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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

How to Build an IDEAL Campaign Workplace – So You Can Win with Integrity

We are just two weeks out from Election Day, and campaigns everywhere are in the final stages of getting out the vote.  It’s an intense time for campaign managers and their staff, who are working almost around the clock to bring their candidate successfully across the finish line.

How these last couple weeks play out could depend a lot on campaign equity, and how much a campaign values and supports the people they hired months ago to carry them to victory. On those campaigns where leadership has focused from the start on building a strong and inclusive culture — and aligning their workplace practices with the values they are fighting for on the trail — that final push can be a time of solidarity and dedication. But where leaders have enabled or ignored a toxic work culture, or simply neglected to establish the basic operational practices necessary to a functioning workplace, the strain of going all out to win can be a breaking point.

This is what we have learned in our work this cycle advising political campaigns and advocacy organizations: a commitment to campaign equity is a critical component of a winning strategy. Hiring and empowering a diverse staff can generate more innovative tactics and better advice on reaching all voters. Ensuring equity in your pay and practices can simplify your operation and increase staff dedication. An inclusive culture sustains the people power you will need to carry you through the constant challenges of a campaign environment.

But even more importantly, these approaches can help you win with integrity. If you are a progressive candidate, or a leader on a progressive campaign, it is not enough to fight for good policies and to champion racial and gender justice in public. You also need to make sure your own house is in order, and that you have the policies and practices that ensure the safety of your staff and volunteers and promote equity and inclusion in all your in-person and remote workspaces.

We put all of these ideas together in a #CampaignEquity Handbook. This resource for campaign professionals includes strategy checklists, sample policies and plenty of links to the research and experience that backs them up as best practices. It includes advice on building a harassment-free workplace, staffed by great hires and sustained by fair pay and a safe and inclusive culture.

Working IDEAL Campaign Equity Toolkit checklist excerpt

Checklist excerpt from the #CampaignEquity toolkit. Click on image to learn more.

When campaign leadership comes together after Election Day to understand what worked and what didn’t – the factors that carried them to victory and should inform their transition plans – we hope this can inform those conversations.  And as the next cycle begins, we believe this will be an essential resource.

Campaigns are workplaces too. Let’s put an end to the myth that overwork and toxic work environments just go with the territory and that diversity, equity and inclusion are just the extras you hope to get to at some point. Investing in #CampaignEquity can increase your chances of winning, and of doing it based on the values that brought you to this work in the first place.

DOWNLOAD THE TOOLKIT (PDF)


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 Peach Soltis

How Your Company Can Take Action to Close the Wage Gap

In order to advance pay equity, it’s important to adopt an “equity first” mindset. 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. 

Our co-founder and CEO, Pam Coukos, shares her insights about how to close the wage gap:

Here are three ways to put equity first:

  • Remove barriers: Do your due diligence. Go looking for the places where equity gets out of balance and bias can operate. Do you value new untried talent over the committed and valuable people who have been delivering the work? Do you rely on objective, measurable and unbiased factors to set pay? 
  • Change norms: Justifying or excusing a difference in pay isn’t good enough. Start with the principle that you pay the same for the same kind of work, the same kind of experience, the same level of responsibility. Hold everyone accountable for making fair, consistent and equitable decisions.
  • Embrace transparency: Secrecy can’t protect you in a world where pay transparency is a legal right and a cultural reality for large parts of your workforce. Look at your data and pay practices with the assumption that are or will be public – and if they don’t measure up, take action. Share your progress to build trust in your workplace and in the marketplace.

Prioritizing pay equity is the right thing to do. It’s the law. Also, it can make your pay program better, cheaper and more efficient. It can drive innovation and provide a competitive advantage when hiring, retaining and supporting a truly diverse workforce.

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.

10 Ways to Foster an Inclusive Workplace Culture

Many employers understand the importance of assessing their workplace culture and the need to promote inclusion. An inclusive workplace culture offers benefits to both employers and employees by fostering engagement, productivity, retention, and innovation. In an inclusive workplace, all employees are treated with respect and have an opportunity to contribute. An inclusive workplace accepts and values individual differences in race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, and disability. 

By contrast, exclusion in the workplace leaves workers feeling marginalized and devalued. Disrespectful behavior that goes unchecked can lead to a toxic environment, particularly when workers do not have sufficient options to report, address, and resolve workplace problems. This dysfunction in the workplace may cause talented employees to leave the organization. Exclusion can take many forms. Some employers fail to convey a commitment to organizational values. Employers may fail to set clear expectations about appropriate conduct. Gaps in policies, benefits, technology, and training can exacerbate internal problems. Employers may be unaware of problems with the workplace culture because they fail to seek feedback. 

To avoid these problems, employers can take concrete steps to promote inclusivity in meaningful ways. 

