UCAR > Communications > Staff Notes Monthly > April 2001 Search


April 2001

After the survey—Part 2: Fostering a sustainable environment

In March, Staff Notes Monthly reported recent efforts across UCAR to increase recruitment and retention of a more diversified work force, especially through improved communication and mentoring practices. This month, we examine UCAR's response to recommendations addressing other aspects of the work environment, for women scientists in particular and all staff in general, in the report of the Committee on the Status of Women in Physics of the American Physical Society (APS). Charged with addressing the quality of the work environment for all staff, the UCAR Diversity Task Force has begun gathering information for its second report and expects to present its findings later this year. In the meantime, here's a sample of views on what could be done to nurture an environment that supports the professional growth and well-being of a diverse staff.

"Many of the recommendations in the APS report apply to the whole staff, because women's problems are often everyone's problems," observes Peggy LeMone (senior scientist, MMM). The President's Council agrees, and has charged the Diversity Task Force with assessing the UCAR environment from multiple points of view.

Daycare and family friendliness revisited

The APS report recommended "that maternity/paternity policies be differentiated from 'regular' sick leave and be made more friendly and flexible." A similar recommendation was made in the 1994 report by the UCAR Council on Family and Work (CFW) to the UCAR Management Committee (UMC).

The CFW's recommendations, based on a survey of all UCAR staff conducted in March 1993, also urged UCAR to "investigate possible options for either an on-site childcare center or an off-site employee-monitored childcare center."

The 2000 APS report recommends "that UCAR explore options for establishing or 'buying into' a daycare center. . . that would assure parents that each child . . . would have consistent, long-term, reliable care from the same center." Following the 1994 CFW report, UCAR became a charter member of what is now called the Rocky Mountain Employers' Family Care Association. RMEFCA provides referral and emergency services to staff seeking child, elder, and pet care. While several staff members told Staff Notes Monthly they appreciate the availability of this service, they say it does not solve the problems of lost work time and associated stress associated with obtaining safe, reliable daycare in Boulder County.

Barb Brown (project scientist, RAP) served on the CFW when it issued its report. "There are benefits of on-site childcare that are somewhat intangible and hard to quantify," says Barb, "such as increased productivity that results from employees having peace of mind because their children are in a safe environment, close by. Once those types of benefits are widely recognized and appreciated, I believe that NCAR will come up with a way to be more supportive of staff with small children." Diane Rabson (NCAR archivist) was also on the now-defunct CFW. "People here are still interested in having on-site daycare," she reports. "They still talk to me about it."

"It's interesting that [daycare] is a recurring problem that comes out on every survey," said Maura Hagan (scientist, HAO) at a 10 November meeting of women scientists and members of the President's Council. Indeed, Delphi Question #470 in this issue of SN (page 14) underscores the interest in this issue; the response describes steps Human Resources is taking to assess daycare and other work/life questions.

HR will be reporting to the President's Council after completing its study of the daycare question. What is already known, according to HR director Bob Roesch, is that "The economy of scale issue doesn't change no matter how many times you look at it. We still have 1,200 employees divided among multiple campuses. . . . It is very tough for an organization our size to reasonably support on-site daycare." This doesn't mean the issue is closed, though. The questions HR is asking, Bob says, are "What issues do people have and how can we solve some of those things? If we cannot financially afford on-site daycare, then what are the alternatives?"

Rick Anthes (UCAR president) also acknowledges the difficulty of the issue. "What we've found so far is that, even with organizations much larger than UCAR—maybe twice as large—the experience has been that there aren't enough customers to fill up a daycare center." Both he and NCAR director Tim Killeen are willing to consider collaborative efforts with other organizations in Boulder, such as NOAA and NIST or CU. Says Tim, "I suspect some out-of-the-box thinking may ultimately be needed here." Bob adds, "I can say we're going to be open-minded about the possibilities."

The open door policy

As reported last month, the President's Council has chosen, after consultation with the UMC, not to pursue the APS recommendation to appoint an ombudsperson to resolve disagreements between staff and management. SN wanted to know what protections are in place for staff bringing sensitive issues to management in the absence of a neutral party in the ombuds role, apart from the Delphi Service.

In place since 1974, Delphi provides a channel for staff to query management about UCAR policy and practice in confidence.

"Obviously," says Tim, "the chain of command can be a significant resource for addressing problem areas, but if needed, individuals can go directly to higher levels, particularly if the problem is with an individual in the chain." The harassment training seminars, attended by all staff this past year, discussed protection against reprisals for reporting problems, and Tim emphasizes that reprisal attempts "should be reported and cannot be tolerated."

