The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance suggesting companies can legally require their employees to get vaccinated, but employers so far appear divided on whether they will.
According to West Monroe’s latest Quarterly Executive Poll released today, employers are almost evenly split on the question of mandating Covid-19 vaccines. Of 150 C-suite executives surveyed, 51% plan to require employees to have a Covid-19 vaccine before returning to work in person; 49% will not require vaccinations.
Attitudes diverge, however, depending on company location and size, according to Christina Galoozis, a spokesperson for West Monroe.
Smaller companies are less likely to require employees to get vaccinated. Among companies with $250 to $500 million in revenues, only 36% lean toward requiring Covid-19 vaccinations compared with 69% of companies with revenues over $3 billion.
Most companies surveyed (81%) plan to have a mix of on-site and at-home workers even when it’s safe to return to work. More than half (52%) these companies say they will require Covid-19 vaccinations. Such hybrid arrangements may make it easier for companies to offer accommodations to employees who can’t get vaccinated for medical or religious reasons.
The small percentage (9%) of companies that plan for all employees to be on-site when it’s safe are less likely to require vaccination than those planning for a hybrid workforce. Only 31% are leaning toward requiring vaccination.
“We know this is an incredibly challenging question on the minds of employers,” Galoozis said.
The legal issues are straightforward, especially for private sector, at-will employers—provided vaccination policies are applied fairly.
“Refusal to get a Covid-19 vaccine if your employer is requiring one could get you fired and your employer would be within their legal rights to do so,” said Holly Helstrom, associate at Logos Consulting Group and adjunct instructor at Columbia University.
But employees will be protected if they experience serious adverse side effects from a required vaccine.
“Employees are always going to enjoy some level of protection if they get injured through the action of their employers,” said Brian Weinthal, a Chicago-based employment attorney.
Weinthal cautions that employers may be at risk for workers’ compensation claims if employees are harmed by the vaccine and the employer has ordered it. He recommends a conservative approach.
“I think the best advice for employers right now is to strongly encourage, but not mandate a vaccine,” he said.
Mehdi Maghsoodnia, CEO of at-home saliva Covid-19 testing company 1health, recognizes that some employees will have immunity from the vaccine or from having had Covid-19, but won’t mandate the vaccine for employees who don’t have antibodies. Instead, Maghsoodnia said, “We will continue to test.”
Jamie Coakley, vice president of people at Electric, said the company has been contemplating their vaccine plan and ultimately decided not to require vaccination. Instead, they’ll require on-site employees to complete health screening questions and extend work-from-home options. Careful to avoid discriminatory policies, Electric won’t restrict any employee’s access to the office or ask employees about their vaccination status.
“I’m approaching these conversations openly and honestly with our teams,” Coakley said.
That’s a good strategy, according to Weinthal.
“Savvy employers are always trying to get a gage on what their employees are thinking,” he said. “Concerned employers are listening to what their employees are saying.”
For some businesses, the risk of not requiring vaccination is too great.
Daniel Schreiber, co-founder and CEO of Lemonade, believes insisting employees take responsible precautions to avoid bringing Covid-19 into the office isn’t an outrage. On the contrary, he said, “The outrage lies in refusing this rudimentary courtesy.”
Schreiber’s priority is to ensure his staff can come to work safely and do their work without worry, which is possible thanks to the vaccines. “All that’s left is for us to respect each other as a society and get the vaccine to put us all at ease,” he said.
“Having clarity on one’s values, whether from the employer or employee perspective, can make the decision easier,” she said. “If individual liberty is more important to you than job security, your decision when navigating this question as an employee will be much easier.”
When big banks see a benefit in helping companies recruit more diverse directors, it’s a sign that there are not just morals at play — there is money at stake, too.
When Goldman Sachs announced that it would help companies go public only if they had at least one diverse board member — meaning that the bank wouldn’t work with I.P.O. hopefuls whose directors were all white men — it was met with a mix of support and skepticism. In the year since, with less fanfare, the bank has also built up a business to help recruit directors for those boards, which has expanded to cover public companies as well.
“It became very clear to us early on that board diversity is something that’s important — and should be — to all of our clients,” said Ilana Wolfe, Goldman’s head of corporate board engagement.
Big banks getting involved in helping boards diversify suggests that there is a business case for it. Or, put more bluntly, there are future fees to be made.
For the banks, there is the dual attraction of helping society in general, via greater equality, and their business in particular, by meeting a demand from clients and forging relationships with directors who may be a source of future revenue.
When I called Ursula Burns, the former Xerox chief executive and director on many boards, she urged me to not make this “a bank story.” For good reason: advocacy groups have been pushing for greater board diversity long before banks took a serious interest. To formalize this work, Ms. Burns, the first Black woman to run a Fortune 500 company, helped start the Board Diversity Action Alliance last year to address the “glacial” progress of hiring racially and ethnically diverse board members.
Indeed, women account for around a quarter of directors at S&P 500 companies and roughly the same share of board members self-identify as a race or ethnicity other than white, according to the Conference Board. Only 5 percent of the 3,000 largest listed companies in the United States have a board with an equal gender balance, per the group Women on Boards. Progress on these measures has been gradual, despite some research that shows more diverse boards are linked with better financial performance.
Pressure for change is now coming from all sides. A renewed focus on diversity from the Biden administration, expressed in several executive orders, puts a spotlight on equity and inclusion that will filter down into boardrooms. The swearing-in of Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman and the first person of color to hold the nation’s second-highest office, was also a landmark moment. Mr. Biden’s pick for chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler, is expected to push for company disclosure of diversity data.
Last year, California passed a law mandating a minimum level gender diversity on corporate boards. Starting this year, State Street will vote against certain board nominees at companies that do not disclose diversity data, and BlackRock may do the same. Nasdaq is seeking regulatory permission to require diverse boards and related disclosures at companies that list on its exchange, or face expulsion. (When asset managers and exchanges speak up about diversity, it follows that banks would take notice.)