  1. Lead from the top. Leaders must visibly model respectful behavior and practice organizational values. Managers should promote inclusion at all levels and across all departments.
  2. Put clear expectations in writing. Employers can establish a code of conduct and recommit to organizational values. The strategic plan should promote inclusion, and the employer should periodically evaluate progress toward meeting stated goals. Job descriptions and performance evaluations can address responsibilities to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. 
  3. Seek input and value contributions from diverse talent. The organization must go beyond simply ensuring that it employs a diverse workforce. Everyone should have a seat at the table. Seeking out diverse perspectives helps to amplify marginalized voices. Working groups and teams should include a diverse cross-section of the workforce. 
  4. Assess the culture regularly, accept critical feedback, and take action to address concerns. Anonymous surveys, focus groups, and informal discussions can help to identify concerns about the workplace climate and potential solutions. Employers should ensure that a diverse cross-section of the workforce is involved in identifying problems and implementing responses. Inclusion should be a regular focus of discussion.
  5. Ensure that employees have accessible options to report, address, and resolve workplace problems. Managers may not be aware of problems that go unreported. Employees must have trusted and effective channels to report concerns.
  6. Ensure accountability. Employers must act quickly to address problems at all levels within the workplace.
  7. Update policies to use inclusive language and make the workplace more welcoming. For example, employers should review benefits policies to ensure equity for LGBTQ+ employees and offer opportunities for employees to provide the pronouns they use. 
  8. Build a culture of accessibility for applicants and employees with disabilities. Employees with disabilities should have access to any needed technology or other accommodations, but don’t wait to be asked. Make accessibility a regular part of planning for meetings, events and activities, and standard workplace practices.  
  9. Foster inclusivity in informal situations. Workers may feel excluded when it comes to social situations at the lunch table, at happy hours, or even in casual conversations. Employers can seek to disrupt office cliques through team building opportunities.
  10. Offer training that provides tools and skills to address problematic behavior. Employers should move away from compliance-focused training to ongoing and regular education that equips workers with the knowledge and skills to take action. For example, bystander intervention training can equip workers with methods to act as an ally in support of a colleague who faces harassment or bullying.

By taking concrete steps to promote an inclusive workplace culture, employers can build a stronger workforce.

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: Sarah Crawford

Does the law protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination? It should be an easy answer.

By Jenny Yang

Originally published in The Washington Post

Jenny Yang, Strategic Partner at Working IDEAL, was commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 2013 to 2018 and is a senior fellow in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute.

The Supreme Court decided Monday to hear a trio of cases addressing a long-disputed and critically important question: whether discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This issue has profound implications for our understanding of the meaning of equality. Although this question has fractured the United States for decades, the answer should be easy.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bans employment discrimination “because of [an] individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Sexual orientation and transgender status are not listed as specific protected categories. But no such language is required. The beauty of our nation’s civil rights laws is that they protect everyone — including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people — who faces discrimination based on sex.

Under Supreme Court precedent, the question should be whether an employer relied on sex-based considerations or took gender into account when taking the challenged employment action. In 1989, the Supreme Court established in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins that discriminating against an employee for not conforming to gender stereotypes — in this case, not walking, talking or dressing “more femininely” — is sex discrimination. The court concluded that Title VII means “that gender must be irrelevant to employment decisions.”

In 1998, a unanimous Supreme Court in Oncale v. Sundowner resolved a dispute among the lower courts, finding that Title VII prohibits the “entire spectrum” of sex-based discrimination — even a man harassed by other men. Although Congress may not have contemplated this situation when it passed Title VII, Justice Antonin Scalia, in writing for the majority, called for “common sense” in evaluating claims in “social context,” recognizing that “statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils.”

In 2015, while I served as chair and commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, we deliberated carefully before concluding in Baldwin v. Department of Transportation that discrimination based on sexual orientation is discrimination because of sex. The commission determined that this reading of Title VII is the most faithful and common-sense interpretation of the plain words of the law and Supreme Court precedent. In 2012, the commission in Macy v. Department of Justicereached a similarly straightforward conclusion that discrimination against transgender people is a form of sex discrimination.

In Baldwin, the commission explained that the concept of sexual orientation is inseparable from and cannot be explained without reference to sex. Indeed, an employer that fires a woman because she has a female spouse has taken gender into account where the employer would not have fired a man for that reason. In addition, courts have long recognized that employers cannot discriminate against employees for associating with someone based on race, and these principles apply equally to same-sex relationships.

To be sure, when the commission decided the Baldwin case, we were well-aware of the contrary precedent on this issue. Although earlier case law essentially carved out an exclusion in Title VII for discrimination based on sexual orientation even if related to sex, this reading finds no support in the statute. Indeed, many of the cases holding that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation either predate the Price Waterhouse and Oncale decisions or reflexively adopted earlier outdated reasoning.

Notably, this precedent developed largely in the 1970s and 1980s when same-sex relationships were not just a cultural taboo, but also a crime in many states. These cultural biases prevented a straightforward application of the sex discrimination language of Title VII. Today, we have an opportunity to ensure our understanding of equality is not the product of historic biases.

I am often reminded of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s words, writing for the majority in recognizing marriage equality, that the “nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.” Throughout history, we have seen that, as our nation evolves, we continue to define what it means to be equal.

Most courts once ruled that sexual harassment in the workplace was a personal matter or an inevitable result of having women in the workforce and not a form of sex discrimination. Often it takes a cultural shift to change our understanding of long-standing practices that may have been widespread and tolerated but are unjust and illegal.

Today, courts are increasingly recognizing that no statutory basis exists for excluding LGBTQ individuals from the rights provided to us all. The ability of millions of Americans to support their families and live with dignity should not need to wait for further congressional action. Congress has already spoken by prohibiting discrimination based on “sex.” And that is why this should not be a hard decision.