Thursday, January 23, 2020

A Des Moines law firm has completed a two-year review of the University of Iowa’s employment practices, submitting a final report and recommendations.

Iowa hired Fredrikson & Byron, P.A., in late 2017 to review its employment policies and how well the university lived up to those policies. After an in-depth review of athletics department practices, the law firm conducted a modified review of the university’s academic and operational units, as well as UI Health Care. The pared-back scope allowed the university to redirect resources toward developing a new training model for supervisors launching this month.

“The university committed significant time and resources to determine how best to improve our workplace culture, and my hope is that the resulting changes make a real difference for faculty and staff,” says Cheryl Reardon, chief human resources officer and associate vice president.

In preparing the final report, Fredrikson & Byron, P.A. reviewed the results of recent faculty and staff climate surveys, interviewed HR leads across campus, and solicited employee input. A total of 18,720 UI employees were invited via email to contact the law firm if they had concerns regarding inequitable treatment. Of that group, 102 employees responded to the email invitation and were interviewed, and of those interviewed, 57 stated concerns of inequitable treatment based on protected class. Common areas of concern included:  

  • Recruiting and hiring—the use of search waivers or internal promotions, the process for setting new employee salaries, and a lack of females and racial or ethnic minorities represented on faculty hiring committees
  • Equitable treatment—providing an inclusive and respectful workplace for racial minorities and foreign-born employees; treatment of employees who are older, have a health condition, a disability, or mental health issue; and female faculty feeling excluded by male faculty
  • Fear of retaliation—that voicing concerns would earn an employee a less favorable performance review, cost them committee appointments, or result in bullying

“I want to thank the employees who took the time to come forward and share their experiences in order to help us improve,” says Reardon. “While anecdotal, this feedback underscores the importance of the diversity, equity, and inclusion action plan and the need for new training for Iowa supervisors. These initiatives are designed to address proactively and consistently expressed concerns like those reported in this review.”

Recommendations in the final report include:

  • Evaluation of the policy and process of granting search waivers to ensure consistency with the university’s goals to retain and attract a diverse workforce;
  • Reinforcement of the university’s policy prohibiting retaliation against employees who complain so employees feel safe to raise concerns with their supervisors and unit leadership;
  • Establishing clarity of the workflow, communication, and division of responsibilities for new employee salary-setting; and
  • Increased emphasis on addressing complaints and recognizing protected class concerns.

“We’re going to take a close look at the recommendations made by Fredrikson & Byron, P.A. in order to ensure we create the most inclusive and productive work environment possible,” says Reardon. “Conducting a thorough and deliberative review of our employment practices has already resulted in changes at the UI.”

Reardon says employees facing inequitable treatment or discrimination have several options for reporting a concern, filing a complaint, or simply accessing resources. She encourages members of the campus community to connect with these departments if they need assistance:

Read the final report on the University Human Resources website.