Tag Archives: title insurance

Revisiting the Power and Limitations of Positivity at Work

It seems that America and the world, for that matter, are currently in the clutches of a global pandemic. We know that for many, things have been better, and you may understandably have other things on your mind. However, in light of all the chaos going on there is also incredible pragmatism being displayed by humanity. Social distancing and voluntary shut downs are taking place for the greater good at the risk of huge economic loss. With the current state of things this month we would like to revisit a blog we originally published in 2014. This post essentially deals with fostering Positive yet Realistic thinking at work to help improve personal and organizational outcomes. This is something we may all be doing (or might consider doing) at present. We hope you enjoy this quick read and we wish you and your family good health.

Originally Posted November 25, 2014

The Power and Limitations of Positivity at Work

We all have those mornings: You wake up in a panic because the alarm didn’t go off; stub your toe on the corner of the bed while hurrying to the bathroom; cut yourself shaving; burn the toast; hit every red light on the way to work and arrive ten minutes late, thankful it’s just ten, only to realize you left your delicious lunch of leftovers sitting on the kitchen counter. At his point, you probably feel like throwing your desk out the window, not sitting at it for the next eight hours trying to be Mr. Productivity.

But, you soldier on, knowing your paycheck depends on it, and get through the day.

Your colleague, Karen, on the other hand, has a fantastic morning. She wakes up before the alarm, having gone to bed a bit early the night before; has a nice breakfast and scrolls through the Times on her iPad before heading upstairs to get ready. She is out the door at seven on the dot, avoids the heavy rush-hour traffic and walks through the office doors two minutes early, the lyrics from her favorite new song still buzzing in her head.

Karen doesn’t soldier through the day; she glides on top of it, using the morning’s positivity to shape her outlook and interactions.

Now, if you were to present your morning and Karen’s to five strangers and ask which person they thought was more productive that day, who do you think they’d choose? Karen, right? Not only is she the logical choice, she’s also the proven choice. According to a study performed by Dr. Nancy Rothbard of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, in conjunction with Stephanie Wilk from the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University, employees who started the day in a positive mood tended to remain positive throughout the day and perform better. Conversely, those who started the day in a bad mood often saw their mood worsen throughout the day, accompanied by a 10% decrease in performance.  Makes sense to us.

The upshot: positive moods = better performance, so anything companies and organizations can do to boost employees’ moods at work will improve the bottom line.

If you were to take this conclusion one step further, however, and infer that promoting positive thinking will increase employee and company performance, well, that might be one step too many. Apparently, “at the psychological level, positive thinking—measured by its effect on blood pressure—relaxes us and drains us of motivation.” At least that’s what studies by psychologist Gabriel Oettingen have shown. Whether she studied obese patients trying to lose weight or students in a business skills class trying to get an “A,” those who fantasized about success achieved poorer results than those who did not. The trick, it seems, is to temper positive thinking with a realistic assessment of potential obstacles, a technique Oettingen calls “mental contrasting.” She covers the benefits of this technique and others—such as WOOP (wish, outcome, obstacle, plan)—in Rethinking Positive Thinking, published this month by Penguin Random House.

In summary: keep employees happy but grounded at the same time.  This may be an oversimplification, but at Anderson|Biro, we like to keep things simple.

A Future Without Salary History

Now late-February, the annual January hiring kickoff is (hopefully) starting to translate to some promising resume submissions and candidate interview scheduling. Unemployment remains low and the market favors job-seekers, so those of us driving the hiring process already have our work cut out for us to find and attract in-demand talent. And increasingly, there’s another hurdle on our minds: Salary History Bans.

Why Ban Salary History?

Broadly speaking, salary history bans are policies that prevent employers from asking potential employees questions about their past salaries, benefits, and compensation as a basis for a new pay package. Salary history bans are increasingly impacting hiring practices in major real estate sector markets, including California and New York. Bans now affect hiring practices in 17 states and 20 localities, according to a running tally by HR Drive. More are slated to enact bans in the coming months, and several others are altering the terms of their existing policies. Last month, New York and New Jersey revised their statewide bans to cover all employers, expanding from hiring for governmental agencies. Last week, Philadelphia courts upheld the city’s ban despite pushback from local employers.

Salary history bans alleviate some potential awkwardness regarding compensation during the interview process. But their intended function is even more important: Salary history bans are designed to help to close the wage gap. Women and minorities often earn less than their male and/or white colleagues in equivalent positions, even when accounting for education levels and on-the-job experience. In real estate-adjacent industries, pay equality can be especially complicated.

If you caught our Pink Collar blog on women in the title insurance sector, you might remember that while women make up 74% of the production forces, they earn less than the median wage across the board. As we’re in the middle of Black History Month, it seems especially important to remember that redlining, or historically discriminatory housing and lending policies, hugely impacted the mortgage and housing space—not to mention the consequences that may have had for hiring in our sector.

