (physical, mental and spiritual) is urgent.

When will we be sick and tired of waiting? When will our hopefulness turn into demands for change now? When will our own souls break wide open over the injustice perpetuated by our own generation? Will we rise to the hopes and dreams our parents had for us?

Will we choose to create better for our children instead of expecting our children to fix it?

Your children may in fact be great at navigating racial conflict. They may be anointed for reconciliation. I'm not discounting their potential contribution to the world. But what about your contribution? What if God is calling you to this moment in history?

The Church, who declares a deep belief in the Imago Dei within all people, cannot afford to be apathetic, even if that apathy is well intentioned. We must get to work while there is work to do. Too many lives hand in the balance. If we choose to remain inanimate, the same racist ideology that has caused so much tragedy in our own lives, will certainly survive into the lives of our children. It has survived hundreds of years; it can last another generation…

Unless we decide we've had enough.

Unless we decide injustice is an urgent matter now.

Unless we decide resistance is love.

Read the original article from Christian Post here: 

More Diverse Corporate Boards Leads to Less Risk Taking

by Ya-Wen Yang
Originally Published: August 29th, 2014

Corporations with more diverse boards of directors are less prone to take risks and more likely to pay dividends to stockholders than firms whose boards are more homogenous.

That’s what my two colleagues and I found in a soon-to-be-published study of more than 2,000 publically-traded companies over a 13-year span. There was clear and convincing evidence that board diversity significantly curbs excessive risk taking.

Firms need to take risks to run business. However, excessive risk taking may endanger their survival. Therefore, investors and regulators have broadened the board’s role to include corporate risk oversight, especially since the wake of the financial crisis in the late 2000s.

Most research on board diversity has focused only on gender diversity. We used a broader-than-normal definition of diversity, encompassing gender, race, age, experience, tenure and expertise. We looked at company records and employed five variables to measure risk: capital expenditures, research and development expenses, acquisition spending, the volatility of stock returns and the volatility of accounting returns.

The first three variables are direct measures of corporate risk as firms can adjust risk by directly altering their investment policies and spending. The last two variables measure corporate risk taking using the volatility of firms’ market and accounting performances.

We found that firms with more diverse boards spend less on capital expenditure, R&D and acquisitions, and exhibit lower volatilities of stock returns than those with less diverse boards.

Additional analysis showed that companies with more diverse boards were more likely to pay dividends and to pay a greater amount of dividend per share than corporations with less diverse boards. In general, risk-averse firms are more likely to avoid investment projects with uncertain outcomes and return cash to shareholders in the form of dividends.

Since firms with more diverse boards are more risk averse, we expect these firms to have a more generous dividend policy than those with less diverse boards. Results from our additional analysis confirm our expectation.

Because our study only focused on publicly-traded companies, the effect of diversity on small- and medium-sized businesses is not known. Of course, diversity tends to help individuals see things from different perspectives. Having this insight can help avoid costly cultural mistakes at both large corporations and small businesses.

The study, which covered 1998 to 2011, showed that most corporate boards are relatively homogenous in gender and race -- being mostly white and male. There was, however, considerably more diversity when we factored in characteristics such as age, experience, tenure and expertise.

Measuring diversity based only on gender misrepresents the actual diversity in corporate boardrooms. We think that our work provides insights that company nominating and governance committees should consider when evaluating director candidates. Our work may also be of interest to regulators in determining the required disclosures of board composition for public companies.

On the one hand, diverse boards could reduce the level of corporate risk taking, discouraging innovative and risky projects. On the other hand, if firm management is overly aggressive in its use of corporate funds for investing in risky projects, our results suggest that more diverse boards could perform better oversight of corporate risk taking than less diverse boards.

Read the original article from Entrepreneur here: 

The Insane Double Standard for Women Working in Tech

by Kimberley Weisul
Originally Published: August 28th, 2014

Why aren't there more women in positions of top leadership? And why do women entrepreneurs seem so reluctant to seek out venture financing? Hint: It's got less to do with work-life balance, children, eldercare, or supportive spouses than you might think.

Instead, some pretty persuasive answers to those questions can be found in a study conducted by linguist and startup CEO Kieran Snyder. This is not a study funded by grant money, sponsored by a big university, or pored over by teams of statisticians. But the results are so incredibly lopsided that the study begs to be taken seriously.

Snyder asked men and women working at tech companies if they would share their performance reviews with her. She figured that those with the best reviews would be most willing to share them, and indeed, almost all of the reviews were positive. She got 248 reviews from 105 men and 75 women, working at 28 tech companies.

In a post for Fortune, Snyder writes that, according to her analysis of the reviews, critical feedback is doled out much differently for women than it is for men. Men get criticized because they fail to develop or exhibit certain skills. Women get criticized for perceived personality flaws.

Here's a quote from a review that was critical of a man:
There are a few cases where it would have been extremely helpful if you had gone deeper into the details to help move an area forward.
Here's one that was critical of a woman:
You can come across as abrasive sometimes. I know you don't mean to, but you need to pay attention to your tone.
It's not a close call. In the 83 critical reviews received by men, just two included comments on personality. In the 94 critical reviews received by women, 71 included negative comments about personality.

The negative comments lobbed at women were the same ones that capable, professional women have heard over and over and over: The dreaded "tone" complaint, above. You're too aggressive. You need to let others share the limelight.

At the same time, we've got a veritable industry, from The Confidence Code to Lean In, telling professional women that, in order to get the career recognition they deserve, it's up to them to work harder and be more confident.

Clearly, there's something else going on here. Remember, these are overwhelmingly positive reviews. Given that, is it even remotely possible that only 2.4 percent of the men have personality flaws that affect their work, but 76 percent of the women do?

