Friday, November 28, 2014

Law’s big fat pay problem: Women are earning 36% less than men

by Angela Priesley
Originally Published: November 28th, 2014

Almost 70% of employees in the legal profession are female, but don't expect anything like that figure when it comes to the sector's top management positions. And don't even think for a minute that women working in the profession would be earning anything like their male counterparts.

According to data released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency this week, the Australian legal sector is doing particularly poorly when it comes to workplace gender equality. And it's especially true when it comes to pay, with women working full-time in law earning an average 35.6% less than their male counterparts.

Sixty six legal organisations reported to WGEA, covering a total of 28,109 employees. It's clear the legal profession has long had a problem when it comes to the still too few number of women in partnerships, but never before has the true imbalance of the profession's gender composition been so evident.

WGEA found women make up just 6.5% of 'CEO/Head of business' positions in the legal sector (compared with a total average of 17.3%). This is despite the fact that women hold 36.3% of the next layer down of management positions and 30.6% of 'general manager'positions — both higher than the average across all industries, at 26.1% and 27.8% respectively.

Go two more management layers down and women appear to be doing particularly well — holding 44.9% of 'senior manager' positions and 60.2% of 'other manager' positions.

But something is clearly going wrong on the way to the very top.

Meanwhile, something is seriously askew with pay and it's not something that can be blamed on 'women not negotiating for bonuses' alone. The total remuneration gap is 35.6%, just slightly under the 35.8% base remuneration gap. (The pay analysis does not include equity partner remuneration.)

In recent weeks, I've had the pleasure of interviewing some of the country's most powerful women in the legal profession, including the now-former Henry Davis York managing partner Sharon Cook and Maddocks CEO Michelle Dixon.

What struck me about both these women is that their passion for pushing gender equality in the profession underpins so much of their management priorities.

For Dixon, that included asking the partnership to vote on a quota system for the law firm's partner-elected board positions as one of her first acts as CEO. For Cook, it meant spending her final months with the firm speaking with staff and running seminars on gender-based issues to help ensure the work she'd put in wouldn't be lost when she left.

Both Dixon and Cook are two of just a tiny number of women to have lead, or are leading, the country's top 20 law firms. Also on that list is King & Wood managing partner Sue Kench. They are all regularly called upon to discuss gender equality in the legal profession and appear more than willing to lend plenty of time to the issues.

And they're all continually asking, 'where are the women?' when it comes to the very pointy end of management.

This is because the women shouldn't be hard to find. Women have been graduating from law in equal numbers to men since the 1980s. Both Dixon and Cook certainly don't recall being exceptions to the norm while studying. And now, as the WGEA data shows, women are not necessarily getting stuck in the 'pipeline' on the way to management — but rather on the step from senior management to the CEO level.

Women dominate the profession. Yet the 'boys club' still dominates who influences the profession.

Unlike fields like technology and engineering, we don't need to encourage more women to study law. But it does make you wonder, why are so many pursuing a sector that still so heavily favours men?

Read the original article from Women's Agenda here: 

Women-Led Companies Confident & Thriving, But Need Access to Capital

by Christine Persaud
Originally Published: November 27th, 2014

Companies led by women are highly confident in the economy, and the positions of their businesses, according to a new study by non-profit, peer advisory group, the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO). And for good reason – the results show that they’re performing well, even outpacing the U.S. national average.

The 2014 Business Outlook Survey was sponsored by KeyBank’s Key4Women program, which provides access to capital, education and networking opportunities to female entrepreneurs. Women-led businesses, the survey suggests, are seven-times more confident in the economy this year than they were last. While half of women leaders polled cited the economic downturn as their biggest concern in 2013, this year, that number dropped to just 8%.

What’s most interesting about this study isn’t the confidence women-led businesses have in the economy, however, but rather the performance that backs that up.
Women-Led Businesses Poised for Success

To date in 2014, 28% of women-led businesses in the U.S. have achieved a growth rate of 25% or more, compared to a 5.4% average U.S. business growth rate. (Based on Sageworks’ Private Company Report.) These women-headed companies outperformed the national average by three times. And there are no signs of slowing down, with 42% of WPO members projecting that their revenues for the year will top US$5 million.

Women-owned/led businesses make up a significant percentage of all U.S. businesses – 30%, to be exact. And, according to the Global Initiative for Women’s Entrepreneurial Research, female-owned or led companies also account for 16% of all jobs, and contribute close to US$3 trillion to the economy.

“Not only are women-owned businesses thriving,” says Marsha Firestone, Ph.D., WPO President and Founder, “they’re outpacing their male counterparts and setting the bar high for success. They are increasing their bottom line, expanding their workforce and providing new jobs.”

Part of the success can be attributed to these leaders’ ability to make difficult choices, aong with a strong focus. Says Martha Seidenwand, Manager at Key4Women: “Women business owners…are not focused on competition or fluctuations in their individual regional market. Instead, they put their energy and effort into learning ways to operate their businesses more efficiently. They are evaluating their business goals, and they actively seek insight on how to attain them.”

Capital Funding Challenges

Women-led businesses still face major challenges. Women leaders are concerned with being able to grow their businesses to scale (17%), finding and retaining good staff (16%), increasing, or at least maintaining, profit margins (15%), and growth of the competition (8%).

But the main concern for women-led firms in the U.S. is access to capital. Women receive just 4% of the total value of conventional small business loans in the U.S., and just 7% of venture funding, as per the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Because of this, 33% of WPO members used their own personal savings to start the business, and 12% had to incur personal debut. Close to a third of WPO members cite interest in raising capital in the future. Will they run into the same problems after proven success?

“I think the bias that women don’t grow substantial businesses that generate increased revenue and employment is programmed into the DNA,” adds Firestone. “In some cases, these businesses are viewed as not creditworthy.”

Firestone says it’s common for WPO to have women on its 50 Fastest-Growing Women-Owned/Led Companies list that have relied on informal funding to get started, including both self-financing and incurring debt, as well as obtaining loans from family and friends. But, she adds, “thanks to angel investors and venture capital, the 2014 ranking showed a slight shift in how these second-stage companies had obtained financing.”

WPO in Canada

The positive outlook for women-owned businesses in the U.S. is good news for Canada as well.

WPO, by the way, has several chapters and representatives north of the border – in Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland & Labrador, Alberta, B.C., Quebec, and Ontario, including the most recent chapter that opened this past May in Ottawa. At a reception hosted by BMO at that time, Sandra Henderson, Senior Vice President, Eastern Ontario Division, Canadian Personal & Commercial Banking at BMO Bank of Montreal, noted: “More and more women are seeking financing to take their businesses to the next level…BMO is committed to helping Canadian entrepreneurs get their share of the $10 billion in credit BMO has made available, giving them access to the capital they need to grow their businesses.”

The survey was conducted in August with 339 women leaders and owners of multi-million dollar companies (23 in Canada) who responded anonymously. WPO spokesperson Susan Johnson tells us responses from the Canadian women “mirrored what members in other parts of the world said.”

Read the original article from What's Your Tech here: 

Racial Diversity Increasing Within the Tech Industry

by Lolita Di
Originally Published: November 27th, 2014

According to a recent USA TODAY article, the technology industry is beginning to see an increase of diversity within its ranks. The tech field has long been known to lack representation from certain ethnic groups, including African-Americans and Latin-Americans.

photo Frerieke from The Hague, The Netherlands via wikimedia commons

USA TODAY broached this topic with their series entitled, Inequity in Silicon Valley. The series was meant to start a dialogue on the challenges faced by minorities in Silicon Valley firms and the tech industry, in general. Here is a synopsis of what was discovered through the series and what kinds of changes are being made to address the issues.

Issues Facing Diversity in Tech

Initial USA TODAY coverage determined that there was an extremely low ratio of women, African American and Hispanics employed at the big name companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, ebay and others. In some cases, there were only numbers in the single digits representing these groups at each company. That’s a surprising find. Findings were even more dismal regarding the racial makeup of corporate boards. According to a survey by the Rainbow PUSH coalition of 20 companies and their total of 189 board members, there were only three blacks and one Hispanic represented on those boards. The three companies with minority representation from these groups were Oracle, and Microsoft.