“The old guard has moved out,” said Rebecca Thornton, who leads JPMorgan’s director advisory service. “Many stood in an ivory tower with a bias that ‘this board is only CEOs and we are not going to trade on quality to get diversity.’ Those who are evolved enough to ignore the title and take the meeting see the value of having that diverse voice in the room.”
But boards are also mindful of getting the recruiting process right, lest they give ammunition to critics of quotas and other mandates. This week, Arthur Levitt Jr., the former S.E.C. chairman during the Clinton administration, called Nasdaq’s proposals “political at their core,” questioned the link between director diversity and financial performance, and said new rules would not break hiring habits that “depend on informal social networks where friends recommend each other.”
Gloria Boyland, a former FedEx executive, joined the board of the industrial technology company Vontier last year, with the help of JPMorgan. (FedEx is an important client of the bank.) Conversations with representatives from JPMorgan, before they had a board opening to pitch her, gave the bank’s team a better understanding of her, she said. That was particularly important because her job at FedEx was in operations and service support, a less easily categorized role than, say, a finance role. (She retired from FedEx last year.)
“The conversation was really around understanding my experience, and what I might bring to a board,” she said, rather than immediately scouting for a specific opportunity. Ms. Boyland, who is Black, was already a director of Chesapeake Energy at the time she joined Vontier, a position she got through her network.
Karen Francis, Vontier’s chair, got to know JPMorgan’s recruiting service through of its annual conferences for directors. She later called them when she was building a new board after Vontier was spun off from its former parent. She did not necessarily require that directors have past board experience, as long as they “had a really good comprehension of what the board does,” she said.
“What I would say to chairs who don’t want to bring on first-time people would be: ‘Well, aren’t you expert enough that you can train that person?” Ms. Francis said.
Her first priority was finding someone with audit committee chair experience, and she found Andrew Miller, a white man, to fill the post. Later, Ms. Thornton of JPMorgan suggested Ms. Boyland as a candidate for a director role, who Ms. Francis said was a great fit for the board’s needs.
Banks, of course, aren’t the only way for companies to tap diverse talent pools, but perhaps by putting their considerable resources behind promoting boardroom diversity, they will encourage others to do the same.
RENTON, Wash – The Seattle Seahawks announced today Karen Wilkins-Mickey as the organization’s new Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. A new role for the team, Wilkins-Mickey will lead the Seahawks’ overall diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategy, as well as act as a liaison for the team, its senior management group, players and the community to drive strategic DEI initiatives and programs. She will report to Seahawks President Chuck Arnold.
“I am thrilled to welcome Karen to the Seahawks family as our organization’s first Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion,” said Chuck Arnold, President, Seattle Seahawks and First & Goal Inc. “Our organization is guided upon core values of acceptance and understanding that help us create a culture of respect, equality and inclusiveness both on and off the field. Over the past year, we’ve looked to take additional meaningful steps to directly address inequality and social justice efforts and felt it was critical to add this position to our senior leadership team. We look forward to Karen’s vast expertise in this area to further strengthen our organization as we strive to continually make a lasting impact both internally and in our community.”
In addition to leading the organization’s overall DEI strategy, Wilkins-Mickey will oversee the team’s internal DEI Council and will represent the team as its liaison for NFL social justice initiatives. She will also act as an internal consultant to department leaders across the team’s football and business operations to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are part of the decision-making process throughout the organization.
Wilkins-Mickey brings more than 20 years of DEI leadership experience to the team. Prior to the Seahawks, she was Director of Diversity & Inclusion for Alaska Airlines, and has previously held diversity and inclusion leadership roles within Expedia Group and Microsoft. She recently completed the first McKinsey Black Executive Leadership Program and is a founding member of the DEI Community of Practice, which is a growing network of professionals committed to establishing and enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion practices within Seattle-area organizations. She was recently appointed to the Leadership Council for UNCF, which supports a goal of providing every local minority student with the funds they need to support their college education. She was honored in 2018 by the Seattle Mariners as part of African American Heritage Day, where she was recognized for her contributions to the Northwest community. She is also a Certified Diversity Recruiter.
A native of New York City, Wilkins-Mickey has Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from California State University Chico. She lives in Bothell, Wash. with her husband and two children.
While tech companies have pledged to do better with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), many of these commitments have yet to translate to tangible change—and in some cases, we seem to be moving backwards.
As 2020’s protests for racial justice heightened the spotlight on tech’s continued diversity problem, we saw tech leaders respond with public statements and commitments to increase diversity in their workforces. However, little progress has been made to meet the goals they’ve publicly committed to and diversity numbers are still dismal. Even more troubling, we continue to see reports of continuing discrimination and censorship in tech workplaces. In the last few months alone, several prominent Black women have been pushed out of tech companies in hugely public ways: The prominent AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru was forced out of Google in December, and earlier in 2020 Aerica Shimizu Banks and Ifeoma Ozoma went public with allegations of discrimination at Pinterest.
These stories speak louder than any press release or platitude could.
It’s long past time to acknowledge that current approaches to diversity simply aren’t working. We can’t continue to hide behind “diversity is so important, but I want the best”—it is not “but”; it is “and.” We can have both, but top-down DEI initiatives alone will not get the job done or get us past the status quo of “big talk, incremental action.” Without fundamental change and a ground-up approach to increasing diversity in tech, marginalized communities will only face further setbacks and see progress backslide and the tech industry will miss out on the innovation that’s only possible with diverse teams.
Here are three areas tech leaders must focus on to reshape diversity efforts and make tangible progress.
1. CREATE EARLY CAREER PIPELINES IN UNDERREPRESENTED AND UNDERSERVED COMMUNITIES
Despite the misconception that diverse tech talent is simply too hard to find, the reality is that there are more than enough diverse candidates available and eager to fill these roles. The issue is that tech companies are failing to actively engage diverse communities when hiring for tech talent.
