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Why corporate diversity reports are not good enough

May 26, 2021, 12:24 PM UTC

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Rent the Runway gets ready for a comeback, Kirsten Gillibrand has an unexpected ally in her fight against sexual assault in the military, and shareholders want companies to get transparent on diversity. Have a great Wednesday.

– Going beyond “diversity.” Bloomberg is reporting that 2021 is on pace to set a record for the number of diversity proposals put forward—and backed—at companies’ annual meetings. The story notes that IBM, DuPont, and First Solar have all seen more than 80% of shareholders supporting such proposals; overall, 37 have submitted this year, getting an average of 43% support (compare that to last year’s average of 21%).

The details of these proposals vary, but they tend to center on requiring companies to disclose the racial and gender composition of their workforce, provide metrics to assess how well they are doing at meeting their diversity and inclusion goals, and/or publish their racial and gender pay gaps.

It’s great to see more of these proposals being made and accepted—and it’s even better to see corporate America explicitly addressing race in this way, since for far too many years “diversity” was code for women (and typically white women). As Bloomberg notes, the murder of George Floyd—committed one year and a day ago—has clearly had an impact. Last spring, many companies pledged to finally move the needle on racial equity, and now there’s a push to see that they’re keeping their word.

But, as someone who has been covering company diversity reports for quite some time, indulge me as I throw a little cold water on this largely positive development. One thing these types of corporate reports have almost totally ignored is the idea of intersectionality. So, they might tell us what percentage of women are working at a company (or, to drill down further, holding certain types of jobs at a company) and they might do the same by race (or, much less helpfully, via some sort of agglomeration like “underrepresented minorities”). But what they almost never do is tell us what share of those people are, say, Black women—much less Black women working in, for example, a technical role.

Would providing that level of detail be more difficult for companies? Probably. And it would certainly open them up to a new level of scrutiny. But creating truly diverse companies means confronting the fact that people don’t fall neatly into different statistical boxes. So if the idea behind such reports is to hold organizations accountable, then it’s essential that we see that true, multilayered, and, yes, intersectional picture.  

Kristen Bellstrom
kristen.bellstrom@fortune.com
@kayelbee

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- LPs leap forward. It's not just startup investors who are paying more attention to diversity. Some limited partners are also targeting their resources. Accolade Partners, run by Joelle Kayden, has raised $200 million to invest in venture funds led by diverse managers, identifying 150 firms that meet its benchmarks. "I don’t think you could’ve done this five years ago, but today there’s a critical mass of funds to choose from," Kayden says. Wall Street Journal

- Rental resurgence. As the U.S. opens up, fashion rental is back, according to Rent the Runway. With subscribers on track to outpace 2019 numbers soon (thanks in part to recent discounts) the business led by CEO Jennifer Hyman is adding a new board member: Gwyneth Paltrow. "In my own way, I’ve been renting the runway for years," the actor and Goop founder says of her decades on the red carpet and what attracted her to the company. New York Times

- Out of office. Nadia Whittome, the youngest member of Parliament in the U.K., shared that she will take time off work after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The 23-year-old, who has represented her constituency since 2019, says that she hopes that sharing the reason publicly will reduce stigma around mental health treatment. Guardian

- Across the aisle. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has an unusual ally in her work on sexual assault in the military: GOP Sen. Josh Hawley. The senators worked together on a bill that would require closer oversight of the military's sexual assault response coordinators, an issue that gained attention after the death of soldier Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood. New York Times

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: The Senate confirmed Kristen Clarke to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights division and Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; both will be the first Black women in their roles. Stacy Brown-Philpot joins the board of Noom. JetBlue hired Spirit Airlines' Laurie Villa as chief people officer. Lori Gottlieb, the psychotherapist and author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, joins mental health provider network Alma as a clinical adviser. Ingrid Lestiyo, SVP and GM of operate solutions for Unity, joins the board of background check company Checkr. Law firm Nixon Peabody promoted Stacie Collier to chief talent officer. Raymond James Financial acquired Cebile Capital, making that company's founder, Sunaina Sinha Haldea, managing director, global head of private capital advisory. Sarah Patterson, former EVP of product marketing at Salesforce, joins Samsara as CMO. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- City leadership. Black women mayors led cities through the pandemic—but they also attracted a lot of scrutiny. Three mayors, Atlanta's Keisha Lance Bottoms, Chicago's Lori Lightfoot, and D.C.'s Muriel Bowser, have been in a "harsh spotlight" for their responses, good and bad, to the COVID crisis and police brutality. Politico

- Budget bump. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's latest proposal is to triple the budget of the Internal Revenue Service to $31.5 billion, removing its funding from the politics of the appropriations process. With its new budget, the IRS would work to identify wealthy people who are cheating on their taxes, Warren says. Fortune

- Employee wellness. What role should employers play in getting the U.S. fully vaccinated? Judy Monroe, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation, and Zeta Smith, CEO of Sodexo North America’s seniors division, write that companies are well positioned to inform employees, including those who are hesitant to get a shot, about the availability and safety of vaccines—and set up vaccine clinics in their offices. Fortune

ON MY RADAR

I gave birth. The most dangerous part came after Wall Street Journal

Roe is going to fall. Here's what to focus on next Slate

Worried about the declining birthrate? How about giving mothers a break LA Times

PARTING WORDS

"That’s what keeps these interviews fresh for me, because I never know what people are going to say."

-Ziwe, the comedian, on her eponymous new Showtime series

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