Since March, Nike has been conducting a massive overhaul of its company culture, executive leadership, and HR practices after a covert survey of female employees revealed widespread patterns of sexual harassment, discrimination, and hostile work environments for women. As the New York Times recently reported in a major story reviewing the upheaval, this toxic culture was driving talented women out the door. In recent months, several high-level male executives at Nike have left the company amid the scandal.
Some of these executives stand accused of engaging in sexist practices themselves; others do not, but have been faulted for failing to address employees’ concerns, creating the perception of an executive “boys’ club” in which male managers were protected from consequences for their misbehavior. Another key theme in the Times‘ report is the Nike women’s dissatisfaction with the response they received from HR.
Nike CEO Mark Parker has moved quickly to bring the situation under control and assure employees that the company is taking its culture problems seriously. At an all-company meeting last Thursday, Parker admitted that he and other executives had missed signs of the problems that have come to light recently, apologized to the affected employees, and promised a thorough investigation into their complaints, along with changes to the company’s training and compensation practices to make them more inclusive, particularly toward women.
While Parker and his executive team will be responsible for making these needed changes to Nike’s culture and practices, none of these changes would be possible without the women employees who took the initiative to bring the company’s problems to light. One important takeaway from this story, therefore, is the power and promise of employee-led D&I initiatives.
In a historic change, the US Senate voted last week to allow members to bring their babies into the chamber. The new rule was prompted by the birth of Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth’s second daughter on April 9. Duckworth, the first sitting senator to give birth, said the vote would “bring the Senate into the 21st century,” making the historically male-dominated chamber a more welcoming workplace for women and new parents, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
No Senators objected to the rule change, but effecting it still took some convincing. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar told the AP that she had spent nearly two months “privately reassuring Republicans and Democrats that the new rule would not mean diaper-changing or nursing in the Senate chamber.” Quartz’s Heather Timmons followed up with Klobuchar about the questions she had fielded from her colleagues:
Will there be an infant dress code?
“No, we’re not going to have a dress code for the baby,” Klobuchar said. While that sounds off the wall, what women wear in the Senate in particular has been closely policed—it was not until the early 1990s that pant suits were allowed.
Can’t Duckworth just vote from the Senate cloak room, while holding her baby?
Both Republicans and Democrats have a room, originally quite literally a room for cloaks, that is outside the Senate chamber, where a small handful of aides sit to keep senators informed of voting. The chamber was built in 1859, and the cloakroom is difficult to access from the outside for Duckworth, who lost both her legs when she served in the Iraq war. “She can’t get from there to the floor without a wheelchair,” Klobuchar said, and she has to go across the floor to get into it anyway.
Duckworth and Klobuchar are both Democrats, but support for the rule change came from both male and female Senators across party lines. Although some of the men in the chamber expressed concerns about babies violating the Senate’s decorum, most were on board. “Why would I object to it? We have plenty of babies on the floor,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio joked.
Around 40 venture capital firms have joined a new project called MovingForward, which “gathers VC commitments to foster a diverse, inclusive, and harassment-free workplace.” Participating venture firms are sharing their own policies against sexual harassment and discrimination, contact points for entrepreneurs to ask questions and report problems, and statements on their efforts to combat harassment and promote diversity and inclusion.
Although not all the participating firms are making both their internal and external policies public, Recode’s Theodore Schleifer reports, the creators of the initiative say they have encouraged several VCs that did not have anti-harassment policies to create them:
Most venture capital funds do not have human resources departments, and even if they have an internal policy that defines and punishes harassment, it generally has only applied internally to their firm — not to the entrepreneurs that they interview and fund. …
“This effort has created a movement within the VC partnerships to do something,” [co-creator Cheryl] Yeoh said, telling Recode that she believed she has set off a “scramble” within venture capital firms to craft policies or identify a contact. She claimed that around half of the firms did not have policies applying to entrepreneurs or publicly identified points of contact before she pitched them.
Last week, the board of elections in Washington, DC, approved a ballot measure for the upcoming primary election on June 19 that will ask voters whether to raise the minimum wage for tipped employees in the restaurant industry from its current rate of $3.33 per hour to match the capital city’s minimum wage for all other workers by 2026. Advocates of the measure are framing it as a way of protecting low-income workers, especially women, from harassment and abuse, the Washington Post reported:
[C]ritics of the split-wage system say some workers face intimidation and retaliation when they tell their bosses that tips came up short. They say low-income workers in the restaurant industry deserve the same predictable income as other employees. …
“In this Me Too moment, in this Time’s Up moment, we have to stand up for women and empower women and really call this two-tier wage system for what it is: a source of sexual harassment,” said Diana Ramirez, director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center D.C., which is sponsoring the ballot initiative.