Historically, tech hiring managers tend to focus on candidates from an exclusive shortlist of colleges and universities. While there have been some attempts in the past from big tech companies to extend their pipelines and diversify through partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), these efforts appear to have been deprioritized rather than supported as drivers of systemic change. For example, one diversity recruiter at Google recently shared that before she joined, the company had not “hired a single HBCU student into a tech role.” In her tenure at Google, she was able to bring in more than 300 Black and Brown students from HBCUs—however, she says that her work was cut short because she was fired. That leaves a lingering question: Is diversity truly a priority for big tech when it comes to broadening the recruiting pool?
But the conversation should not be limited to hiring from a more diverse range of colleges and universities. Tech companies must intervene earlier in students’ education rather than getting involved only during higher ed, in order to create a foundation for enduring, diverse talent pipelines. Specifically, tech organizations need to build opportunity pipelines that reach further back than they typically tend to—even starting to engage with students in high school to fuel internship and trainee programs—and they need to look a bit off the beaten path when creating those connections.
I know this is possible. I’ve seen it firsthand from running internships and training programs aimed at high school and college students outside of feeder schools or tech hubs. In 2017, when I was working for an AI startup and first discussed the idea of taking on high school students as machine learning interns, the idea was met with some reservation. There were worries around skills, how much time it would take to train them, and if these young students could make any impact. Yet, that summer, these high school students were so successful in not only in helping my company meet its R&D goals, but also in creating a wonderful environment of learning, teaching, and growth—so much so, that high school students became a regular fixture of the company every summer.
In the summer of 2020, I ran a fully virtual AI training program comprised of 52 students from four different countries—including 50% high school students, and over 50% women—representing many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The company had one of its most impactful trainee programs to date. The students helped advance R&D goals by building prototypes of new AI applications that were on the company’s multi-year roadmap, as well as prototyping solutions for entirely new use cases that emerged in response to the global pandemic.
There are several organizations, like AI4All and Girls Who Code, who are doing amazing work in this regard. But we need the partnership of tech companies to take the next step in opening doors to these young people through internships and paid work.
2. FOCUS ON RETENTION, NOT JUST RECRUITMENT
To create a diverse team, getting diverse talent through the door is just one piece of the puzzle. Retention is the other. You need to intentionally and actively create an environment of success. That starts with mentorship.
Research has shown that having a mentor helps improve an organization’s diversity and improve individuals’ pathways to success. However, mentoring will only be effective if it is designed to be more than just a transactional relationship. The intention of mentoring needs to be purposeful and goal-oriented, so that true value can be derived not only for the mentee, but also for the mentor and the organization at large.
It’s important to lay out these goals at the onset of any mentor relationship: What role does the mentee hope to take on within their organization in the next year, and how can their mentor help them map out and meet the necessary steps to get there? On the flip side, what organizational goals does the mentor have in their role, that the mentee can help support? Without purpose and a clear connection to each individual’s (and organization’s) goals, mentors and their mentees will not feel bought into the relationship, and the dynamic will not have its desired impact.
The key is to match young people who want to take the next step with people who have just walked that step. This concept is called “proximate mentoring”: showing someone that their goals can be attained through personal examples provided by a mentor with similar lived experiences, and only a step or two further along in their career journey. This is especially powerful when you have diverse mentors, who can demonstrate that success is possible even if you come from an underrepresented background.
It’s not only a matter of mentorship, though. Accountability is also an important part of retention, specifically when it comes to holding people responsible when their actions or words contribute to a toxic work environment for minority team members. There have been troublingreports out of companies like Pinterest and Coinbase, where former employees have reported that managers and coworkers freely made racist remarks and mistreated them without repercussions, creating a toxic environment that pushes people away rather than bringing them in. These employees need to be held accountable every time that one of these instances comes up, without fail. If not, the result is a culture of exclusion and discomfort that will prevent team members from sharing ideas, feeling heard, and ultimately staying at the company. That culture of exclusion and toxicity then becomes part of your company’s reputation, making it more unlikely that diverse workers will even want to join your team in the first place.
3. BUILD DEI STRATEGIES THAT TRANSCEND ALL LEVELS AND ROLES
We all have seen top-down DEI initiatives regularly fail; often because individual employees don’t understand how to incorporate big diversity goals into their day-to-day decision-making, or don’t see a clear connection between their organization’s DEI goals and their own role. Decades worth of data suggests that companies must engage decision-makers at all levels in solving the problem, ensuring that diverse talent is not siloed within an organization, but built into the fabric of a team at all levels. That’s key to broadening everyone’s view of what an engineer or technologist “looks like.”
Again, mentorship can be a vehicle for creating these connections between diverse young talent and individual decision-makers across an organization. Through mentoring and advising, up-and-coming leaders in an organization can not only further the education and careers of underrepresented minorities in tech, but also advance their own leadership skills and help meet the R&D goals within their company by tapping mentees for additional support.
Bringing these diverse voices directly into an employee’s day-to-day work makes the process of improving diversity more organic and shows everyone throughout the organization the direct benefit of having colleagues from different backgrounds as part of their teams. This will have a long-term positive impact on employees’ daily decision-making and on their company’s diversity and innovation goals. It’s a win-win strategy that benefits both individuals and the organization as a whole.
IMPROVING DIVERSITY IN TECH ISN’T JUST THE RIGHT THING TO DO; IT’S CRUCIAL FOR BUSINESS
If we want to build a future where technology is inclusive and built with everyone in mind, we need a workforce that is inclusive, diverse, and representative of the market that a tech company hopes to reach. Only diverse teams can problem-solve and provide ideas for new tech products and solutions that may not occur to someone who fits the normative mold.
This is especially true when it comes to the potential for tech to address challenges that occur in marginalized communities. A white man living in Silicon Valley, despite his best intentions, cannot fully understand the challenges that a Black woman faces, and as a result, the technology he builds might fail to work for communities outside of his own.
Creating a diverse and inclusive workforce is not just ethically the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing for businesses to do. Want to build innovative products, expand market share, and avoid leaving potential dollars on the table? Make room at the table. Embrace diversity.
Taniya Mishra, PhD, is an AI scientist and the founder and CEO of SureStart.
In October 2020, I wrote an article on the disappointing lack of diversity in the ACT elections. I reflected that “one day, maybe someone like me, a young South Asian woman, will be elected– and that will be a great day for democracy.”
