A Call to Leadership for America’s Employers as the Supreme Court Considers Affirmative Action in College Admissions

Pamela Coukos and Cyrus Mehri, Co-Founders of Working IDEAL

Updated June 30: Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled against Harvard and the University of North Carolina in the case about affirmative action in college admissions. This is a deeply disappointing decision that goes against decades of precedent — and despite long standing support from the employer community for the kinds of inclusive admissions practices at stake in that case. We are confident that our nation’s higher education institutions and our nation’s employers will continue to ensure the doors of opportunity remain open for all. This ruling does not change any legal standards that apply to the workplace.  We continue to call on our nation’s employers to practice courageous leadership, align with their values and recognize the importance of their equity and inclusion work for their workers, their business and our democracy.

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In the next few days, we expect the Supreme Court to rule on two cases about affirmative action in college admissions. No matter what the Court decides, we know this is a time for your leadership and institutional courage — to carry forward equal opportunity for all, and to build a nation where anyone can succeed. Nothing at stake in these legal rulings calls into question the values and experience you bring to your existing work on equality and inclusion, or the right and duty to fairly hire, promote, pay and support workers of all backgrounds and experiences. You can and should hold fast to your commitments to creating a vibrant and effective workforce by removing barriers to opportunity, and ensuring every worker has the freedom and support to bring their full perspectives, experiences and talents to the job.

We recognize that this is a challenging time to hold true to a robust vision of inclusion and belonging. Extremist political leaders are sowing conflict and division. They seek to cast doubt on the need for programs that bring employees together and enhance opportunity, when that is needed now more than ever.  A few are even attempting to erase our nation’s complex history of exclusion, and our collective power to overcome it. We want to share a path forward to overcome polarized politics and misguided assumptions about the potential impact of this ruling, and sustain your longstanding programs on diversity, equity and inclusion at work.

Together we have worked for decades to help workers facing racial barriers, pay inequity, unfair hiring practices, and sexual harassment in the workplace, and to help big and small companies, nonprofits, and government agencies seeking to expand equal opportunity.  We have been there for workers when employers flout the law, and we have partnered with business leaders and executives who are creating innovative ways to level the playing field. This experience shows what we believe every employer should do this week and going forward – lead with your values, invest in your workforce, and carry forward your commitments.

You can best meet this moment by reaffirming the key values that ground your equity and inclusion work. Values like respect, opportunity and connectedness are not tied to legal rules, and they can and should continue to guide your actions to promote opportunity and foster inclusion and belonging. You can and should commit to practice respect and learn from each other, through sharing our many identities, experiences and histories. You can and should pledge to ensure that everyone has a fair chance to compete and to participate in our nation’s economic life. You can and should pledge to foster culture that connects rather than divides and creates real experiences of belonging. Diversity, equity, belonging and inclusion are more than just buzzwords or checklists. In the best programs they establish sound processes that benefit entire organizations, deeply anchored in your values and transcending matters of compliance.

Keeping your promises to provide a respectful, fair and inclusive workplace is bedrock law, good for all workers and good for your business.  We know from research and experience that when employers promote equal opportunity along with inclusion, and foster respect, openness, trust, learning and engagement, and connection and belonging, we all benefit from workplaces that are stronger, more innovative, and more productive.

The best DEI initiatives are never about asking for specific outcomes, but about ensuring a fair process and a respectful and inclusive workplace for all. Flawed practices can hurt everyone regardless of their identity, job or level. Letting in-group favoritism drive hiring or promotion decisions, or being inconsistent about how you pay people, or letting toxic individuals disrupt the workplace, often falls hardest on those who have historically faced discrimination and systemic hardship. But failing to address these problems can make it hard for anyone to do their job, and it can cost you the opportunity to hire and advance the best talent, or drive costly attrition. If you can change your process to get new people in the door and show you what they can offer, you can overcome biases and increase your chance of picking the true right person for the job.  Institutions that practice greater inclusion are the ones that thrive over the long term.

We know that our clients may be feeling as though this work and their DEI plans are now at increasing risk. We also believe that true risk management includes accounting for the risk of withdrawing from critical commitments and the harm that comes from failing to act. Over the past few years, many employers have made important promises to their workers, shareholders and communities to strengthen racial equity, forcefully address sexual harassment, provide equal pay and share their DEI goals and progress more transparently. Nothing has changed about the need for these promises. Indeed, keeping them is more important than ever.

Seize this chance to practice the courageous leadership that can overcome division and repair our democracy.  You have a critical opportunity to bolster our “small d” democratic and “small r” republican principles. Recent efforts to stoke identity conflict over race, gender, and LGBTQ status go hand in hand with efforts to roll back democracy and limit freedom. We must resist any effort to limit our freedom to learn or engage with each other, from bans on what children can read to restrictions on what anyone can wear, say or teach. Voting restrictions, and lawsuits and legislation trying to upend longstanding civil rights, undermine our ability to be one democratic nation. We have seen a rise in hate crimes, violence, and even insurrectionist behavior, alongside a growing understanding that continuing segregation and inequality is incompatible with true democracy. We cannot give in to the climate of fear and hate.

Over and over in the past few years we have seen the power of Americans from all walks of life making their voices heard in response to exclusion and threats to fundamental democratic values – an example we urge you to follow. Overcoming these divisions creates the opportunity to repair our democracy and build a truly inclusive economy both at home and abroad.

Courageous and thoughtful leaders will recognize there is no need to respond in fear or to make snap judgments to withdraw prematurely from the DEI work that is so essential to this moment. Instead, we encourage you to recommit to freedom and democracy, respect, connection, fairness and opportunity, and to embrace the future.

 

Working IDEAL provides trusted and innovative advice on inclusive workplaces, diverse talent, and fair pay. Our audits and assessments apply the best thinking on how to promote gender, race and other forms of equity in your pay practices. Our robust quantitative and qualitative reviews go beyond basic compliance to align effective compensation strategy. Let’s connect.  