A lead reporter in the USA TODAY series discovered a troubling trend regarding education and the hiring process of tech companies. It seems that African American and Latino computer engineering and computer science majors are graduating from top universities at a much higher rate than they are being hired by well-known names in tech. In fact, the number of qualified minority grads in these racial groups are about twice that of those who are actually hired.

The series coverage goes on to investigate the salaries and pay rates of those who do get hired at these well-known Silicon Valley companies. The article states that African Americans, Hispanics and Asians alike are being paid less on average than their counterparts of other races. For example, it was found that Hispanics earned an average of $16,353 less per year than non-Hispanics in similar positions. African Americans and Asians did not fare better.

Changes Being Made

Since the publication of the USA TODAY series, Inequity in Silicon Valley, some changes have been made for the better. Perhaps most notably, Microsoft CEO has doubled down on efforts to increase diversity after he made comments regarding women relying on karma with regard to receiving a raise. A well-known investor, Marc Andreessen, and his philanthropist wife, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, have pledged $500,000 to three non profits that are working to increase diversity in tech. Even NBA superstar, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, has stepped up to address the problem.

In addition, USA TODAY put together a panel of experts including Reverend Jesse Jackson, Nancy Lee of Google and Maxine Williams of Facebook, among others to promote the dialogue surrounding racial diversity in tech. Meanwhile, leaders like technological businessman and philanthropist, Ehsan Bayat, continue to lead by example. Things are changing for the better.

Read the original article from The Global Dispatch here: 

Ferguson, Racism and Pro-Law Enforcement Bias

by James Meyerson
Originally Published: November 26th, 2014

It's not rocket science. The question for the grand jury was not whether Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Daren Wilson was guilty of a crime when he shot and killed Michael Brown. No, the sole and only question before the grand jury was whether there was probable cause to believe that Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Daren Wilson engaged in a criminal act when he shot and killed Michael Brown (probable cause is an objectively reasonable belief that it was likely that a crime has been committed). They are vastly different questions.

Ultimately, the latter question simply required the grand jury to determine whether it was objectively reasonable for Officer Wilson to believe that shooting Mr. Brown -- multiple times at a significant distance from where Officer Wilson was situated and causing Michael Brown's death, was necessary in order to protect himself (Officer Wilson), or others, from the imminent use of deadly force by Michael Brown against Officer Wilson or others or the imminent infliction of serious bodily harm by Michael Brown against himself (Officer Wilson) or against others.

As the Prosecuting Attorney himself acknowledged in his own statement to the world, the least reliable and least relevant evidence before the grand jury in performing its function respecting it's analysis of Wilson's conduct and making its determination whether it was more likely than less likely than Wilson's conduct was criminal, was Wilson's self-serving statement to the grand jury precisely because it was Wilson's conduct that was the subject of the grand jury proceeding. The prosecutor was obligated to tell the grand jury of that fact.

It is sad, indeed tragic, to say, however, that, because a smorgasbord of evidence was presented to the grand jury by the prosecutors rather than a presentation of a narrowly constructed relevant universe of evidence, it appears that the prosecutor was attempting to make Michael Brown's conduct the focus of the grand jury's investigation and was attempting to make Officer Wilson the victim of some unlawful conduct-crime on the part of Michael Brown.

That's a classic criminal defense attorney's tactic (turning the table on the victim of a crime and making the perpetrator of the crime the victim of a crime). It is not, however, an honest prosecutor's grand jury strategy whose mission as a prosecutor, in doing justice and thereby carrying out his duty to the public, is to obtain an indictment against whoever engaged in more likely than less likely criminal conduct, police officers included (in this case Officer Wilson).

So, the sole issue at this grand jury phase of the criminal "justice" process was, independent of why Officer Wilson testified he was supposedly justified in engaging in homicidal conduct, whether, based on the other relevant evidence, it was objectively reasonable for Wilson to discharge his gun and kill Michael Brown or whether it was more likely than less likely that his conduct was criminal.

The relevant evidence in this regard establishes that, at a relatively long distance from Michael Brown, Officer Wilson discharged twelve shots at Michael Brown from Wilson's Ferguson Police Department issued gun; and that, without any objectively reasonable basis to believe that Brown was armed with a gun or any other weapon or that Michael Brown was close enough to Wilson to inflict serious bodily harm against Wilson, Wilson intentionally shot and killed the unarmed Michael Brown. Whether Wilson's self-serving testimonies,including his testimonies that Brown supposedly reached into his waist band, eventually rules the day at a public trial as to whether Wilson is guilty or non guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the indictment's homicide charge, was, at this point, irrelevant. It's that simple.

The only question for this grand jury, then, was what degree of homicide should have been encompassed in the grand jury's indictment of Wilson. That is what the Prosecuting Attorney's office should have instructed that grand jury: that it was his judgment (the prosecutor's judgment) that the grand jury should return some form of homicide charge against Wilson (preferably a higher degree of homicide rather than a lesser manslaughter degree). If the Prosecutor had performed his function as he ordinarily would do in a case under like circumstances but not involving a police officer, the grand jury would have done so.

Wilson's defense to the criminal charge, properly presented to a jury in the full light of an open courtroom at a trial on the charge for which he should have been indicted for some degree of homicide, would, ultimately, be the determinative factor in an independent jury's determination of whether Wilson was guilty or not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but only after that jury saw and heard all of the evidence and weighed the credibility of all of the witnesses, Wilson included; and only after vigorous cross examination by Wilson's defense attorney of witnesses produced at the trial and, as well, by the people's prosecutor, performing his function in the full light of day and an open courtroom, of Wilson should Wilson have elected to take the witness stand in the full light of the open courtroom and not, as he did, in the secrecy and darkness of a grand jury room closed to the public scrutiny of how the process played out inside of that room.

Why didn't the grand jury do its job and issue a true bill of some form of homicide against Wilson, preferably an intentional homicide charge but, at the very least, a voluntary manslaughter charge? The grand jury failed to do so because the prosecutor failed to do his job. The prosecutor's function was to navigate the grand jury members to return a criminal homicide charge and indictment against Wilson. In failing to do so, the prosecutor violated the trust which he owed not simply to Michael Brown's parents and family but as well to the Ferguson community and to each and every one of us in this nation. The prosecutor should be held accountable for such and he should be recalled and removed from office for the gross dereliction of his duty.

Why didn't the prosecutor do his job as he would ordinarily do so in a non-police shooting case where a death resulted and some form of a homicide charge was being sought? The prosecutor didn't do so because he didn't want to do so. And he didn't want to do so because he had a conflict. He believed in the innocence of the officer because, among other reasons, he relies on Wilson and his fellow Ferguson Police Department colleagues to successfully prosecute crimes, often times of African American males, in St. Louis County

In effect, Wilson was a member of the prosecutor's law enforcement family. There was, if not actual conflict in his function in this grand jury process, a very visible perception of conflict. And so the case was intentionally blown up by the prosecutor. It's not rocket science. It's really that simple. Just as the prosecutor would be derelict in investigating and presenting a case in the grand jury against his cousin, because of the obvious fact of conflict, so, too, in this case he was derelict when he declined to remove himself from this matter (as was the governor when he declined to remove the prosecutor from this matter).

When you add the factor of race into the equation as one is absolutely required to do in the everyday reality of American life, what you have is a toxic mix that can lead to the only one place it could lead: explosive injustice. If the subject of the grand jury had been a young African American police officer who had shot a young white male, would we be having this discussion? Be honest when you answer this question. Don't be in denial.

That is why an office of special prosecutor is required in these cases. Such therefore necessarily now becomes the role of the federal government. If there is ever to be justice in these kinds of cases and in this case particularly, nothing less than that will do. That is why the United States government should return an independent standing indictment on a federal civil rights charge (no double jeopardy does not apply because it will be for an independent standing federal crime not a state law crime), however difficult it will be to obtain a conviction (remember the Rodney King case); and the United States Justice Department should move to have the Ferguson Police Department placed in receivership because of the systemic failures over time to protect the minority residents and citizens of Ferguson.