A few days after it was published, I found myself glued to the tv screen as the US election took place. For the first time, I was seeing a woman from a diverse background like mine, in a country similar to mine, centre stage, garnering a majority vote. Of course, Joe Biden was the President people were voting for, but his choice of a woman of colour as his running mate was a huge deal.
There are only a number of days now until Kamala Harris is inaugurated as Vice President of the United States. And as a young Indian Australian in Canberra, with no direct links to the US or their election results, I could not be more excited.
Born and raised in Australia, I am surrounded by whiteness. Even with the pockets of diversity here and there, I have never had every aspect of my identity represented.
The candidates in the ACT election were somewhat diverse, however rarely in more than one aspect. Either they were women, or a person of colour, or belonging to the LGBTQI+ community – I actually do not recall anyone identifying as someone living with a disability. It made me question whether diversity is only socially palatable on that condition – you can only belong to one minority. More than that, and you become too much.
The reality for so many is that our identities are multifaceted, comprising memberships of many groups. Sometimes this may be through choice, but many are definite, unchangeable parts of our being. Intersectionality exists far beyond this in real life, and the groups we belong to create varying degrees of discrimination and privilege. This diversity is important, but is yet to be reflected by those who represent us, and guide the society we live in.
Being a recent law graduate, I am acutely aware of how the law affects our day to day lives. We are governed by the law. We must adhere to the law or suffer the consequences. However, the law is used for more than just regulation. It can be a tool for creating social change and encouraging equity. It can be a tool for building societal acceptance and harmony. It can be used to pull others up.
These laws are primarily made in parliament by elected parliamentarians. Because we live in a democratic country with principles of representative and responsible government, our elected leaders should be just like us – from our community, and representing our shared views and values in Parliament. Were every elected leader a true representative of their electorates, they would push for laws that we wanted and those that were in our best interests.
But this is not observed in practice. Our citizens and our communities are far more diverse than our political representatives. Without reflecting us, knowing our experiences or understanding our intersectional identities, how could we expect our politicians to create the best world for all Australians?
Time and time again, we have seen governments create laws targeting a specific social or ethnic group, claiming the laws are for their benefit, whilst actually having minimal understanding of those groups, or being unwilling to act on advice from said groups.
From terribly translated COVID-19 notices in Melbourne and officers unable to communicate with the members they were policing, to the laws such as the Alcohol Harm Reduction Act 2017 (NT), targeted at Indigenous Australians; we have seen how ignorant and ill-informed governments can have disturbing and devastating impacts on minority communities.
We need intersectionality in our politics to tackle this issue head on.
Instead of making the rich, straight white men in power understand the struggles of minorities, elect minorities who can make those needed changes themselves. This serves not only to ensure that our laws are suitable for all Australians, but also empowers minorities to be involved in decisions which affect them. This representation will encourage more diverse candidates to run, creating a cycle of more inclusivity, acceptance and understanding in our elections.
Seeing Kamala Harris, a woman of South Asian descent, being accepted as the Vice President of the United States invokes hope. She has become the symbol of social progress and unity in diversity. Many people said she broke the glass ceiling – she did– but not just for women. She broke it for ethnic minorities and people with intersectional identities.
Seeing her become normalised and centralised creates hope that there is space in politics for the rest of us, and her existence in that position will hopefully trigger waves that flow on into Australia. Hopefully, this new era will see one of a truly representative and responsible government who are made from our community members with our best interests in mind. No pressure, Kamala!
by Divya Joshi
Divya is a recent ANU Law graduate, with a keen interest in politics and an advocate and activist, focusing on diversity and women’s rights.
Tech companies are struggling to increase percentage of underrepresented races while entangled in high-profile controversies related to how minority employees are treated.
As they face continued calls to diversify their workforces, technology companies are increasingly disclosing demographics and pay information, but for the most part those numbers have shown little progress — and high-profile controversies continue.
Facing pressure for the past decade, tech companies have exhibited more willingness than other corporate sectors to reveal diversity statistics. As You Sow, a Berkeley, Calif.-based shareholder advocacy group, recently ranked companies based on the amount of diversity, pay and other information they release, the effectiveness of their recruitment and retention efforts and the goals they have set.
Tech companies comprised seven of the top 10 scores, with Intel Corp. INTC, -2.82% and Google at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. Their scores were 68% and 63% respectively, reflecting the fact that tech is doing better than other sectors in disclosing diversity information but still not scoring high marks.
While Google received a high score from As You Sow and often touts its efforts to diversify its workforce, its overall Black employee representation has inched up from 2% in 2014 to just 3.7% in 2020. Gains in Latinx/Hispanic representation were better, going from 3% to 5.9% over the same six-year period. U.S. Census Bureau numbers show overall U.S. Black and Latinx/Hispanic populations at 13.4% and 18.5%, respectively.
“We’ve seen a lot of reasonable pressure on tech companies around [diversity, equity and inclusion] lately,” said Meredith Benton, a consultant with As You Sow and principal at Whistle Stop Capital. “For historical and recent reasons.”
Those recent reasons include high-profile racial controversies at some well-known tech companies, including Alphabet Inc.’s GOOGL, -0.19%GOOG, -0.23% Google. Less than a month after As You Sow’s rankings were released, Google came under fire for forcing out Timnit Gebru, a Black woman who was the co-lead of the company’s ethical artificial intelligence team. Her departure inspired another Black former Google employee, April Curley, to speak out about her firing in the fall. And a few hundred Google workers announced earlier this month that they have formed a union, driven in part by inclusivity issues.
There are examples of employee departures under similar circumstances at other tech companies, even as those companies dutifully report their workforce demographics. Their allegations of discrimination and retaliation belie the companies’ diversity efforts and call into question the policies and priorities of those in charge of the technology that affects us all.
These controversies highlight that simply tracking numbers isn’t enough, and that “there are not enough Black and brown people at the highest levels” at the tech companies, said Ellen Pao, who sued storied Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins in 2012 for gender discrimination, during a recent panel discussion. Pao is now chief executive of Project Include, whose goal is to push companies toward “true diversity.”