Rethinking Unpaid Internships: Equity Upon Entry to the Workforce

Authors: Joelle Min and Sarah Crawford

Young people across the country often pursue internships with hopes of return offers and greater career opportunities once graduation comes along. In 2022, internships are of greater importance as the height of the pandemic last year canceled almost half of internship opportunities. Often, students are expected to be grateful and willing to take up any internship opportunity, even if it means foregoing monetary compensation. This Harvard Business Review article reports that 43% of internships by for-profit companies are unpaid. However, despite their ubiquity, unpaid internships are unfair, inequitable, and exploitative of young students, many of whom lack the bargaining power to fight for fair working terms and conditions. Many companies justify unpaid internships by arguing that they provide educational and professional development opportunities that they would not otherwise offer as paid positions. This ignores the financial implications of doing unpaid work that especially burdens young, low-income, and first-generation students of color.

Internships help set the stage for career success

It is clear that internship experience can give candidates a leg up in the job market, but those who cannot afford to take unpaid internships lose out on opportunities to gain that experience. The Washington Post reports that “nearly two-thirds of college graduates who complete paid internships receive job offers upon graduating, compared with just 35 percent of recent graduates who do not have internship experience.” 

Even though the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 requires covered employers to pay employees for their work, a 1947 Supreme Court case Walling v. Portland created a carve-out for unpaid “trainees.” In this case, the Supreme Court decided that participants in a weeklong training program for potential railroad brakemen were trainees rather than employees and did not need to be paid. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Court held that “the definition of an employee cannot be interpreted to make a person whose work serves only his own interest an employee of another who gives him aid and instruction.”

Walling v. Portland offered the legal foundation for a theoretical defense of the educational benefits of uncompensated work. Although organizations are not obligated to pay interns where the interns receive more benefit from the relationship than the organization, organizations must pay interns who function more as employees. The Department of Labor offers a seven factor “primary beneficiary test” to determine whether an intern or student must be paid as an employee. This test includes factors relating to expectations about compensation, the type of educational training provided, whether the intern receives academic credit, whether the intern’s work complements or displaces paid employees, whether the internship is expected to lead to a paid job, etc. 

Paid internships lead to stronger career opportunities for all than unpaid internships

Too often, the claimed benefits of skill-building and professional development used to justify uncompensated labor fall short and they also may fail  to account for the actual financial costs of the individual seeking work. In many cases, the educational benefits that students receive from the internship program are mainly work experience, from which the company can profit. Additionally, since young people enter the workforce with minimal to no experience, they tend to have little knowledge of their bargaining power in seeking internships. 

Some students end up taking on an additional service job to pay bills, while others have the financial freedom to accept unpaid jobs at high-profile organizations, setting them on a more profitable career path. For students ranging from 17 to 25, the summer internship search tends to value generational wealth – in terms of financial dependence and nepotism – over talent, contributing to a job market where critical career-building opportunities more often go to those who can depend on their family’s wealth. Take, for instance, an internship opportunity and two student applicants: Student A with a financial safety net provided by their parents to cover expenses like rent, groceries, and gas, and Student B with student debt and no financial support from family. Student A can immerse themselves completely into the role, as they do not have many more obligations outside of completing the internship. Student B, on the other hand, must find additional work to fund their current financial situation, carrying the weight of two full-time jobs. Often, they would not even get the opportunity to work in an unpaid internship due to its financial burden, as the risk cannot guarantee employment and causes immediate financial burdens.  

Paid internships help to level the playing field and open opportunities, regardless of the candidate’s financial background.  As a recent blog post on the DEI impacts of unpaid internships explains, “paid internships are the best way for students of color to have the same opportunities as white students, especially as higher education in the U.S. becomes more demographically diverse and the percentage of undergraduate students from low-income households rises.” Unpaid internships only compound financial insecurity for students who are already taking on student debt. 

The importance of DEI in considering student professional development

The urgency of a student’s current financial situation should not be compromised for the future opportunity for employment. Unpaid internships can shut out these students from entry-level experiences in certain fields, which then result in long-term deficits of diverse talent and perspectives in all sectors. A stark example of these concerns is internships in government and public affairs. Many times, those who are shut out of unpaid internships due to financial strain are the people who could really make a difference in the policymaking and government with an internship opportunity. While colleges have taken measures to offer class credits or stipends to students for unpaid internships, these alternatives do not absolve the financial burdens of unpaid positions and are not sustainable for already cash-strapped schools and students. As diversity, equity, and inclusion have become a priority for businesses stemming from the social pressures of 2020’s overdue racial reckoning, it is of vital importance to find solutions to equity of opportunity not only in hiring but also the step that precedes that stage: student professional development. 

DEI in the workplace requires equitable access to internship and employment opportunities. Unpaid internships further marginalize emerging BIPOC and low-income workers from industry pipelines. As newbies in the job market, many marginalized students have minimal bargaining power. In many cases, interns are doing actual work that an otherwise paid regular employee would be doing. There are many companies that care and provide for their interns as a moral practice of what they should be doing. Legal precedent should not be the only justification or direction of companies’ interactions with young people seeking to enter into the job world. Businesses should break the cycle of exploiting students. Paid internships provide important opportunities for those entering the job market  to realize their potential and for employers to diversify their workplaces. 

About the Lead Author

Joelle Min
Joelle Min was an undergraduate paid intern with Working IDEAL from June of 2021 to August of 2022. She is currently a junior at Claremont McKenna College studying a dual major in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics and Public Policy and currently interning (in a paid position) on Capitol Hill. She has worked closely in local politics, electing the youngest trustee in California, as well as running sexual harassment education programs in her hometown.

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Working IDEAL provides trusted and innovative advice on inclusive workplaces, diverse talent, and fair pay. Our audits and assessments apply the best thinking on how to promote gender, race and other forms of equity in your pay practices. Our robust quantitative and qualitative reviews go beyond basic compliance to align effective compensation strategy. Contact us for more details. 

5 Reasons Why First-Generation College Students Should be a Target Population in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts in the Workplace

Authors: Xavier Walker, Cherrie Bucknor, and Pam Coukos

First-generation college students/professionals are a unique population of people who are an increasing focus for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at colleges and universities, and that should become a formal part of workplace DEI programs. To be a first-generation student typically means one’s parent(s)/caretaker(s) did not obtain a bachelor’s college degree or higher – rather, their highest education can range from a high school diploma/GED to an associates/some college, or in neither. Given the criteria, we realize just how easily members of this group can get swept under the rug if not properly recognized by an organization; we cannot account for first-gen populations solely through primary diversity characteristics (race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, etc.). In fact, a study done by The U.S. Census Bureau on behalf of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Commerce, found that there are barriers to workplace inclusion and career advancement unique to first-gen populations – so more needs to be done.

