EMC Facing Lawsuits Charging Bias Against Women
Data storage leader EMC (NYSE: EMC) came under heavy fire today amidst news that it was facing at least six sexual discrimination lawsuits filed since 2003 by women who previously worked in the company’s sales offices. A front-page story by William M. Bulkeley of the Wall Street Journal, drawn from the lawsuits and interviews with 17 former saleswomen and salesmen, depicted an old-era, hard-driving, macho sales culture that included “locker-room antics, company-paid visits to strip clubs, demeaning sexual remarks or retaliation against women who complained about the atmosphere.” The lawsuits also alleged that women salespeople received lower pay than men, the Journal reported.
The Hopkinton, MA-based company has long been known for its aggressive sales force. And indeed the lengthy Journal story quotes Frank Hauck, executive vice president in charge of marketing, who said he looked for salespeople with “the passion to knock down walls.” But Hauck also stressed that the sales culture is dramatically different from when he arrived in 2001 to take over the sales force; among other things, he cited expanded training on treating minorities and women fairly.
EMC officials vehemently denied that the firm in any way condones or encourages the actions with which it has been charged. “We strongly reject the suggestion of a systemic or cultural environment that was hostile to women at any time,” vice president of global communications Mark Fredrickson told us. “That’s just not a fair or accurate allegation. As with any large company there are isolated incidents and we believe the allegations bear no resemblance to the true environment of EMC.”
The Journal article points out that only 13.5 percent of EMC’s sales force is female, compared to 40 percent at arch-rival IBM. “We do acknowledge that there is an industry challenge to bring women more into high tech,” says Fredrickson. He notes that the EMC is steadily increasing the number of women in its ranks, not just in the sales force but throughout the company. In the past five years, he says, the number of women at the VP or SVP level has more than doubled, and it has risen by a factor of three in middle management. (He did not know what percentage of management women represented.)
In our search for perspective, we did spot an interesting, at least partially serious take on the issue posted today by Fake Steve Jobs (aka Forbes senior editor Daniel Lyons). Fake Steve mused about the timing of the news in relation to the stunningly successful IPO last month of EMC subsidiary VMware.
Writes Fake Steve, “Let’s say you’re the lawyer who’s representing some women who used to work at EMC and who think they weren’t paid enough. And you notice that EMC has really bounced back and is doing well these days, and by golly they just got even richer thanks to that VMware IPO. Maybe you figure they’ve got loads of money right now and the one thing they really don’t want would be some bad publicity with juicy embarrassing details about strip clubs and boy-boy sales guys telling raunchy jokes and behaving like glorified car salesmen…So maybe you press for a ridiculously large settlement and when EMC balks you race to the Wall Street Journal and feed them a big Page One story…”
UPDATE: 5:48 pm, Wednesday, Sept. 12—This afternoon, we received an e-mail from EMC with this link to an email CEO Joe Tucci sent employees this afternoon.