Benton and others say tracking the numbers matters and is just one part of the bigger picture. “A company’s DEI programs are material,” she said. “There’s a ton of research that links long-term DEI with success of companies.”
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That’s why the push for diversity is wide-ranging. The influential Silicon Valley Leadership Group this week announced an initiative urging its member companies, which number in the hundreds and include Big Tech, to fill 25% of their executive positions with those from underrepresented groups by 2025.
“The numbers and data dispel the notion that diversity is not connected to a business case,” SVLG Chief Executive Ahmad Thomas told MarketWatch. He said that as a Black person, he believes it’s “the right thing to do,” but that ultimately “business competitiveness drives this” new effort.
In addition, investor groups are pressuring companies in different sectors through lawsuits and shareholder proposals. Nasdaq Inc. NDAQ, -1.47% has proposed diversity requirements for boards of companies that list on its exchange. And this year, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS, -2.23% will now only underwrite initial public offerings of companies with boards with at least two “diverse” board members.
Tech companies ranked by DEI disclosures
As You Sow ranked companies based on the diversity, equity and inclusion information they share and more. These tech companies were among the Top 10.
NO. OF EMPLOYEES
$133B to $2T
$133B to $2T
$38.6B to $62.9B
$28.6B to $38.5B
$133B to $2T
$133B to $2T
$133B to $2T
Source: As You Sow, published November 2020
Accounting for 20% of a company’s score in As You Sow’s rankings was whether a company released its EEO-1 report, a federal filing that breaks down workforce and leadership demographics that include pay data. The group recently started tracking the companies that release their EEO-1s, which companies must file with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but aren’t required to share publicly.
When it started in August, As You Sow identified 22 members of the 100 largest S&P 500 members that were releasing their EEO-1 forms. In November, when the group made its database public, 42 companies were releasing, or had committed to release, their EEO-1s.
“That’s a massive shift in a short time, reflecting societal shifting expectations and an increased depth of understanding on the materiality of these issues by investors,” Benton said.
Is disclosure making a difference?
Tech companies began regularly disclosing diversity numbers after pressure from the news media and advocacy organizations such as Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH coalition. Google was among the companies that fought a 2008 Mercury News lawsuit over releasing its numbers, but finally did so starting in 2014. Other tech companies followed suit, but the industry’s progress in hiring and retaining Black and brown employees has been mostly incremental, data show.
The Mercury News found that in 2008, “computer workers living in Silicon Valley who are black or Latino was 1.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively.” Today, at 15 well-known tech companies, the average overall Black representation is 5% and Latinx/Hispanic representation is 7.3%, according to MarketWatch tabulations. For tech roles, those averages are 3.3% and 5%, respectively.
Some companies are doing better than others both in terms of numbers and public perception.
The No. 1 company on As You Sow’s list, Intel, achieved its goal for full representation of women and minorities in 2018, two years ahead of the five-year goal it set in 2015. The company says that means the percentages of women and minorities in its workforce reflect the available percentages of those groups in the industry.
This month, the chip giant announced that it is working with other companies on developing a global inclusion index and on setting common goals. Its own goals include doubling the number of women and underrepresented minorities in senior leadership roles by 2030.
Another possible catalyst for change is more minorities starting their own companies. Among Intel’s efforts is investing in tech startups led by women and underrepresented minorities. Since 2015, the company says Intel Capital has invested more than $400 million in such companies.
Lisa Lambert, a black venture capitalist who is chief technology and innovation officer at National Grid and founder and president of National Grid Partners, founded and was managing director of the Intel Capital Diversity Fund.
When Intel announced the fund, Lambert said it was common for VCs to say they “didn’t invest in women and people of color because they’re not out there.”
“As soon as we announced it, two months later, we had over 600 business plans from women and minorities,” she said in an interview with MarketWatch. “To say there’s a pipeline issue is the biggest fallacy. There’s an access-to-capital issue.”
Twitter vs. Facebook
Twitter Inc. TWTR, -1.33% — which is among the seven tech companies on As You Sow’s Top 10 list — has made consistent gains in Black and Latinx/Hispanic employees, as well as women, in its workforce. At the end of 2017, each group made up 3.4% of the company’s U.S. employees. Today, its workforce is 6.5% Black and 5.4% Latinx. Over the same period, the global percentage of women in its ranks rose from 38.4% to 42.6%.
At Facebook Inc. FB, +2.33%, the much larger social media company, 3.9% of the workforce is Black and 6.3% is Latinx. The gender breakdown: 63% men and 37% women.
“Hopefully, the numbers speak for themselves,” Dalana Brand, a vice president and head of inclusion and diversity at Twitter, said in an interview with MarketWatch. She said the company combines recruiting efforts to attract diverse talent with “programs that ensure a culture where people can be their authentic selves and belong.”
“We take belonging very seriously at Twitter,” Brand added. “It really drives all the actions we take.” Because of the social justice issues that arose this year, she said the company “did a lot to really focus” on what Black employees were going through. One example: Twitter and the Blackbirds business resource group rolled out a program that helps employees who want to find Black therapists.
In an unusual move, Twitter announced last year that it would pay its business resource group leaders for the work they do. At most other tech companies, that work goes unpaid.
“The work they do helps to drive retention,” Brand said. “None of the work they do is a side hustle.”
Mark Luckie is a former Twitter employee who has also worked at Facebook and has written a novel called “Valley Girls” based on his experiences. When he left Facebook in 2018, he published a post criticizing the way the company treated both its Black employees and its Black users, saying it was “failing” them both.
On the other hand, Luckie said Twitter listens to its employees, and that it shows.After years of being asked to remove President Donald Trump, Twitter banned him from the platform two days after his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol — and after hundreds of Twitter employees wrote CEO Jack Dorsey urging to finally take permanent action. Luckie acknowledged that activists have targeted Twitter for a long time over its failure to ban white supremacists and others, but said it had lately been leading the way among social media companies in moderation and other issues.
