- Two women have alleged in a scathing complaint that the University of Chicago (UC) knowingly "supported the transformation of Facilities Services into a white, Christian, male stronghold" (Spencer v. Austin, No. 19-cv-07404 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 8, 2019)).
- The plaintiffs assert the existence of a "good ol' boys club" at UC and state in their complaint that UC's facilities services department has been served with more than six internal complaints of race, gender and/or religious discrimination since 2014, along with "multiple [U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] charges and a federal lawsuit. It has chosen to do nothing about it." Men, the complaint alleges, are routinely promoted and given pay raises and bonuses, "while women are left to languish or leave." Those who bring complaints are allegedly retaliated against; one of the plaintiffs said she was denied a promised promotion and pay raise after filing an internal gender bias complaint.
- The plaintiffs also asserted that the head of the UC facilities services department, Jim McConnell, promoted a known anti-Semite, promoted "plainly unqualified" men and "invited an anti-gay speaker to address the Facilities Services Department as part of a required all-staff meeting."
Sometimes, as the UC plaintiffs are alleging, a workplace's culture can be problematic from a legal and morale standpoint. How does HR address and remedy this?
Experts say that certain corporate cultures — particularly those with a win-at-all-costs mentality — are particularly prone to bullying and harassing behaviors, and a lack of consequences for inappropriate actions perpetuates the problem. HR alone cannot stop bullying or discriminatory or retaliatory behavior; real change has to come from the uppermost levels of the organization.
However, HR can do its part by promptly and thoroughly investigating all complaints, conducting appropriate training and supporting targeted employees.
Cultural concerns are increasingly a priority for employers, given the challenges of attracting and retaining talent, along with a workforce that is increasingly seeking flexibility and meaning at work. Dell, for example, recently announced a long-term strategy to cultivate inclusion. It said it plans to shape its hiring, development and retention initiatives so that women make up 50% of its global workforce and 40% of its international managerial staff by 2030, with black and Hispanic employees comprising 25% of the corporation's U.S. workforce and 15% of its U.S. managers in the same timeframe. It also plans to train nearly all (95%) employees annually on unconscious bias, microaggressions, privilege and harassment.