Recruiting and retaining first-generation candidates should be standard practice as they are talent who could help any company go far. While research is still in an emerging phase, there is evidence that first generation students can make critical contributions at work based on their ability to navigate the challenges of college without the level of support continuing generation students may receive. Some qualitative studies have identified examples of several characteristics first-generation students may possess that can make them an asset in the workplace, such as: perseverance, social intelligence, proactiveness, optimism, goal-directedness, curiosity, graciousness, and much more. The potential to develop a generation of professionals that garner an immense amount of loyalty and commitment toward your organization is an opportunity that should not be missed.

Furthermore, first generation students are a population that could contribute significantly to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and EEO as they exist today – especially in regard to racial diversity. The majority of first-generation students identify as people of color and make up the majority of minority-serving institutions’ student body. So, keeping first-gens in mind could ultimately lead to improved diversity within your organization which is extremely important for company success.

Here are 5 reasons why first-generation students/professionals should be targeted in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts and recommendation on how to improve chances of hiring and retaining this population:

1. A Person of Many “Firsts”

The challenges of first-generation students do not start and stop at being a student. Several indicators make this population especially disadvantaged in comparison to their non-first-gen counterparts. It has been found that on average, first-generation students come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, which makes parent(s)/caretaker(s) less likely to be able to support the financial demands of college and the transition into early adulthood. First-generation students are more likely than their peers to be the first to generate their own wealth. This means early in their career, they are more likely to lack accessible funds or family wealth to aid in instances of relocation, emergency, or just mere leisure; these students are often incurring heavy expenses and debt much earlier than their peers (funding education, housing/rent, transportation, monthly expenses, etc.). Finally, these students may also become  first-generation professionals (FGPs) – first to earn a 4-year degree and/or obtain a higher level professional position than one’s parent(s)/caretaker(s).

In many cases, it’s a great feeling to get your first car and secure your first apartment, but as a first-generation professional, that typically comes with you having to spend your own money on every payment and expense of the way. While this can be an issue for many college graduates starting out, first-generation professionals are particularly likely to fall into this category. When living check to check, things can get difficult, quickly, so here’s how employers can help:

Recommendation #1: Provide financial assistance to support your entry-level employees as they transition to the workplace. When a company is willing to provide relocation assistance as well as payment for travel expenses (for interview and/or visit), then one’s talent pool can become much broader as you’ve eliminated the logistical barriers for any applicant who’d otherwise have to look the other way. This is particularly true where expenses are paid directly by the employer, rather than requiring the candidates to pay then seek reimbursement.

2. Pressure to find Employment

First-generation students can feel strong  pressure to find employment post-graduation due to losing the financial safety net of their institution. For some students, attending a 4-year university can be a means of living. The financial support provided by their university – whether that be in the form of scholarship (academic and/or sport), financial aid, and/or loans – is easily considered income for these students; these funds are used to pay for housing (dorm or rent), food/meal plans, transportation, etc. So as these years come to an end and the need to find employment comes around, these students may be more susceptible to having a necessity-driven (vs. opportunity-driven) approach to their job search. 

With the idea that your next stream of income needs to pay the bills, one could undermine considerations such as: searching for a job vs. beginning a career, or thinking your first job offer is going to be your best or only offer. First-generation students tend to expedite their job search which can result in them taking a job unrepresentative of their credentials. Kickstarting your career deserves a considerable amount of time and patience with minimal interference from outside factors, so, here’s how employers can help alleviate these pressures:

Recommendation #2: As we know, many colleges and universities do a phenomenal job at identifying first-generation populations so organizations should take steps to partner with institutions’ first-generation programs to support these students’ early career development and potential for job security prior to graduation. Programming may consist of opportunities such as: specialized recruitment, internships, research, shadowing, seminars, career fairs, etc. It is imperative that we let these students know that there are avenues to explore in their job search and allow them to find opportunities best for them. 

3. Psychological Challenges

There are several psychological challenges first-generation students may experience that can possibly carry over as they enter the workforce. It can be a strange feeling landing a job and knowing that you make more than your parent(s)/caretaker(s) who’ve been making ends meet to take care of you thus far. Unfortunately, with that may come feelings of guilt and betrayal because no one wants their family to feel like they’re being left behind by their child who’s off living comfortably on their substantial income – even if it may not be the case.

Furthermore, in settings perceived as competitive – much like the workplace – first-gen professionals may be more susceptible to imposter syndrome – feelings of being a fraud or undeserving of one’s position. Needless to say, for any employee that’s been evaluated as experienced and qualified for their job, these sentiments should not persist. So, here’s how employers can help:

Recommendation #3: To provide additional support  first-generation employees may need, companies should establish Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for this population. In doing so, employers can develop a culture in which first-generation professionals feel integrated, supported, and recognized. It’s important to create these spaces so that first-gens can connect with one another and have a platform in which they can highlight areas of need which may have gone unnoticed.

4. Thin Network

Where does networking start for new college graduates? With their family, perhaps their university. Well for first-generation students, access to professional and/or alumni connections through family isn’t usually an option. How much do we hear “It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know”? The weight one’s network has on their employability is undeniable, and good references and letters of recommendations are essential to improving candidacy. Employers should take steps to address the inequity that first-gen students face in this aspect by thinking carefully about references and referral programs (which have their own DEI concerns). Here is one recommendation:

Recommendation #4: Include “first-generation student/professional” in self-ID rubrics. You should offer applicants the chance to share whether they identify as a first-generation student and/or professional. This is even more important if you ask “Do you have or ever had a relative that worked for one of our services/companies?” Like all self-identification questions, it should be voluntary and subject to appropriate privacy protections. These measures can help contextualize third-party application materials and/or questions and allow employers to track outreach to and engagement with this particular demographic.  

