Commentary

For a More Inclusive Workplace: Speak Up

May 25, 2017

I’m back from the Great Place to Work For All conference in Chicago, where I was treated to a full day of conversation with passionate, inclusive professionals who left with a renewed commitment to their work. They were not there to play. More on that in a moment.

Alan Murray, the president of Fortune and the chief content officer of Time Inc., was also on hand, and lead a series of fascinating interviews with leaders from four companies on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list: Cisco Chairman John Chambers, Genentech founder Herb Boyer and current CEO Bill Anderson, PwC U.S. chairman Tim Ryan, and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

From Alan’s CEO Daily column:

I was especially moved by the stories both Ryan and Stephenson told about their efforts to address race relations after last year’s shootings and the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement. Both men made the case that the issue was not peripheral, but central to their jobs. Ryan said creating a healthy culture is core to the challenges most PwC clients face, while Stephenson said he believed using his company’s power to address pressing social issues like race was in his shareholders’ long-term interest. (You can read more about Ryan’s conversion here, and Stephenson here.)

Off stage, courage was very much top of mind. People shared tips on how to push past institutional barriers, and speak data-driven, evidenced based truth to power, when necessary. Many expressed shock at having misread the country so badly -- specifically the ease with which many people have embraced racist and protectionist rhetoric.

But those concerns were kept in check by an equal and opposite realization: That business has an even more essential role to play in society at large.

Here are three key takeaways that I gleaned from the collective, along with some quick advice I cobbled together on what comes next. I’m going to use these insights to inform my essays in the coming weeks. Let me know what you think, and what else you might need:

  • If inclusion efforts aren’t coming from the top, they’re not coming. That was the clear consensus from my own panel yesterday, and it was echoed by almost everyone I spoke with who was in a position to shape policy at their own firms. If C-Suites and boards are not making diversity a priority by holding executives accountable to measurable goals, the mid-level revolution is going to wither. Your next step: Learn how and when to make your case to the top. And know when you need to start looking for a better culture fit.
  • Senior leaders are finding ways to talk about race, justice, and inclusion in increasingly visible and productive ways. But they can’t do it alone. When high profile leaders speak publicly about race and inequity, it's a difficult tightrope to walk under the best of circumstances. The new administration, with its heated rhetoric and executive orders, initially shocked many C-Suites into nervous huddles. But that’s starting to change. Your next step: Speak up. Don’t miss opportunities to share your thoughts with senior management in surveys and in direct correspondence, and express appreciation for any statements that support inclusive societies. Saying nothing says something, and that's true of leaders at every level.
  • Employees are expecting more from their employers than ever before. And it’s not just snacks and foosball. Across the board, employees want their organizations to be stabilizing forces in society, openly tackling social ills like race, poverty, and unequal opportunity. Everyone I talked to found this trend to be a thrilling and terrifying prospect that was going to re-shape business systems and thinking at every level. Your next step: Work on becoming a better ally within your company. Join an employee research group that doesn't cater to your demographic. Look for opportunities to elevate the voices of "invisible" talent around you. Build the world inside that you want to influence the outside.

My next step: Haiku Friday.

On Point

NASCAR’s diversity program is paying off

Auto racing remains a primarily white, male sport, but 23-year-old Brehanna Daniels has become a proud part of what some hope will be a new era. She’s a recent graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, an initiative that has produced three professional minority male drivers, and eleven professional female pit-crew members. Daniels is on track to become the first African-American female pit crew member in NASCAR history. Daniels was recruited for the gig because she's more athlete than car hound. It was the context shift the program needed to succeed. “The audition was designed to simulate the physical demands of working in the pit, where speed, agility, strength, and footwork are all necessary to perform, be it as a tire changer or carrier, jack man or gas man,” explains writers John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro. But student-athletes, already a non-traditional talent pool for NASCAR, also bring other skills to bear. "We liked the fact that she had a leadership role as a point guard on the basketball team,” said the athletic director for the program. “She just fit the template."

Vice

Ivanka Trump’s new interest in trafficking may be problematic

Trump kicked-off her new interest in “modern slavery” with a May 17th meeting of experts at the White House, declaring human trafficking “a major priority for the administration.” But Melissa Gira Grant has some concerns about who was in the room and what that may mean for the initiative. Among the attendees were government contractors and law enforcement lobbyists, evangelical brothel-raiders who have come under fire for targeting non-trafficked sex workers, and Koch-related insiders. Who were not in the room, says Grant, were the true experts, many of whom had been victims of trafficking and have been fighting to get a seat at the table for years. “Trump's anti-trafficking braintrust represents a certain credentialed mix, one with considerable overlaps in organizational membership, and between IJM and Polaris alone, a group that has already garnered millions of dollars in federal funds,” she explains. “Whether or not the first daughter knows any of this tangled history, or if she had been briefed on these current fights over funding, these are the anti-trafficking groups she and the White House tapped as experts.”