“You can see the power of Black Twitter play out in features like Trending Topics,” Luckie said in an interview with MarketWatch. “You can see what’s happening in your community.”
He added that Twitter was the first to institute blocking features in response to the harassment of women and Black people on the platform, and that other companies usually followed Twitter when it comes to flagging and removing questionable content.
Steven Renderos, executive director for MediaJustice, a nationwide organization based in Oakland, Calif., that advocates for justice in media and technology, agrees — to a point. Twitter did start labeling misinformation by Trump first, he acknowledged in an interview before the siege at the Capitol.
“When it comes to tech companies listening to the concerns of people of color, the bar is so low that it’s not hard to stand out,” Renderos told MarketWatch. “Twitter has a slightly more diverse [executive team] than Facebook” and he said he could see how Black Twitter employees might feel more heard.
He added that, from his point of view as an “advocate for people of color demanding change from the outside, there’s only a marginal difference in their response to our concerns.”
For example, MediaJustice and other advocacy groups have been pressing Twitter over the access it provides a partner company that shares data about protesters with police. And in the wake of the insurgency at the Capitol, Renderos pointed out during a news conference last week by disinformation experts and advocacy groups that “race was at the core of Trump’s claims of election fraud. He challenged results in cities made up of people of color.”
The importance of a diverse workforce comes into play here, as employees are increasingly becoming uncomfortable with the race-related disinformation that their work has enabled.
“There’s something going on within tech. People who are building these products are essentially feeling as powerless as we are” and are leaking emails and conversations to the news media, said Joan Donovan, research director of the Technology and Social Change Project at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard, at the news conference.
Here are ways to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy, whether you want to commit to a day of service or learn about the history of the civil rights movement.
Martin Luther King’s Birthday, a federal holiday observed on the third Monday in January, is a time to reflect on the legacy of the influential civil rights leader. It is also a federal holiday dedicated to a day of service, when Americans are encouraged to heed Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words: “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”
This year, the holiday falls on Jan. 18. While coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns disrupted plans for many in-person celebrations and volunteering efforts, there are plenty of safe activities you can take part in. The website of AmeriCorps, the federal public-service organization, has a directory where you can search for volunteer opportunities, while President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s inaugural committee suggests creating cards for Covid-19 patients, knitting blankets for the homeless or hosting an online fund-raiser for a nonprofit organization.
Here are other resources for ways to commemorate Dr. King this week, whether you’re looking to do some good or engage in thoughtful conversation.
Hunger Free America, a national research and advocacy organization, will have an “M.L.K. Serve-a-Thon” on Jan. 18 and 19. In a series of virtual workshops, its partner agencies will discuss how food insecurity intersects with other social issues. They will also lead volunteering projects that can be done from home, like phone banking and raising awareness on social media.
Hands on Atlanta, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes civic engagement efforts, lists in-person activities across Atlanta — Dr. King’s hometown — on its website. It also offers virtual suggestions, such as Civic Dinners, a community engagement platform where people can host or attend virtual conversations under topics like “bridging the racial divide” and “grief and gratitude.
L.A. Works creates community service projects in the greater Los Angeles area. On Jan. 18, its website will host family-friendly virtual exhibitions of the 1963 March on Washington — created through the video game Minecraft. It’s also hosting online workshops and volunteering events focusing on how race affects homelessness, food insecurity and criminal justice.
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The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington is hosting a social justice-themed virtual concert by the jazz bassist and composer Christian McBride and students from the Juilliard School. Watch on Jan. 18 at 4 p.m. Eastern. Tickets are free, but registration is recommended.
The King Center in Atlanta wraps up its weeklong observance of the holiday on Jan. 18 with the Beloved Community Commemorative Service, featuring Bishop T.D. Jakes. Stream it at 10:30 a.m. Eastern on the center’s website or on Facebook Watch, or tune in on Fox 5 Atlanta.
Oregon State University’s annual celebration kicks off at 12:30 p.m. Eastern on Jan. 18 with a virtual event featuring the scholar, writer and activist Angela Davis. Tickets are free; register on Eventbrite.
The Harvey B.Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, N.C., will host a daylong, online celebration on Jan. 18 that includes an aural history tour, a panel discussion and more. The event, which starts at 10 a.m. Eastern, is free, but registration is required.
Food Bank for New York City, a hunger relief organization,is holding a Zoom event at 11 a.m. Eastern on Jan. 18. Participating volunteers will write personal letters that will be distributed to New Yorkers in need by the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Queens.
The Art Institute of Chicago is hosting an online talk at 3 p.m. Eastern on Jan. 20 that will touch on justice, resistance and faith, inspired by the museum’s collection and Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a landmark 1963 document Dr. King wrote while in solitary confinement. Registration for the event is required.
Dr. King studied at Morehouse College in Atlanta and the school is commemorating his legacy with a series of events, starting with a virtual forum with Lewis V. Baldwin, a professor emeritus of religious studies at Vanderbilt University, on Jan. 21 at 11 a.m. Eastern. Stream it on the college’s YouTube channel.
Proposed rules would require companies to have – or explain why they do not have – at least two diverse directors
Nasdaq’s efforts to promote diversity on boards has received support from a variety of constituencies, with a number of commenters approving of its ‘comply-or-explain’ approach.
The exchange operator last month filed a proposal with the SEC to adopt new listing rules that would require companies to have – or explain why they do not have – at least two diverse directors, including one who self-identifies as female and one who self-identifies as either an under-represented minority or LGBTQ+.
Foreign companies and smaller reporting companies would be able to comply with the rule by having two female directors. Listed companies would also have to disclose consistent, transparent diversity statistics regarding their board.
Nasdaq defines an under-represented minority as a person who self-identifies in one or more of the following groups: black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, Asian, Native American or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander or two or more races or ethnicities. This reflects the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s categories.
The proposal has attracted dozens of comment letters. In one, Council of Institutional Investors (CII) general counsel Jeffrey Mahoney notes that the group believes corporate governance best practices include the expectation that boards will reflect the diversity of their communities, customers and employees, and that diverse boards can boost financial performance.