5. Misunderstanding of Work Experience

For recent grads, employers like to see experiences such as internships, research, and organizational leadership to determine employability – but there are more kinds of experience that can prepare someone to be successful in the workplace. While in school, first-generation students may have an increased need to support themselves; research has shown that first-gen students tend to work jobs outside of their institution and much longer hours than non-first-gen students. A focus solely on internships or specific pre-hire experiences could disadvantage first-generation students that perhaps worked at their local grocery, or were baristas at Starbucks — rather than working an unpaid internship or in research labs. Experience working in retail, hospitality, or many other kinds of jobs can yield valuable skills in problem-solving, interpersonal relationships, and responsibility. Focusing too narrowly on certain kinds of qualifications could limit the pool of talent being considered. Here is our final recommendation:

Recommendation #5: Employers should 1) explicitly ask entry-level applicants to list “all work experience” and 2) understand the value different experiences bring. These adjustments will allow you to gauge the full value of your talent pool. It is important to give entry-level applicants a chance to share  their transferable skills and experiences and consider what they might bring to your organization.

About the Lead Author

Name: Xavier Walker

Position: Undergraduate Intern, Summer ‘22

School: Texas A&M University

“As a first-generation student and having friends that are as well, I knew there were challenges we faced going into the workforce that I really wanted to unpack. Interning with Working IDEAL allowed me to learn a lot about how Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion translates into the workplace and therefore helped me formulate where the problem areas were for first-gen students. I am grateful for the expert team at Working IDEAL because they understood the need, and immediately worked with me on this project.”

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Working IDEAL provides trusted and innovative advice on inclusive workplaces, diverse talent, and fair pay. Our audits and assessments apply the best thinking on how to promote gender, race and other forms of equity in your pay practices. Our robust quantitative and qualitative reviews go beyond basic compliance to align effective compensation strategy. Contact us for more details. 

7 Ways to Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Hiring

Authors: Ahmmad Brown and Sarah Crawford

In today’s competitive job market, employers can deploy a range of strategies to attract and recruit diverse talent. The following recommendations – broken into the recruitment, candidate evaluation, and process maintenance phases – offer best practices and considerations to develop a recruitment and hiring protocol to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) throughout the process.

Apply a DEI Lens to Your Recruitment. The work of retaining top talent begins before you even post your job. In most cases, the job description (along with your website and other marketing materials) is one of the first interactions potential candidates will have with your organization. 

1. Update job descriptions and requirements to attract a diverse applicant pool.

Before advertising a job opening, evaluate the position description and requirements to reduce bias and increase the pool of talent that could apply and compete. Unnecessary experience and education requirements will limit your ability to attract a wide array of talent and bring new skills, experiences, and perspectives into your organization. Consider the job description, especially if you have not updated competencies and requirements lately. What skills and competencies are required to be successful in executing the role and responsibilities? How much experience is needed, and how broadly can experience be described? For technical roles, are there options to train high-potential candidates for specific technical requirements? Pay close attention to how you define qualifications and competencies and the use of tests and other evaluations for hiring. Is the language inclusive and designed to attract a diverse candidate pool? Have you avoided phrasing and words that tend to discourage women and people of color from applying?

2. Be intentional about outreach and recruiting strategies.

DEI objectives should be a part of every step in the recruitment and hiring process and should specifically include outreach to diverse communities and organizations. Identify organizational needs–such as languages, relationships to different immigrant communities, communities you aspire to serve. Then build recruitment strategies designed to fill those needs. Recruit explicitly to reach diverse audiences. Go beyond personal contacts, word of mouth, and usual posting avenues. Use recruitment firms and platforms that can reach more broadly. Develop sustained relationships with diverse communities, industry associations, and affinity-based networks to seek out talent from underrepresented groups. Deploy strategies specific to the roles you are recruiting for rather than using generalized DEI posting tactics for all jobs.

Make Your Screening and Interview Process Fair and Equitable. Racial, gender, and other biases can arise in candidate evaluation – as human resources professionals and hiring managers across industries know well. You can counteract these biases by implementing hiring processes that emphasize inclusivity and avoid the pitfalls of groupthink.

3. Establish a diverse hiring committee and provide necessary training.   

Establish a hiring committee that is charged with handling all steps of the process, including outreach, recruitment, interviews, and selection. Ensure that the committee’s membership is diverse, for example, by race, gender, function, and level. A committee can serve the organization as a whole – for all hires over a certain period of time — or can be specifically developed to fill a job opening. The committee should follow a consistent process and be involved in initial screening, interviews, and evaluation. Make sure that the committee members have training and tools to fairly screen, interview, and evaluate candidates based on objective criteria – including an understanding of how to identify and disrupt bias in hiring.

4. Implement a diverse interview slate policy.

A diverse interview slate policy ensures that the “slate” of finalists receiving interviews with the final decision maker is diverse. This is more than just ensuring an overall diverse applicant pool. Define the diverse interview slate in advance. For example, a diverse interview slate might be defined as a pool of interview candidates that includes multiple women and multiple people of color to ensure the default does not favor white men. A human resources official can review the candidates included on the interview slate and determine whether the slate satisfies the policy. The hiring committee should not have access to self-identification data, nor should they “guess” or assume identity. If the slate does not reflect the policy, take steps to expand the interview slate.

5. Hiring committees should use objective evaluation criteria and avoid groupthink.

Consider options to remove names and other identifying information from applications and resumes before the committee reviews them. Require that all individuals involved in interviews use standardized, behaviorally-anchored questions that relate to the job. Panelists should evaluate candidates independently using objective criteria before conferring. Ensure that screening, evaluation, and interview practices are equitable and inclusive and provide fair opportunities to all qualified applicants. Ensure consistency and accountability across the organization for hiring managers to practice the same protocols – there can be no exceptions, which can lead to disparities and perceptions of unfairness.

Create Accountable and Effective Tools to Keep Your DEI Goals On Track. Achieving DEI goals requires commitment and attention to DEI outcomes and DEI processes. Your work does not end with the completion of any single hire or recruitment cycle. Rather, you will want to track your organization’s progress over time in relation to clearly defined DEI by creating an infrastructure and processes to collect data at all stages of your hiring process. Remember to be transparent with your key internal and external stakeholders about your progress over time. This will build trust with your current employees, and indicate your commitment to DEI for future candidates.

