As the Huffington Post recently reported, “even at a company obsessed with fair pay, men still make more than women.” I got misty for a moment, realizing that this article reflects the most balance treatment of the pay gap that I’ve yet encountered. I’ve also looked at the pay gap from many sides now, as a fervent EEOC Trial Attorney in the late 1990’s, as an employer advocate and litigator, as a master’s level social worker, and as a feminist with two brilliant daughters. And finally, with articles like this one, smart people are starting to understand that the pay gap is far more complex than the simplistic victim/villain dichotomies depicted by the EEOC and plaintiff’s employment bar . . . organizations that, not coincidentally, recommend more litigation against employers as the FIX.
A better FIX, the article concluded, was more family-friendly workplace policies that allow women to REMAIN in the workforce, instead of forcing them out when they’re unable to reconcile the competing demands of work/family. Indeed, time away from the workforce (even for legally protected purposes) initiates incremental pay disparities that eventually snowball into larger pay gaps. And unless we’re willing to build “escalator provisions” into Title VII and the Equal Pay Act like those reserved for returning veterans under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), any time spent away from the workforce results in foregone promotions, annual COLA increases, pension contributions, paid health insurance, etc.
Nowadays, women primarily reconcile work/family conflicts by exiting the workforce . . . but as men increasingly expand traditional fatherhood norms as co-parents, they too will suffer from the utter lack of workplace support infrastructure.
And so, a few weeks ago, my husband and I started a voluntary mutual support group on Facebook called RISE: Resource Integration to Support Employment. Because of initial insurance and liability-based concerns about tethering this group directly to his employer, we launched this private Facebook group as a voluntary program to match employee NEEDS with employee RESOURCES.
RISE rests firmly on the belief that this growing community of talented, caring people holds the key to many of our work/family balance struggles. RISE also proceeds on the assumption that if everyone helps just a little, the community will thrive–i.e., all boats RISE together. Indeed, many community members even have TEENAGERS looking for babysitting and pet care gigs, as well as retired parents who would be happy to babysit for an afternoon. Unfortunately, because many managers have treated employees with foreseeable work/family conflicts as “less dedicated liabilities,” women (in particular) have been squeamish about asking for help. Instead of criticizing struggling working parents, however, RISE seeks to marshal RESOURCES to meet foreseeable, everyday needs.
This project is experimental, but it WILL work. And if it does not work, we’ll experiment with new ways to help reconcile work/family conflicts, retain talented working parents, and build a strong workplace community based on mutual support. Further, we’re currently researching whether voluntary workplace RISE groups pose legal risk to employers, as one insurance carrier vaguely alleged. Needless to say, attorneys and insurance types are unusually VERY risk averse, and tend to stifle innovation based on generalized liability concerns that are not always well-founded. As this project develops and grows, we plan to overcome any legal concerns about voluntary mutual support programs and make the BUSINESS CASE for their adoption in other organizations:
- Increased leverage in recruiting Top Talent;
- Better employee retention;
- Improved employee engagement (i.e., feeling part of a supportive community);
- Enhanced reputation in marketplace as an “Employer of Choice”;
- Reduced absenteeism;
- Higher productively; and by extension,
- Higher profits.
Please stay tuned here for updates. Better yet, if you have any input or suggestions, we’d love to hear from you. Let’s RISE together.
Merrily Archer, Esq., M.S.W.
March 24, 2016