CII, however, believes diverse boards can be created without quotas, which it says may led to ‘check-the-box’ diversity. ‘We support the proposal’s comply-or-explain model that provides a transparent framework for listed companies to present their board composition, with the flexibility to explain why the Nasdaq proposed standards cannot be met,’ Mahoney writes. He adds that any burden for companies to comply with the planned requirement for disclosing board-level diversity statistics would be outweighed by the benefits of the information to investors.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer also voiced support for Nasdaq’s plan, writing that the proposed rules would ‘provide investors with vital information to inform investment and proxy voting decisions, as well as improve shareowner value by fostering increased board racial and gender diversity without imposing mandates or quotas.’
At the same time, Stringer recommended that the proposal go further by requiring companies to identify their directors as individuals, not in aggregate, and that the proposed director matrix requirement be widened to describe not only each director’s self-identified gender and race/ethnicity, ‘but also [his/her] skills, experience and attributes that are most relevant to the company’s overall business, long-term strategy and risks.’
Stringer last year led a campaign that resulted in 34 S&P 100 companies agreeing to release the composition of their workforce by race, ethnicity and gender through their annual EEO-1 report data.
CORPORATE COMMENTS On the corporate side, Microsoft backs the proposal and notes in its comment letter that, as a Washington state corporation, it supports the Women on Corporate Boards Act, enacted last year, which requires public companies incorporated in the state to have at least 25 percent of their board members be identifying as women by 2022, or provide to their shareholders a report on their board diversity and analysis.
‘We believe Nasdaq’s proposal is consistent with the goals of the Washington statute, and uses similar disclosure mechanisms to enable shareholders to make informed voting and investment decisions that can include consideration of a company’s approach to diversity on its board,’ writes Dev Stahlkopf, corporate vice president, general counsel and secretary at Microsoft.
Another tech company, Facebook, also supports the Nasdaq initiative. COO Sheryl Sandberg writes that Facebook was one of the first major companies to adopt a formal board diversity policy that requires it to:
‘Consider candidates with diverse backgrounds in terms of knowledge, experience, skills and other characteristics
‘Ensure the initial list of candidates from which new director nominees are chosen by the board includes candidates with a diversity of race, ethnicity and gender.’
Tom Quaadman, executive vice president of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness (CCMC), in another letter writes that the group ‘commends Nasdaq for promoting a private sector-based solution to foster greater diversity among boards of directors. The proposal encourages companies to think critically about how to incorporate diversity into their corporate leadership, which is a goal the chamber shares.’
Quaadman notes that the proposal acknowledges not all companies may be able to meet new listing standards on the same schedule, and the CCMC suggests Nasdaq conducts a continuing assessment of the new rules’ potential impacts on emerging-growth companies and IPOs.
Gary LaBranche, president and CEO of NIRI, writes in the group’s letter that it traditionally has been wary of disclosure mandates or ‘overly prescriptive SEC rules that try to address societal problems.’ Rather, LaBranche says, NIRI generally favors principles-based disclosure rules that offer compliance flexibility and welcomes Nasdaq’s approach along those lines.
‘While some companies may question the feasibility of meeting Nasdaq’s diversity goals (or explaining their board selection policies) or believe that diversity should not be part of an exchange listing standard, we believe the potential benefits from Nasdaq’s proposal would outweigh these concerns,’ LaBranche writes.
SUGGESTED TWEAKS David Bell, co-chair of the corporate governance practice at Fenwick & West, raises a concern about the disclosure requirements, arguing that the statistical data sought might create privacy concerns for some directors.
‘The proposed format for the board diversity matrix requires companies to provide information on each director’s voluntary, self-identified gender and racial/ethnic characteristics and LGBTQ+ status,’ he writes. ‘[But] because the gender information is also required for each racial/ethnic category there is the potential for an individual director’s characteristics to be unintentionally identified through the board diversity matrix, losing the anonymity afforded by aggregating such information.’
Bell suggests this potential issue could be avoided by modifying the board diversity matrix. For example, he says: ‘Instead of providing columns for each racial/ethnic category to disclose the number of directors based on gender identification, just the total number (regardless of gender category) can be included for each racial/ethnic category in the same way that LGBTQ+ is currently presented in the board diversity matrix. Gender categories could then be presented separately showing the total number of men, women, non-binary and undisclosed, each in its own row.’
Another tweak to the proposal is suggested by CFA Institute, which generally support Nasdaq’s plan. Institute officials write that although Nasdaq does not preclude companies from disclosing other diverse attributes of its board members, they encourage Nasdaq to consider whether the proposed diversity definition could be improved by adding factors such as disability and veteran status.
‘This expanded definition would be consistent with state legislation and legislation considered or passed in the US Congress on a bipartisan basis, as well as with our own observations of the investment management industry’s experience in defining diversity,’ they explain.
Worldwide, women make up 47.1% of Netflix’s workforce. Since 2017, representation of white and Asian employees has been on a slow decline, while representation of Hispanic or Latinx, Black, mixed race and folks from native populations has been on the rise. In the U.S., Netflix is 8.1% Hispanic or Latinx, 8% Black and 5.1% of its employees are mixed race, while 1.3% of employees are either Native American, Native Alaskan, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and/or from the Middle East or North Africa.
Netflix’s representation of people of color at the leadership level is not perfect, but it’s certainly better than that of its counterparts in the tech industry. The company’s leadership team is 15.7% Asian, 9.5% Black, 4.9% Hispanic and 4.1% of Netflix’s higher-ups are mixed race.
Netflix has not laid out any concrete goals, but says it’s generally wanting to increase representation by hiring more inclusively and building out its recruiting networks, its VP of inclusion and diversity, Vernā Myers, said in the report. Additionally, Netflix says it wants to focus more on increasing inclusion and representation of folks outside of the U.S., as well as find a way to measure what the company called “inclusion health.”
Progressive, innovative companies are striving for more than just surface-level diversity efforts. They’re finding ways to ensure their employees can be themselves and thrive.