6. Conduct a barrier analysis on each step of the hiring process.

Conduct an analysis to determine whether any step in the hiring process favors or disfavors candidates based on gender, race, ethnicity, or other criterion.
Evaluate measures of representation at different phases of hiring: – Who are the applicants?
– Who are the applicants who meet minimum qualifications?
– Who is selected to proceed past the initial screening?
– Who passes any tests or other steps?
– Who is included on the interview slates?
– Who receives offers?
– Who is hired?

Use metrics for each step of the process to ensure there is no adverse impact in your selection practices. Each step of the selection process should use job-related factors and criteria. If there is no adverse impact of any step in your process, the individuals selected at each phase should generally reflect the demographics of the job applicants in the pool. Ask applicants to self-identify and track demographics of applicants and hires, including who passes initial screening, who the finalists are, who receives an offer and who accepts and is hired. For individuals you reject, use disposition codes to track the reasons they did not advance. If you see a significant disparity between the demographics of the applicant pool and the candidates who are selected for hire, determine what is happening at each step, what criteria are being used, who the decision-makers are, and any tests or requirements that may be leading to particular groups being screened out at a particular step. In other words, identify barriers that may be causing the disparities, and determine whether changes to the hiring process could help to ensure equity.

7. Use benchmarking to set transparent goals and evaluate hiring over time. 

Regularly analyze your workforce demographics by department and level within the organization: – Where does your workforce reflect the diversity of the available talent pool, and where does it fall short? 

– Who is in entry level positions?
– Who is in leadership?
– Who are your highly compensated employees?
– Who are your low wage employees? 

– Are there unexplained gaps?
– Who declines offers and why? Are they disproportionately women and/or people of color? What are their reasons? 

Get feedback from staff on what is working well in your hiring process, and what is not working and make improvements. In setting hiring benchmarks, evaluate the appropriate measure of the qualified, available applicant pool. Consider aspirational measures, such as having your organization reflect the constituencies it represents. Benchmarks typically vary by job group and may include national measures for jobs you recruit nationally for, and also potentially your local labor markets. The Census and other data sources provide demographic data by occupation, industry, geographic area, etc. Growing numbers of employers are moving toward public reporting of workplace demographics to build in greater transparency and accountability for meeting DEI benchmarks. As the old saying goes, what gets measured gets done.

When employers are intentional, transparent, and accountable in efforts to implement best practices like these, they can make great strides to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within their organizations through improved hiring protocols.

 

Working IDEAL provides trusted and innovative advice on inclusive workplaces, diverse talent, and fair pay. Our audits and assessments apply the best thinking on how to promote gender, race and other forms of equity in your pay practices. Our robust quantitative and qualitative reviews go beyond basic compliance to align effective compensation strategy

Working IDEAL: 2020-2021 in Review

Looking back over the past two years, our team at Working IDEAL has navigated a global pandemic and seen a new sense of urgency around our work for racial justice and workplace equity. As we wrote in the summer of 2020, we support the call to dismantle systemic racism and over the last year we have acted on our belief that a just and inclusive workplace is essential to sustain our democracy.

In this post, we share some highlights of how our clients are engaging on racial equity & global DEIJ across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Indeed many of them had already started this journey before July of 2020. In these first months of 2022, we see newly empowered workers and labor movements, new understandings around workplace safety, flexibility and economic justice, and opportunities to innovate to better serve workers, missions, customers and society. We encourage companies, nonprofits and government agencies to continue this work.

Strengthening DEI in Local Governments. In the summer of 2021, we completed a deep multi-year engagement with the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts, conducting an independent external assessment of recruitment, hiring and promotion through a diversity, equity and inclusion lens. Through a survey of all City employees, analysis of workforce data and interviews and documents, we evaluated the City’s structure, practices, policies, and culture as they relate to fostering a diverse workforce. Our recommendations, which were included in a publicly-available report on our website, included expanding the ability to promote opportunities and connect with a broader pool of talent by strategic outreach, building relationships, strengthening tools and resources, leveraging the current workforce and city residents, and better utilizing technology.  

Nonprofit Pay Equity Projects to Align with Mission and Values.  One of the signature services Working IDEAL provides is ensuring fair pay and we conduct pay equity analyses for public, private and nonprofit organizations. Since the summer of 2020, and particularly in light of the impact of the pandemic on workers, progressive organizations have sought to raise pay and also ensure their compensation programs align with values of equity and transparency. Over the last 18 months we have completed new compensation policies and structures for a number of national nonprofits, assessing race and gender equity, employee perceptions and experiences, workplace culture and market analysis. 

Strengthening Equity and Inclusion in Tech. In 2021, Working IDEAL partnered with Atlassian to provide resources and ideas to improve experiences for Atlassians from underrepresented groups and apply research on increasing equity and inclusion in the tech industry.

#CampaignEquity for Political Workplaces. During the summer and fall of 2020, federal, state and local candidates — and many organizations — built major campaigns to persuade and turnout voters in a critical election, as well as responding on the ground to addressing police brutality, sexual harassment, climate action, and immigrant justice. Working IDEAL collected its experiences advising political and advocacy campaigns and candidates with Redwood Enterprise and the Melanin Collective in the #CampaignEquity handbook (2020). The handbook includes tools and checklists of best practices for campaign workplaces in seeking to achieve seven campaign equity goals — like Great Hires, Pay Equity, and Safe and Inclusive Culture. It’s a useful strategic and tactical guide for ensuring your campaign or organizing workspace lives up to your values.  https://www.workingideal.com/news-resources/campaign-equity-toolkit/.

Building Best in Class DEI Programs for Small Businesses. 

We work with employers of all sizes, and frequently conduct evaluations and assessments of workplace culture and climate, equity and inclusion.  Because our work is customized and includes significant qualitative elements, it can be an effective tool for smaller businesses.

Our assessment methodology uses a consistent approach. We apply a broad lens grounded in social science data collection and analysis, seeking to understand how organizational culture, process, structures and practices relate to outcomes and experiences for different groups in the workplace.