Read the original article from Huffington Post here: 

US Muslims Urge National Action on Racism

Originally Published: November 26th, 2014

CAIRO – The US grand jury’s decision to clear a white police officer over the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager has sparked calls from American Muslims for a “national action” to address issues of racism, in order to calm tensions increasing across the States.

"The tragedy in Ferguson makes it imperative that Americans of all races and backgrounds initiate national action to address the issues of systemic racism and police profiling that the shooting brought to the surface,” Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, said in a statement obtained by

"We question the problematic conduct of the prosecutor's office in the grand jury process as demonstrated by showing unprecedented deference to the officer, a potential criminal defendant.”
The ruling, issued on Monday by St. Louis County grand jury, brought no criminal charges against Darren Wilson, a white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown last August.

According to media reports, St. Louis County police claimed the unarmed Brown had struggled for an officer’s gun in a patrol car before he was killed.

Witnesses said Brown, who is African-American, had his hands up when he was shot. Brown’s death triggered angry demonstrations and calls by several civil rights organizations for the US Justice Department to investigate the shooting.

St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch McCulloch said the jury had exhaustively examined the evidence but Brown's family said they were "profoundly disappointed".

"We urge all Americans to contact their elected officials to urge passage of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) and any similar legislation that addresses unconstitutional actions by American law enforcement,” CAIR statement said.

“We once again call on the Department of Justice to complete its independent investigation of the killing of Michael Brown in a transparent and thorough manner. CAIR is also concerned about any militarized response of law enforcement to peaceful protesters in Ferguson or in other cities nationwide.

"If any good is to come of this heartbreaking incident, it will be in the recognition that many Americans still feel the impact of institutional racism and that there is still much work to do to create a society in which people 'will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,'” it added.

Fighting Racism

The leading advocacy Muslim group has asserted Muslim community’s support for the fight against racial and social discrimination.

"CAIR and the Muslim community join all Americans of conscience in reaffirming our commitment to fighting for racial and social justice,” CAIR said.

“We must work together to seek an end to racial profiling and the injustices perpetrated against racial, ethnic or religious minorities. We must also address the fact that there is a growing concern in our nation about the mistreatment of minorities by law enforcement personnel.

"As a core principle, CAIR is an ally of groups -- religious or secular -- that advocate justice and human rights in America," the group’s statement added.

The jury’s decision set off the worst unrest in Missouri since Brown’s death three months ago.

During August unrest, 100 groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), issued a statement urging the American authorities to address ‘racial profiling’ by law enforcement.

The group urged the Congress to pass the ‘End Racial Profiling Act’, which would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using profiling based on race, ethnicity, national origin or religion.
Read the original article from OnIslam here: 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Growing Community for Women is Emerging in Vancouver’s Tech Industry

by Simran Singh
Originally Published: November 25th, 2014

Vancouver’s tech industry is growing rapidly and with that growth comes the increase of job opportunities in the city.

However, the tech industry is one that is predominantly male dominated. In fact, a report from Catalyst Canada, an organization focusing on helping women find opportunities in business, found that more than 53 per cent of women who started in the tech sector after receiving their master’s degree in business administration would leave their job for another industry.

With the low number of women deciding to remain in the tech industry, this also means a lack of female mentors for women starting to work new tech oriented jobs.

The study also revealed that women with MBAs were less likely to have a female supervisor in various tech sectors (15%) in comparison to other job industries (21%).

Moreover, in comparison to men, women in the tech industry are twice as likely to report a lack of role models with the same gender as a barrier to their advancement in the field.

This does not necessarily mean that women are solely looking for women mentors. However, the presence of a work place without any female mentors can be difficult, especially for women who are new to the tech industry and looking for guidance regarding how to advance in a male dominated sector.

Women in Communications and Technology (WCT) is a Canadian organization that works to engage and advance women who have careers in communications, digital media and technology across the country.

The organization provides opportunities for women to advance in these fields through programs, scholarships, mentorships and events.

Wendy Turnbull, the chair of B.C’s WCT chapter gave insight into the involvement of women in the tech industry, stating, “It’s an encouraging sign to see examples of tech companies being founded, funded, developed and marketed by women. But while women have made great strides in the workplace, there is still significant room to improve the lingering perception of ‘women in tech.’”

Turnbull has a background in marketing and brand development, working with everything from sport drinks to video games. Currently she works as the Marketing Manager for the B.C. Technology Industry Association (BCTIA).

For Turnbull, “marketing is about telling a story, and getting others to invest themselves in that story, and in B.C. there’s really no better story than the tech industry.”

Sarah Gooding, the Director of Communications for WCT also works as the head of the public relations team at Vancouver based dating service Plenty of Fish.

Gooding came across the tech industry simply by chance. Ironically, she met Markus Frind, the CEO of Plenty of Fish, at a wedding. She explains that she was curious and the timing was right, so the cards aligned perfectly for her in terms of getting involved in the tech field.

For Gooding, the Vancouver tech industry is one where women can find a lot of potential to grow professionally.

“The community of Vancouver women in tech is small but growing. Every time I attend an event, I’m inspired by the number of bright, entrepreneurial women in the room, who are solving big problems and genuinely want to help other women do the same. There is a real sense of community and an attitude of ‘how can I help you?’, rather than ‘how can you help me?’. It’s infectious.”

For women looking to be part of Vancouver’s tech industry, Gooding says to get involved in the tech community.

“There are numerous events and meet ups taking place every month. Talk to people, ask questions, follow-up on potential opportunities. More importantly, treat every conversation, like it’s a job interview. You never know where your next opportunity will come from,” she says.

One way to get involved in the growing female tech community is by attending a monthly event series put on by the WCT called ‘Unwine’d’ where women in Vancouver’s tech and media industries can engage in great conversation and network over a glass of wine. The next ‘Unwine’d’ event takes place tomorrow at Grain Tasting Bar. Visit the event website to learn more details and purchase a ticket to attend.

Read the original article from VanCity Buzz here: 

Visualizing Silicon Valley's Lack Of Diversity

by Frank Bi
Originally Published: November 26th, 2014

Until recently, diversity figures at several of the largest technology companies in Silicon Valley were a mystery, kept a secret on the grounds that it would cause competitive harm.

That curtain of secrecy was finally lifted this summer when Facebook unveiled their diversity figures for the first time in June. Other tech giants also released their figures around the same time, including Google, Apple and Yahoo. Not exactly a surprise, the numbers showed a lack of diversity, especially in the representation of female employees and other races that are not white or Asian.

This infographic from Information Is Beautiful is a quick reference that visualizes the diversity figures released by 18 of the Valley’s top technology companies. Compared to the top 50 U.S. companies, the graphic makes it clear that Silicon Valley has a long way to go in terms of diversity.

In addition to the infographic, the folks at Information Is Beautiful have released the dataset they compiled to make the graphic, which is available as a spreadsheet here.
By David McCandless/Information is Beautiful

Read the original article from Forbes here: 

Age discrimination: Dropping older employees to drop insurance premiums

by Steve Jones
Originally Published: November 25th, 2014


Associated Underwriters hired Marjorie Tramp in 2000. In August 2007, Greg Gurbacki and Chris Hallgren purchased the company. At the time, Hallgren served as president, and Gurbacki ran the office and was in charge of hiring and firing. In 2007, Associated Underwriters was operating at a loss, a reality that didn't change during the relevant time period in this case.

Because of its ongoing economic difficulties, Associated Underwriters terminated seven employees in a reduction in force (RIF) in 2007. Gurbacki decided whom to let go based on his opinion of the quality of their work. Tramp retained her job even though Gurbacki had concerns about her job performance.

