Emory and Gender-Related Policies: Where Are We Now?

Where Emory is Regarding Gender-Related Policies

by Dona Yarbrough

During the last five years, Emory has implemented an abundance of new policies related to gender. Even as some, such as our lactation policy, are clearly meant to make the workplace more hospitable for mothers, other policies not specifically tied to gender nevertheless disproportionally affect particular identities, create a friendlier work environment for historically oppressed groups, or respond to cultural changes in gender roles.

Three important policies adopted in 2007 and 2008 have sent strong messages that Emory is an increasingly inclusive and equitable institution when it comes to gender:

  1. The terms gender identity and gender expression were added to our Equal Opportunity and Discriminatory Harassment Policy, and Emory became part of the vanguard of universities making this important change. Emory is still the only college or university in Georgia to prohibit this kind of discrimination according to the Transgender Law and Policy Institute. 

  2. Emory implemented a Lactation Support Program policy to provide mothers with private, safe, and accessible locations to breastfeed while at work or school.

  3. Emory adopted a Violence in the Workplace policy that specifically prohibits—among other acts—sexual violence and intimate partner violence if they occur within the workplace.   

Gender Identity and Gender Expression

In spring 2006, the President’s Commission on Sexuality, Gender Diversity, and Queer Equality made the following six recommendations to President Wagner:

  1. Ensure that Emory’s nondiscrimination and discriminatory harassment policies apply to transgender people.

  2. Develop housing policies and procedures that reflect the needs of transgender students.

  3. Provide single-stall, unisex restrooms in as many buildings as possible, and provide locker/changing rooms that afford privacy in athletic facilities.

  4. Develop and publicize policies and procedures for changing one’s name and gender on all Emory University documents.

  5. Assess the feasibility of providing an option for individuals to identify as other than male or female on forms, including housing applications and Student Health Service and Counseling Center records.

  6. Provide training with regard to transgender issues for staff at the Student Health and Counseling Service.

Recommendation one was implemented in 2007, and Emory has made significant progress on all the recommendations. Emory's Design and Construction Guidelines were changed so that now every building project, except for residential projects, must consider incorporating one single-occupant, unisex, and ADA-compliant restroom that also can be used as a child-changing room. However, the university is still in the process of identifying better ways to support privacy in athletic facilities. Student Health and Counseling Services is providing regular safe-space trainings for most staff and recently has revised its patient forms to make them more inclusive of transgender people. There is now also a process for transgender students to use their initials instead of their names in most university systems through the Office of the Registrar.  This prevents "outing" a student who identifies as one gender but whose legal name doesn't reflect that identity.  2011-2012 is the pilot year for gender-neutral housing at the Clairmont Residential Center that, if successful, could expand. Reasons for the delayed implementation of some recommendations include negotiating the complexity of federal reporting guidelines and federal and state laws, as well as limited funding for things such as capital changes to facilities. 

In the past year, work has begun on removing trans-related exclusions in Emory’s health insurance policies. The majority of universities still exclude gender-reassignment surgeries for transgender students and employees, and many also exclude hormone therapy for transgender patients. In 2011, Emory’s student health insurance policy removed all exclusions for students, and Emory became one of only a handful of private universities in the country to do so. Although for employees the exclusions of mental health care and hormonal therapies have been removed, employee insurance still excludes coverage of surgical care.

Our recent advances in health care coverage are fortuitous given that this September, Emory will host the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Biennial Symposium, an international conference for health providers and others interested in transgender health, research, and equality. The Center for Women at Emory (CWE) is part of the local planning committee for the symposium and a sponsor of the welcome reception for participants who will celebrate Emory’s recent victories in transgender equality.

Lactation Support Program

Both the CWE and the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) were pivotal in the creation and adoption of this program, which provides a vital resource to mothers who work or attend school at Emory. The program also underscores Emory’s roles as both a health care provider and an educational institution by encouraging and providing education about breastfeeding, which has been proven to benefit the health of both child and mother. Emory’s policy, adopted in 2007, foreshadowed a similar policy enacted in 2010 as part of the Obama administration’s Health Care Reform legislation. According to the United States Breastfeeding Committee, the policy—an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act—“requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom place for nursing mothers to express breast milk during the workday, for one year after the child’s birth.”

As part of the Lactation Support Program, the CWE and Facilities Management partner to maintain more than fifteen lactation rooms across campus so that breastfeeding mothers are within walking distance of a private space to express their milk.   These spaces vary widely in quality, however. Some “rooms” are still little more than a chair in a women’s restroom, while others are separate rooms that house breast pumps. In this author’s humble opinion, the best space is the Nursing Nest within the CWE, which is a lounge area with a lockable door, a “do not disturb” sign, comfortable furniture, a refrigerator to store milk, a hospital-quality breast pump, parenting books and magazines, and a staff knowledgeable about lactation issues.  The Nursing Nest is visited by mothers hundreds of times each year; most other lactation rooms do not allow for an accurate usage count. 

The Lactation Support Program also enables Emory to identify appropriate locations for new lactation facilities, keeping in mind factors such as

  • cost of renovations in existing buildings

  • commute of no more than fifteeen minutes to reach a lactation room

  • privacy and access to a hand-washing sink

  • suitable furnishings and electrical outlets.