One example of this work is the DEI assessment Working IDEAL conducted in 2021 for Linea Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in pension, health, and insurance markets with offices in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Toronto. This project was led by the company’s internal DEI committee and strongly supported by leadership, two elements that we find can result in more successful projects.

Our review encompassed a quantitative and qualitative analysis of data relating to employee demographics, workplace culture, perceptions and experiences of fairness and equity, and equity in policies and practices — including recruitment, hiring, retention, promotion, career development, and training. Because many employees are consultants embedded in client workspaces, we also explored ways for Linea to provide connection and consistency – an emerging challenge for many workplaces developing stronger remote work policies. We identified strengths, challenges, and opportunities, and we recommended best practices supported by research literature and tailored to the organization. We will proceed with the implementation phase in 2022.

Building a Culture Code to Promote Respect in the Workplace

Authors: Sarah Crawford and Christian Andres Alfaro

A strong culture codewhich alternatively may be called a code of conduct or civility codesets expectations about how employees should interact in order to create a healthy workplace culture. A culture code can help to foster a safe and constructive working environment in which all employees feel accepted and supported to better serve the mission of the company. A code also bolsters accountability at all levels within the organization. 

A culture code should communicate the company’s mission, vision, goals, values, and norms. The code also can build community and describe the spirit and traditions of the organization through quotes, lighthearted anecdotes, and stories. For example, the code could tell the story behind the founding of the company, stories of individual customers and clients, or of accomplishments both big and small.

A culture code establishes expectations for employees to be respectful and accepting of others who may come from different walks of life and have different lifestyles and beliefs. A code can set expectations about positive behaviors by encouraging employees to act as allies to confront bias, to serve as a mentor, to utilize best practices to promote diversity in hiring, etc.

The code also should provide examples of bias and behavior that will not be allowed or tolerated in the workplace, such as microaggressions, harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. The code should address behavior directed toward anyone, regardless of whether they are colleagues, supervisors, junior staff, interns, volunteers, independent contractors, customers, clients, etc. The code should set out policies and processes for individuals to bring forward concerns and formal complaints and identify key personnel to handle those concerns and complaints

The code should address conduct that occurs not only in the workplace, but also offsite and online, for example expected behavior at conferences and respectful communication on social media and text messages. The code should also address conduct during and outside of regular work hours, for example conduct at a work-related social event or with a colleague after normal working hours. 

During the process of drafting a culture code, employees should be involved in providing input and feedback on the content. This may be accomplished by convening a working group that includes employees representing various levels, departments, job functions, and locations. This is particularly useful to identify key concerns, gaps, and solutions for the organization. The code should be written in plain language that is easily understood and uses examples tailored to the workplace. 

Leadership should review, approve, and endorse the code before it is finalized. An introduction from the head of the organization can communicate the importance of the code and the core values to the day-to-day operations and to make clear that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated. It is also critical for those at the top of the organization to model the positive behaviors described in the code.

When rolling out a new culture code, employees should participate in interactive training to review the content, to reinforce how the expectations about behavior relate to the organization’s mission and core values, to teach skills, and to provide opportunity for meaningful discussion. The code, policies and procedures, contact information for key personnel to handle complaints and concerns, and any other related information should be easily accessible to all employees, either online or in writing. 

To reinforce the principles on an ongoing basis, the code should be integrated with the onboarding process and regular training programs. Employees could be asked to sign a statement that they have read and agree to follow the code. A poster in the breakroom could highlight the key aspects of the code, such as core values, expected behaviors, and contact information for key personnel to handle concerns and complaints. At events, remarks and written materials could include a reminder of behaviors that are encouraged and behaviors that will not be tolerated, consistent with the culture code. 

Building a strong workplace culture requires the efforts of every employee in the organization. By setting expectations about employee behavior, a culture code can provide a powerful tool to promote a respectful workplace that is key to fulfilling the mission of the organization.

Resources and Sample Codes:

Racial Equity Assessment Can Change Your Company for the Better – If You Get It Right

Authors: Pamela Coukos and Ahmmad Brown

If 2020 was the year of big, visible corporate commitments to racial equity, 2021 is the opportunity to make sure those commitments deliver on their promises.

In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and the increased impact of the Movement for Black Lives, companies promised to take meaningful action and deploy substantial financial resources to address racial inequity and injustice. This spring BlackRock responded to shareholder advocacy and agreed to undertake a comprehensive racial equity audit of internal structures and policies, and the external impact of their products and services. Last fall, JP Morgan made a $30 million commitment to advance racial equity. In the technology industry, at least a dozen companies have made commitments to racial equity specifically. McKinsey estimates that organizations have made as much $200B in investments to support racial justice efforts since May 2020.

Although public commitments to support racial equity and justice are laudable, there are three ways these programs can fail to live up to their promises. 

First, vague appeals to morality and justice are not enough – an organization needs a clear reason to take action and a defined goal they seek to achieve. Otherwise their response may be more symbol than substance.

Second, organizations must establish accountable, transparent structures and processes to evaluate their actions and ensure that they are on track to meet those goals. Lack of follow through can erode trust and credibility among key stakeholders and undermine the benefits of the work they seek to accomplish.

Third, many organizations take the easier path of surface-level questions and avoid deeper issues of racial justice, hostile culture, and structural barriers to equity. Expanding the representation of people of color in candidate pools and recruitment pipelines is important, but cannot build sustainable change without tackling the fundamental question of whether the organization’s core structures and processes are equitable and inclusive for current and future Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) employees and other stakeholders. 

Racial equity assessment is a set of tools that addresses these pitfalls and can increase the chances that commitments to racial equity generate deep and lasting success for the organization and its people. 

An assessment helps keep a program on the path of substance over symbols. It starts by identifying the organization’s goals, in order to decide how to measure progress and evaluate impact.

A well-designed assessment ensures accountability through key practices that build trust and ensure credibility including:

  • an external independent assessment team;

  • an objective and neutral inquiry process based on a sound methodology;

  • appropriate transparency to all stakeholders;

  • a demonstration that the information sharing process is safe and can be trusted.

Finally, an experienced and effective assessment team will encourage clients to go deeper, and are equipped to evaluate structures and practices, not just outcomes.