Pacific Standard

Very little diversity seen in the latest crop of scripted series coming in 2018

According to a new analysis by Variety, the next season of scripted television is dominated by white men in front of and behind the camera. Out of the 39 shows ordered by the “Big Five” broadcasters, only 20% of lead actors are Hispanic or non-white, and only 35% were women. The showrunners are also skewing white and male, with only 10% non-white or Hispanic and 29% women. “It’s not a very encouraging analysis,” said Darnell Hunt, director of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies told Variety. Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, Netflix.

Variety

The credit scores of red and blue states show a clear economic divide

The residents of the U.S. states who voted for Donald Trump had credit scores nearly twenty points lower than those who voted for Hillary Clinton, reports MarketWatch. An analysis of Experian’s “Premier Aggregated Credit Statistics” tool, which makes it possible to get aggregate credit data by zip code, shows the divide. With the exception of Wisconsin, swing states that voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 all saw a decline in credit scores. Other researchers point to similar data that shows the residents in the southern states of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana typically have lower credit scores than their northern counterparts. “At the same time, credit health in states like Minnesota and North Dakota has exhibited resilience in the face of economic downturn,” says personal finance site Value-Penguin. Credit scores can be an indicator of economic distress, an overreliance on credit for living expenses, and an inability to borrow for the future.

Marketwatch

Opinion: SCOTUS may have just given voting rights advocates a gift

According to Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California at Irvine, Monday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down two North Carolina congressional districts as unconstitutional “racial gerrymanders” is an important development for voting rights. “A racial gerrymander exists when race — not other criteria, such as adherence to city and county boundaries, or efforts to protect a particular political party — is the ‘predominant factor’ in how a legislature draws lines,” explains Hasen. The Supreme Court has so far failed to strike down gerrymanders drawn only for partisan purposes. But Justice Elena Kagen explained in the ruling that for the purposes of drawing congressional districts, race and party are not necessarily separate categories. From her notes: “the sorting of voters on the grounds of their race remains suspect even if race is meant to function as a proxy for other (including political) characteristics.” Says Hasen,“Kagan’s approach should allow voting rights plaintiffs to bring more successful racial gerrymandering claims.”

Washington Post

The Woke Leader

Life after Standing Rock for native youth

Not all was lost when the protests at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation were shut down. The communal and emotional nature of the resistance has inspired, in some, a deep introspection. This hour-long podcast explores how some of the younger tribe members are feeling renewed by the reconnection to their history and culture; for the first time in decades, rates of suicide, abuse, and depression are slowing down. In a later segment, First Nation tribes are fighting an oil problem of their own near Vancouver, hoping that a deft legal maneuver will prevent pipelines from being built across tribal lands. The loophole in question? Well actually, tribes never signed any treaties handing over their lands to the Canadian government.

Reveal Podcast

Remembering the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

This month mark the twentieth anniversary of President Bill Clinton’s formal apology for the Tuskegee Syphilis study, a hideous research program conducted from 1932 to 1972 involving poor black men in Macon County, Ala. The “study” targeted men, mostly sharecroppers, many of whom had syphilis but were unaware of their status. In exchange for free health care, they were “monitored” during the course of their disease, even though penicillin had been successfully used as a cure since 1940. In the late 1960s, a researcher, alarmed by the ethics implications of the study, leaked the story to a reporter, who shared it with another reporter, who ultimately exposed the scheme in 1972. The public outcry stopped the study. But by that time, 28 participants had died from the disease and 100 more from syphilis-related conditions; at least 40 partners contracted the disease and 19 children were born with it. “The United States government did something that was wrong—deeply, profoundly, morally wrong… It is not only in remembering that shameful past that we can make amends and repair our nation, but it is in remembering that past that we can build a better present and a better future,” said Clinton twenty years ago.

History Channel

White women and women of color: It’s complicated

Aisha Mirza, a writer and counselor living in New York City has written a gorgeous and wrenching essay that will be difficult for many people to read. She begins by describing a moment when she accidentally steps on a white woman’s yoga mat. “[S]he looked at me like she had woken up to me standing at the foot of her bed, like I had just suggested we murder her husband and run away together,” she says. That look is emblematic of the troubling relationship many people of color have with liberal, wealthy white women, who may vacillate from enthusiastic interest in black lives, to pity at our plights, to stony affronts when we excel. “Stroke by stroke, they construct a type of womanhood that viciously negates the fact their bodies still function as agents of white supremacy,” she says. “They are so gentle with themselves that they simply cannot comprehend that they could be oppressed and yet still oppressive.” Through all of this, Mirza does a masterful job sharing moments of a tender heart: Overlooked for kissing games on the playground, panic attacks on the London tube, wondering whether people would believe she was a terrorist for carrying a backpack at a music festival. It is a state of “constant emotional contortion,” she says.

Buzzfeed

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