In addition, Facilities Management requires that all plans for new construction and major renovations include the consideration of a lactation room. The CWE serves as an additional monitor of these processes by checking spaces, updating materials in each space, and gathering feedback from users. 

Violence in the Workplace

Emory’s policy on violence asserts that the university is “committed to creating and sustaining an environment where [violent] behaviors are not tolerated.” It covers many different kinds of violence and specifically includes sexual and intimate partner violence (IPV) “if they occur within the workplace.”

This aspect of the policy was the result of discussions between leaders in Human Resources and members of Emory’s IPV Working Group. The group's members represent the major service units equipped to deal with this important campus issue, and members meet regularly to discuss IPV trends, programs, and services. The university's policy does not go as far as the IPV Working Group’s 2007–2008 Report recommended. Paula Gomes, director of Emory’s Faculty Staff Assistance Program and co-chair of the IPV Working Group, says, “A few schools (e.g., University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh) have taken an explicit stand on IPV and its impact in the workforce” with policies and procedures that include components of education, prevention, and referrals to services on campus and in the community. However, Gomes says the IPV Working Group has been able to move its educational agenda forward in other ways—for instance, through the creation of a website sponsored by the Center for Women. The site provides information about safety planning and both Emory and community resources.  As a result, presumably, of both the policy and recent educational efforts by the working group, supervisors and leaders are seeking more information and support in guiding faculty and staff facing these issues. 

Some readers my wonder why this is a policy related to gender. Even though both victims and perpetrators of IPV can be of any gender, 85 percent of IPV victims are female, according to the National Institute of Justice. In fact, in the last five years alone, several Emory women have been murdered by their intimate partners. 

Hot Off the Presses in 2011: Updates on Parental Policies

Both the CWE and the PCSW advocated for the creation of a “work-life balance” office at Emory, and in April 2009 Emory’s WorkLife Resource Center, located in Human Resources, opened. In addition to providing a variety of resources and educational programs related to child and elder care, financial planning, workplace flexibility, and other issues, the university also created a number of working groups to examine university policies, services, and benefits. In 2010, the Parental Leave Working Group made a series of recommendations related to staff parental leave and adoption. 

One significant issue at Emory involves the large gap between faculty and staff parental benefits. Faculty primary caregivers of any gender or biological relationship to a new child may take at least a full semester’s leave at full pay (more for birth mothers); however, staff do not receive any parental leave. Until recently, moreover, only staff who were birth mothers could—with physician certification—use accrued sick leave after the birth of a child; fathers and adoptive parents had to use vacation time. The working group spent considerable time addressing ways to make faculty and staff benefits more equitable, while also examining equity issues for parents who are not birth mothers. 

As of May 2011, the following Parental Leave Working Group recommendations have been implemented:

  • Employees are allowed to use up to six weeks of earned sick leave for adoption.

  • Employees may use accrued sick leave for medical and dental appointments for dependents. Previously, employees had to use vacation or unpaid leave to take children or other dependents to routine doctors’ appointments.

  • Employees may use leave intermittently for a phased return to work after the birth or adoption of a child. Previously, intermittent leave (working a reduced schedule for a certain period of time) was specifically forbidden for birth and adoption. 

Two additional recommendations were not implemented:

  • An adoption reimbursement policy of up to $5,000 per child. This benefit is provided by the majority of companies in the Working Mother Best 100—a list published annually by Working Mother magazine—and is offered by most of Emory’s peer institutions.

  • One- to six weeks’ paid parental leave for birth or adoption. The maximum benefit would be one leave period per employee. 

Although Emory’s Ways and Means Committee (responsible for the University’s budget and funding priorities) is supportive of these recommendations, it is not willing to increase the costs to university business units given that, at this time, some units are still experiencing budget decreases and trying to implement salary programs in the wake of the economic crisis. 

Policies related to parenting are connected to workplace diversity because different policies disproportionately affect different categories of people. The Lactation Support Program policy obviously affects women almost exclusively, supporting women’s ability to be mothers of infants while working or going to school. Most parental leave and dependent-leave policies disproportionately affect women because working women still suffer from the “second shift,” meaning that working women still perform the majority of housekeeping and dependent-care duties within heterosexual and single-parent households. For example, women are more likely to take time off work to take children to medical appointments; thus, policy changes in the ability to use accrued sick leave for dependents’ medical appointments affect women more than men. However, recommendations like paid parental (as opposed to maternal) leave reflect increases in men’s time spent, and their desire to spend time, caring for children.

Finally, proposed adoption benefits recognize the increasing number of employees in nontraditional families, where parents and children aren’t necessarily biologically related. Though Emory’s health care benefits provide significant financial assistance for fertility treatment and childbirth, there is no comparable benefit for adoption. Moreover, this lack of adoption benefit disproportionately affects employees in same-sex partnerships, who also may not qualify for fertility treatment.  However, Emory does offer a very affordable prepaid legal benefits service that provides legal services related to uncontested adoption.

Emory has, in many ways, emerged as an industry leader in implementing progressive policies related to gender, though many would argue that there is still plenty of headway to be made. We have come a long way from our roots as an all-male institution and from the not-so-distant past when women lived by different rules and regulations and did not receive the same benefits as men.

Dona Yarbrough is the director of the Center for Women at Emory, a member of the IPV Working Group, a member of the Parental Leave Working Group, and a longtime advocate for gender equality.