And they will pay off in actionable recommendations, strategic plans to meet important goals, and all the benefits of inclusive and equitable organizations — more innovative products and services, a more engaged and productive workforce, stronger and more sustainable financial performance and most importantly, the trust that comes from knowing an organization’s practices live up to its values. 

Customers, investors and employees who value racial equity have growing expectations of the companies they do business with. Showing that commitments are meaningful and have an impact is the best way to meet this moment.

Working IDEAL provides trusted and innovative advice on inclusive workplaces, diverse talent, and fair pay. Our audits and assessments apply the best thinking on how to promote gender, race and other forms of equity in your pay practices. Our robust quantitative and qualitative reviews go beyond basic compliance to align effective compensation strategy with mission and values. Contact us to learn more about the services we offer.

About the authors:
Ahmmad Brown is a Senior Advisor at Working IDEAL, Executive Director and co-founder of EBDI Consulting, and currently completing doctoral work in organizational behavior at Harvard.
Pamela Coukos, JD, PhD, is CEO and co-founder of Working IDEAL

Best Practices to Increase Engagement, Productivity, Retention, and Innovation | Excerpts from Diversity, Inc.

It’s been over a year since noted journalist and scholar Pamela Newkirk published Diversity, Inc., an essential account of the promises many companies made to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion, the billions spent on programs and initiatives over five decades, and the huge gap that still remains in fulfilling those promises. This acclaimed book, which Time Magazine declared a “must-read”, is a deep study of how the most popular responses to calls for justice and equity at work have not only failed to make progress, but even led to declining numbers of Black leaders in Corporate America, a continued racial wealth gap and pay gap, and persistent discrimination in the workplace. Her book also highlights the rare examples of successful progress and the lessons from social science about what actually works to move the needle on workplace equality. 

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder last summer, companies again, as they have many times in the past, made statements and pledges to do more. While some of the responses are more symbolic, others have greater potential for meaningful impact – from shifts in corporate giving and community support to belatedly addressing longstanding criticisms of images, names and branding, recognizing the need to invest in changing systems and practices, and making concrete commitments to hiring benchmarks or other specific and potentially meaningful policy changes. But as Professor Newkirk shows, Corporate America’s track record on racial justice is not promising. Just as longstanding approaches to sexual harassment were more symbolic compliance than meaningful intervention, the world of diversity consulting is a story of as much as $8 billion a year spent with little to show for it.  So what can companies do that can actually make a difference?

In the new paperback edition of Diversity Inc., Professor Newkirk included a series of best practices provided by Working IDEAL — ways that companies can make good on their promises by applying best practices based on social science research and our experience with organizations large and small across multiple industries. 

Here are a few of those recommended practices that Working IDEAL recommends to our clients to hire and retain great people and increase engagement, productivity, retention, and innovation.  Want the whole list?  Get the book!

Expand Recruitment Through Intentional Outreach. For example, work to build relationships with programs in your field, industry and community to access talent, and then tailor recruitment plans to identify the best sources of diverse candidates for specific jobs or groups of jobs. 

Identify and Remove Barriers in Hiring, starting with how you identify and evaluate skills and criteria. Education and specialized training requirements can serve as unnecessary barriers to increasing diversity in key entry-level and higher-level positions, especially when there are equivalent or alternative skills and experience that may add value, or the potential to invest in on-the-job training.

Institute a “Rooney Rule” diverse slate policy but also take steps to ensure its success. This means defining diverse slates to require consideration of multiple women and people of color, and providing the training and tools for hiring managers and holding them accountable to follow the policy. 

Make information on pay practices transparent and accessible to employees.  Instead of guessing about what candidates will accept, or trying to underpay those with less market power or information, affirmatively provide starting salary information to job candidates.  Ensure employees can freely share information about pay — in most cases it’s legally required.

Measure your results like any business process, auditing your hiring, pay and promotion practices — and your culture and developing metrics to track them going forward. You can use anonymous tools like surveys, and internal discussions across functions and levels, to identify issues and source responses. Track attrition and understand why some groups of employees are more likely to leave. And make sure to regularly share all that information with leaders and decision-makers and use it to hold them accountable. 

Don’t ignore problem behavior. Have safe and accessible options to report, address, and resolve workplace problems, and make sure you act quickly to address toxic or harmful workplace culture at any level of the organization. 

Give people in your organization the power to make change.  If you have named an internal DEI leader or officer, make sure they have the information, access, and power needed to successfully carry out their responsibilities. If you are using an internal committee, resource group or affinity group to support and engage employees, provide the resources and processes that empower them to deliver meaningful value and support to leadership.

Working IDEAL provides trusted and innovative advice on inclusive workplaces, diverse talent, and fair pay. Contact us to learn more about the services we offer.

Author: Pam Coukos

How the SEC Can Harness Shareholder Power to Support Racial and Gender Equity Through a DEI Index

On its very first day, the Biden-Harris Administration made racial justice and equity, and principles of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity, top priorities on its agenda.  The first of the 17 Day One Executive Orders committed to advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities across the federal government.  The EO requires a review of federal programs and regulatory processes to incorporate equity principles – while rescinding the Trump Administration’s anti-DEI Executive Order. It also includes improvements to data collection, which is a key practice of accountability. Other actions include:

The Administration could bolster this by leveraging the SEC’s  power to regulate publicly traded companies. A Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Index could harness shareholder power to ensure our publicly-traded companies make good on their their commitments to equality. A standard set of disclosures about hiring, representation, leadership and pay would empower customers and investors to make informed choices about where to spend their money. Workers could use this information to find jobs at places that offer true opportunity for all. Companies would compete to show their progress and we could all have a clearer sense of who is living up to their stated values. Competition would be the engine behind genuine, long overdue progress.

All large publicly traded companies should disclose standard information on key measures of DEI performance.

First, demonstrate Board Accountability for DEI, by sharing Board representation, whether the Board uses key best practices to foster diverse membership, and whether the Board provides effective oversight of People and Culture programs to address workplace harassment and promote inclusive culture.

Next, provide data on Leadership Diversity, including how the top 200 highest compensated individuals identify (by gender, race, ethnicity, and if available, by disability and sexual orientation).

Third, disclose Workforce Diversity and Pay Equity metrics, including companywide EEO-1 representation data and standard pay equity benchmarks similar to those already reported in the UK, and corporate performance on its own diversity metrics over time. 

