Work/Life Showcase

Getting Everyone Out Safely

Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the March

20, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Getting Affirmative Action Plans Right, & Written

It’s hard to imagine a more misunderstood program than

Affirmative Action. It has become a hot-button issue, causing instant

debate on whether a person should be hired because of his merits,

or because of his gender or race or ethnicity. In reality, however,

Affirmative Action, at least as it applies in the workplace is no

draconian program designed to pressure employers into hiring the unfit

or underqualified so that they may achieve some artificial racial

or gender quota.

"An Affirmative Action plan is actually an opportunity for us

to check on ourselves, to ensure that we provide opportunity to all

people," says Barbara Cordasco, director of affirmative

action services for the Employers Association of New Jersey (EANJ).

For 14 years she has drafted hundreds of the complicated plans, and

not only does she know what goes into creating a plan, but she knows

what the government looks for when it conducts random compliance

reviews.

She sat through her first review just three or four months into her

job, and has helped employers through many over the years.

On Friday, March 22, at 9:30 a.m. Cordasco speaks on "Getting

Down to the Basics of Affirmative Action" at a seminar sponsored

by EANJ and taking place at Caldwell College. Cost: $50. Call

973-239-8600.

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) oversees

Affirmative Action plans, and Cordasco has never seen an instance

in which the agency shut down — or even fined — a company

for failing to hire enough women, members of minority groups,

veterans,

or handicapped individuals. "They look for good faith

efforts,"

she says. "That’s the most important thing."

It must be said, however, that the compliance reviews Cordasco is

involved with are of EANJ members, a group that already has shown

a healthy respect for employee issues by signing on as members of

the non-profit, which is focused on human resource administration.

Other companies — particularly those that have not bothered to

draft an Affirmative Action plan — may fare less well. And while

the OFCCP is not out to hassle employers into oblivion, it must be

said that Affirmative Action plans are complicated documents that

can not be casually tossed together.

Cordasco explains the nuts and bolts, and offers this guidance on

preparing an Affirmative Action plan.

Who needs one? Every company with 50 or more employees,

which does at least $50,000 worth of business a year with the federal

government, needs an Affirmative Action plan. This business may be

transacted directly — selling airplanes, for example — or

indirectly. A company whose business is making fabric or paint, or

mining ore, or preparing marketing materials needs an Affirmative

Action plan if those goods, raw materials, or services end up in a

product that is sold to the federal government. "Contractors have

the responsibility of informing sub-contractors," says Cordasco.

In addition to these contractors and sub-contractors, all financial

institution need Affirmative Action plans, says Cordasco, adding

"we

do plans for a lot of New Jersey banks."

What does it look like? A lengthy document, an Affirmative

Action plan is made up largely of tables that enumerate every employee

by job category, job title, gender, and race or ethnicity. There are

also columns for veterans and the handicapped, both of which groups

come under the jurisdiction of the OFCCP. The plans contain narratives

in addition to tables. In the narratives, employers set out goals

for including members of minority groups in each of nine

federally-mandated

job categories, and comment on areas where they made progress toward,

or fell short of, goals set in the previous year.

Hiring, promotion, transfer, and termination all are tallied and

addressed.

"It’s not just about getting minorities and women in,"

explains

Cordasco, "it’s about what you do with them once they are

there."

Where do employees come from? Key in putting together

an Affirmative Action plan is figuring out where applicants for each

position are likely to live. The general rule is that the higher the

position, the farther an individual is likely to travel to fill it.

"Someone isn’t going to drive two hours each way to answer your

phone for $8 an hour," says Cordasco. She points out, however,

that for $200,000 an executive might be willing to make that same

commute.

This information is important because it forms the heart of an

Affirmative

Action plan. The basic idea of affirmative action is that the

workforce

at any given position should mirror applicants within the recruitment

area who are qualified to fill it. Therefore, if all of an employer’s

janitorial staff lives in Mercer County, and if 43 percent of the

janitors living in Mercer County are women, then 43 percent of the

employer’s janitors should be women. If 10 percent of all the janitors

in the county are Hispanic, then 10 percent of the employer’s janitors

should be Hispanic.