In July 2008, Associated Underwriters still faced economic difficulties. To save money, Gurbacki suggested they eliminate the company's health insurance program. Hallgren disagreed, and the owners pursued other cost-saving measures instead.

That same summer, however, Associated Underwriters experienced a significant increase in its group healthcare insurance premiums. As a result, Hallgren sought proposals from different companies. He was required to provide the demographic information of his employees to obtain the insurance quotes.

One quote came back much lower than the others, and upon investigation, Hallgren learned that the insurer hadn't included Tramp and another employee, Barb Treadway, who are both over the age of 65. A representative from the insurer explained to Hallgren that people older than 65 usually aren't included in cost quotes because they are Medicare-eligible. Hallgren asked the company to adjust the quote to include Tramp and Treadway, and the insurer provided a much higher revised quote.

E-mails between Gurbacki and the insurance company during that time frame reveal conversations about rates specifically related to the health and age of Associated Underwriters' employees. For example, Gurbacki asked the provider to reexamine the company's rates, specifically noting that two employees over the age of 50 had left.

Later, he updated the demographic information by sending an e-mail stating, "We have now lost Sue Witchell and Gayla Martin as well," at least one of whom was an older employee. Finally, he made it clear that Associated Underwriters was seeking other bids for insurance and reiterated, "We have lost several of the older, sicker employees and should have some consideration on this."

Around the same time, Hallgren concluded that a substantial savings in health insurance premiums would benefit Associated Underwriters' bottom line. He met with Tramp and Treadway in July 2008 and suggested that they enroll in Medicare instead of the company's healthcare plan. Hallgren claimed that during the meeting, he offered to cover 100 percent of a Medicare supplement, which he believed would provide better coverage for Tramp and Treadway and simultaneously cut costs for the company.

Tramp denied that Hallgren offered to provide supplemental coverage. She and Treadway declined his offer and remained on Associated Underwriters' healthcare plan.

Gurbacki testified that he regularly evaluates his employees on various aspects of their competence and success, including how they treat customers and how they complete assigned tasks. He considered Tramp the least efficient performer in his workforce, in part because she questioned him on various business decisions.

Gurbacki noted that Tramp didn't want to cancel certain customers' insurance policies because it would have been "harder" on her to do it. She repeatedly failed to cancel insurance policies when requested. Gurbacki thought she was incapable of helping customers transition smoothly from their current insurers to Associated Underwriters' insurers. In October 2008, management formally reprimanded her for poor performance, providing three examples in its documentation:
  1. She mistakenly included the same vehicle on two different policies.
  2. She canceled insurance coverage for a house located in a hurricane zone, resulting in a higher premium and deductible when the customer tried to reinstate coverage.
  3. She failed to cancel policies in addition to causing renewals to be sent out when the policies had already been stopped.
Along with the reprimand, Associated Underwriters placed Tramp on a 90-day probationary period, which ended in January 2009. Gurbacki claimed that there were other problems with her performance that weren't included in the formal reprimand, including her uncooperative attitude. Moreover, he claimed that she received additional verbal warnings.

In February 2009, Associated Underwriters underwent another RIF. Gurbacki made the decision to lay off four employees, including Tramp. The other three employees terminated during the RIF were the 72-year-old Treadway, Stacy Bell (38), and Andrea Altrock (39). All three worked in a different area than Tramp.

Gurbacki asserted that he didn't base his decision to terminate Tramp on her age or her refusal to comply with the suggestion that she seek alternative healthcare coverage. Instead, he stated that he chose to include her in the 2009 RIF because of her historically poor job performance.

Associated Underwriters didn't replace Tramp following her termination. Instead, it divided her job duties between the four remaining employees in the personal lines department who were 25, 46, 49, and 66 years old.

Additional e-mails from July 2009 reveal conversations between Gurbacki and the insurance provider in which they revisited the company's health insurance rates. Gurbacki wrote in an e-mail that the oldest and sickest employees had been terminated and referenced four by name, including Tramp.

Tramp sued, claiming that Associated Underwriters terminated her because her age affected its employee health insurance costs. Her case eventually reached the 8th Circuit on appeal.

8th Circuit's opinion

To prove her case, Tramp first had to establish a four-part prima facie, or minimally sufficient, case of age discrimination, which required her to prove that (1) she is over 40 years old, (2) she met the applicable job qualifications, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) there's some evidence that age was a factor in the employer's adverse decision.

Once she established a prima facie case, the burden of proof shifted to the employer to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its adverse employment action. If the company was able to do that, Tramp had to show that its proffered reason was pretext, or an excuse, for discrimination.

The first three elements were undisputed in this case. To prove the fourth element, and ultimately prevail on her burden of proving that age was the but-for cause of Associated Underwriters' decision to terminate her, Tramp claimed that Gurbacki's correspondence with the company's healthcare provider supplied the additional evidence necessary for a fact finder to deduce that there was a direct correlation between her age and the termination decision—i.e., that it was the but-for cause of her termination. The court agreed.

As noted above, during the summer of 2008, seven months before Tramp's termination, it became apparent to Associated Underwriters' management that its healthcare premiums were affected by the demographics of its employees. In his correspondence with the healthcare provider, Gurbacki wrote: "We have lost several of the older, sicker employees and should have some consideration on this. If you have provided us with your final rates[,] then that is what we will use in our decision."

Then, in August 2008, Hallgren met with Tramp and others and suggested that they enroll in Medicare instead of the company's healthcare plan. Nearly five months after Tramp's termination, there was additional e-mail correspondence between Gurbacki and the healthcare provider about the high renewal rates for Associated Underwriters. Gurbacki wrote, "Since last year we have lost our oldest and sickest employees. . . . Please let me know if this is the best we can do."

Tramp claimed that Associated Underwriters' expected reduction in healthcare premiums demonstrated that the but-for cause of her termination wasn't poor performance but instead was her age. The district court held that she failed to prove but-for causation, determining that the e-mail evidence ultimately showed that Associated Underwriters' decision was motivated purely by healthcare costs, which are positively correlated with age but analytically distinct.

Certain considerations, including healthcare costs, could be a proxy for age in the sense that if the employer supposes a correlation between the two factors and acts accordingly, it has engaged in age discrimination.

The 8th Circuit agreed with the district court that at the very least Gurbacki's choice of words—questioning whether "this is the best we can do" after pointing out that they had lost their "oldest and sickest employees" and noting how the company expected a rate decrease "from the group becoming younger and healthier"—was a crude and perhaps an insensitive way to describe the composition of the then-current workforce to the healthcare provider.

But there remained a possibility that his statements could also be a manifestation of discriminatory intent in the process Associated Underwriters used to rid itself of its older (or oldest) employees in general.

Associated Underwriters argued that the six-month time gap between Tramp's termination and her refusal to use her Medicare benefits in place of the company's healthcare plan was too long to establish a causal connection, and she offered nothing else to establish causation. But the court found that the gap wasn't too long, especially because Tramp's claim was based on discrimination, not retaliation.

There remained a question of fact for a jury involving the relationship between Gurbacki's e-mails, Hallgren's request that Tramp go on Medicare, her formal reprimand and subsequent probationary period, and her termination shortly after she was taken off probationary status.

Tramp also created an issue of fact involving pretext. Associated Underwriters claimed that it terminated her in the 2009 RIF because she was the poorest performer in her group. However, Tramp argued that her written reprimand and probationary status were imposed contrary to the company's past practices. She maintained that the company didn't impose such discipline before it reprimanded her and placed her on probation in the fall of 2008.

It's possible that a jury could view the evidence presented by Tramp as proof of pretext. In other words, a jury might conclude that the discipline allegedly based on her poor performance and the RIF itself were a ruse to mask unlawful discrimination by Associated Underwriters. The 8th Circuit therefore sent the case back to the lower court for a trial on the age discrimination claim.

Bottom line

Business correspondence, including e-mail, is discoverable in employment litigation, meaning it must be turned over to the employee's attorney during the pretrial exchange of evidence relevant to the case. Even e-mails you believe are confidential or unrelated to certain employees or work-related matters must be disclosed. Consequently, you should be very careful about what you say in your e-mail messages.