Lastly, share progress on Inclusive Workplace Practices, including whether the company has developed and implemented key best practices to address workplace harassment and promote inclusive culture.

We already recommended that the SEC impose this type of requirement, but there are plenty of other ways this could come about. Indexes could make this a listing requirement. Institutional investors could use it as a factor for their portfolio decisions and federal, state and local agencies could use it as a benchmark in awarding contracts. And companies could voluntarily commit to these disclosures as a way to demonstrate leadership. 

The biggest winners will be the companies themselves. The research we shared with the SEC supports the view that diverse teams can provide key benefits, like increasing productivity and innovation. Strengthening DEI can lead to stronger and more sustainable financial performance.

Indeed, that is exactly the reason that this information is material to shareholders. The traditional view of shareholder disclosure is only aimed at information relevant to short-term shareholder gain. But the modern view includes any matters material to other stakeholder long term interests including investing in employees and fostering diversity, inclusion, dignity and respect, an approach championed by the Business Roundtable.

Despite the benefits, too many companies have not made DEI enough of a priority. Reviewing a typical corporate annual report or 10-K will show frequent touting of corporate physical assets, new product lines, mergers and acquisitions, but see very few, if any, words touting new investments in people and culture, or new efforts to develop, retain and strengthen the workforce. Most annual reports to shareholders virtually ignore the companies’ most important asset: its workforce.

We learned that to create change in a company, someone has to own and drive the change, which means the Board should have a specific subcommittee focused on oversight of People and Culture programs, with regular reporting from management on goals and measures. Through increased transparency of key measures of leadership and workforce DEI, we can use the market to move stalled progress on glass ceilings and wage gaps for people of color as well as for women. 

We want to motivate companies to invest in diversity and inclusion, people and culture, growth and retention. It’s good business that can yield an enormous competitive advantage and allow companies to make good on their commitments to equity.

Working IDEAL provides trusted and innovative advice on inclusive workplaces, diverse talent, and fair pay. Contact us to learn more about the services we offer.

Authors: Pam Coukos and Cyrus Mehri

A Just and Inclusive Workplace is Essential to Sustain Our Democracy

In 2017, the increased public visibility of the #MeToo movement made clear we were not doing enough to make the workplace safe from sexual harassment. In 2020, #BlackLivesMatter organizing similarly forced a broader and overdue reckoning with how deeply racial inequity runs in many institutions — including our nation’s workplaces, which need to be more inclusive.

The images of the first week of 2021 – a Confederate flag carried through the halls of Congress, people in the crowd breaking into the Capitol wearing shirts emblazoned with slogans about genocide of the Jewish people, a Black police officer against a mostly white crowd of insurrectionists – reinforce the urgency of our work to build a just and inclusive society.

As Cyrus said in December, in a recently-published interview in the Wall Street Journal, “Our democracy is not sustainable if don’t embrace equal opportunity.” 

But to do that we need truly innovative approaches. We must expand our thinking about what the barriers are and how to break through them.  As we welcome a new Administration that has committed to make racial justice and economic empowerment top priorities, and a new Congress that can move this agenda forward, we want to highlight some key innovations in government policy and workplace practices that can have the biggest impact.

1. Have the Security and Exchange Commission require transparency on diversity and inclusion. All large, publicly traded companies should make standard disclosures about hiring, representation, leadership and pay. As Cyrus explained to the Journal:

Merge SEC disclosures—annual reports, 10Ks—with advancing equal opportunity. For example, require companies to disclose race and gender data for their top 200 highest-paid employees. It’s a way to understand where the glass ceiling is. Do it by total compensation so it includes stock options. It’ll tell you who’s in the decision-making pool of the company. 

And as we explained in our 2016 proposal to the SEC, this empowers investors, workers, customers and community stakeholders  to make informed choices about where to spend their money.

2. Make your default hiring practices more inclusive, by ensuring you interview multiple women and people of color.  Cyrus explains why this disrupts default assumptions:

If you have one woman versus two women on a slate, when you go to two women, it’s 79 times more likely that a woman will be selected [than if there was only one woman in the pool]. When you go from one to two people of color, the number goes up like 190 times. If there are multiple diverse candidates, they’re multiple times more likely to be hired. Why is that? When you have isolated, coveted jobs, you need to do something to change the norms because the presumptions and stereotypes are so deeply rooted. 

Congress can lead the way by adopting the Rankin-Chisholm rule for its own hiring (a “Rooney Rule” for the Representatives), and by encouraging members to practice #CampaignEquity when they run for re-election.  

3. Make our nation’s first civil rights law a more effective tool for racial justice, so it can work to close the racial wealth gap, ensure real equal access to credit, capital, employment and economic participation. Amending Section 1981 would enable it to live up to its promise.

4. Understand how building racial justice at work includes ensuring fair pay. As Pam shared in an online presentation last fall:

Make equity a top priority when you make decisions, take actions, design programs and measure results. Gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, or any aspect of your identity should not determine your outcomes in the workplace – including pay.

The Administration can do its part by reinstating and expanding pay data collection and reinvigorating equal pay enforcement – and by ensuring that we do not just talk about the gender pay gap. We must recognize and address pay gaps based on race and ethnicity and the particular impact of both on women of color.

5. Promote an inclusive workplace culture free of harassment, bias and discrimination – starting with the people who do the people’s work in our federal and state governments.  Assessing culture, ensuring inclusive policies and practices, and acting quickly to address disrespectful behavior before it becomes toxic should be standard practice. President Biden should consider an Executive Order directing all federal agencies to adopt effective initiatives to promote equal employment opportunity and inclusive workplaces, and revoking a series of anti-DEI actions from the fall.

At the end of the day, Cyrus’ observation from December of 2020 seems even more true in January of 2021: 

There is a moral case for diversity and inclusion. And there’s a business case: long-term value is tied to diversity and diversity is tied to innovation. But the last few years have told us there is a democracy case, too.

 

Working IDEAL provides trusted and innovative advice on inclusive workplaces, diverse talent, and fair pay. Contact us to learn more about the services we offer.

Authors: Pam Coukos and Cyrus Mehri