When Laura Weidman Powers landed a six-month gig as a policy advisor in the White House Office Of Science and Technology, she held onto her other day job, as CEO of Code2040, a nonprofit focused on increasing diversity in technology. Now that her White House stint is ending, she is a bit wistful. “People have no idea – I had no idea – how smart and dedicated people in government really are,” she said.
Powers is ending her brief tenure on a high note: the release of a comprehensive diversity report. It compiles all the data, insights and best practices that have been developed by the federal government since President Obama signed the August 2011 Executive Order announcing a government-wide initiative to promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce. Nothing like it has ever existed before in the public sphere.
The report, Raising the Floor: Sharing What Works in Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, was co-authored with Megan Smith, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer. It’s a tremendous gift to the business community. “As we come to the end of the administration, it was really important to us that we got everything we’d learned into the hands of the people who could really execute against it,” Powers says. “So many [executives] say, ‘I’m on board, but what do I do?’ And we felt like there are actually answers out there.”
For their report, Smith and Powers conducted dozens of interviews and examined the research and data collected by all the federal agencies as they sought to diversify their own workforces. The result is a detailed list of recommendations that touch on every aspect of talent development from hiring to leadership training, mentorship, accountability measures, feedback and beyond. “We believe that everyone could and should be doing these basic things,” she said. “They may be slightly different across industries, but by all means, iterate and customize.”
With the incoming Trump administration, these are uncertain times for the diversity and inclusion crowd. Powers offered some advice for raceAhead readers who may be feeling discouraged. “The facts on the ground haven’t changed from yesterday to today,” she said. “The business case for diversity hasn’t changed – it’s better for your bottom line, it increases innovation, all of that is still true.”
Powers says leaders need to show some courage around the subject of inclusion. “The rise of hate speech, yes, it’s scary and threatening.” The pushback is real. But people don’t do – or abandon - diversity work because the government tells them to. “You do it because it’s the right and profitable thing to do for your workforce, company and customers.”
The UC System plans to defy federal immigration agents wherever possible
The University of California announced widespread changes to protect its undocumented students, saying that it would refuse to assist federal agents, turn over confidential records without court orders or assist in any way with any national registries based on race, religion of national origin. UC President Janet Napolitano said the university planned to “vigorously protect the privacy and civil rights of the undocumented members of the UC community.”
Women are getting law degrees in record numbers. But not the jobs
New research shows that women law students are clustered in lower-ranked schools, and are underrepresented in the elite schools from which more prestigious firms tend to recruit. This puts women at a distinct disadvantage from the start. As a result, women are underrepresented in partnerships, in the judiciary and in academia.
New York City launches a $5 million fund for women in film
It’s the first city in the country with a major municipal program to help women in film and theater. The fund is part of a five-part initiative to promote equality behind the camera in film, television and on stage. The fund will support female creators who are working on projects that are by, for, or about women, and will be administered over a period of five years. A writing contest has also been announced; two winners will make a pilot for the city’s local TV channel, NYC Life.
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Steve Mnuchin, Trump's Treasury pick, was once a “foreclosure machine”
Mnuchin has a storied financial resume, with seventeen years at Goldman Sachs, and more recently, at a privately held hedge fund. But during the financial crisis of 2009, he managed to make a lot of money on the housing bust, as CEO of California bank, IndyMac. The bank, which had been taken over by the FDIC, has been described as a “foreclosure machine.” A renamed version of the bank was sold last year for a $1.5 billion profit.
To impact diversity in your organization, make it personal
On stage at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen conference, Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture North America, said that the company’s global CEO asks each of his direct reports what they’ve personally done to impact diversity and inclusion at the company. She asks her direct reports the same. It was one great moment in a wide-ranging discussion that included a rallying cry for corporate America to do more to keep issues of race and justice front and center.
Marty Baron to journalists: Fight for free expression and free speech
Marty Baron, the executive editor of the Washington Post, and former editor of the Boston Globe (he was famously portrayed by Liev Schreiber in the movie Spotlight) gave an inspiring set of remarks after winning the new Hitchens Award for journalism. It’s worth your time for his take on Trump, the rise of hate speech and the important role that the press can and should play in public life.“When the press is under attack, we cannot always count on our nation’s institutions to safeguard our freedoms—not even the courts,” he said.
The Woke Leader
Why white women voted for Donald Trump
He said racist things, he said sexist things. He bragged about sexual assault. Yet white women voted for him in droves. Why? Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, gave a fascinating presentation at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen, explaining that it’s the lack of “gender-political consciousness” among white, married women in America. Cooper defined political consciousness as one’s ability to see his or her personal inequality and recognize its illegitimacy. It’s part of why “intersectionality” is so vital to any political debate, she says. A must read.
On being black and a non-believer
The Christian church has been central to the African American experience for centuries, offering spiritual solace and political sanctuary during the long march to civil rights, and beyond. So what does it mean to be a secular thinker in a heavily religious community? It’s complicated, explains associate professor Christopher Cameron. And although a secular identity in the black community is evolving, it’s not new. Its roots in the Harlem Renaissance, for example, are informing the new secular institutions that are growing today.
To be happier and more creative, learn to flow
I covered a session on productivity yesterday at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen conference that got me thinking: Am I spending the time on what I really want to be doing? And am I fully present while doing it? These tips immediately inspired me. But one expert built her work on the concept of flow, the mystical state of full immersion in the moment identified by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. His TED talk is a crash course in greater happiness.
Research has shown that diverse groups are more effective at problem solving than homogeneous groups, and policies that promote diversity and inclusion will enhance our ability to draw from the broadest possible pool of talent, solve our toughest challenges, maximize employee engagement and innovation, and lead by example by setting a high standard for providing access to opportunity to all segments of our society.