This year’s Industry Liaison Group (ILG) National Conference convened last week in Charlotte, NC with the theme “First in Flight: Soaring to New Heights in Compliance.” The federal contractor community traveled first class through a program that included stimulating breakout sessions, engaging keynote speakers, and a festive conference gala. So fasten your seatbelts and join me as we fly through key themes and highlights of this year’s conference.
The conference took off on opening day with a keynote address from OFCCP Director Pat Shiu, who was making her final appearance at an ILG National Conference before her political appointment expires in January.
She focused her initial comments on what likely will be the legacy of her tenure at the agency: The forward-looking regulatory changes implemented over the past seven years, most notably those applying to veterans, individuals with disabilities, and the LGBT community.
Moving beyond these regulatory changes, Director Shiu made clear that pay discrimination would remain a high priority for the OFCCP, both now and in the future.
Helping to move the conference towards its cruising altitude, the morning keynote address on the second day featured EEOC Commissioner Victoria Lipnic.
While her formal comments centered on initiatives by the EEOC to study and better understand harassment in the workplace, the highlight of her address came during the Q&A session. In response to a question about the EEOC’s proposal to revise the EEO-1 report to include data on W-2 earnings, Commissioner Lipnic explained the reasons why she voted against the proposal, which she considers to be “bad policy” that is “past its prime.”
In short, she argued that collecting earnings data from employers may confirm the gender wage gap but does nothing to address its causes. From her viewpoint, these causes include time spent by females not participating in the labor force and females self-selecting jobs with lower pay rates.
Plenty of in-flight entertainment was provided by a full slate of break-out sessions. Pay equity dominated the program agenda, with ten sessions addressing the topic directly. Key takeaways from these sessions include
- Forming defensible comparison groups based on employees who perform similar work that requires similar skills and qualifications and similar levels of responsibility
- Extending proactive pay equity studies beyond base pay to examine other forms of compensation such as merit increases and bonuses
- Giving careful consideration to how pay equity adjustments are computed and implemented
- Enhancing audit readiness by preparing both a more informal evaluation of your organization’s compensation systems for gender- and race-based disparities that can be submitted upon request to a compliance officer AND a comprehensive analysis of your organization’s compensation practices that is protected by attorney-client privilege.
Spotlight on Outreach to Transgender Employees
This year’s conference provided attendees with ample opportunities to learn how to effectively recruit and hire veterans and individuals with disabilities.
Moving to center stage, however, was the need for federal contractors to create a welcoming and inclusive workplace for transgender employees. The personal narratives shared by Kristin Beck, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, and Erica Worthington, former Patent Counsel for Qualcomm, illuminated just how great the need is.
Building on these narratives, informative breakout sessions and a general session panel clarified terminology (gender identity vs. gender expression vs. sexual orientation), explained the legal landscape, and offered practical solutions for accommodating employees in transition.
The conference had a successful landing with a keynote address delivered by Beverly Bond and a final panel of legal experts. Speaking with eloquence and passion, Ms. Bond cited one example after another of how the mass media severely undermines the self-esteem and confidence of black girls by negatively and crudely stereotyping black females in ways that too often go unquestioned by television, movie and magazine executives.
Her organization, Black Girls Rock!, provides enrichment programs designed to empower black girls through mentoring and leadership development.
The expert panel helped attendees look to the future through various recommendations offered by panel members. Going forward, federal contractors should
- Conduct comprehensive pay equity analyses, protected by attorney-client privilege, even if data on all the factors that should be included in the analyses are not available.
- Prepare to challenge the OFCCP in audits when the agency attempts to aggregate dissimilar employees or applicants for comparison in statistical studies.
- Track cultural changes taking place, particularly with regard to the LGBT community, and take steps to foster an inclusive work environment.
Our prediction is that federal contractors will find themselves acting more like management-side attorneys as they confront an OFCCP in audits that is increasingly demanding information and data as if it were a plaintiff-side attorney.
Thank you for joining me on this flight. I look forward to seeing you on board again in San Antonio, the site of next year’s ILG National Conference!