If senior executives are chosen through a national search, and if

12 percent of all senior executives are women, then 12 percent of

the employer’s executives should be women.

These are the goals. The OFCCP considers a number that falls within

20 percent of the goal to be in compliance.

What about internal promotion? To complicate matters

further,

the Affirmative Action plan needs to take into account how many jobs

within each category are filled not by new hires, but rather through

transfer or promotion. If, for example, all of a companies senior

executives are always chosen from within, the demographic data a

company

uses in compiling its Affirmative Action plan for that job title is

the demographic make-up of the job titles within the company from

which it promotes.

If all senior executives are promoted from middle management, and

32 percent of middle managers are black, then 32 percent of those

promoted into senior management should be black.

What if a company falls short of a goal? "The OFCCP

does not expect you to hire someone who is not qualified," says

Cordasco. "It is not saying you must hire X number of minorities

or women. It is saying you should hire fairly." An employer who

chooses 10 male nuclear physicists to fill 10 vacant positions when

32 percent of the nuclear physicists in its recruitment area are women

is not automatically in trouble. It has an opportunity to show that

its hires were chosen because of superior experience, for example,

or because no women applied despite outreach efforts.

Who is an applicant? While it might, at first blush,

appear

obvious, this is one of the trickiest questions employers face.

"Even

after 30 years (of Affirmative Action plans), it’s still a gray

area,"

says Cordasco. The OFCCP, she says, "maintains the definition

is what it always has been — someone who is minimally qualified

and who applies."

Today, with one ad drawing 500 — or even 5,000 responses, the

definition, Cordasco says, "has become a nightmare for many

companies."

According to a strict interpretation of OFCCP policy, she says, if

a company so much as looks at a resume, and quickly decides that

"the

person is not in the box," he or she becomes an applicant.

While, in reality, companies have some latitude in determining who

is — or isn’t — an applicant, Cordasco warns that the practice

of considering only those who are called in for interviews applicants

is dangerous. It narrows the definition to a degree the OFCCP would

likely find unacceptable.

Is the applicant male or female? In the Affirmative Action

plan, employers must list how many applicants for each job title fall

into which categories — gender, race, ethnicity, veteran, and

handicapped. The problem is that a company may never see most of its

applicants, and may not be able to determine gender or ethnicity from

an application or resume. The job is easier when an applicant sits

for an interview, but is still not foolproof. "Employers have

to make a good faith effort," says Cordasco. If an applicant’s

name is Rose, chances are pretty good that she is a woman. If her

last name is Rodriguez, she may be Hispanic.

Asking an applicant for the information would generally yield more

accurate results, but the question needs to be carefully put. Says

Cordasco, applicants must be told that responses to questions on

gender

and ethnicity are entirely voluntary and will be used solely for the

purpose of compiling employment records for compliance purposes. They

must be assured that the information will not be used in making hiring

decisions.

Some companies mail postcards to applicants requesting the

information.

And some companies include a questionnaire on applications.

Is there pay parity? While hiring and promotion are the

two things that come to mind first, affirmative action also looks

at rates of pay. In fact, says Cordasco, pay parity is one of the

first things the OFCCP checks for in an audit. Everyone with a similar

job title should be earning a similar amount of money. If, after

adjusting

for experience, the OFCCP finds that women or minorities are making

less for doing essentially the same job, the employer will have some

explaining to do.

What does the OFCCP look for? Cordasco says consistency

is important. If a company has a definition of who is an applicant,

or a policy for evaluating middle managers for promotion, or a

procedure

for giving notice of possible termination, it needs to apply each

in the same way over time.

Perhaps most important of all, a company must show a good faith effort

to extend opportunities for employment — and advancement —

in all of its job titles to everyone who is qualified. Ways of doing

this, says Cordasco, include advertising jobs in magazines for

minority

students or women engineers or Hispanic healthcare professionals.

