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.

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

2019 Highlights

  • John Jay College Campus Climate Review.  Working IDEAL was selected after a competitive process to lead a Campus Climate Review to provide the John Jay community and leadership with a better understanding of its current culture and climate as it relates to diversity and inclusion and the prevention of harassment and sexual violence. The Review included focus groups, leadership conversations, and review of existing climate and diversity data and reports. To read the final report, visit the college’s public web page for the project: Learn More.
  • City of Cambridge Recruitment, Hiring and Promotion Project.  Working IDEAL successfully won the bid to conduct a DEI assessment of recruitment, hiring and promotion practices.  Over the past eight months, we have conducted department level interviews, begun to review data and completed a survey of all City employees.  In early 2020 we will begin a focus group process and prepare a report and recommendations.
  • DataCamp, Inc. Independent Third-Party Review. Working IDEAL conducted a third-party assessment for DataCamp, an educational technology start-up, in the wake of an alleged incident involving its CEO. The Working IDEAL team investigated the incident and the company’s response, evaluated culture and climate and recommended improvements to strengthen the company going forward. The Working IDEAL final report is available here: Learn More.
  • Nonprofit Advising on DEI and Compensation. Working IDEAL has completed several projects for national nonprofit organizations, including the Center for American Progress (a DEI assessment and a series of in-person trainings for all staff), the Humane Society of the United States (a pay equity study and recommendations on compensation program design) and the National Women’s Law Center (a pay equity review and development of a new compensation framework and policy). These organizations sought Working IDEAL out because of our approach and values.  We have been approached by three other similar organizations over the past several months as a result.
  • Friends of Bernie Sanders. In the wake of high-profile concerns raised by 2016 campaign staff about sexual harassment and workplace culture, Jenny, Rene and Pam facilitated a dialogue with former campaign staff and management, developing a process to collect feedback and use to it identify best practices for safe, inclusive and equitable campaign work. This work resulted in an innovative Blueprint for Campaign Equity, released by the Sanders campaign and available here: Learn More.

Making California’s New Gender Inclusion Law for Boards of Directors A Success

By Cyrus Mehri

Governor Brown and the California Legislature took a major step to advance the U.S. economy by requiring publicly traded companies based in California to have at least two female members on their boards of directors by 2021. The wisdom of this new law is beyond reproach.

As the former Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission — Mary Jo White — declared two years ago, “I have seen first-hand what the research is telling us — boards with diverse members function better and are correlated with better company performance. This is why investors have — and should have — an interest in diversity disclosure about board members and nominees.“

By expanding the gender diversity of their boards, California companies will have a competitive advantage over companies based elsewhere. Several studies have linked gender diversity and increased innovation. A key 2014 study by Credit Suisse found that women on boards improved business performance on key metrics such as stock performance and earnings.

Yet despite these unmistakable advantages, female membership on boards of directors remains stagnant. Throughout this decade approximately 2/3 of U.S. boards of directors have had either no female members or only one female member of the board. This is an irrational outcome.

Companies are acting against their interest in terms of stock performance, innovation and earnings, because too many companies simply don’t know how to achieve a gender diverse board — nor, for that matter, do they know how to achieve a racially diverse board.

Based on my first-hand experience working with organizations to address organization and board diversity through the Rooney Rule and other key reforms, I know that there is a road map for success.

California companies can take concrete steps today to meet and exceed the new state benchmarks for gender board diversity, first by starting to ensure criteria for board membership is flexible enough to cover all the skills and attributes that succeeds in a competitive global economy. Board members should collectively represent a broad range of skills, experience and perspectives, which will help cast a wider net. Companies should also consider expanding the size of its board of directors.

When there is a vacancy on the board of directors, it’s important to commit to interviewing in-person a diverse set of candidates that includes at least two women and one person of color for each vacancy. This process should be included in a well- thought out nominations policy and guidelines tailored for the company. As we learned through experience with the Rooney Rule, a diverse pool of highly qualified women and people of color isn’t enough to move the needle. It matters who gets in the room to meet with the final decisionmakers.

Work through affinity groups and community and industry partners and develop a Ready List of potential board candidates who can strengthen a board of directors by bringing diverse life and work experiences and valuable perspectives. This includes going beyond the C-suite and considering experienced and talented leaders in the non-profit, public and education sectors. It also includes considering younger individuals earlier in the careers.

Companies need to also make sure that board nominating and governance committees are fully trained on interviewing a diverse slate of candidates and carrying out the policies, mission and goals for building equity and inclusion across the organization.

Finally, establish an effective communications strategy for rolling out a commitment to seriously interview and consider diverse candidates for the board of directors. This creates public accountability and make it easier to attract great candidates who bring new perspectives and experiences.

This road map for success is achievable right now. There are existing resources to draw on. There is no reason to wait until 2021 to advance innovation and earnings through the power of diversity.

Originally posted on Medium.

The IDEAL Workplace – Now More Than Ever

We are living through uncertain times.  The shape and role of our government is changing. How to protect core American principles of equal opportunity, free expression, and religious liberty is a pressing national question. And many Americans are worried about the potential erosion of laws and social norms that represent decades of social progress on civil rights.

This might be a strange moment to launch a business dedicated to advancing the IDEAL workplace – to seek out clients who already do or will invest in the ideas that drive our mission. These are the workplaces where an inclusive culture fosters and promotes diverse talent and can pay off in strong and sustainable financial performance.  These are the employers who know that a commitment to pay equity and equal access to opportunities yields a meaningful competitive advantage.  These are the leaders who make strategic human capital a top organizational priority.

Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to collectively and publicly embrace these values. Now, more than ever, the private sector and civic society must lead.

Consider the role corporate America has played in challenging recent state laws rolling back LGBT protections in Indiana and North Carolina. Or the many businesses that asked the Supreme Court to preserve diversity in college admissions because of the benefits for the workplace and national economy. A recent post-election article asking “who will stand up for diversity and inclusion” discussed how competing for talent at home and abroad increasingly means supporting workplace diversity and inclusion independent of government policies.

We believe that many employers remain committed to promoting the IDEAL workplace and we are ready to support them. If you share this mission, let us help you build your strategy to get there.  And while we bring our own knowledge and experience, and we can link you with the best experts and resources, we are only adding to what you already have. Our experience representing workers and turning conflicts and challenges into constructive long-term change shows that the people with the most expertise at identifying barriers to equality and potential solutions are already in your workplace. We will leverage and complement that knowledge to help you meet your goals.