That seems highly, highly unlikely. What seems much more probable, is that workplace culture is just not that comfortable with women in professional roles. While this study is restricted to tech companies I'll bet the phenomenon extends to other industries. Remember when Jill Abramson was fired from her job as executive editor of The New York Times--supposedly because of her brusque management style, among other things? And here we thought being brusque was a badge of honor among those who run newsrooms! Only if you're a guy, apparently.

I'm not saying, nor does this study say, that women can't succeed in tech or in business. Of course they can, and they do. But this study does give some insight into why so many women leave STEM careers. It's got to be demoralizing to be criticized for perceived personality flaws while your male colleagues have the luxury of being judged on their actual work.

Likewise with venture capital. VCs are fond of saying, repeatedly, that they invest in the entrepreneur and the team more so than the business. The theory is that the right team will find a good business or business model, even if they start off in the wrong direction. But this research shows just how much more difficult it is to be the "right" person if you're a woman. Regardless of a woman's actual credentials, those evaluating her are much more likely to find her lacking in some ineffable way than they would a guy.

Is it any wonder so many women choose businesses that don't require venture capital? In most cases, I don't think these women lack confidence or business chops. They'd just rather use their considerable talents and energy to build great businesses, rather than to try to buck a crazy cultural norm all on their own.

Read the original article from Inc. here:

What India Can Teach Silicon Valley About Its Gender Problem

by Vikram Chandra
Originally Published: August 28th, 2014

Silicon Valley has been wracked with controversies about sexism lately. Only 17 percent of Google's technical employees are women. Tech conference organizers routinely post speaker lists that skew male. The female cofounder of Tinder was allegedly harassed and erased from corporate history last year. Yet some people still minimize the problem. Their argument: Since the tech industry is populated by meritocratic rationalists, it would be impossible for a talented female engineer not to rise to the top. Therefore, if few women are in the industry, the problem is not sexism but the absence of some innate capacity or interest on the part of (most) women. In other words, the dearth of women in tech is only natural.

Having grown up in India and worked as a coder in the US, I find this line of reasoning specious. One of the characters in Love and Longing in Bombay, a collection of short stories I published in 1997, is a young female programmer who founds and runs a company out of her apartment. This fictional depiction grew out of a decidedly nonfictional reality: I had noticed many such women in India, and over the years their numbers have increased steadily. The proportion of programmers in India who are women is at least 30 percent. In the US it's 21 percent.

And this despite the fact that by most indexes—economic opportunity, educational attainment, health—women in India have access to a narrower set of opportunities than women in the United States. So unless nature is working contrarily in South Asia, something about the culture of the Indian educational system and tech industry is more hospitable to women than the American one. If we can figure out what that difference is, we can begin to change things for the better in the US.

In India, women feel at home in engineering. One 2013 study of Indian engineering students asked whether they ever felt left out in an academic setting. About 8 percent of female engineers reported such feelings, while almost 20 percent of male engineers sometimes felt left out. In another study, female students described the culture of computing as one that prizes meticulousness, intelligence, sociability, and mutual assistance. In workplace interviews with both sexes, sociologist Winifred Poster found “a pervasive conviction that women and men have similar mental abilities to do technical work” and so “an assumption that technical work itself has no gender.”

A sea of male faces at a recent Google I/O conference. James Merithew

In the US, the culture of tech definitely has a gender. It's a culture where one company running a hackathon offered beer served by “friendly (female) staff,” where brogrammers proudly “crush code,” where women report that bosses and peers challenge their expertise, where some women's attempts to address these issues are met with online harassment and even death threats.

Of course, the US has a long history of infusing the pioneering work of innovation with a particular strain of masculinity. In the popular imagination, the rugged, well-armed pioneer was a de facto soldier of Manifest Destiny, a resourceful problem solver, a man of action. And in 1910, with the westward expansion completed, Frederick Jackson Turner argued that the nation must turn to a new, figurative wilderness, the frontier of knowledge, and that scientists must lead: “The test tube and the microscope are needed rather than the ax and rifle in this new ideal of conquest.” In a prideful 1930 evocation of American exceptionalism, botanist and mathematician J. Arthur Harris observed, “In Europe they cross the frontier. In America we penetrate the frontier.” The contributions of women notwithstanding, the imagined, mythologized pioneer becomes unmistakably male. Leah Ceccarelli, a scholar of rhetoric, points out that in the US “the archetype of the frontier explorer to which scientists are invariably compared is a white male risk-taker, eager to isolate himself from society for long stretches of time as he makes a bold thrust forward into dangerous territory.”

So also in Silicon Valley, where the warriors of code are encouraged to be ninjas, to make killer apps, to disrupt. Venture capitalist and startup whisperer Paul Graham knows on sight the qualities that make good founders: “These are fierce nerds. You have to be somewhat intimidating-looking, and that's what these guys are,” he said in a 2012 NPR interview. “They're like the kind of people Julius Caesar was afraid of.” And if women don't look lean and hungry and dangerous enough, well, that's just nature at work.

But there are other ways to imagine the qualities necessary to succeed as an engineer and scientific thinker. In the Indian context, debate has always been—in philosopher B. K. Matilal's words—the “preferred form of rationality.” The earliest extant Indian texts, the Vedas, contain many hymns conceived as questions and answers or discussions. The Bhagavad Gita is staged as a dialog. Scientific and philosophical texts were often written in the sutra form, collections of tightly economical aphorisms in verse; the important ones were always surrounded by commentaries, and commentaries on commentaries. As the famous saying had it, “Vāde vāde jāyate tattvabodhah.” (“In continuous dialogue emerges knowing of the essence”). Great halls were built for the sole purpose of debate. Women occasionally participated, but the culture was a masculine one.

