EMC's sex-discrimination woes

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09/14/2007
This is pretty ugly. I've written in the past that the new blood entering the security industry could be good for ushering out a conservative and chauvinistic aura that can surround the marketplace. Apparently, the IT industry has chauvinistic problems of its own, as represented by storage giant EMC. There was a disturbing article on the front page of the Journal this week about the way women are treated there, and since EMC has made a security play already, I'm afraid I have to comment. It's a long article, so I'll highlight a few paragraphs (Journal's words in bold): EMC says it has long had a written antiharassment policy. It prohibits conduct that, "if unwelcome," could constitute harassment, including "sexual epithets, jokes...gossip regarding one's sex life" and downloading suggestive material from the Internet. The Journal is right to highlight the "if unwelcome" part, as it adds a ridiculous burden of proof. I can just hear a manager saying in a courtroom, "well, she seemed to welcome it at the time." Of course, at the time, she was trying to impress her boss or her coworkers with her tough salesperson-ness. I mean, what woman wouldn't want to go to a strip club, really? Only one who wasn't tough and savvy, I'm sure. Twelve former saleswomen who worked for EMC between 1997 and 2006 said sales offices often were places where men freely made disparaging remarks about women. Four former saleswomen said that between 2000 and 2003, EMC national sales meetings and meetings with customers were sometimes followed by trips to strip clubs. A saleswoman who used to work in the Denver office says that at the annual sales kick-off meeting in Atlanta in 2001, managers, from vice presidents on down, took groups to such clubs. Though the lawsuits are more about equal pay than workplace environment, this kind of stuff is completely baffling to me. What manager at any company would think it's appropriate to mix strip clubs and a workplace environment? Even if it's after hours, a gathering comprising only employees is essentially a business meeting and I can think of zero reason why naked women (or men, for that matter) would be welcome at such a meeting. Mr. Hauck says that when he took over the sales force in 2001, he tried to make it clear that EMC wouldn't tolerate a hostile environment for women -- consistent, he says, with previous policy. Shortly after he took over, he says, a controller showed him an expense account from a salesman who wanted to be reimbursed for taking a client to a strip club. Mr. Hauck says he told the controller to refuse to pay the bill and to tell the sales force EMC wouldn't reimburse that type of client entertainment. He says he was reiterating an existing corporate policy. Oh, what a big man Mr. Hauck is. He won't reimburse a salesperson who took a client to a strip club. No. He. Won't. Um, how about you fire that salesperson for embarrassing the company and insulting the intelligence of the client. Even if it was the client's idea, it shouldn't be that hard for a good salesperson to say something along the lines of, "gee, sir, I'd be pretty uncomfortable looking at naked women with you while we're talking about your company's storage needs." This is absurd to the highest level and shows that Hauck simply doesn't get why women aren't all that keen on working at his company. With women making up ever higher percentages of college graduates and advanced degree seekers, the security industry needs to make hiring and retaining women a higher priority than ever. One good way to retain female employees? Don't make it clear that your business does business in strip clubs.