“If you know that you are getting a base wage from the employer, and a customer is acting inappropriately with you, you don’t have to put up with that behavior anymore to make a good tip,” she said.
Restaurant owners and some workers who earn much more than the minimum wage on the basis of tips oppose the measure, saying it will eat into restaurants’ already thin profit margins and force them to raise prices, cut jobs, and perhaps abandon tips altogether in favor of a flat hourly wage.
Quartz’s Maria Thomas highlights new data from the Monster Salary Index, released by the online employment portal Monster India, showing that the longer Indian women work, the more their pay lags behind that of their male peers:
Data for 2017 show Indian women with three to five years of experience earn marginally higher median wages (1.09%) than men at the same level. But the tide begins to turn once employees have six to 10 years of experience, with men earning 15.3% more than women. And at over 11 years of experience, the gender pay gap becomes a startling 25%. …
These figures are particularly frustrating given all the obstacles women must typically overcome in the first place to make it to the top of their fields. To begin with, India’s conservative society still identifies bearing and caring for children as a woman’s primary role. That makes it incredibly difficult to juggle household responsibilities alongside professional ones. All the more so after childbirth—that is if at all new mothers are allowed to return to the workplace. Among those who are, only a lucky few can expect a reliable support system, including childcare facilities and flexible timings.
These challenges are by no means specific to India. Studies in the US and UK have also found that the gender pay gap starts small and grows over the course of people’s careers, with marriage and children playing a role in holding back the growth of women’s earnings as they either make sacrifices in their own career to accommodate their spouse’s, take career breaks to raise children, or find themselves shut out of promotions and stretch assignments due to family obligations (if not outright gender bias).
Because the gender role expectations placed on Indian women are even more restrictive than those of their peers in Western countries, the obstacle is that much greater, but not qualitatively different.
Carlos G. Lopez/Shutterstock
A recent survey by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 59 percent of employers believe a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant to her prospective employer while being considered for a position, while 46 percent believe it is reasonable to ask if they have young children and 44 percent said women should work for an organization for at least a year before deciding to have children, Personnel Today’s Rob Moss reported last week:
The EHRC research, conducted in autumn 2017 by YouGov, also found that:
- 44% of employers believe that women who have had more than one pregnancy while in the same job can be a “burden” to their team
- 41% say that pregnancy in the workplace puts “an unnecessary cost burden” on the workplace
- 40% of employers claim to have seen at least one pregnant woman in their workplace “take advantage” of their pregnancy
- 32% believe women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are “generally less interested in career progression” than other employees.
Surprisingly, most HR decision makers share some of the sentiment of the wider survey sample.
These assumptions and sentiments are exactly the reason why women shouldn’t have to disclose if they are pregnant in an interview or at any point during recruitment. I understand the desire to control for all factors in recruiting, but if sentiments such as these lead to fewer women being hired, than this is perpetuating the problem of discrimination against pregnant women and mothers, based on the erroneous assumption that hiring mothers will have a negative impact on business.
As the #MeToo movement has galvanized public attention around the problem of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, an unintended side effect of this scrutiny has been increased anxiety among men of “accidentally” harassing a female colleague—i.e., having an innocent remark or gesture misinterpreted as sexual and being accused of an offense he had not intended. In some cases, this is leading male corporate leaders to shy away from spending any time alone with the female colleagues or subordinates who work for them. The Washington Post took a look at this phenomenon last month:
In Silicon Valley, the chief executive of a midsize company asked his human resources manager what he should do about the undercurrent of tension around issues of sexual misconduct. Stop having dinners with female employees, he was advised. In fact, stop having dinners with any employees. Lunches are okay, dinners no way, HR told him. Another investor said his colleagues have canceled their one-on-one meetings with female entrepreneurs.
LeanIn and SurveyMonkey recently put some hard numbers behind these anecdotes, finding in a survey that “almost half of male managers are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing together,” and that 30 percent are uncomfortable working alone with a woman: more than twice as many as said so before the recent series of high-profile sexual harassment stories were reported in the media. Also, the number of male managers who are reluctant to mentor women more than tripled from 5 to 16 percent since these stories came to light.