Mark Mathewson, a Black executive in the predominantly white tech sector, has worked at six or seven organizations in his career, and the majority of those places didn’t commit themselves to diversity to the full extent that they could have. They lacked “an appreciation for how leaning into inclusion creates a richer business environment,” Mathewson said. “It’s something that [would] kind of be pushed to the back burner.”
When change isn’t prioritized, there can’t be meaningful advancements or improvements made to the inclusivity of teams. Despite years—or even decades—of D&I initiatives, many U.S. organizations have fallen short of building truly representative workforces. (Case in point: There are only four Black CEOs among Fortune 500 companies today.)
In order for a “good faith effort” to really take place, Mathewson said, workplaces need to go deeper than establishing quick fixes, like diversity training programs (which, on their own, don’t often lead to significant change in an organization’s racial diversity or culture, according to some studies.) Employers need to tackle retention and build an environment where employees feel like they belong—like they can speak up and contribute, and like their needs will truly be met.Photo credit: Nicholas Griner, Stories Inc.
Mathewson now works as senior vice president of card technology at Capital One. Through a combination of progressive hiring practices, retention efforts and commitments to inclusion, he’s one of the leaders helping the organization deepen its pledge to creating a welcoming workforce.
“Have we cracked the nut on diversity and inclusion? No,” Mathewson said, noting that there is (and likely always will be) room for improvement. “But I find it encouraging to see the amount of energy and resources that we are applying to solving this problem.”
Striving to welcome more diverse talent
While inclusive hiring isn’t the only thing needed to build a diverse workplace, it’s certainly a crucial first step. And in order for a company to be genuinely inclusive, they need to hire “a diverse set of people at all levels of the organization,” according to Ellen Taaffe, clinical assistant professor of leadership at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management—meaning employees of color won’t be relegated to one department or seniority level.
Capital One, for its part, recruits diverse candidates for director and manager roles, which has had a “powerful impact” on the organization, according to Mathewson. These seasoned hires bring different perspectives to the table when important decisions are being made and they come with well-developed professional networks that can reach a wide array of potential new talent.
Capital One also recruits diverse candidates at the entry level through their student and early talent programs, which tap talent from underrepresented backgrounds for internships and full-time positions. The organization builds relationships with prospective talent through outreach initiatives at schools; to date, Capital One has hosted 200 diversity-specific events with college and professional groups such as the National Society of Black Engineers and Society of Women Engineers.Photo credit: Nicholas Griner, Stories Inc.
For the technology side of Capital One, where Mathewson works, these programs can present a partial solution to the stark lack of inclusion and representation in the industry, which has long failed to hire racially diverse candidates (67% of tech companies are made up of less than 5% of Black employees, for instance).
“What we’ve found is that active programs early in a student’s career can influence both how excited they are to stay in the tech field, as well as how they think about their teams, the work they produce and the companies they work for,” he added.
Still, if an employee feels overlooked in the office, then they probably won’t stay, no matter how motivated the organization was to recruit them. More than one in three Black employees intend to leave their current jobs because of prejudice and microaggressions and only 44% of Black women feel comfortable speaking up at work. It’s crucial that employees of diverse backgrounds are not only welcomed into the organization, but also invited into “the right rooms, where their voice matters and they’re listened to,” said Taaffe.
After all, if a Black engineer has “insight about how people in their community view digital banking, for instance, yet they don’t feel comfortable speaking up, then [that’s] a great perspective right there in the room that you don’t actually get,” Mathewson said.When you feel accepted and seen for who you really are, you can be more engaged in your workEllen Taaffe, clinical assistant professor of leadership at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management
To ensure that employees of color are given the opportunity to speak up and feel heard, Capital One leaders are encouraged to seek out opinions from a greater number and diversity of workers, according to Mathewson. Thanks to this, employees are free to focus on the work itself, according to Taaffe. “When you feel accepted and seen for who you really are, you can be more engaged in your work.”
Mike Garcia, who is Hispanic, experienced diversity initiatives at previous jobs that felt like side projects or “cultural clubs.” Hispanic employees would be asked to help translate materials, for example, or “be given money to host some sort of event, but otherwise, we wouldn’t get asked for much,” Garcia said. Now, with Garcia working alongside Mathewson, as managing vice president of technology for Capital One, he feels like he’s playing an important role in shaping the future of the organization.
“If you’re in the room with the CEO, he is getting your perspective. And that permeates the whole company,” Garcia said.
A generational push toward greater workplace diversity
Diversity at organizations is also being nudged forward by the younger generation of workers—83% of Gen Z candidates strongly consider a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion when choosing a workplace, for instance. And because millennials and members of Gen Z “have grown up with more diversity around them,” they’re likely to take a stand when their peers aren’t being included, Taaffe said.
They may also come to work equipped with a more nuanced understanding of identity, according to Katina Sawyer, an assistant professor of management at the George Washington University School of Business. Her research has explored how people’s layered identities, a concept known as intersectionality, factor into their experiences at work. For instance, Sawyer said, a company might be working toward greater inclusion for women but neglecting “the specific needs of Black women or Black lesbian women,” who face specific forms of oppression that may come out in the workplace.
Sawyer noted that organizations should be looking more closely at data around layered identities, such as whether Black women employees are advancing up the ladder or being paid as much as white women employees. This is happening inside organizations like Capital One, where employee demographic data is readily accessible in a way that “has been unparalleled” compared to Garcia’s previous employers, he said. As a result, he feels better equipped to help address the lack of Hispanics in tech—which is especially critical, given that the U.S. Hispanic population is projected to nearly double over the next four decades.
“If we do not add that talent, we’re already behind the eight ball,” Garcia said.Photo credit: Nicholas Griner, Stories Inc.
The renewed commitment to inclusion among U.S. companies is promising and points to the possibility of real change. But it’s critical that organizations build up their diversity policies and programs with the long term in mind, so they can drive meaningful change and lasting impact well into the future—something that employees will be expecting of them for quite some time to come.
“There’s a greater awareness that [inclusion] is a possibility,” Sawyer said. “And that leads to a greater expectation that companies are going to do something about it.”