November 8, 1999
Volume 52, No. 11
Flex-time discussion dominates Nov. 3 PCSW panel
Much of the discussion at the Nov. 3 panel discussion sponsored by the President's Commission on the Status of Women centered around flexible work options and Human Resources initiatives already in place to combat problems revealed in the commissions's recently released "Invisible Barriers" study. President Bill Chace promised to discuss expanding flexible work options at the next Administrative Council meeting.
The panel, held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Carlos Museum reception hall, featured Chace; Irene Brown, associate professor of sociology and women's studies; Robert Ethridge, associate vice president of Equal Opportunity Programs; Joan Herold, associate professor of behavioral science and health education; and Alice Miller vice president for Human Resources. It was moderated by Susan Henry-Crowe, dean of the chapel and religious life.
All the panelists praised the breadth and methodology of the study, conducted by the PCSW's staff concerns committee during the 1998-99 academic year.
"This study sets a higher platform for further discussion of equal treatment of all people on this campus," said Chace. "There are some considerably important findings in this study. This is a good study, a real step forward in our self-understanding, and I am eager to find ways of improving the lives of all people who work on the Emory campus."
Brown, who researches issues of gender and race in the workplace, reported that Emory's findings are in line with national statistics for large employers.
Miller was surprised and disappointed that despite her department's efforts, many employees feel their supervisors do not support their goals for further education and job advancement. "We have been working so hard with supervisors to identify employees with remedial education needs," she said. "There are some supervisors who feel employees are hired for a specific job and they should just do that job; the biggest concentration of employees who feel that way are at the lower end of the pay scale and amongst minorities."
In response to audience questions, much of the discussion centered around flexible work schedules, including flex-time, telecommuting, job sharing and split shifts. Chace said he supports flexible schedules and has encouraged supervisors to offer them to employees whose jobs allow for it, but that such schedules can only be resolved at the departmental level.
Many audience members and survey respondents felt supervisors look with suspicion on employees requesting flexible options, thinking that they will not really be working as much or that they are not really serious about advancing in their careers. Some ideas that arose during discussion were rewards to supervisors who cooperate on flex-time, making clear the expectation that supervisors cooperate whenever possible, and the importance of high-level managers a good example by choosing flex options.
"At the next meeting of the Administrative Council I will make that an agenda item," promised Chace in response to requests for pressure on supervisors to support flexible schedules. He said automobile traffic is a related issue for the University and the country, and "employers at some point will need to say, 'We don't want you to come to work,' so as an employer we are going to have to reconcile other options."
One goal of the event was to identify next steps for PCSW, and suggestions were made to include hospital employees--the study focused only on female University staff--and men in future studies to identify which issues are truly gender based and which are more a function of status or job classification. Chace said those are the next steps he will advocate.
Other issues discussed were tuition reimbursement and HR initiatives designed to combat many of the problems revealed in the study, such as supervisor hiring practices, employees' inawareness of their advancement options and remedial education. Miller said her department is always looking for additional ways to inform employees of the services available to them.
Cecil King, a supervisor in Facilities Management, recommended changing tuition reimbursement to courtesy scholarships for employees whose work schedules dictate they go to Georgia State rather than Emory to continue their education. She pointed out that this particularly affects workers in the service and maintenance sector who may not be able to pay tuition up front and wait for reimbursement.
Members of the PCSW and its staff concerns committee plan to take comments from the event into consideration to plan future initiatives. The full report of the PCSW study can be found online at <www.emory.edu/PCSW/>.