Attending job fairs for women and minorities is another positive step

as is contacting groups that promote opportunities for women, specific

ethnic groups, the handicapped, or veterans. Internal programs,

including

diversity training and continuing education, also are pluses.

Who gets audited? Cordasco says very few audits result

from complaints by employees or by spurned job applicants. Most come

about as a result of random selection, making it vital that every

employer have a current plan in place, and be ready to provide back-up

data, including job applications and resumes.

Cordasco says the employers she has been working with over the

past decade and a half have no problem with affirmative action.

"Clearly,

they want to be in compliance," she says. "They want to hire

anyone who can do the job."

Top Of Page
Work/Life Showcase

Enthusiastic and optimistic no matter what the

circumstances,

Barbara Kaplan, American Re’s work/life consultant, says the

current economic downturn is not hurting the work/life movement.

"Oh

no, not at all," she says. "We just have to be more

creative."

The need to accommodate employees’ personal needs in the workplace

is greater than ever, and doing so, she says, does not have to be

an expensive proposition.

She gives lunchtime seminars and vendor shows as examples of low or

no cost events that can add value to employees’ lives while respecting

financially stressed employers’ budgets.

Kaplan is a founder of the Princeton Work/Life Alliance. The

organization,

whose members include Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merrill Lynch, holds

its first Work/Life Resource Showcase on Thursday, March 21, at 9

a.m. at Amersham Health at 101 Carnegie Center. The two-hour event

is free. Call 609-243-5563.

The occasion is an opportunity for HR professionals — whether

or not their companies are members of the Princeton Work/Life Alliance

— to meet vendors of employee-enrichment programs. Among the

exhibitors

are health clubs, consultants, theme parks, resource and referral

providers, and massage therapists.

"Massage therapists are big at companies now," says Kaplan.

"They relieve stress."

While stress busting is important, Kaplan says that the two biggest

work/life topics — by a wide margin — are child care and elder

care. The next Princeton Work/Life Alliance meeting takes place on

Wednesday, June 19, at 9 a.m., at Merrill Lynch’s new child care

center

in Hopewell. Kaplan says members of her group are eager to see the

new facility.

Child care, of course, has always been an issue at work, or at least

an issue that affects work. Elder care stands to become just as

important

as greater longevity, combined with more women in the workforce,

collide

in the coming decades, causing Boomer workers to juggle work

responsibilities

with care for elderly parents. Beyond these two big issues, work/life

concerns include fitness, recreation, and the eternal clash between

piles of paper in the office in-box and piles of laundry at home.

Area companies address these concerns with everything from on-site

dry cleaning pick-up, dentists, and health clubs to vouchers for

emergency

child care. It is the work/life consultant’s job to tune in to

employees’

needs and to suggest new programs to management.

Kaplan, who has been work/life consultant at American Re for

three-and-a-half

years, is a graduate of Rutgers University (Class of 1993), where

she studied communications. She calls her position "the job of

the decade," pointing out that it is not only the "Sandwich

Generation" — Boomers simultaneously caring for teens and

aging parents — who are driving the work/life movement. She says,

"people just out of college want to know if there is health club

reimbursement, child care, business casual."

The Princeton Work/Life Alliance is a way for area companies to share

information on how they have implemented programs to meet these needs.

And the upcoming showcase is an opportunity for these companies to

find out what services in the community exist to make it easier for

their employees to balance a full work day with at-home

responsibilities.

Monday, March 25

Top Of Page
Getting Everyone Out Safely

On September 11, the Department of Labor evacuated its

three-block-long building in Washington, D.C. "We’re just across

the river from the Pentagon," says Zoe Fearon, coordinator

of the department’s central office for assistive services. "We

could see the smoke."

