As the digital age pressures organizations to rethink the way they design talent solutions, HR teams have begun adopting new, leaner practices already in common use in other business functions. The “agile” methodology, pioneered by software developers, is a highly iterative approach to design that relies heavily on end-user feedback. This approach can be successful in HR as well, but applying it requires functions to change not only their processes, but also their mindsets.
Most HR functions have traditionally designed HR solutions using the “waterfall” method, which includes an extensive requirement-gathering phase, after which a design team creates and implements the solution. A small group of users typically tests the solution only at the very end, shortly before wide-scale deployment.
The waterfall method (and the mindset that accompanies it) has historically served HR well because it’s ideal for an HR function aiming to solve as many employees’ problems as possible, for as long as possible. However, many HR functions are finding that their solutions aren’t as adaptable as they need to be to keep up with the rapidly-evolving demands of their end-users: i.e., employees. Employees want assurance that HR systems and processes will be personalized to fit their needs and will evolve as those needs change, but they’re also willing to supply detailed feedback to get there.
Enter the agile approach, which has gained traction thanks to its efficiency in responding to change. The workflow in an agile project draws a stark contrast from the waterfall method in that end-user feedback drives every aspect of the process. Whether an agile HR specialist is addressing issues in a payroll process, designing a new training series, or implementing a new HR information system, they collect employee feedback at every step along the way to guide their continued iteration, then continue refining products between design cycles until end-users are satisfied.
Of course, making the transition to an agile HR function and an agile mindset can be challenging. Here are six changes HR leaders can make to help embed the agile mindset in their teams:
California recently became the first state in the US to enact a law requiring companies based there to include at least some women on their boards of directors. The legislation, signed by Governor Jerry Brown on the last day of September, mandates that all publicly traded companies headquartered California (not just those chartered there) have at least one woman on their boards by the end of 2019. For companies with at least five directors, at least two or three of those seats must be filled by women by 2021, depending on the size of the board. Companies that do not comply will be subject to fines by the state.
California’s mandate has ignited a firestorm of controversy, with business groups like the California Chamber of Commerce saying it violates constitutional principles and effectively requires companies to discriminate against men, while even some advocates of diversity in corporate leadership question whether it will have the kind of impact it is intended to have. The state will likely be sued over the law and may lose, which Brown acknowledged in his letter to the state Senate announcing his signature of the bill. “I don’t minimize the potential flaws that may indeed prove fatal to its ultimate implementation,” he wrote. The constitutional issues at hand concern not only the issue of reverse gender discrimination but also a question of jurisdiction, as the Supreme Court has ruled in the past that a corporation’s internal affairs are governed by the statutes of the state in which it is chartered, not where its headquarters is located.
Nonetheless, even if the law is ultimately defeated in court, it is intended partly as a marker of determination on the part of the California state government to ratchet up pressure on companies there to make more progress on diversity and inclusion, particularly in leadership roles where women and minorities remain heavily underrepresented. Simply bringing visibility to the issue counts as a win for some advocates of gender equality, Vox‘s Emily Stewart reported:
“If nothing else, what this law is doing is increasing the visibility and awareness on the issue itself and the importance, and that is a win in and of itself,” said Serena Fong, the vice president of strategic engagement at Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on promoting women in business.
On Tuesday, October 2, Amazon announced that it would raise its internal minimum hourly wage for US employees, including part-time workers and those hired through temporary agencies, to $15 an hour. This includes workers at the company’s warehouses or “fulfillment centers,” as it calls them, in addition to store employees at Whole Foods, which Amazon acquired last year. The e-commerce giant also said it planned to lobby the US government to raise the federal minimum wage from its current hourly rate of $7.25, last updated in 2009, the New York Times reported:
The new wages will apply to more than 250,000 Amazon employees, including those at the grocery chain Whole Foods, as well as the more than 100,000 seasonal employees it plans to hire for the holiday season. The change will not apply to contract workers. It goes into effect on Nov. 1. “We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, said in a statement. “We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”
The move came amid growing pressure on Amazon from the media and politicians regarding its pay practices and the work conditions of its lowest-paid employees, particularly those at its warehouses or “fulfillment centers.” Vermont Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been an outspoken critic of Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, who is currently estimated to be the wealthiest individual in the world, citing news reports that large numbers of Amazon’s low-wage employees were dependent on public assistance. Sanders and California congressman Ro Khanna have been pushing legislation that would require companies to compensate the federal government for the cost of public assistance benefits received by their employees, including food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing.
The next day, however, Bloomberg reported that Amazon was cutting monthly bonuses and stock awards for hourly employees to help offset the costs of the minimum wage hike. Still, the company insists that these workers’ total compensation is rising:
Amazon canceled a multi-year project to develop an experimental automated recruiting engine after the e-commerce giant’s machine learning team discovered that the system was exhibiting explicit bias against women, Reuters reports. The engine, which the team began building in 2014, used artificial intelligence to filter résumés and score candidates on a scale from one to five stars. Within a year of starting the project, however, it became clear that the algorithm was discriminating against female candidates when reviewing them for technical roles.
Because the AI was taught to evaluate candidates based on patterns it found in ten years of résumés submitted to Amazon, most of which came from men, the system “taught itself that male candidates were preferable,” according to Reuters:
It penalized resumes that included the word “women’s,” as in “women’s chess club captain.” And it downgraded graduates of two all-women’s colleges, according to people familiar with the matter. They did not specify the names of the schools. Amazon edited the programs to make them neutral to these particular terms. But that was no guarantee that the machines would not devise other ways of sorting candidates that could prove discriminatory, the people said.
The company scuttled the project by the start of 2017 after executives lost faith in it. By that time, however, it may have already helped perpetuate gender bias in Amazon’s own hiring practices. The company told Reuters its recruiters never used the engine to evaluate candidates, but did not dispute claims from people familiar with the project that they had had looked at the recommendations it generated.
A new analysis of US Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center finds that stay-at-home fathers are becoming more common, suggesting a slow shift in parental roles that Pew says is driven by more than just economic considerations:
The stay-at-home share of U.S. parents was almost identical to what it was in 1989, but there has been a modest increase among fathers. The share of dads at home rose from 4% to 7%, while the share of moms staying at home remained largely unchanged – 27% in 2016 versus 28% about a quarter-century earlier. As a result, 17% of all stay-at-home parents in 2016 were fathers, up from 10% in 1989, the first year for which reliable data on fathers are available. …
However, the long-term uptick in dads at home is not driven solely by economic factors. The modest increase is apparent even after excluding those who were home due to unemployment. Furthermore, a growing share of stay-at-home fathers say they are home specifically to care for their home or family, suggesting that changing gender roles may be at play. About a quarter (24%) of stay-at-home fathers say they are home for this reason. Stay-at-home mothers remain far more likely than dads to say they are home to care for family – 78% say so.
Pew also finds that Millennial parents are more likely to be at home with their children than Gen X parents were at the same age in 1999-2000, with a particularly significant jump among fathers from 3 to 6 percent. A larger proportion of Millennial dads are staying home deliberately to care for family, rather than as a result of unemployment or for some other reason.
Identifying “stay-at-home parents” is increasingly difficult in the era of remote work and the gig economy, which Pew acknowledges. Parents are defined as “stay-at-home” based on their employment status during the year prior to the survey, which is similar to how the Census Bureau categorizes them:
“Equal Lives,” a new report prepared by the UK organization Business in the Community in partnership with Santander, sheds light on the needs, perceptions, and attitudes of working men and women in the UK regarding the balance of work and caregiving. Overall, the report finds that men want to be more involved in caring for their children and elderly parents, but feel hindered from doing so by a combination of organizational and public policies and societal expectations around gender roles. Some of the report’s key findings include:
- The majority of men (85%) agree they should be as involved in all aspects of childcare as women. At the same time, over nine in ten men believe it is equally acceptable for both women and men to take time out from employment in order to care for their family. …
- Even in organisations which have familyfriendly policies, men report concerns for career, progression, finances and a feeling that their caring duties are not as recognised as women’s and less appreciated by organisations.
- The ability to work flexibly is the organisational policy that both men and women find the most important when it comes to balancing work and care. However, takeup is significantly lower than its perceived importance.
- Many men say they would be encouraged to use policies to support them with balancing work and care if they were confident that it would not impact their career prospects or if there were more visible examples from senior leaders in their organisation.
“This finding resonates with the conversations we’ve had in our ongoing research with men and couples who opted to take shared parental leave,” professors Emma Banister and Ben Kerrane note at the Conversation. Enacted in 2015, the UK’s Shared Parental Leave policy grants new mothers (or “lead parents” in same-sex couples) a year of leave to divide between themselves and their partners in any proportion they choose. Take-up of SPL has been disappointingly low, which critics attribute to a lack of public awareness and the common practice among employers of “topping up” the statutory minimum of parental leave pay for mothers but not fathers. Beyond that, Banister and Kerrane’s research suggests that the scheme may be hindering itself by replicating the gender expectations it is meant to ameliorate:
In a survey of UK women released this week by the law firm Slater and Gordon, 37 percent reported that they had personally been sexually harassed at work within the past 12 months, while 39 percent said they had witnessed a colleague being harassed, Personnel Today reports:
Fifty-two per cent said their employer had not taken any action to combat sexual harassment, while 56% said their organisation did not have a sexual harassment policy, or were not aware of one. Despite the rise of the #MeToo movement and the allegations made against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein increasing awareness of the problem, 28% claimed they still had a predatory male colleague or boss who harassed female members of staff.
Although the survey found only 21% of victims came forward about harassment, employment lawyer Clare Armstrong said Slater and Gordon had seen an increase in the number of people getting in contact about the issue.
As to why so few victims come forward, another survey published earlier this month by the Young Women’s Trust found that among women ages 18-30, 24 percent would be reluctant to report sexual harassment out of fear of losing their jobs, while another 17 percent expressed fear of having their hours cut. Fifteen percent of young women said they had been sexually harassed at work and chosen not to report it, while 32 percent said they didn’t know how to report harassment to their employer.