It’s a big day here at Fortune HQ. The The 2017 Fortune 500 dropped this morning.
There’s a lot to sort through in the data and analysis, so feel free to mute your feeds and put your devices on do-not-disturb for as long as it takes to get your fill. But let me flag a couple of things for you to get you started.
First, the year’s list includes 32 female chief executives, up from 21 the year before. It’s the largest number of women CEOs since the ranking was first published in 1955. (Don’t lay wreaths at the Fearless Girl’s feet just yet. They're still just 6.4% of the list.) But one milestone deserves a special call-out: PG&E’s Geisha Williams just joined the list and is the first-ever Latina CEO to appear on the 500.
Today also marks the first time that Fortune’s data team has published their analysis of the available diversity data that describe the 28 million people who work within the Fortune 500 universe. It’s an ongoing project, designed to be a resource to better understand the progress of the cohort as they work towards a more inclusive workforce. You can submit your own here.
Here’s a snapshot: One hundred companies on the list share some data about the gender or ethnic makeup of their employees, but only 3.2% of companies release a complete dataset in each job category and management level. (Fortune considers “complete data” to be the information on the Department of Labor’s EEO-1 form, or its equivalent.) But, says Grace Donnelly, “the vast majority of companies on the list that report their full diversity numbers are in the tech sector.” In fact, 75% of the companies in the tech space are making their numbers public. From this point of view, it makes their ongoing public struggles with diversity and inclusion even more meaningful.
With this much at stake, the numbers have to be more than an opportunity to scold, and more than just a good start.
We’ll have some exciting news to share on diversity reporting in the coming days, along with an update on an important new alliance between major corporate employers that we’ve promised in the past. It will be good news for anyone who is interested in a more inclusive world, I promise.
I don't think I'm overselling this, either.
If the 28 million employees of the Fortune 500 were a country, they would populate the 12th largest in Africa or the 7th largest in Latin America. That’s a lot of influence. And the trickle down impact of a collective corporate commitment to inclusive leadership would be profound. Think about all those woke, bias-savvy people walking around, innovating, iterating, beating quarterly earnings estimates, holding governments to account, identifying unmet needs in communities, solving huge global problems and finding real talent in pipelines that were once invisible. I picture them all smiling, with perfect teeth, laughing over their shiny laptops, like a stock photo on a corporate diversity page, but real.
Uber continues to make some major changes
Yesterday was a big day for Uber. At an all-hands meeting, the company revealed the results of its investigation into harassment claims: About 100 employees have been cleared, 20 were fired, another 57 are still being investigated, 31 are in some type of training, and seven have received a written warning. Bernard Coleman, their still newish head of global diversity and inclusion, said the step was the first of many. Then, in a truly surprising move, the legendary Bozoma Saint John announced that she's leaving her post as Apple's global head of consumer marketing to become Uber’s chief brand officer. Click through for an outstanding interview, as she prepares to take on a new role, with eyes wide open. But, she says, “[t]hat's the excitement of getting into this space, which is that I really don't know what exactly we're going to be trying to overcome.”
States with more black people offer less generous welfare benefits
Over the past twenty years, welfare benefits have eroded in every state except Oregon. But a new study, released yesterday by the Urban Institute, shows that there are wide racial and geographic disparities in how states distribute cash benefits. The study focuses on the state-distributed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program or TANF, which is funded by the federal government in the form of state “block grants.” Bottom line, states that have higher populations of African Americans offer less generous cash benefits and impose stricter requirements for eligibility. A fellow from the Urban Institute warns that “I would predict, based on TANF’s history, that if we were to block grant other programs, we would see similar results, with racial differences and fewer families receiving assistance.” Share with your "state's rights" folks, if you think it will help.
