Laurie: Welcome to another episode of Inspiring Women, today we are speaking with Susan Gross Sholinsky and she is a partner and an attorney at the esteemed Epstein Becker Green firm. Now, Susan is an expert in workforce issues, she works on things like sexual harassment, working with companies and employers on things like discrimination, women's issues, LGBTQ issues. She has many positions at the firm including Vice Chair of the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management Steering Committee, the Diversity and Professional Development Committee. She also is responsible as part of the Executive Committee for the Women's Initiative. She also has been very active on global discrimination issues and board diversity, specifically focused on women. Recently, Susan was recognized as one of … [“The] Responsible 100” (2020) by New York State. This is an award bestowed upon private sector leaders whose work makes the life … better in communities in New York City and across the state. Susan went to Cornell, she received her law degree from Northwestern, and Susan we're delighted to have you on Inspiring Women this morning. Thank you for being here. ...
Laurie: Well, Susan, you're an expert, so let's just get started. These are going to be really interesting issues to talk about. You have a unique perspective just given your strong experience in employment and the law. So can you give us a sense of what you do at the firm?
Susan: Sure, sure, so aside from the firm-related roles that you've mentioned, which is just probably half my time – I really enjoy helping sort of steer the firm with respect to where my practice is going, where our Women’s Initiative, our Diversity things are moving so that's a lot of my day. But with respect to my practice, in particular, it's really just a fun practice. Before the pandemic a lot of my work focused on helping employers develop their personnel policies and making sure those are compliant across all 50 states. The laws are coming fast and furiously in a lot of different areas now. I counsel on employee relations issues, discipline, discrimination, issues like unconscious bias, leaves of absence, accommodation of disabilities in pregnancy and medical-related conditions. I conduct investigations. I draft all sorts of agreements. I provide a lot of sexual harassment prevention training, and also a lot of training for our clients’ managers – how to be a good manager, not get yourself in trouble. To issue spot all of the leave, accommodation-type issues, and discipline issues … train a lot of our clients HR staff on staying up-to-date on all the legal developments and trends. What they mean for our clients? What might be coming down the pike? I look at a lot of trends – you know over the past year for example, employers have become more sensitive to concerns about racial issues, social injustice, and obviously, the pandemic as shined a light on a lot of things, including things like discrimination against Asian Americans, women's issues and … we’ll get more into that as we go on. But this administration seems to be sort of leaning in aggressively on these issues. I think we're about to see some more focus on the #MeToo movement.
Laurie: Let’s hope so! Let’s hope so! It has been an explosive year of change in this area. I have to imagine this pandemic – while it's up ended almost everything that we do – in this particular field, in your practice, it has to have been just like an incredibly busy year. Before we dive into some of those issues, which I really do want to talk more about … Susan just give us some background on how did you get here? How did you become so expert in this area? Why was this of such great interest to you?
Susan: I think perhaps I just kind of fell into it a little bit. I actually had no thoughts of even going into law. Wound up going to the Cornell Industrial and Labor Relations program. That’s a program at Cornell and that focuses on … employment and business issues, including learning about things like economics and psychology … it’s interesting … I tell people a lot that my work here is sort of half law, half psychology and it’s always been sort of interesting to me. I get to spend a lot of time talking to companies who really do want to do the right thing, and really just shaping their policies and procedures. ... When I do harassment avoidance training, it’s interesting, it has sort of changed and become more interactive over the past couple years since #MeToo. People have, whether it’s a selfish interest, or whatever, it's definitely become more of a discussion … which is really great. So there's just so many aspects of what I do that just feel like more than being just a lawyer.
Laurie: Well let's talk about harassment because I think for most companies – sexual harassment training – it's mandatory. At least from what I've seen, it's conducted all over the place and so that's good, but I think the things that we're reading about from the pandemic – it hasn’t been fantastic for women, in particular, in professional careers, and sexual harassment is becoming more of an issue. The #MeToo movement, which has many different sides to it – it’s great to hear you say that that’s going to be getting more attention. Let’s talk about sexual harassment. What are you seeing and do you think companies are doing a good job and … they're bright line issues, which I think we can all understand, but the more subtle issues is when something becomes sexual harassment and what can women do, in particular, to avoid these issues?
Susan: I do think that people are taking this more seriously. People are making more complaints in the workplace. I think the newer generations are less shy about bringing something up when something is bothering them. And companies really are trying to sort of address these things as they come up. It’s interesting, I was doing sexual harassment training this morning as a matter of fact, and somebody raised the question, and said … “Are there any obligations for people who just, kind of, are there and are seeing harassment go on. What should they do?”…
Susan: I said that’s a great question … “Managers on the one hand really do have an obligation to address it because once they see harassment going on they really are on notice. But with respect to everybody else, it’s interesting. The EEOC, back in 2016, right before the #MeToo movement, they came out with this big diatribe on addressing sexual harassment in the workplace and one of the things that they suggested in there, which is really a very good idea, and New York City has now required that to be part of its mandatory training, is being a good bystander. They call it “bystander intervention.” And this is basically something that was borrowed from another unfortunate circumstance, which is rape on college campuses, where people would just, sort of, sit back and say, “not my problem, I'm not getting involved,” and that’s obviously the wrong answer. So it's been extrapolated now to the workplace and people are being encouraged through this training to address these issues, to support a victim when something inappropriate happens. To say, “Hey, I’ll head down to human resources with you, do you need help?” Or, “Look, if you’re not ready to complain now, just know that I was a witness to that, and I’m happy to be your witness should you make a complaint later.” Or to … shame the wrong doer for engaging in the bad behavior. So there’s definitely more of a conversation about it today, then there really has been before.