It was a stressful day, full of confusion. The evacuation, says

Fearon,

was "a wake up call." No longer would emergency evacuations

— with all the planning they entail — be of concern only to

offices located on flood plains or in the shadow of a volcano. Now

everyone would have to be ready, and not just for floods, fires, and

hurricane-strength winds. "It could be chemicals," she says.

"You might have to turn off the air circulators and forbid

egress."

Fearon speaks on Monday, March 25, at 9 a.m. on "Safety Measures

for Personnel Evacuations" at a meeting of the New Jersey

Minorities

with Disabilities Coalition at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Piscataway.

Cost: $300. Call 609-984-3379. While the talk will highlight the

challenges

of evacuating disabled employees, it will address general emergency

evacuation procedures, and some equipment now available to facilitate

evacuation when elevators are not working.

Fearon says she has been knowledgeable about disabilities all of her

life. "My brother is blind," she says, "and many members

of my extended family live with disabilities." Her parents

dedicated

themselves to raising her brother so that "he was never left out

of anything." A banker and musician, her brother followed a family

tradition in graduating from Syracuse University. Raised in upstate

New York near Syracuse, Fearon herself headed south for college,

graduating

from Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, in 1976.

During her college years, Fearon did volunteer work in a school for

the deaf in Staunton. She learned sign language, and, after

graduation,

was offered a job there. In subsequent years, she earned master’s

degrees in counseling and human services and in deaf education. After

teaching, working as a counselor, and interpreting sign language,

Fearon accepted a job at the Department of Labor as an interpreter.

She found the department did not have a resource center for its

disabled

employees, and wrote a proposal suggesting that one be created. It

was, and she became its director.

Fearon points out that the stereotype of a disabled person as someone

who has a permanent condition falls short — particularly in terms

of thinking of an evacuation plan. The disabled could include the

intern who broke his leg playing basketball, the accountant recovering

from knee surgery, or, says Fearon, with just a hint of mischief,

"the excessively chronologically gifted."

Here are some considerations for safely evacuating everyone —

disabled or not.

Make a plan — and review it often. Circumstances

change.

There may be no employees not able to sprint down stairs today, but

a month from now there could be several. We’re all just one event

away from being disabled, Fearon points out. An operation or two,

a problem pregnancy, and a sports injury could significantly increase

even a small company’s roster of people needing assistance in an

emergency.

Designate someone to grab the attendance sheets. If

employees

sign in and out, put someone in charge of taking the sign in sheets

out with them in case of an evacuation. This could save not only

worry,

but also the lives of rescue workers.

Choose an assembly place. Tell all employees to meet in

the park across the street, for example. Make sure everyone knows

about the assembly place, but don’t hesitate to change it. This is

another to schedule review of the plan. The park may close for

reseeding,

or be chosen as a parade staging route. Or the road between your

office

and the park may be torn up in a big construction project.

Find a safe harbor. During an emergency it may be

impossible

for some — or all — of your employees to get home. Plan in

advance for temporary accommodations, perhaps at an auditorium or

school. And think ahead about how employees would get there,

particularly

if mass transit were unavailable.

Appoint zone monitors. In general, says Fearon,

friendships

form naturally at work, and employees tend to watch out for one

another.

Nevertheless, it can be a good idea to ask for one volunteer per floor

or section to be a zone monitor, responsible for seeing who needs

help, providing last minute instructions, and keeping track of who

has left the building.

Make a phone tree. Where there are several small offices

in a building it is a good idea to collect phone numbers of a contact

from each. "Carry laminated cards" with the numbers, Fearon

suggests. This, too, is a way to check on who has gotten out of the

building.

Plan to stay inside. We are now aware, says Fearon, that

we must be prepared for all kinds of emergencies. So, in addition

to making evacuation plans, make plans for situations during which

employees would need to stay inside. How would they be informed? Who

would make sure no one left? Who would make decisions on whether to

open windows or shut down air circulation systems? How would employees

be updated on the situation?

Before September 11, evacuations never received much attention

at most offices. The result, says Fearon, is that "it became

poignantly

clear that we could do so much better."


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