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.

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.

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.

The Real Reason We’re More Likely to Elect a Woman in 2020

Studies tell us there’s a huge difference between having just one versus multiple women competing for a job.

By Cyrus Mehri

Originally published in Politico


Cyrus Mehri, Esq., has developed innovative and effective diversity and inclusion tools across various industries — stemming from groundbreaking employment cases that benefit employers and workers. He has worked with major companies and leading organizations to develop board diversity and accountability strategies. Cyrus is the originator of the “Rooney Rule” diverse candidate slate requirements that have become best practices.


The contest for the presidency is like an elaborate job interview process with the American people. For decades, the interviewees have mostly been white men. This time, we’ll choose from the most diverse candidate pool in history.

With nearly two decades of experience helping organizations from Coca-Cola to the National Football League put together diverse candidate pools for their hiring processes, I can say this with confidence: In the 2020 Democratic primary, the playing field is substantially more level for diverse candidates than it has ever been—and that means we are more likely than ever to elect a woman or person of color as president.


You might ask: Isn’t this just because there are more women and people of color running than ever before?

It’s not that simple. My experience as a civil rights attorney addressing systemic employment discrimination shows there is a world of difference between processes in which only one diverse candidate is interviewed (the 2016 presidential elections, for example) and processes in which two or more diverse candidates are interviewed (the 2020 Democratic primary). A single diverse candidate faces an enormous headwind—and a tiny chance of being picked for the job in the end. In contrast, when interviewers take the time to interview multiple diverse candidates in a fair and competitive process, the dynamic shifts norms and expectations, and creates a situation in which a diverse candidate is much more likely to end up winning the position.


A 2016 study by Stefanie K. Johnson, David R. Hekman and Elsa T. Chan published in the Harvard Business Review revealed just that. Their research showed there is statistically zero chance of a woman being hired if she is the only woman in the finalist pool. But those odds go up dramatically when she is joined by a second female finalist. The same effect was seen when examining pools with more than one person of color. The difference was staggering: Companies were 79 times more likely to hire a woman and 194 times more likely to hire a person of color when the finalist pool included more than one woman or minority. This held true regardless of the number of finalists. (The researchers looked at pools ranging from three to 11 candidates, with an average size of four).


What’s going on? Companies are known to prefer the status quo, which in most cases is hiring white males. So, if only one diverse candidate ends up in an interview pool, companies will favor hiring a white man. But, as the authors of the study found, when multiple diverse candidates enter the field, the status quo actually changes, and company decisions do, too. The playing field starts to level out.


I saw the importance of a diverse interview pool in practice nearly two decades ago when I helped the NFL develop its Rooney Rule, which requires NFL clubs to interview at least one candidate of color for head coach and general manager openings. (I had first used the “diverse slate” concept in a lawsuit settlement against Coca-Cola for racial discrimination—at the time, we referred to it as a proposal for the company to engage in “fair competition.”) Fifteen years after the Rooney Rule’s 2002 enactment, 22 minority candidates were selected for head coach, compared with only four in the prior 15 years. Since 2007, 10 NFL Super Bowl teams have had a minority head coach or general manager, underscoring the nexus between diversity and success, and the credibility of a fair and inclusive process.

As proud as I am of those results, over the years, we noticed a potential flaw in the process: The only time a person of color got the job was either when that was the only person truly considered, or when the hiring team cast a wide net, ensuring there were multiple people of color in the finalist pool. That’s why, in 2017, we updated the Rooney Rule to include an expectation (not a formal rule) that decision-makers on NFL teams would interview more than one person of color.


Today, I’m working with another major company to adopt their version of the Rooney Rule. Under the company’s pilot program, when there was only one woman in the candidate pool, she was never selected, but when two or more women were in the candidate pool, women were frequently chosen. The “aha” moment of this pilot program finding has led this major company to interview at least two women and one person of color for competitive management openings.


Of course, presidential election “interview” processes aren’t exactly equivalent to corporate hiring. Business applicants for a job typically come to the table with similar qualifications, and get the same amount of face time with those doing the hiring. In a pool of electoral candidates, qualifications and experience vary widely. And we can’t, and don’t, expect all candidates to be given equal speaking time or media coverage. But elections, like corporations, are also plagued by the status quo, and single diverse candidates can face a daunting uphill battle. Multiple diverse candidates in politics can help break barriers in the same way they can in business.


In other words, it’s too much to ask one woman to break the glass ceiling. But collectively, the half dozen women running for the nation’s highest office can do it.


A poll by the ESPN’s Undefeated shows that approximately 70 percent of NFL fans—a good proxy for Americans in general, as these fans represent a remarkably broad cross section of America—“somewhat” or “strongly” support the Rooney Rule. There are good reasons for Americans to support a diverse 2020 field, too. For one, a fair fight increases the chances that the best and most impactful candidate will be selected in the end.

Research has also long shown that increasing diversity in company leadership leads to increased innovation and better returns for shareholders. This year, a candidate pool that is diverse in terms of race, gender and sexuality, as well as life and work experience and geography has already put forward a wide array of innovative policy proposals and new ideas. That’s no accident. The data from the past 20 years indicates that the process used in the 2020 primaries will result in a diverse national ticket and Democrats will have the opportunity to catapult the country forward in countless ways.

Our Mission at Working IDEAL

When Cyrus and I first started thinking about Working IDEAL, we knew we had a shared vision, a particular perspective on what “diversity consulting” should be and a clear set of clients in mind.  While we are excited to work with all kinds of organizations – larger and smaller, across the private, academic, nonprofit and union sectors, drawing from established and emerging companies and industries — we are focused on partnering with employers who want to be leaders.  We are seeking clients who view legal compliance as a floor and best practices as a given — and strategic human capital as a core element of everyday business practice.

As we explain in our Mission Statement on “the IDEAL Workplace,” we are now in a moment of challenge but also opportunity:

While we have come a long way, our journey to the IDEAL workplace is far from complete.  It will always be a work in progress, but now more than ever we need to publicly embrace these values. Women make up half the workforce, but the glass ceiling remains a barrier to reaching the top in far too many workplaces. Women still cannot count on being paid what they are worth, or being able to work free from harassment or stereotype. The U.S. is rapidly becoming more diverse but workers can still find that race and ethnicity trump talent, initiative, or experience when they pursue opportunities to perform and to lead. We are broadening our understanding of what equal opportunity should mean – like real accessibility for workers with disabilities and meaningful LGBT inclusion.  Our national commitment to a level playing field needs to be reflected in every workplace, for every person.

And we know that we need new tools. The rising generation is already expecting work to reflect these IDEAL values, and they will seek out opportunities that align with them. Today’s challenges involve unconscious biases, in-group favoritism and entrenched but often invisible barriers. Meeting them requires hard metrics and data-driven analysis but also engagement strategies and cultural change. Fortunately we have employers who are embracing this challenge, and who are leading the way. We have new research and new analytic strategies that are identifying what works and the true best practices that can drive sustainable change.

Our clients are embracing the challenge, and they are pursuing innovative strategies and solutions that can lead the way for others. They are also gaining the benefits, like more effective and competitive human resources practices and stronger performance.  If the IDEAL workplace is how you envision your organization’s culture and practices, let’s talk about how we can support you.