The modern equivalent of such dialog, however, actively recognizes women's scientific and technical skills: In a 2004 study, anthropologist Carol Mukhopadhyay reported that when she asked Indian interviewees to react to the idea that mathematics is inherently masculine, their response was “surprise, laughter, and bewilderment”; they countered with stories of female mathematicians in Indian history. Another study, from 2007, notes that “almost all IT professionals in Chennai, male and female, insisted to us that both sexes have equal technical skills … and, in relation to gender, the Indian IT industry contrasts with its counterparts in Europe and America.” The middle-class consensus is: If women want to program, and if this is now socially acceptable, of course they can and should.

But in the United States, which imagines pioneers as male combatants, can men realize that sometimes a microscope is just a microscope and still remain pioneers? US programmers, like coders everywhere, work in teams, but they seem imaginatively committed to the ideal of the violent, lonely frontiersman. The resistance to the introduction of women into the cowboy posse springs, I think, from fear that the very nature of the activity will be transformed, that men will have to adopt (supposedly) female ways of working. The action will move from the mesa to the parlor. The lone warriors will be domesticated, forced to be effetely polite. They will become mere conversationalists, doing something that looks less like penetration and more like the knitting of a vast skein. The would-be riflemen and dagger-wielders will be unmanned.


To be sure, there is no lack of violence and warrior machismo in the Indian tradition, and those cultural elements still rule much of the landscape outside of the debate halls and technology parks. Though the IT environment is largely gender-neutral and is attractive to women precisely because it functions as a haven from some of the misogyny outside, it's far from perfect: In a study by Poster, women reported impediments to full participation, especially at managerial levels—social conventions and safety concerns limit work hours and travel. Meanwhile, more women in the US achieve management positions than in India, and they receive fairer wages in these nontechnical roles.

According to Poster, one Indian subsidiary of a US tech company mixed elements from both cultures: flex time, open-floor seating plans, and freer gender mixing from the US, with family benefits from India, including three months of maternity leave and allowances for domestic help. A female employee responded enthusiastically: “It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen … It is quite different from other Indian companies. It is quite different from other multinationals. It has a total freedom.” But the women also noted that American managers unconsciously imported their engineering culture, so that suddenly the women were facing supervisors who questioned their engineering skills, trivialized their technical aptitude, and overlooked their contributions.

Can the virtues of a blended freedom—American-style flexibility and social fluidity with Indian-style familial support and recognition of women's engineering skills—be replicated on a wide scale? Maybe. The first step to checking this culture of blithe sexism and systematic exclusion masquerading as a meritocracy is to recognize that it is rooted in a mythology. Myths are energizing, but they can also blind us to the received notions that shape how we see the world. The frontier myth of Silicon Valley traps men in a hall of mirrors, where all they can see is go-it-alone gunslingers. Once we recognize this, we can start to tell ourselves newer, better stories.

Read the original article from Wired here: 

A Continuing Struggle for Working Moms

by Monique Moore, Ph.D.
Originally Published: August 28th, 2014

Women’s Equality Day, celebrated this week, commemorates the passage of a woman’s right to vote. Starting with our right to weigh in at the polls, the feminist movement has certainly come far. However, for mothers especially, the movement has not come far enough.

American women are increasingly divided along a schizophrenic split. Unemployed, on the one hand. Over-worked and over-stressed, on the other. This can hardly be what our hard-fighting suffragists and feminist forebearers dreamed of when they fought to open up opportunities for women.

On a personal level, it became clear rather quickly after my son was born that women are still at a disadvantage compared to most men. Upon return from maternity leave, I found myself struggling with a tug-of-war between work and childcare demands. Our family was faced with a sobering inability to find quality daycare atop workplace policies banning flexible schedules. For the first time in my life, I felt bereft of reasonable options and utterly powerless. Unfortunately, I’m hardly alone.

Data released from the Pew Research Center earlier this year indicates that a growing number of women leave the workforce to care for children, and never make it back.

These opt-out mothers fall into two categories. The first is women who do not earn enough to pay for childcare. The second is high-wage-earning women from elite universities who, according to researchers at Vanderbilt University, appear more likely to quit their jobs than graduates from less prestigious universities. In other words, the American workforce is forcing out low-income mothers as well as losing a chunk of its best and brightest to child-rearing. If women were not forced to chose between their child’s welfare and their jobs, more mothers would be in the workforce, and income earnings between men and women would likely be a lot more equitable.

Among mothers who do maintain careers, research indicates that moms shoulder the majority of childcare and household responsibilities on top of work concerns. Given these realities, it is not surprising that women with families are now more likely than men to report extreme stress as well as less time for managing stress. This formula hardly seems equitable, or sustainable.

If women hope to achieve true equality, the time has come to unapologetically call for what mothers and children need most to ensure their child’s welfare, and to remain in the workforce: extended paid maternity leave, more part-time work options (especially for mothers with children under school-age), flexible schedules, and greater access to affordable, high-quality childcare.

Fortunately, there is some indication that the career versus family struggle mothers face may be a growing focal point in the political arena. President Obama’s Working Families Summit, held in June, promised to launch the latest wave of progressive reforms, targeted at helping advance working mothers.

The summit, which I attended, was a needed call to action from A-list policymakers and cultural influencers alike. From President Obama to Nancy Pelosi to Gloria Steinem, speeches were broadly focused on encouraging women to remain in the workforce and strive to advance. To help, they promised to encourage a modest expansion of flexible schedules and telecommuting options so that mothers can care for sick children, and parents can attend their child’s special events (e.g., teacher-parent meetings, or a child’s championship sports game).

While President Obama’s summit and the “lean-in” model it seemed to advocate was a great first step, I left the conference feeling that, so far, this working mother’s movement has not gone far enough.