Gary Indiana is about to lose a vital part of its meager health care system
Gary, Indiana is already a city in need of a resurrection. Decimated by the decline of the steel industry,“white flight," and plagued by inadequate resources, the city is a patchwork of abandoned buildings, and many residents are being targeted for deportation. Some 37% of Gary's citizens live in poverty. And now Methodist, the only hospital in town, is planning to merge with a Catholic health system. If they do, then they will follow the directives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which will dramatically restrict the care that the hospital can offer, forbidding most forms of birth control, abortion and fertility treatments. But they will also deny care to transgender people, people in the midst of miscarrying or suffering from an array of related issues, like a dislodged IUD. “It is substandard care, because you’re not giving people all of their choices,” says Methodist’s current chaplain. “I respect religious polity and doctrines of the church. Those are yours, and I respect them. But when you force them on someone else, that is where, to me, where it becomes unjust and immoral.”
The HIV epidemic nobody knows about
The New York Times Magazine devotes its cover story to the hidden HIV epidemic that is coursing through the country, one that affects primarily gay and bisexual men of color. The numbers are stark: A recent CDC report showed that only 48 % of black gay and bisexual men are using medication to manage their infections consistently. Worse, nearly one in five men only begin treatment when their status has progressed to full blown AIDS. The reasons are complex – shame, stigma and inadequate access to health care – but the stories of the men and the caregivers are heartbreaking. Reading them hearkens back to the early days of the epidemic. Now, as other populations are managing HIV as a chronic but survivable condition, some 50% of gay African American men are expected to contract the virus in their lifetime.
The Woke Leader
On being gay and Southern and other things, too
Brandon Taylor is an emerging voice in literary circles, a Twitter delight who writes essays and fiction while pursuing a PhD in biochemistry. In this poignant essay, he explores his memories of being gay and growing up in the evangelical South. “I thought that there was nothing worse than being gay and Southern, that no two parts of a person could be more in conflict, and I felt that there was nothing to be done for it except to leave one or the other behind,” he begins. He was afraid to meet God’s gaze in his family’s hot, Alabama church, fretted over his own insufficiencies, and unable to find the mercy found by others in baptism. Instead, he says, “I was raised on God’s anger, God’s long-simmering contempt for mankind,” he writes. The rest of the essay explores the work of authors who affirmed him, how his adolescent sexuality bloomed despite the literal pit of hellfire he was convinced awaited him. And then an odd and false accusation rattles him into doubting his own experience. “This too is a kind of baptism…the conversion of the private self, the personal self, into what the world tells us that we are,” he says. “We spend the rest of our lives grappling with this dissonance, trying to reconcile it, trying again and again to return, but we never get there, and we’re doomed to circle it forever.”
Where are the black spelling champions?
Segregation in the country’s schools didn’t really end in 1954 after the Supreme Court abolished “separate but equal” treatment in the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Instead, years of loophole-finding, municipal defiance, foot-dragging, violent clashes and genuine confusion ensued. One casualty of these troubled times: integrated spelling bees. This extraordinary long read resurrects long forgotten stories of young spellers of color fighting to be recognized alongside their white peers, and the legions of lawyers and allies who took on schools, the spelling bee organization and their national sponsor, the Scripps-Howard Newspaper Alliance. Historian Cynthia R. Greenlee does an extraordinary job setting the stories into the backdrop of the complexity of Jim Crow; each moment a lost opportunity for true healing and reconciliation. The spelling bee became a “contested racial space” where children of color outperformed their betters at their own peril. And allies came from unexpected spaces. When a New York Times reporter called the Lynchburg school system to inquire on their controversial and segregated bee in 1962, they asked the administrator to spell the word “apartheid.” Dayum.
Algorithm accurately reconstructs human faces from the brain waves of monkeys
This is a fascinating piece with a lot of implications for a world that’s increasingly driven by algorithms and tech magic. A group of researchers from the California Institute of Technology have successfully recreated human faces by studying groups of specialized neurons in the brains of macaque monkeys that appear to work together to recognize an individual face. The monkeys were shown photos of humans, while their brains were being scanned. Researchers discovered that individual neurons encoded a different aspect of a face. Then, they were able to recreate the faces the monkeys saw with astonishing accuracy by using signals from just 205 neurons. It's uncanny, really. I can't figure out how this is going to go off the rails, but it will. Right?
And the thing about Prince was: growing up as an introverted, isolated kid, he showed me that as an artist you can go into the lab, and create the world that you want to live in. And then, after you create that world with your art, others get to come live in it with you. That's how art creates community, how it gives life. And it's how he saved my life.