Read the original article from here: 

Germany backs law demanding at least 30% women in top boardrooms

by Kate Connolly
Originally Published: November 26th, 2014

Large German companies face a major shake-up after the government ordered that at least a third of executive positions be filled by women.

The agreement, which was reached by the ruling coalition after months of heated debate, will involve the Frauenquote – or women’s quotas – being signed into law in December. Companies will have to start implementing the law by 2016.

The decision will have a major impact on 108 of Germany’s largest firms, many of which have resisted the legislation. Several firms, including some major car manufacturers, have threatened to move their production abroad if the law was passed.

An estimated 3,500 smaller businesses will be obliged to introduce gender-equality goals and to publish these over the coming years.

Businesses will not be allowed to claim that they cannot find enough suitable women candidates. Any that do will have to leave positions vacant under what has been termed the “empty chair sanction”.

The women’s affairs minister, Manuela Schwesig of the Social Democrats, said she hoped the law would also promote change further down the pecking order of companies, whether those listed on the stock exchange or the smaller mittelstand firms.

“This law is an important step for equality because it will initiate cultural change in the workplace,” she told German radio.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who initially opposed the reform, told the Bundestag on Wednesday: “It has been decided on and it is coming. We cannot afford to do without the skills of women.”

But Ulrich Grillo of the German Industries Federation, at the same time as insisting that companies wanted more women in leadership roles, dismissed the law as counterproductive, insisting that voluntary solutions were preferable.

Justice minister Heiko Maas said the agreement was historic and would make Germany a more modern country.

Some business leaders had said the law was not necessary because equality between the sexes is anchored in the German constitution. But Schwesig said equality was “far from being true in real life”. The effects of the law, she said, had the potential to go beyond the boardroom and would ultimately contribute to a change in society.

In contrast to Britain and the US, Germany has a two-tier board system comprising both non-executive supervisory boards, consisting of outside advisers, and full-time executive boards, which manage the company on a daily basis.

Supervisory boards are currently made up of about 22% of women, yet they hold only 12% of executive board posts.

Writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Heribert Prantl said the introduction of a frauenquote was simply bringing an end to the fact that “for ever and a day in top positions in business there have been male quotas of almost 100%. So the frauenquote are not the introduction of quotas, rather they are breaking through existing quotas … they are a tool to establish sensible standards. Just as children learn to swim with armbands, so the women’s quotas are the armbands of society.”
Read the original article from The Guardian here: 

Rebranding 'Flexibility'

by Naomi Gerstel & Dan Clawson
Originally Published: November 26th, 2014

More than ever, we are constrained by flexibility. While a generation of work-family activists has successfully pushed for workplace policies that give women and men more choice -- when to come in or go home, how many days a week to work -- "flexibility," for many, is now dreaded rather than welcomed.

Instead of greater freedom over our work and family lives, "flexibility" now often means that workers need to come in whenever the employer wants them and are sent home when demand is slack. Employers have adopted the language of "flexibility" but rebranded its meaning. This rebranding masks the move toward making work schedules increasingly unpredictable. And this is at a time when families -- increasingly single mothers and dual earner couples -- have fewer resources to cope with unpredictability.

As a new generation of politicians and activists tap into national frustrations over work schedules -- seeking important reforms like paid sick leave and advance schedule notices -- they should take note that unpredictable schedules, and the downsides of flexibility, have become far more pervasive than many realize.

While the chaotic schedules of people at Starbucks and clothing stores have been widely broadcast, the troublesome use of "flexibility" in work schedules extends well beyond retail workers. A recent University of Chicago survey shows, for example, that schedule fluctuations characterize the majority of young workers across the labor force today. The research for our book Unequal Time, in which we interviewed and observed hundreds of doctors, nurses, EMTs and nursing assistants, suggests that the burdens of flexibility extend across all levels of the labor force.

At one nursing home we surveyed, one out of three shifts was not according to the planned-in-advance schedules; employees were either working an unplanned shift or staying home when they had been initially scheduled. In hospitals, we observed staffing so lean that, in order to provide adequate care to patients, nurses often had to complete documentation after their shift ended because they were already so pressed during their official hours. Administrators vehemently objected to their staying late for the "excessive" documentation, and managers insisted they could and should have finished on time. Threatened with discipline for doing overtime, nurses punch out and work off the clock. The hospital avoids paying for the time; the nurse avoids reprimands. Since she is not on the clock, does the hospital's insurance cover her? Probably not.

In other words, flexibility today really "means the ability to do anything they want with their workforce," as one union rep put it. But while unpredictable schedules have become the new norm -- whether you are mature or young, low-wage or well-paid -- there is momentum to change these scheduling burdens.

This summer, the day after the White House Summit on Working Families, President Obama ordered federal agencies to give employees the "right to request" flexible hours. The Schedules That Work Act, recently introduced in Congress , would require advance notice about schedules, and guarantee pay if shifts are cancelled at the last-minute. California, Connecticut, and about a dozen cities have mandated paid sick leave; Massachusetts voted on a similar proposal this week.

That time -- and not just pay -- has become such a dominant factor in how we restructure work is a reflection of today's economy. Leaner staffing, technological developments and global demands have created round-the-clock work cycles. Time theft, like wage theft, has become so pervasive that battles over scheduling practices and break times are increasingly central to legislation and lawsuits, like the recent Supreme Court hearing over the off-the-clock demands on Amazon's warehouse workers. And as millions of Americans with a smartphone know, sometimes it feels as though the work day never ends.

The irony in so many disputes over time is that Americans actually want to work. In our research, professionals report that "long hours get respect," and that "when you work more, that's a big badge." Low wage workers choose to add shifts -- and not only because they need the money. In an economy in which meager pay and unpredictable hours often make home life even more stressful than the workplace, work offers a kind of respite. Coworkers become a kind of family, "because we spend more hours with them than even our families." Nursing assistants often value the people they care for: "You come there every day and you see them, some of them they get so happy when they see you, you be like, "Okay, not even my momma gets so happy when she sees me [laughs]."

These views don't make our national problem of erratic hours, flexibility as control, or wage theft go away.

An inspiring way employees respond is that they rely on one another to take charge of key scheduling problems -- swapping shifts, covering for one another in emergencies. At some organizations we studied, the only way to get a weekend off or care for a sick parent was to find coworkers to fill in. While such camaraderie may be reassuring, this requires workers to be flexible. Such adjustments are improvised and uncertain -- much like our economy today.

To meet the demands of the 21st century, flexibility needs to empower workers, propel the economy and respect what is inalienable to everyone: time.

Read the original article from Huffington Post here: 

This Map Shows Just How Much Marriage Equality Is Sweeping the Country

by Eileen Shim
Originally Published: November 26th, 2014

The news: If it seems to you like a new state is legalizing same-sex marriage every week, you wouldn't be wrong. On Tuesday, Arkansas and Mississippi became the latest to join this trend as federal judges struck down these states' same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional.

"Though we cherish our traditional values, they must give way to constitutional wisdom. Mississippi's traditional beliefs about gay and lesbian citizens led it to defy that wisdom by taking away fundamental rights owed to every citizen. It is time to restore those rights," Judge Carlton Reeves wrote in his decision.

While the two states still have the option to appeal these rulings, they represent the most recent victories on the stunning road to marriage equality in the U.S.:
Source: Freedom to Marry
This is real progress. The victories demonstrate how marriage equality has essentially become an inevitability in America. Even states that have upheld their respective same-sex marriage bans — Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee — are having their laws challenged at the Supreme Court.

But there is still work to be done. While national support for same-sex marriage might be higher than ever, that doesn't mean that all attitudes regarding gay and lesbian couples have changed for the better.

According to a recent study published in the journal American Sociological Review, "For the most part, heterosexuals are as supportive of legal benefits for same­-sex couples as they are for heterosexual couples, but are much less supportive of public displays of affection (PDA) for same­-sex couples than they are for heterosexuals."