For those who are unfamiliar with Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, the premise is broadly a trickle-down theory of feminism: If more women attain high positions, there will be more females in power who, as mothers who struggled themselves, will work to create more family-friendly work policies.

Several polls over the past several years have found that what working mothers really want is not to “lean in,” but to have the option of part-time employment until children are school-aged. Pew research gathered in 2009 indicated that a strong majority of mothers (62%) would prefer to work part-time. In 2011, Working Mother magazine conducted a large-scale poll of mothers and similarly found that most mothers, especially those with children under school age, would prefer part-time employment. Yet no one in Washington has, so far, advocated expanding job-sharing or part-time employment options.

In fact, compared to Europe, the US ranks among the lowest in maternal part-time employment. Compared to Canada and the European superpowers, we also rank among the lowest in female employment rates, maternity leave, and day-care subsidies.

As a psychologist with training in child development, I can attest that the first three to five years of a child’s life are the most formative and critical. it is in our best interest as a country to make sure that all infants and toddlers receive high-quality care. Even if women want to lean in, it is difficult for them to do so without an infrastructure that ensures their children are adequately cared for. To continue with our current two-parent working model absent of this infrastructure poses risks to future generations.

While the advancement of female-driven leadership should be a goal that all women continue to share, the reality is that many mothers are already forced to “lean in” to full capacity and rather than getting ahead, are feeling burnt-out and less-than-adequate at work and at home. If we truly want to re-ignite the woman’s movement and advance women in the workplace, we need to start by providing a base that supports families and children. This base includes paid maternity leave, meaningful part-time employment options, flexible work schedules, and affordable high-quality daycare.

While Women’s Equality Day is not a voting day, it is a reminder not only of the progress of women but also of our power to influence society through our hard-won ability to vote. If, indeed, women hope to continue the movement, the time has come to unabashedly rally, and gear up to vote on, the issues that impact mothers and children the most. During primary elections next month, let’s make sure we vote for incumbents who have the courage to advocate for bold yet common-sense reforms that protect the well-being of mothers and children.
Dr. Monique Moore is a clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C. She formerly served as a Psychological Health Expert for the Department of Defense and currently divides her time between private practice and caring for her one-year-old son.

Read the original article from The Daily Beast here: 

EBay and PayPal's Bid on Gender Diversity Shows Results

by Bailey Reutzel
Originally Published: August 28th, 2014

To get a true sense of eBay's level of gender diversity, one has to look below the surface.

At first glance, it might seem discouraging that eBay and PayPal each list only one woman on their respective executive leadership teams, but to Sarah Hodkinson, director of offers and marketing at PayPal, "looking at leadership in such a narrow, title-driven way is a mistake."

In truth, 42% of eBay's employees are women, including 28% of its leaders (directors and above), according to diversity stats eBay published in July. Since eBay launched its Women's Initiative Network in recent years, it has doubled the number of women hired into leadership positions, Hodkinson said.

The diversity of eBay's total workforce puts it ahead of many other tech companies, including Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter, according to data compiled by Gigaom from company diversity reports. Its percentage of women in leadership positions is also ahead of or on par with the other tech companies that reported diversity data.

"Diversity…makes us stronger," Hodkinson said. "Challenging the status quo isn't something you can do with homogeny; to create an innovative culture, that's a critical tenet."

Notably, eBay's previous CEO was a woman (Meg Whitman left the job in 2008 after a 10-year run). Nationwide, 27% of the 1.5 million chief executives in the U.S. were women as of last year, compared to 24% ten years earlier, said Jim Borbely, an economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In terms of fostering diversity, "the tech industry is above average," said Jeffrey Hayes, study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research. "Women have done OK at middle management levels…but that's where the notion of the glass ceiling comes in."

EBay and PayPal have a good number of women in the pipeline, but because of how the percentages taper off towards top executive roles, it seems the potential for reaching higher level positions might not be as great, Hayes said. However, at PayPal, eight of the 13 people in its executive leadership were promoted from within, demonstrating there is a path for the women at the company to reach the top.

Hodkinson joined PayPal in late 2011 when the online payments company acquired Where, a location-based mobile marketing startup, at which she held a media and advertising role. Her job at PayPal involves leveraging the company's technology to help large enterprise merchants generate demand and engagement through offers.

PayPal is the first employer from which Hodkinson, who is openly gay, requested benefits for her partner. EBay has offered same-sex partner benefits for over a decade.

"It's super important in the company I work for that she is able is able to take advantage of our health care as a domestic partner of mine," Hodkinson said. "You don't get that at every company; heterosexual folks maybe take that for granted."

She does not disparage her pervious employers, as this is an issue that is advancing very rapidly.

LGBT rights "are becoming more of an issue and in the public realm…and becoming more visible," she said. "I would imagine that most large companies are addressing this."

Every year since 2009, eBay has received a perfect score of 100% on the Human Rights Campaign's annual corporate equality index.

The banking industry has been in the spotlight in recent years for its lack of diversity, though big banks have made strides to stop the discrimination of gay and lesbian employees and support equal rights for the LGBT community.

In 2012, TD Bank began addressing the issue, offering to reimburse its employees for the additional federal and state taxes paid for benefits for same-sex partners. Bank of America announced a similar plan in 2011.

As a technology company, rather than a banking company, eBay is "innovation-focused, a little more progressive perhaps," Hodkinson said. "The thing that's helped me progress in my career is that authenticity. The notion of authenticity really engenders respect in the work place."

Hodkinson also works to expand diversity at other companies through, a national non-profit geared towards fostering entrepreneurship in the LGBT community.

"A lot of [venture capitalist] investment goes to young, white males usually running around in hoodies," Hodkinson said, laughing. "We challenge that at StartOut…and want to democratize access."