"People should not be afraid to come forward to the division or program director, to Tim, Jack [Fellows], Katy [Schmoll], or me and ask for confidentiality," Rick says. "We have to assume that working within the system is possible. There is a risk, but there are safeguards against retaliation." HR offers another channel for bringing problems to management's attention. "If people aren't getting satisfaction from their supervisor, or their supervisor's supervisor, they can go to HR. And, ultimately, there's the formal grievance procedure," Rick says (see UCAR policy 2-3-6).

Members of the President's Council and the division and program directors are involved in informal problem resolution "all the time," he adds, "without a lot of publicity or any kind of formal action."

Gathering data

A survey of "workplaces of choice" was just completed for the task force by HR's benefits consultants, Watson Wyatt. Several high- tech corporations identified as desirable workplaces for people with families, people of color, and women were examined. The consultants also looked at several research laboratories, including Woods Hole and Scripps, to compare practices at organizations more similar to UCAR. The firm reported in February that policies addressing flexible time, family-friendly leave, and benefits are similar to those in place here at UCAR. This was no surprise, according to Dave Carlson (director, ATD), who co-chairs the task force. "But that doesn't necessarily insure that we have a friendly culture," he says. HR director Bob Roesch notes that the APS report called into question not our policies, but the consistency with which they are applied across divisions. "We're going to have to deal with that," Bob says.

Dave says, "We certainly have gotten some ideas from this survey of 'best practices.' But those are small improvements. We'd really like to wrestle with the larger issue of the workplace culture." The task force hopes to identify key issues affecting the workplace environment and ways "the institution might go about learning, identifying [opportunities for] change, and making changes."

Sustainable practices

When it comes to fostering an environment that is not driving away young scientists, women, or people of color, "The task force has looked at the overt things: salaries, office space, access to computing resources. Those are not issues," Dave says. "It's the subtle things. How do you identify them? How do you change them? Making an attitudinal change by legislation—we know that fails." One-day training sessions cannot carry the sole burden, either. "So we're really talking about sustainable changes in practices, in the way we deal with each other on a day-to-day basis, that can improve some of these subtle pressures that I think many people feel—both people who are lower in the power structure or hierarchy and people in groups that are in the minority. And we want to figure out how to deal with some of those issues."

Tim notes the difficulty of addressing more subtle work-climate issues, "but we need to absolutely insist on having a culture of respect for individuals." Research suggests that having a critical mass of staff from underrepresented groups alleviates some of the pressure on individual group members, and Tim adds, "We are also emphasizing diversity in our recruitment strategies which, over time, will help eliminate some of these problems."

Rick sums up: "This is something that requires, certainly, leadership from the top down, but it also requires help from the entire staff. Because you can't legislate a new culture. You can certainly encourage it, and you can take care of egregious violations. But in terms of politeness—treating people you disagree with with respect, or people that are different from you with respect—that's something that everybody has to participate in."

• Zhenya Gallon

Early-career scientists: "Up or out" and the tenure clock

Current UCAR policy specifies term limits for the Scientist I and II positions, after which the scientist is either promoted or must leave the scientist ladder. The system is considered comparable to the promotion and tenure system at research universities.

A major APS recommendation was "that management look carefully at policies like 'up or out' to see whether they actually contribute to scientific excellence or whether they simply make life harder for young scientists, regardless of gender." Rick has been talking since last fall to scientific staff and division directors, gathering reactions to the idea of changing the system. "There is not—at least from the people I've talked to—any fundamental resistance to considering this," Rick says. "There's nothing magic about seven years for an up-or-out decision."

At one time it was assumed only women would want to slow the tenure clock, and some hesitated to use existing policies for fear it would stigmatize them and damage their careers. But, as a young woman scientist said in a 10 November meeting with members of the President's Council, "men have the same problem. My husband and I share childcare, and he's seen as not on the fast track—he's suffering." Sue Schauffler (associate scientist, ACD) added, "The general climate in the country is changing and you've got to have a more flexible environment for both women and men."

Before any policy is changed, Rick notes, merit review and fairness issues will have to be addressed to ensure people are not delaying an inevitable departure. Reassessment of up-or-out policies could take some time, "maybe a year," he says.

A second aspect of the APS recommendation is allowing more flexibility in transferring among the scientist, associate scientist, and project scientist tracks. Says Tim, "We need to focus not only on job categories, but also on individuals and their professional growth path. Everyone should have the opportunity for personal growth and challenging career development here. Attention needs to be paid to the mechanisms whereby individuals can move from position to position and develop new and refined skills." Mentoring and access to training, Tim adds, are a critical part of this.

• ZG

Council on Family and Work:

For a copy of "Survey of UCAR Employees on Issues Related to Family and Work: Results and Implications," (UCAR Council on Family and Work, June 1994), contact LuAnna Sago in HR, ext. 8715, lsago@ucar.edu.


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UCAR > Communications > Staff Notes Monthly > April 2001 Search

Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Thu Apr 19 15:33:03 MDT 2001