"Support for legal benefits for gays and lesbians should not be conflated with favorable attitudes toward same­-sex couples in general," lead author Long Doan said in a statement. "We come to the conclusion that although heterosexuals may be increasingly willing to grant legal benefits to gay and lesbian couples, entrenched prejudice that takes on subtler forms may remain."

So while the country is making headway in guaranteeing legal benefits for same-sex couples, there is still much to be done when it comes to changing hearts and minds. Until then, equality will really only exist in name only.

Read the original article from Mic. here: 

Are Women Held to Higher Standards at Work?

by Nicole Fallon
Originally Published: November 26th, 2014

The gap between men and women in the corporate world is nothing new. In many industries, men still earn more money, occupy more leadership positions and advance more quickly than women do. While the growing number of female executives, especially in Fortune 500 companies, is a promising sign, the gender gap is still affecting women's careers in a significant way.

A new report by the American Management Association suggests that this disparity doesn't simply exist because men have "always been" the dominant force in the workplace. Female CEOs may actually be held to a higher standard than male leaders, which causes them to be passed over and left behind when advancement opportunities arise.

Despite the fact that female leaders are, on average, better educated and more qualified than their male counterparts, they still aren't earning as much or advancing as quickly as men. According to the report, women are 33 percent more likely to earn a college degree than men, with 36 percent of women (versus 28 percent of men) in leadership positions holding STEM degrees. In addition, the study found that female executives attended colleges and graduate schools that were ranked higher on average than the schools attended by men. And yet, just 4.8 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and only 1.1 percent of women earn $150,000 or more per year, compared with 4 percent of men.

"These statistics seem to show that women are held to different, if not more demanding, standards than men," Jeremey Donovan, chief marketing officer for AMA and author of the report, said in a statement. "What we learned suggests this applies to women at all levels. There's discrimination, conscious or unconscious. Corporate culture is still male-dominated, a phenomenon women are surely aware of, even if men may not be."

To help organizations of all sizes level the playing field between men and women in their C-suites, Donovan offered a few suggestions for developing strong female leaders.
Evaluate your policies to ensure that gender discrimination, whether intentional or not, isn't occurring in your organization. This includes compensation guidelines, hiring practices, career development programs, etc.

Provide networking opportunities to the women in your company through internal affinity groups, lunch-and-learns and company events.

Assign a mentor to your female employees with leadership potential. As AMA's research shows, women who make it to the top are often hired internally. A relationship with a mentor can help women navigate the politics of an organization and expose them to new opportunities. You can also offer them private coaching to provide the benefit of outside advice.

Get women involved in projects designed to groom future leaders, and be sure to establish clear guidelines. Women need experience with high-profile and complex projects to build confidence and credibility, and gain visibility within the organization.

Offer flexible-work arrangements. While men are increasingly sharing the role of primary caregiver with women, many women still feel pressured to successfully juggle motherhood with their careers. Flextime, job sharing, telecommuting, compressed schedules and other flexible work options can really make a difference to working mothers. Donovan noted that some companies even offer women a slightly different leadership track, allowing them to take a less- demanding job during childrearing years with the option to revert to a more demanding role later.

Read the original article from Business News Daily here: 

Being gay in China: Does the rainbow flag fly free?

by Kristie Lu Stout
Originally Published: November 26th, 2014

Beijing (CNN) -- In this narrow Beijing hutong, the rainbow flag flies free.

I'm in Two Cities Cafe, a popular meeting place for the local gay community. Here, I meet with some of the country's leading LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) advocates to learn about gay identity in China.

In the last two decades, China's LGBT community has made huge gains in social acceptance.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997, and a few years later it was removed from an official list of mental illnesses.

But unlike their counterparts in the West, China's LGBT community does not have to face down strident political opposition or right-wing religious uproar.

For them, the biggest source of pressure comes from the family, brought on in part by China's one-child policy.

"You have only one child so you want your child to be as 'normal' as everybody else," says Xiaogang Wei, Executive Director of the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute.

"There's also the pressure of carrying on the family line," adds Chi Heng Foundation founder Chung To.

Fake marriages?

Many Chinese gays and lesbians are responding to the family pressure with "cooperative marriages" -- gay men and lesbian women marrying each other out of social and economic convenience, often finding each other online.

"I grew up in the 80s and 90s and most of the people my age, everyone, got into marriage -- no matter gay or straight," says Xu Bin, founder of the advocacy group Common Language.

"If you're not, you're a monster."

Despite advances, the social stigma remains immense. According to a 2013 survey by U.S. research group Pew, only 21% of China's population was in favor of the acceptance of homosexuality.

Same-sex marriage remains a taboo topic for many across China.

And a number of clinics in China offer so-called "conversion" shock treatment to "cure" homosexuality.

Earlier this year, a Beijing court heard China's first case to challenge the treatment. But a delay in the ruling has raised concerns in the gay community that clinics may continue to provide such treatments.


China's LGBT professionals must also contend with a lack of legal protection against discrimination at work.

"The job discrimination is very subtle and you might not get a promotion because you are single. You might get fired because of all kinds of reasons," says To.

"There's no protection."

Though China has a long way to go before its gay professionals thrive professionally in all workplaces, Chinese gay activists are encouraged by the recent announcement by Apple CEO Tim Cook.

"I think Tim Cook's coming out of the closet is very important to the Chinese society, especially in the business world," Wei tells me.

"It also very effectively motivated people into thinking about the direct and non-direct connections between homosexual people and the products that we all use in our lives."

New generation

With these forces for change coming from both outside and inside China, the country's LGBT community is forging ahead, despite its unique set of challenges.

"For the past ten years, the most change probably came from the visibility of the LGBT community in Chinese society. For the next ten years, I would say it's the visibility of LGBT rights in China," says Xu.

As the focus shifts to a stronger call for greater rights, China's pioneering gay activists are looking to the younger generation to pick up the mantle.

"This generation is a lot more confident and self-assertive," To tells me.

"And they have more resources," adds Xu.

"In the end, I think we're fighting not just for a better situation for LGBT, but a better situation for all minorities and vulnerable people," says To.

Out and proud, China's gay activists are an increasingly vocal minority pushing for change that could very well reach every corner of Chinese society.

Read the original article from CNN here: 

We must remain on guard against Islamophobia

by Brittany Livingston
Originally Published: November 26th, 2014

There has been a great misconception following the devastating terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 that Islam is inherently associated with the extremist violence enacted by Muslim terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

This is not the case at all, because Islam, like most religions, is founded upon ideal altruistic values.

I have come to believe that the massive Islamophobia — that is the hatred or fear of Islamic doctrine — has been perpetrated and encouraged by some the mainstream media as a way to cope with the tragic events of 9-11.

Islamophobia existed before the 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., but it has evidently increased in incidence and notoriety during the past decade.

Islamophobia is also evident in popular culture, as many TV shows and movies feature Muslim terrorists and extremist groups as the antagonists who threaten the safety and liberty of the "civilized" western nations of the world.

Muslims are commonly profiled at airport security checkpoints as "security risks," even though not all terrorists are Muslim. Some are even middle-aged, heterosexual Caucasian men who hail from the First World.

But despite the prevalence of Islamophobia in Canada, a recent online video that has attracted a lot of attention demonstrates the racial tolerance of some Canadians. The video depicted a social experiment involving an actor dressed in traditional Islamic attire and an actor portraying a racist Caucasian who accuses the Muslim character of being a terrorist threat.

The video was created in Hamilton — the hometown of murdered Canadian soldier Cpl. Nathan Cirillo — to gauge if Canadian Islamophobia was on the rise following the Oct. 22 shooting rampage at the National War Memorial and Parliament Hill.

The results of the experiment were astoundingly positive, since none of the bystanders in the video supported the Islamophobic actor and alternatively come to the defence of the Muslim character, even in the wake of the recent attacks by self-radicalized Islamists in Ottawa and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.