At StartOut, Hodkinson is working most closely with an event-based company called Welcoming Committee. While this firm isn't in payments, Hodkinson said, "This goes back to the notion of diversity; if you're too narrowly-focused you won't be able to innovate."

Even at PayPal's incubator, Start Tank, the company looks beyond payments and technology.

PayPal "sees payments as a means to an end, part of a larger story around commerce," said Hodkinson. "It's a unification of advertising and marketing and demand generation, and the work at the PayPal Media Network and how that comes together with payments."

Twenty companies are currently working at the 18-month-old Start Tank's Boston location. These include Gloss48, a cosmetics marketplace and instructional site; and Tackle Grab, a subscription-based service that delivers fishing tackle monthly.

PayPal has received positive feedback and plans on expanding the program to other PayPal sites, Hodkinson said. PayPal also offers Start Tank in London and Chennai, India.

Read the original article from Payments Source here: 

Diversity stats: 10 tech companies that have come clean

by Conner Forrest
Originally Published: August 28th, 2014

Tech companies often draw criticism for being exclusive and lacking diversity. Here are ten companies that have released diversity numbers to the public. See how they compare.
 Image: Google
Diversity is a hot topic among tech companies. More and more, companies are no longer making excuses, rather, they are taking actionable steps to be more diverse in terms of both gender and ethnicity. From corporate giants to early stage startups, many companies are working towards transparency in the workplace.

The following ten companies have released workforce diversity reports. Here's how they compare.


Google was one of the first big companies to release a report detailing its diversity. Global gender data indicates that Google employees are 70% male and 30% female. Google's ethnicity data refers to US employees only, and indicates 61% white, 30% Asian, 4% identifying as two or more races, 3% Hispanic, 2% black, and 1% other. Google also has employee resource groups for employees, including groups for Googlers of specific races, veterans, women in engineering, and LGBT employees.


Apple's diversity report indicates the same global gender ratio as Google, with 30% female and 70% male employees. When broken down into roles specified as "tech," that ration changes to 80% male and 20% female. Apple's US employees are 55% white, 15% Asian, 11% Hispanic, 7% Black, 2% as two or more races, 1% other, and 9% undeclared. CEO Tim Cook was recently noticed for his participation in San Francisco's annual Gay Pride parade.


Facebook released its diversity report in June 2014, showing a similar trend in numbers as companies that went before it. Facebook employees are 69% male and 31% female globally. However, jobs labeled as "non-tech" are 53% male and 47% female. Facebook also only released US ethnic data, which showed a workforce with more than half of the employees identifying as white. For tech jobs at Facebook, 41% of employees identified as Asian, with 3% identifying as Hispanic, and 1% identifying as black.


Twitter released its diversity report on the heels of Facebook, in July 2014. Globally, Twitter has the same gender spread seen at the other big companies -- 70% male and 30% female. While both genders are equally represented at 50% in "non-tech" jobs, the "tech" jobs at Twitter are 90% male and 10% female. Twitter's data on employee ethnicity was also US-only, indicating 59% white, 29% Asian, 3% Hispanic, 2% black, 3% two or more races, 2% other, 1% native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and less than 1% Native American. Twitter also has employee-led affinity groups for employees of color, LGBT employees, and female employees.


Yahoo made headlines when Marissa Mayer became CEO in the summer of 2012, becoming one of the first female CEOs of a highly-visible tech brand. Yahoo's global workforce is 62% male, 37% female, and 1% un-disclosed. For "non-tech" jobs, Yahoo actually has more female employees than male. Yahoo's data was released in June 2014, around the same time that many other tech companies were releasing their diversity numbers. At that time, Yahoo reported that its US workforce was 50% white, 39% Asian, 4% Hispanic, 2% black, 2% two or more races, and 2% other or not disclosed.


At the time LinkedIn reported it's diversity numbers on it blog, there were 5,400 employees globally. LinkedIn's global workforce has one of the strongest female representations on this list, with 39% of employees identifying as female and 61% identifying as male. Although, jobs listed as "tech" are 83% male and 17% female. LinkedIn's US ethnicity reports indicate that the majority of its employees are white at 53%, with the second highest ethic representation as Asian as 38%. However, for "tech" jobs, employees are 60% Asian, 34% white, 3% Hispanic, 1% black, 1% two or more races, and less than 1% other. According to its blog, LinkedIn is trying to better its diversity numbers by partnering with organizations such as the Anita Borg Institute, DevelopHer, and Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.


Music-streaming service Pandora lists its diversity numbers on the careers section of its website. Pandora total employee ratio is 50.8% male and 49.2% female, with tech jobs more than 82% male. Leadership at Pandora is almost 85% male. Pandora's overall workforce is 70.9% white, 12.3% Asian, 7.2% Hispanic, 5.7% two or more races, 3% black, and 1% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. Like others, the company has communities for different employees with Pandora Women for female employees, Pandora PRIDE for LGBT employees, and Pandora Mixtape for employees of color.


Pinterest was one of the bigger "startups" to share it numbers during the summer of 2014 when the Goliaths all started spilling the beans. According to the official Pinterest engineering blog, the company is 60% male and 40% female. Most of Pinterest's gender ratio numbers show a male majority, but not in business operations. Pinterest's business employees are 66% female and 34% male, although tech jobs are almost 80% male at Pinterest. Pinterest employees are 50% white, 42% Asian, 5% other, 2% Hispanic, and 1% black.


eBay's employees around the world are 42% female and 58% male, with its "tech" jobs split at 76% male and 24% female. eBay's "non-tech" jobs are only 1% off, in favor of male employees, from being even. US data shows eBay's workforce at 61% white, 24% Asian, 7% black, 5% Hispanic, 1% multi-ethnic, and 1% other. For "tech" jobs at eBay, 55% of employees are Asian and 40% are white, with numbers for both black and Hispanic employees hovering to 2%. eBay had 33,000 employees at the time of its report on its blog, also mentioning that CEO John Donahoe launched the Women's Initiative Network for eBay.


In 2013, HP employed roughly 317,500 people worldwide, and tracked its diversity among gender and ethnicity sometimes all the way back to 2009. Worldwide, HP's workforce was 32.5% female in 2013, with 25.6% of managers being female as well. In total, HP's US workforce is 71.5% white, 14.22% Asian, 6.9% black, 6.06% Hispanic, 0.74% two or more races, 0.48% Native American, and 0.10% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. In 2013, HP announced Ascend, a sponsorship program for high-performing female employees, and a Women's Innovation Council. According to the report, HP also partners with organizations such as Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP) and the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering to increase cultural competency.

Read the original article from Tech Republic here: 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

8 reasons to be optimistic about women’s leadership in tech

by Cheryl Sylvester
Originally Published: August 28th, 2014

I’m optimistic about women’s leadership in technology companies and here’s why.

Last week I attended the 4th annual Women in the IT Channel luncheon, celebrating four women leaders in the Canadian technology sector. The honourees were Lesley Andrews of Compucom Canada Co., Julie Cloutier of ESI Technologies, Joanna Strong of Commerx and Janice Siddons of TUC Managed IT Solutions. These four impressive women plus one up and coming young recipient, Laura Wittig of Clear Concepts demonstrate that it’s time for women in IT to own their “swagger,” as one of the speakers aptly said.

The leadership and business achievements of these women alone represent five reasons to be optimistic for women’s leadership in tech. The other three reasons for optimism grew out of the conversation at the lunch table. I was fortunate to be seated with one of the honourees, Janice Siddons, COO of TUC Managed IT Solutions – an Ottawa-based service provider whose current revenues are in excess of $30 million. At the table, we had an engaging conversation about the convergence of meta trends that are creating shifts in the technology sector, and bode well for women to take on greater leadership. Here are the three significant trends we talked about:

1. Breakdown of hierarchy

Traditionally in IT and technology companies (and truthfully, in most business sectors) the path to the leadership was a highly structured hierarchy, consisting of a tall ladder of “old boys.” Now the business model for most organizations has fewer levels, and is matrixed across teams and functions. In flatter and matrixed organizations, leadership roles are more accessible, creating points of entry for women to take on first and mid-level leadership roles that can lead to senior roles. Importantly, in matrix structures with multiple relationships across teams, communications skills are a key to creating success. Women, who often possess strong communications skills, can have an advantage in building the relationships it takes to work well and succeed in a matrix organization.

2. Customer Experience/Service orientation

More and more the technology business is becoming about the user or the customer — their needs and experience. Technology solutions are more visibly oriented to service of the customer, and organizations are more customer-centric in their focus and offerings. At lunch, we talked about how women, who have generally been raised to be attuned to others needs and wants, can be strong leaders and advocates for the customer, where customer focus is the key to success in the future of technology organizations.

3. Technology

Technology itself is enabling greater flexibility in the workplace of technology companies, and indeed all businesses. Flexiblity about where, when and how to work, enables women, and men, to lead remote teams, participate in business activities from home, and schedule around personal commitments in ways we couldn’t just five years ago.

In all, that gives me eight reasons to be optimistic for women’s leadership in technology companies. And as we did at the Women in the IT Channel luncheon, that’s something to recognize and celebrate!
Read the original article from IT Business here: 

When Having Kids Doesn't Work for Your Employer

by Rachael Ellison, MA
Originally Published: August 28th, 2014

A coaching client of mine was recently laid off. There were at least a few contributing factors, but one that came up repeatedly when they let her go was her other job: parenthood. The HR director cited an instance when she took a call from her son's school and abruptly left a client meeting. (It was the school nurse. Her son needed urgent medical care.) "This is probably for the best. It seems like you have a lot going on," she was told.

On a call this week, she told me about another colleague with a similar story. She left an eight-hour client focus group for two 15-minute breaks so she could pump for her 8-month-old. A client representative complained and now she's training her replacement. When she's done, she'll probably sue.

Twenty-four hours earlier, I had been on the phone with a client who had been trying for over a year to negotiate a work arrangement that would allow her flexibility for childcare. Her request was repeatedly denied, both by her direct manager and HR. Only one partner in her company had a long-term flexible work arrangement, and she was asked to justify it every pay period. After my client's one-year review, despite her outstanding performance, including helping to secure a multimillion dollar contract, her carefully crafted request for flexibility was denied. She was passed over for bonus. She would effectively be making less than she had the year before. On paper, the company was family friendly, but in practice -- not so much. This client is now in negotiation with another firm. The new job would afford her the time and money to cover childcare for her kids. In her current position, the cost of childcare and additional coverage -- in the absence of flexibility -- requires her to dip into her savings.

I work with some companies that support employees very well. I also know that many companies, even those ranked among the best for working mothers, are anything but friendly in reality. I have heard dozens of cases where clients have sued employers for violating the laws that are set up to protect them. The majority of these women won their cases, but terms of the settlement preclude them from talking about it.

These stories come from the women at the top of their fields. They have advanced degrees, they are committed to their careers, hard-working, driven for success, and they are also engaged parents. The system is not set up for them to succeed.

Hearing these stories all the time can be frustrating. Instead of filing them away, I decided I wanted to hear more. I sent out a request to my extended network: if anyone has a story about how a supposedly "family friendly" company was actually hostile to working parents, please contact me.

In 48 hours, I got dozens of responses:

One woman posted that her HR representative promised to support short-term disability and leave under the Family Medical Leave Act while she was pregnant. The offer was retracted after the baby was born. Apparently, the HR representative didn't have the authority to approve the terms he offered.