Salary history bans are aimed at alleviating multiple sources of the wage gap, including historic stigma that female- or minority-dominated jobs intrinsically have less value. As Harvard scholar Laura Adler noted in her 2019 talk for the American Sociological Society, “the use of past salary can entrench inequalities over the course of the career.” That is, low past wages provide a lower baseline for future wages.

We also naturally imbue salary history with meaning—sometimes that a low wage signifies low productivity or skill-value in a potential employee. But even this perception can be skewed—especially when comparing the compensation capabilities of major corporations to stand-alone title shops or real estate brokerages.

If Not Salary History, Then What?

The bottom line is that there’s a reasonable case that salary history questions are, at least, problematic. On the other hand, asking about compensation history has been—and often still is—an important part of how we gauge a candidate’s fit. With 37 jurisdictions and counting enacting bans, we’re increasingly likely to run up against them in our hiring processes. The bans likely mean some strategic restructuring in how we approach the interview and compensation process. Promisingly, an emerging body of research suggests salary history bans benefit employers as well as employees. But how do we deal with salary history bans and the gap they might leave in our interview questions?

  1. Be Consistent and Transparent

Though it may seem like common sense, having regular and open compensation guidelines in place is still considered best practice by many. One such approach might be to adopt a tiered system for determining pay based on experience or instituting a company-wide benefits summary. Such resources can give both employers and employees a consistent reference for the interview process and beyond and may even reinforce equal pay for equal work and experience. With compensation policies spelled out, compensation can be related to an internal standard, rather than an external one like salary history. Even if such resources aren’t the right choice for your business, continuing to track how you uphold equal pay for equal work can still help to promote a healthy work environment for you and your employees.

  1. Take the Proactive Approach

Even as salary history bans become more popular, there are still more than 30 states and countless localities that haven’t adopted such policies. In fact, Michigan and Wisconsin have bans against salary history bans. However, even if your locality hasn’t yet instituted a ban, there’s a decent chance you might run up against one elsewhere, as employees increasingly relocate for or telecommute to work and as large corporations do business across multiple states or cities. Taking a proactive stance and removing the salary history question out of your interview process before its mandated can potentially cut down on confusion for you and anxiety for interviewing candidates. And if a salary history ban does find its way to you, your process will already be revised for the change!

  1. Ask Better Questions

As MarketWatch summarized in a January article, some promising early research has shown that employers screen their candidates much more meaningfully when they aren’t able to draw conclusions about skills based on past compensation. One of our go-to alternatives is, “What motivates you in the workplace?”—which may organically reveal compensation needs, but will hopefully encourage more meaningful reflections about what a candidate needs in order to be successful. Asking several open-ended questions encourages a candidate to more thoroughly illustrate their personality and their skillset. This can translate to a better fit for your team and your budget. Instead of focusing on a salary history ban as a restriction, it might be better to think about it as an opportunity to get to ask better questions.

  1. Know The Market

With resources like Glassdoor, PayScale, and LinkedIn increasingly offering salary insights, quick access to average salaries is easier than ever. These tools and many others can factor education, experience, and local cost-of-living in to general salary expectations for the role. Coupled with knowledge about the company’s compensation abilities and a general sense of going prices for a position, salary can be determined from a broader, more scientific source than a candidate’s personal experience. And this tip works for candidates, too! One of the most powerful pieces of information for a candidate to take to an interview is a knowledge of their market worth. Knowing how your salary—or desired salary—lines up with the going-rate can be an excellent negotiating tool; it takes some of the onus off of their personal background and puts it on the market itself.

Overall, the fine print of each salary history ban varies by jurisdiction. But in general, they prevent employers from asking potential employees about their prior compensation—including salary and benefits—in order to establish a baseline for their new pay. For now, salary history bans are here to stay. Taking an intentional and open-minded approach to the bans can be beneficial for your company, your hiring process, and all potential (and current!) employees. They’re intended to be a positive corrective to social inequality, and using these four tips can help you to be part of the solution.


Refashioning the Pink Collar

It’s on so many of our hiring documents now that we hardly think about it: “This employer does not discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Equal employment has only been law for fifty-odd years. In that time, women have continued to make strides in a business world that once only belonged to men. But workplace gender equality still has a long way to go overall. To that point, many of us are probably familiar with gendered professional challenges like the glass ceiling, the wage gap, or even sexual harassment. But what about the pink collar?

About the Pink Collar

In 1977, Louise Kapp Howe added “pink collar” to common workplace jargon. A prominent social reformist and feminist writer, Howe categorized pink-collar jobs of her day as low-skill, low-wage, or low-mobility positions and that were usually held by women. The term was intended as a counterpart to blue-collar manufacturing jobs that were traditionally male-dominated.

Today, most of us have “blue collar” or “white collar” fully in our vocabulary. Yet, “pink collar” remains on the fringes. Howe’s pink-collar workers would have held occupations like teacher, nurse, or secretary. However, its definition continues to evolve for the modern workplace and higher education levels. Though some social columnists have called for an end to the label, the pink collar is still associated with roles dominated by women. The modern pink collar especially includes jobs that emphasize soft skills like communication and customer service.

Wearing a Pink Collar in Title Insurance

The pink collar is particularly visible in the land title industry. In 2017, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that women accounted for 74% of all insurance clerks, claims professionals, underwriters, and paralegals.

If you look over your own company’s title curative, examiner, paralegal, or administrative teams, there’s a good chance you’ll find a similar distribution. While women make up a significant majority of the production force across the title and settlement sectors, they earned less than the median wage, on average, in each key position.

But why talk about gender in the title and appraisal space at this particular moment?

This January is striking many of us as an especially important occasion with the turn of the new decade. Coincidentally, 2020 is also the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, securing women’s right to vote. Women’s rights have continued to advance in the century since, but this momentous milestone can also serve as reminder not to take that progress for granted. As January hiring picks up, it seems only fitting to commemorate a century of women’s suffrage by thinking about how we employ women in title insurance and adjacent industries. Afterall, women account for well over half of the frontline professionals who make sure that our most valuable asset—our property—actually belongs to us.

Gender Equality During Hiring and Beyond

Thanks to the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, gender equality in the workplace is standard policy. However, it never hurts to continue to evaluate our workplace culture so that this policy is also our practice. Some ways to continue to promote a more inclusive workplace are to:

1. Be Aware of Gendered Language in Job Descriptions.

The language we use in job descriptions can subconsciously play to gender stereotypes. When we ask for “strong” leaders, “aggressive” salespeople, or to “dominate” a market, we’re calling on masculine-coded language to find our ideal candidates. Similarly, language that calls on applicants to collaborate, assist, or enact caring can appeal to traditionally-feminine expectations for nurturing and cooperation. Gendered language is often so natural in our daily and business vocabularies that we hardly think about it when we use it. But without even saying words like “woman” or “she,” we can alienate exceptional potential applicants—both male and female. Having a diverse group of proofreaders can help ensure that the language on position descriptions and official documents is inclusive for everyone in the candidate pool.

2. Offer Transparent Leave Policies.

Expectations for women to play traditional roles as caretakers and as mothers continue to impact them in the workplace. Assumptions that women will be more devoted to their families than their jobs impact them during and beyond the hiring process. One way to amend this trend is to reshape how we present absences at work. During hiring, we can strive to offer transparency about vacations, personal time, paid leave, and unpaid leave. We can offer all employees flexible work schedules and remote opportunities where those benefits are practical.

Additionally, Glassdoor found that Americans only use half of their vacation time, partly due to a “fear” of falling behind. So, as well as offering reasonable flexibility, we can also create a work culture that makes it acceptable to use that leave. In fact, universal parental leave has been shown to benefit women and men alike. Moreover, a push for work-life balance can improve mental health and increase workplace satisfaction.

3. Watch for Women in Leadership.

The door for women in leadership positions has been opening wider and wider. In our sector, the American Land Title Association (ALTA) stands as an example for equality in its upper ranks. Increasingly, the organization has seen female presidents elected to the Board of Governors, and four of ALTA’s six executives are women. Having qualified women in leadership positions can be one of many signals to female candidates and workers across the board that a company values women’s mobility. This doesn’t necessarily require a company’s total restructuring. Including female employees in interview processes, policy-making decisions, and even in planning teambuilding events can also be meaningful ways to show current and potential women employees that the company welcomes their voices.

4. Commit to Constantly Assessing Equality.

Perhaps most importantly, we should strive to foster a workplace culture that is committed to equality. Some ways to consciously and pro-actively promote a gender-equal workplace include:

  1. Combating sexual harassment by continuing to offer HR the resources and authority it needs
  2. Evaluating company pay practices to constantly ensure that we aren’t unintentionally contributing to the wage gap
  3. Offering gender sensitivity training to all employees in order to promote mutual understanding
  4. Offering resources for women to find solidarity with their peers around the real estate closing table.

Organizations like CREW Network for the global advancement of women in commercial real estate and the Women’s Council of Realtors are just two examples of resources for outreach and professional development in real estate-adjacent industries.

The bottom-line is that gender equality in the workplace continues to be a difficult and often-controversial issue. Women’s equality is only one particular piece of this puzzle. The experience of men in pink-collar roles and the significance of gender and sexual identities add layers of complication. Yet, as we enter another century of women’s rights, continuing to evaluate our hiring processes and workplace cultures can only benefit all of us—no matter what color of collar we wear.