Yet despite this positive example of Canadian intolerance of Islamophobia, anti-Muslim sentiment is by no means dissipated in modern ideology. The growth in Islamophobia has resulted in a recent explosion of prejudice against Muslims.

Islamophobia is evident in political legislation, as demonstrated last year with the Quebec's government proposed "charter of values" that forbids provincial employees from wearing religious attire and jewelry. This law specifically targets people of Islamic faith, since it afforded religious freedom to Christian citizens.

Canadian Muslims have sufficient reason to be concerned about how they are perceived when other Canadians identify them by their religion. This discrimination extends to violent assault and hate crimes, both of which have escalated over the past few years, according to Statistics Canada.

A 2013 poll conducted by Angus Reid concluded that Canadian attitudes toward Islam increasingly deteriorated between 2009 and 2013. However, the way in which Canadians view other major religions — such as Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Buddhism — did not significantly change during the same period.

Brittany Livingston, of Kitchener, is a student at Queen’s University in Kingston.

Read the original article from The Record here: 

In business, as in politics, women's voices matter

by Kaity Cooper
Originally Published: November 25th, 2014

I recently attended a talk by the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, Canada's first and only woman Prime Minister. The talk was called, "Women's Voices: What difference do they make?" It was about women's unique life experiences and the consequences of ignoring women’s perspectives in politics, business and media.

I had never heard Campbell speak before, so I was eager to attend. I was disappointed to see that few Vancouverites felt the same way. Despite Vancouver’s population of over 600,000 people, the auditorium at Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre was only half full. To be fair, the event was not effectively promoted. Nonetheless, I was dismayed to see poor attendance for a talk about the importance of women's voices.

But I digress.

Campbell is a Conservative and so it won’t surprise you that I didn’t agree with everything said at the talk. It did, however, give me a lot to think about.

Let's start with where Campbell and I agree. The thesis of the talk was that women's perspectives are vital. Vital to the creation of good public policy. Vital to public discourse. And vital to the success of modern businesses and organizations.

To illustrate the point, the organizer of the talk, Informed Opinions, discussed a little experiment. Informed Opinions trains women experts to share their ideas through media commentary. Curious to know what differences women's voices make in terms of focus and content, they created a word cloud from the first 100 published opinion pieces written by their workshop participants. They then compared this word cloud to the most prominent words generated by a similar sampling of op-eds written by male experts.

The clouds contained many similar words, including Canadian, government, health, political, public and work. However, a number of other phrases appeared prominently only in women-penned pieces. Tellingly, these included abuse, assault, benefit, care, children, equality, families, girls, help, justice, services, sexual, support, treatment, violence and women.

In many ways, Campbell's experience as a woman member of parliament mirrored that experiment. In her talk, Campbell told anecdotes of times she educated an awkwardly silent room of male colleagues about issues such as contraception and sexual assault. Issues that are very prominent in women's lives, but admittedly were not well understood or considered particularly important by some of her male colleagues.

Given the complex social, economic and environmental challenges we face, it simply does not make sense to make public policy based on the experiences of only half the population. On this point, I wholeheartedly agree with Campbell.

But public policy is not where women's contribution ends. Research shows that women also play a large role in driving economic growth. In her talk, Campbell referred to various studies that prove women's positive influence on business.

Let's look at some facts.

Research suggests that to succeed, businesses should start by promoting women.

As investors, women come out better on almost every count. They are less likely to hold a losing investment for too long. They are less likely to wait for too long to sell a winner. And they are less likely to put too much money into a single investment or to buy a reputedly hot stock without doing sufficient research.

Women also excel as leaders. New studies have found that female managers outshine their male counterparts in almost every measure. Forty-eight per cent of all U.S. firms are owned or controlled by women. Compared to all firms, women-owned firms have triple the growth rate, twice the rate of job creation and are more likely to stay in business. McKinsey & Company found that international companies with more women on their corporate boards far outperformed the average company in return on equity and other measures. Operating profit was also 56 per cent higher.

How can these results be explained? A recent article from Scientific American provides some insight.

In that article, entitled, "How Diversity Makes Us Smarter," Katherine Phillips discusses decades of research from organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers that demonstrates that being around people who are different makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working.

Phillips notes that people who are different from one another in race, gender and other dimensions bring unique information and experiences to bear on the task at hand. Diversity promotes hard work and creativity by encouraging the consideration of alternatives. Her conclusion? We need diversity- in teams, organizations and society as a whole- if we are to change, grow and innovate.

So far, Campbell and I are on the same page. My disagreement comes with what to do about the inadequate representation of women’s voices.

Despite the fact that women constitute roughly half the population and workforce, and more than 60 per cent of university grads, women’s voices continue to be inadequately represented in media, politics and business.

In Canada's most influential print, broadcast and online new media, male voices outnumber female voices by a factor of four to one.

In Federal politics, only 17 per cent of Conservative Members of Parliament are women. The percentages for the NDP and Liberals are 38 per cent and 25 per cent respectively. B.C. has the highest rate of women MLAs in Canada at 36 per cent. The other provinces and territories range from 10 per cent (Northwest Territories) to 35 per cent (Ontario).

Status of Women Canada reports that in 2012, women held only ten per cent of seats on Canadian boards. They held only 16 per cent of board seats on FP500 companies. And, on 40 per cent of FP500 boards, women held zero seats.

So what do we do about this serious underrepresentation?

Campbell suggests that women are often shy of power, that we see it as a bad thing and not as a potential to do great good. She suggests that women need to step up and grab power.

This to me, sounds a lot like "lean in," the message to women from Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook. In her book, appropriately titled Lean In, Sandberg suggests that women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers rather than pursuing their career goals with gusto.

Step up, lean in, whatever you want to call it, is a philosophy that puts the onus on women for their inadequate representation in positions of power rather than the institutions and corporate structures that were made by men and continue to be run by them. It is a philosophy that calls out women for "opting out" of their careers rather than their employers for refusing to foster flexible, supportive environments that are more likely to keep women employees.

But more importantly, in my view, it is a philosophy that distracts us from the real question we should all be asking.

It's not a question of how we force businesses to accept women or their unique tendency to bear children. Nor is it a question of how to force women to work harder or longer. The question is, given what we know about women's profound impact on the success of various entities, how can organizations justify their exclusion?

At a time when innovation is recognized as a key competitive advantage, the increase in a group's intelligence attributed to the inclusion of women should be sufficient incentive for organizations in all sectors to work harder at soliciting female participation.

In my view, given what we know about women's contribution to public policy, science and business, it is simply negligent for public and private institutions to refuse to reform the structures that push women out. Organizations should be asking themselves what they can do to make themselves more attractive to women, so they can reap the benefits of keeping us.

The refusal to change may well be the death knell for the stubborn "old boys' clubs" of the world that will fail to take advantage of the exceptional investment, communication and leadership skills of women and thus fail to remain competitive.

In the meantime, our leaders should stop asking women to take personal responsibility for systemic failings. Our ambition (or lack thereof) is not the problem.
Read the original article from Rabble here: 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hagel's Exit Leaves Unfinished Business For LGBT Military Members, Advocates

by Michelle Garcia
Originally Published: November 25th, 2014

Defense secretary Chuck Hagel announced his resignation Monday, leaving a tumultuous legacy with LGBT activists and some key promises on adjusting policies to make the military more LGBT-inclusive.

According to the Associated Press, Hagel is stepping down after a difficult time settling into the White House's national security team. He is the first senior Obama cabinet member to announce he is stepping down following the November midterm election, which was marked by Republican wins. Eric Holder announced in September that he would leave his position as attorney general.

Hagel, a Vietnam veteran who was wounded in combat, was confirmed in February 2013. He took on the job after Obama appointees Robert Gates and Leon Panetta worked within the department to accommodate the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," which barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual members from serving openly.

“When I asked Chuck to serve as secretary of Defense, we were entering a significant period of transition,” Obama said when announcing Hagel's resignation. Not only did that period include a budget crisis, a sexual assault scandal, the U.S. military's drawdown from Afghanistan, and rising threats from organizations like ISIS, but also the aftermath of "don't ask, don't tell," which had worried the heads of some LGBT organizations.