A woman who was on a work-from-home schedule she never requested (it was recommended by her boss) was subsequently let go because, despite her outstanding performance review, her schedule "wasn't meshing well with the rest of the staff."

I heard from a lawyer who was among the few women at her firm to make partner after having kids. Once she hit that milestone, she saw the work quickly dry up. She ended up leaving the firm and her partnership behind out of frustration.

A nurse at a well-known hospital described getting flak from her supervisor almost every time she need to pump. Colleagues were constantly knocking on the door, asking when she would be done. While waiting for HR to approve her transfer to another unit, she reduced her pumping to twice a shift. By the time her son was 5 and a half months, she couldn't produce milk anymore. "If there is one thing I could change in my almost four years of parenting, I would have gone to HR and put my foot down about providing milk to my son."

One 40-year-old Senior Vice President of a bank returned from leave after her first child to find that she now had to complete a weekly timesheet. She hadn't been asked to do that in 20 years.

A senior leader frequently worked nights and weekends in her position. She was told that, in exchange for leaving at 3:00 once a week to be with her 10-month-old, she would have to take a pay cut.

These are the women who followed Sheryl Sandberg's example and have "leaned in" as far as they could. They are pushing ahead and aiming to break the glass ceiling. Too many of them find it's just not possible after having kids. It's clear that corporate policies and family-friendly legislation are only part of the picture. It's culture and management that need to change.

There's no easy fix. I tell my clients that they can't wait for their company to anticipate their needs. They should speak in terms of their added value and work outcomes. Still, it's a steep uphill battle for working parent employees.

I can hear the desperation: "The truth is I shouldn't have chosen this field and had kids. I wish I had known that before I trained for it."

Can I honestly tell my daughter and her friends that all professions are open to them? Can women really pursue whatever profession they want, without considering a possibly inevitable dead end? Are there some professions that are just not compatible with the decision to be an engaged parent?

The stories keep coming. Now I want more. I want to identify the companies that "walk the walk" for working parents.

Is your company really family friendly? Anything but? Beyond good policies for leave and flexibility, what makes a company family friendly?

Share your stories with me at All responses will be kept strictly confidential.

Read the original article from Huffington Post here: 

5 Human Resource Management Mistakes Small Businesses Make

by Margaret Jacoby
Originally Published: August 27th, 2014

As a business owner, you're challenged with a variety of tasks every day. Small business owners take on multiple roles, from accounting to legal to human resources. Regardless of whether you handle human resources yourself or delegate it to someone else, your company is bound to make mistakes. These human resource management mistakes can be devastating for your company in numerous ways -- from litigation to employee replacement costs. Therefore, it is imperative that you make sure your company avoids these common, costly mistakes.

#1. Not Hiring the Right People for the Job
Some small business owners hire people they know for open positions, rather than interviewing for outside, qualified options. Perhaps you don't have the finances, so you don't do background checks or pull references to verify what a candidate says on his or her resume, or perhaps you just hire someone because you feel bad for them. Regardless, hiring the wrong person is costly. Not only are they not qualified; eventually you will have to replace them, which is another added human resource management expense.

#2. Not Creating Clear Job Definitions
When you create a job listing, you create a description for that position. But most small business owners neglect creating an accurate, clear job description. This is imperative if you want to attract the right people for the job. Your description should include the skills, training, and education, an ideal candidate should possess, and you should only accept interviews with candidates that meet those basic requirements.

#3. Not Addressing or Documenting Performance Issues
If you have employees with performance issues, do not ignore them or hope that they go away on their own. You must create a performance review with a correction plan for the employee so that he or she knows how to improve. Also, make sure you address any employee issues right away rather than wait. By having all of the issues in writing, you can also back yourself up if you ever need to terminate that employee because of his or her performance.

#4. Not Understanding Basic Employment Laws
There are many human resource management laws that most small business owners ignore, but ignoring these laws could be detrimental to your company. Familiarize yourself with:
  • Discrimination
  • Overtime and minimum wage requirement
  • Family leave
  • Age and gender discrimination
  • Disability
  • Military leave
  • Gender-pay differences
  • Safety in the workplace
  • Pregnancy discrimination
  • Immigration
Never assume that employment laws don't apply to your company. Ignoring them can cost your small business millions of dollars -- or at least more than you realize.

#5. Misclassifying Your Employees
Do you know the difference between a contract worker, full-time employee and part-time employee? If not, you need to familiarize yourself with these classifications. The U.S. Department of Labor has strict guidelines, as does the Internal Revenue Service. Do not try to classify employees as "contract workers" to save on benefits either. The duties and pay of employees classify whether or not they are permanent employees. In general, a person is only an independent contractor if you:
  • Don't have control of their job and the work they do
  • Don't have any written contracts, benefit plans or vacation time spelled out
  • Don't control the financial aspects of the worker's assignments

Read the original article from Huffington Post here: 

Empowering Women and Girls: The Impact of Gender Equality on Public Health

by Deborah Derrick
Originally Published: August 28th, 2014

Several news stories in recent months have illustrated gender inequalities on a global scale. Social media campaigns like #YesAllWomen and #BringBackOurGirls have helped to raise awareness of injustices and encourage female empowerment. What has gone mostly unspoken in these discussions, however, are the ways in which these social inequalities affect public health.

Dr. Nafsiah Mboi, Indonesia's minister of health and chair of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria's board, has said that "in many societies, women and young girls do not enjoy the same access to health as men, let alone the same rights or opportunities. But a society that does not cure and treat its women and young girls with love and care and with equality will never be a healthy society."

Many in the global health community are working to weave a focus on women and girls more tightly into the framework of global public health efforts. The Global Fund, for its part, is committed to addressing the social, legal, cultural, and biological issues that underpin gender inequality and contribute to poor health outcomes. As the world's largest public health financier, it has been supporting programmes to address the health needs of women and girls, including investing in more than 10 percent of the total foreign aid for maternal and child health every year since 2005. It is also supporting half of all women receiving antiretroviral treatments for HIV/AIDS in Africa. In addition, at its March board meeting, the Global Fund launched a new Gender Equality Strategy Action Plan, placing increased priority on addressing gender inequalities and strengthening efforts to protect women and girls' rights to health care.

Reaching women and girls is critical to achieving impact. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death worldwide for women aged 15-44 years. Globally, adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 years are twice as likely to be at risk of HIV infection than boys and young men in the same age group. Among adult women ages 20 to 59 in low-income countries, tuberculosis is one of the five leading causes of death. And, in Africa, an estimated 10,000 women and 200,000 of their infants die annually as a result of malaria infection during pregnancy.

Gender inequalities are a strong driver of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Women and girls tend to have unequal power in sexual relationships, economic decision-making, and access to health information and services, all of which greatly influence their vulnerability to disease. Traditional power dynamics among couples may undermine a woman's ability to receive antenatal care, including services to prevent mother-to-child transmission services (PMTCT) when an expectant mother is HIV-positive. Gender politics can prevent a woman from accessing insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria, or from taking malaria-stricken children to health services without a partner's permission. Transgender women, sex workers, and women who use drugs are also particularly marginalised, and face challenges in access to health care. The action plan is designed to address these harmful gender norms and scale up services to reduce gender-related vulnerabilities to infection.

The Global Fund action plan is also strengthened by the 2013 rollout of the new funding model, in which country coordinating mechanisms (CCMs)—the group of government, civil society, and health partners that identify a country's needs, apply to the Global Fund for financing, and provide implementation oversight—is charged with integrating gender issues into their health plans. Under the new funding model, a country's CCM is required to: establish greater gender balance among its membership; provide analysis of gender inequalities and related disease response; produce evidence-informed programming with sex- and age-disaggregated data that demonstrates investment for impact; and respond to the needs of most-at-risk populations of women, specifically female sex workers, transgender women, and drug users.

The Global Fund is also working to empower civil society organisations, including organisations of women who are living with or are directly affected by the three diseases, by conducting comprehensive training on gender issues, identifying capacity gaps, and providing technical assistance. The Global Fund has already trained more than 100 women in 33 countries on the strategy—with further training planned—to help enhance the involvement of civil society and gender advocacy in Global Fund-funded health programmes and community systems.

The gender equality plan is already having an impact. For example, during its 2013 grant review process, Cambodia expressed a willingness to expand HIV interventions addressing the vulnerabilities and specific needs of women and girls. To that end, the Global Fund's grant approval committee recommended that the country set aside a certain percentage of money for programmes directed at this population. To help ensure measureable results, conducting a gender assessment of the national HIV responses has also been built into the grant as a requirement for future funding. Together, the Global Fund, Cambodia's ministry of health, and partners are accelerating efforts addressing gender-related challenges in HIV responses.

Gender-focused health strategies can act as a catalyst for global change in the health and social welfare of women and girls. As former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said at the 2012 Global Health Summit, "improving women's health has dividends for entire societies." We must, as the Global Fund's Dr. Mboi suggests, consider health and gender holistically, helping women and girls achieve a better quality of life and increasing our impact in the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Read the original article from Policy Innovations here: 

Are female-only shortlists helping equality?

by Laura Milne
Originally Published: August 28th, 2014

A recent ruling from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has stated that the use of all-female shortlists for positions is illegal. The report was commissioned by Business Secretary Vince Cable who had hoped to implement female-only shortlists to increase gender diversity in Britain’s boardrooms to achieve the EU goal of 40 pc females on boards by the year 2020.

Currently the level sits at just 15 pc, an enormous differential. What might not be widely known, however, is that political parties are already entitled to use this as an approach to increase the number of female MPs. So the question should then be why can't we do the same thing in business?

It is clear that women need all the help they can get if we are to create that cultural change at board level. Often, cultural change only comes about following legislative measures; something seen throughout history.

While many women may hate the idea of ‘special help’ and shortlists, it is a sad fact that unconscious and conscious gender discrimination is still rife in business. Positive acts are needed if we are to achieve a working world where gender balance is considered the norm.

There are, of course, some positive measures available under the Equality Act 2010 and the guidance includes a range of steps that can be taken to improve gender representation on boards and the examples of lawful positive action:

1. Reserving places for women on training courses on board leadership.

2. Targeting networking opportunities for women.

3. Providing mentoring and sponsorship programmes which assist in the development of female talent.

4. Offering opportunities to women to shadow existing board members and observe board proceedings.

5. Placing advertisements where women are likely to read them and encouraging a pipeline of applicants.

6. Setting aspirational targets for increasing the number of women on boards within a particular timescale.

But is this really enough?

Research tells us that companies with diverse boards tend to see better performance and equality helps everyone, so we must do more to ensure women have an equal opportunity to succeed on merit in gaining board positions.

Surely, this must mean more transparency and less nepotism? Failing to makes this happen is ignoring the talent of half of our population – a nonsensical and short-sighted approach to employment and business.

In recent years the National Business Awards have recognised inspirational female leaders including Harriet Green, who turned round the fortunes of Thomas Cook, Kate Swann for her success transforming the fortunes of WH Smith, and Ruby McGregor-Smith, CEO of Mitie.

These are all successful women who have had to break down barriers in a male-orientated workplace. They should be an inspiration to the younger generation and an example to their male counterparts.

With that in mind, this issue needs careful monitoring by business leaders, with assistance given to women and businesses alike to help achieve increased female representation.

Lime HR is an Official Partner for the National Business Awards.

Read the original article from The Telegraph here: