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DEI isn’t a distraction from company work— it is the work

August 10, 2021, 4:55 PM UTC

I’ve always been fascinated by what people are and are not willing to confess to pollsters. And so to the 51% of white C-suite executives who told researchers they considered DEI “a distraction from our company’s real work” I ask: is this something you’re willing to say in an all-hands meeting? To your shareholders? To your board? To the press? Because I have questions, and those constituents might as well.

Here’s the thing: I am deeply, deeply skeptical of any proposed solutions to deeply rooted inequities that resemble “well let’s implicit bias train our way out of this.” But dismissing any attempts to improve the lot of employees who are drawn from groups outside the status quo as a “distraction” suggests a more than passing inability to read the room.

Back to the survey, conducted by the company formerly known as SurveyMonkey. Among its less surprising findings: there’s a real disconnect between how (mostly white) managers perceive the demands of a given company culture and how their employees feel about it. According to the pollsters, “when we asked explicitly whether they think their leadership is out of touch with diverse employees’ needs, people from every marginalized group (women, people of color, those with disabilities, LGBTQ+, veterans) were more likely to say yes.” 

Earlier this year, USA Today reported on a survey (‘tis the season) commissioned by Paradigm and conducted by Harris Poll. Their data found that 54% of people polled would consider quitting an organization that didn’t speak up about racial injustice. 

And companies certainly have been speaking up about racial injustice, particularly in the aftermath of widespread protests against the police officers who killed George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. But multiple different accountings have found organizations are not necessarily matching those lofty PR pledges with real money or action.

Consider these stats, from research conducted by McKinsey and described by Walmart’s Donna Morris and McKinsey’s Lareina Yee in an op-ed for Fortune (emphasis mine): “Black workers make up 12% of entry-level private sector workers—close to their representation among the overall private sector population. But representation plummets at the very next step of the corporate ladder, dropping to only 7% at the manager level. Our research found that at current employment rates, it would take about 95 years for Black employees to reach parity across all levels of the private sector.”

Morris and Yee offer four ways to advance inclusion for Black employees, including better paths to promotion and opportunities for sponsorship from senior leaders. Not on the list: treating any of these considerations as distractions from “the real work,” whatever that might be. 

On Point

Algorithms aren’t neutral because people aren’t It's become increasingly common for companies of all shapes and sizes to turn to AI-based solutions as part of their talent process. If you’ve ever used LinkedIn Recruiter to find or evaluate candidates, then you’ve used AI in your hiring. Savvy marketers are positioning AI and machine learning as ways to reduce or even remove the biases present in the hiring and recruiting process. There’s risks to buying the hype. In 2018, Amazon scrapped a years-long attempt to build their own hiring algorithm after realizing it “taught itself that male candidates were preferable,” as Reuters put it. This week, researchers confirmed what some Twitter users had long been saying: the platform’s image-cropping algorithm tended to discriminate against photos of “people with white or gray hair, who wore headscarves for religious or other reasons, or who used wheelchairs,” NBC News reported. Twitter had earlier conceded that the same algorithm overwhelmingly chose to show the white person in a given photograph over a Black one.

NBC News

On Background

So, climate change It was hard to miss the coverage of the latest report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The phrase “code red for humanity” was just about everywhere; “disaster” and “catastrophe” also figured. I appreciated the clear-eyed perspective of Somini Sengupta, the New York Times' international climate reporter, who wrote: “It’s up to the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations and companies to determine which path to take. Limiting temperature rise requires big structural changes to the way the world produces electricity, heats buildings, moves around and produces food.” The corporate track record so far is decidedly mixed.

New York Times

“But then there’s a wall you hit. It’s a bait and switch.” Bloomberg has a great feature on the complicated experiences of Asian and Asian American tech workers in Silicon Valley. There’s much more to this story than the rise of CEOs like Google’s Sundar Pichai, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella or Zoom’s Eric Yuan. There’s the stresses facing H1-B visa holders (and their children), and the very different reality of families who’ve been in the Bay Area since the 1800s. 


Mood board / The Big Move

I Stephanie Boyce is the president of the Law Society of England and Wales. She’s only the sixth woman and the first ever Black person to hold that title in the Society’s nearly 200-year history. In her inaugural presidential address, she laid out three priorities for her tenure. First, equality, diversity and inclusion, and social mobility. Second, access to justice and technology. Third, mental health and wellbeing.  In a recent interview with the Financial Times, the former mail carrier from Buckinghamshire said: “I absolutely believe that every door is open if you push”



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