As a Republican senator in 1998, Hagel said gay philanthropist James Hormel, nominated by President Clinton for an ambassadorship, might be too “aggressively gay” to be effective in the post. When Hagel emerged as a top contender for Defense secretary in 2012, The Log Cabin Republicans criticized those remarks in a full-page ad that ran in The New York Times.

Log Cabin officials also noted that Hagel supported the Defense of Marriage Act, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and the ban on same-sex marriage in his home state, Nebraska.

Once Hagel was nominated as Defense secretary, he issued an apology for past statements, and Hormel accepted the apology. President Obama also came to Hagel's defense, saying he had the best interest of all American troops at heart.

"The work of protecting our nation is never done, and we’ve still got much to do," Obama said at the time. "Ending the war in Afghanistan and caring for those who have borne the battle; preparing for the full range of threats, from the unconventional to the conventional, including things like cyber security; and within our military, continuing to ensure that our men and women in uniform can serve the country they love, no matter who they love."

During his Senate confirmation hearings in early 2013, Hagel said he would "move forward expeditiously" to extend partner benefits to gay and lesbian service members.

"I will faithfully, diligently enforce our laws," Hagel said in January 2013. "All men and women deserve the same rights, and I can assure you that that will be a high priority, to enforce that and ensure that in every way, through the entire chain of command and accountability."

Now, however, groups such as SPARTA, an LGBT military organization, still want Hagel to move forward on a pledge he made this year to examine the abilities of transgender military personnel to serve openly. In May, Hagel hinted that the department would soon review the ban on service for openly transgender service members.

Allyson Robinson, an Army veteran and SPARTA's director of policy, said Hagel should help more people want to serve by initiating the review of the department's policies barring open service for transgender people.

"Mr. Secretary, six months ago you promised 15,000 transgender service members and their families a review would happen," Robinson said. "We expect you to keep your promise to them."

Retired Navy SEAL Kristin Beck, who is transgender, said Hagel has made some attempts to change the policy, but to no avail so far.

"On August 5th of this year a new [Department of Defense] regulation was passed that removed the medical regulation that prohibited transgender service," Beck, of the Military Freedom Coalition, said in a statement Monday. "In the following month I sat down with DOD officials and further reviewed the regulations and procedures to include open transgender service in the U.S. military — the same open and equal service by transgender people seen in eighteen other nations including the U.K., Canada, Australia and Norway."

Ashley Broadway, president of the American Military Partner Association, also said the fight of full equality in the military for LGBT personnel and their families is still far from over. The military still has not instituted a nondiscrimination policy and equal opportunity program that includes protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, plus it maintains the policy that bars transgender troops from serving. Nonetheless, Broadway praised Hagel's work as Defense secretary.

"From the swift recognition of same-sex military spouses after the fall of DOMA, to helping to put a spotlight on the importance of inclusion by speaking at the Pentagon's LGBT Pride Month Observance, Secretary Hagel has been an important ally and transformational leader on issues of equality with the Department of Defense," she said.

Late in 2013, some states that did not recognize same-sex marriages were denying military identification cards to the same-sex spouses of National Guard members. While most states have adhered to newer federal policy to issue military identification cards to all spouses, a handful of states, which regulate each respective National Guard and host a combined 114 Army and Air National Guard stations, held out. The cards open up benefits to families and couples including health care and housing access.

Hagel condemned those states and said this practice violated their federal obligations and created "hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they're entitled to."

Hagel, who said the title of Defense secretary was the “greatest privilege of my life,” said he will remain in the post until a successor is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Read the original article from Advocate here: 

Canadian veterans face long waits for mental health help, auditor says

by Bruce Campion-Smith
Originally Published: November 25th, 2014

OTTAWA—Veterans seeking help for mental health face long waits for care, red tape and a bureaucracy that’s not even sure it’s treatment programs work, the auditor general says.

The Conservative government, already under fire for its treatment of veterans, is sure to take more heat in the wake of a Tuesday report that raises questions about its ability to handle the increasing numbers of veterans seeking help for mental health conditions.

Despite repeated pledges by cabinet ministers that veterans are a priority, the report by auditor general Michael Ferguson paints a picture of ill military personnel facing waits for care that could jeopardize their well-being and recovery.

“The department is not doing enough to facilitate veterans’ timely access to mental health services,” Ferguson said.

NDP MP Malcolm Allen (Welland) said the delays in caring for veterans borders on criminal and accused the Conservatives of abandoning military personnel in their “greatest hour of need.”

“Those are real people with real families who are suffering, who served this country, who this government has really let down,” Allen said.

Tim Smith / THE CANADIAN PRESS file photo 

Rene Bell, a retired Sgt. Major, gathers with other veterans to protest the closure of a Veterans Affairs office in Brandon, Manitoba earlier this year. The audtor general says Verterans Affairs "is not doing enough to facilitate veterans’ timely access to mental health services.”

The problems flagged in the report include a complex application process, delays in obtaining medical and service records and long wait times to see health care professionals in operational stress injury clinics.

In a statement, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino thanked Ferguson for his recommendations, adding, “we appreciate his finding that access to mental health support is timely.”

In fact, Ferguson’s concluded that just one small program at Veterans Affairs to assist some 1,000 veterans was being delivered in a timely fashion.

In fact, the report flags serious problems with the program providing assistance to some 15,000 veterans with mental health issues, many of them chronic conditions.

It’s known as the disability benefits program. The auditor concluded that about 20 per cent of those who seek help are forced to wait more than eight months before getting approval to seek specialized mental health services.

“It’s important for them to get access to that long-term care as quickly as possible,” Ferguson told a news conference.

“The services are important and making sure that the veterans have access to those services quickly is important,’ he said Tuesday.

The report notes that more and more veterans are seeking treatment for mental health conditions and the number is expected to increase as those who served in Afghanistan return to civilian life and awareness of mental health issues grows.

By March, 2014, some 15,000 veterans and serving military personnel were eligible to receive mental health support from Veterans Affairs Canada through its disability benefits program.

In the fiscal year 2012-13, veterans affairs spent $508 million on mental health for veterans. The audit said that department had some “important” mental health supports in place to help, such as a network of 10 operational stress injury clinics across the country.

NDP: Auditor's report shows government has 'failed' veterans

But it warned that getting access to those programs is often time-consuming and average wait times at the clinics is three months.

Veterans Affairs said that it processes 75 per cent of applications for mental health conditions within 16 weeks, just shy of its goal of 80 per cent.

But the auditor general’s office took issue with that claim, noting in fact that it takes 32 weeks for 80 per cent of veterans to have their eligibility for programs decided. That’s because the application process alone can take up to 16 weeks because veterans are required to fill out lengthy questionnaires about their military service and past health claims, information that should already exist in their records.

And the transfer of service records to Veterans Affairs from the Department of National Defence can take up to 16 weeks.

Ferguson urged the bureaucrats at Veterans Affairs to put themselves in the shoes of veterans trying to access help from the department.

“The department needs to consider the whole experience of the veterans who is trying to access these services,” Ferguson said.

The auditor raised red flags in other areas as well, noting that the department’s outreach strategy was weak, saying it failed to include family doctors, who are usually the first point of contact for a person seeking help.

As well, the department does not educate family members of veterans on the possible signs of mental illness.

And in one damning finding, Ferguson found that while Veterans Affairs has developed a mental health strategy, it’s doesn’t collect the information needed to know whether it actually works.

The department pledged in 2009 to develop performance measures to assess the success of its mental health strategy.

“We found that Veterans Affairs Canada has not yet developed these measures,” the report said.

“As a result, the department cannot report on whether its strategy is successful and if veterans’ mental health needs are being met,” it said.

Perhaps anticipating the criticisms in this report, the federal government on Sunday announced an additional $200 million over six years to improve mental health services for military members.

Read the original article from The Toronto Star here: