MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — Communities that KARE highlights local people and businesses striving to make a difference.
Our focus is now on Black Tech Talent, a Minneapolis-based company at the forefront of the inclusion evolution.
“The world is diverse; our thoughts are diverse, our moods are diverse, everything about our being is diverse,” explained Mike Jackson, founder and CEO of Black Tech Talent.
Unfortunately, not every job field is like the world.
And that is where Jackson and his company come in by increasing representation of Black technologists in corporate jobs and entrepreneurship.
“We look at the numbers, and right now, there are an estimated 900,000 unfilled positions in IT, and of positions that go to Black talent is only about four to seven percent,” said Jackson.
“We have a short-term goal over the next three to five years to get about 15,000 Black technologists recruited, which would bring an estimated $2 billion annually to the Black community,” he explained.
Black Tech Talent hopes to accomplish that through its pipeline of job opportunities, training, and culturally-specific content.
Credit: KARE 11
“We’re working with people across all fields in technology,” said Jackson.
He listed positions for everything from coding to project management and cybersecurity.
“Our main clientele is tech and tech-enabled corporations, which now is pretty much all of them,” commented Jackson.
Target, HealthPartners, Software for Good, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art are just a handful of corporations that Black Tech Talent helped diversify and bring top-tier talent.
“We’re getting other people ready and prepared to take on those roles. We were trying to keep as many things as free as possible for our community and Black technologists we consider our community,” said Jackson.
Since launching July 2020, Black Tech Talent has more than two thousand members.
The company also won the “Inclusive Evolution Award” presented by Minnesota Startup Awards and the “Community Impact Award” presented by the Twin Cities Business Magazine.
Credit: Black Tech TalentMike Jackson accepting the Minnesota Startup Awards trophy.
All of Jackson’s life, he’s been working with inclusivity and diversity in mind. His mother was adopted by white parents who adopted other children from different ethnicities. “I literally come from diversity. I grew up with cousins of different ethnicities and backgrounds, and so it’s been part of who I am and part of what I’ve been about in every company that I’ve built,” explained Jackson.
Credit: Black Tech TalentMike Jackson, CEO of Black Tech Talent, and his extended family
As for why he’s putting so much effort into Black technologists specifically, Jackson said that he wanted to give them a space to feel comfortable and meaningful.
“My dream for Black Tech Talent is really to uplift the Black community economically in a way that has never been seen before,” Jackson emphasized.
Black Tech Talent will be dropping an employer matching app at its June summit. The summit will have demonstrations and recruiters accepting resumes.
The news: Amazon released new data on the racial and gender makeup of its workforce and outlined plans to increase the number of Black and women employees at the company.
The data: As of Dec. 31, women make up 31.4% of U.S. corporate employees, up 1.4% from 2019. Black employees make up 7.2%, up from 5.4%. White employees make up 47%, down from 48.4%; Asian employees make up 34.8%, down from 36.2%; and LatinX workers make up 7.5%, up from 6.6%.
The gaps widen for U.S. senior leaders — 22.8% are women, up from 21.1% in 2019. Black employees make up 3.8% of senior leaders, up from 1.9%. White employees make up 70.7%, down from 73.9%; Asian employees make up 20%, up from 19.8%; and LatinX workers make up 3.9%, up from 2.9%.
The gaps shrink for Amazon’s workforce at all levels; a majority of its 1.3 million employees globally work outside the office and inside fulfillment centers or other parts of the company’s sprawling logistics network.
2021 goals: Amazon wants to double the number of Black directors and vice presidents this year and increase the number of women in senior technical jobs by 30%, among other goals. The company said it met its goal in 2020 to double the number of Black directors and vice presidents. It will also “inspect any statistically significant demographic differences” for performance ratings, attrition, and low performance actions.
“This is some of the most important work we have ever done, and we are committed to building a more inclusive and diverse Amazon for the long term,” Amazon HR chief Beth Galetti wrote to employees on Wednesday.
Amazon’s “race problem”: Vox reported in February that Black employees at Amazon are promoted less frequently and rated more harshly than peers. Last month, a Black manager sued Amazon for alleged race and gender discrimination.
For comparison: Microsoft released its own diversity numbers in October. Women represent 28.6% of Microsoft’s global workforce, up from 25.5% three years ago; and 20% of the company’s executive and partner-level positions, up from 15.8% three years earlier.
Black and African American employees at Microsoft rose by 0.3 percentage points over the past year, to 4.9%; and represent about 2.9% of executive and partner-level positions, up 0.2 percentage points from the year before.
As a career coach, I would be making a bit of an understatement if I said that I think often about the world of work. The future of work is a subject that fascinates me, and I spend much of my time thinking, learning and talking about it.
Whether it be discussing carefully with a client which growth industries best suit their talents, or researching for this column in order to bring the most up-to-date ideas on the ever changing landscape of work to my readers, the future of work is always front of mind. So much so, in fact, that I sometimes take for granted all of the recent changes that have impacted the world of work, workplace and industry cultures.
It goes without saying that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought tremendous change and upheaval to all of our work lives. But another major change of the last year has been the increasing push to prioritize Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.
DEI is certainly not a new concept in the business world. For many, the protests of summer 2020 shined a bright light on many of the racial and gendered inequities in our society, and highlighted the need to carefully consider how diversity, equity and inclusion are navigated in the world of work.
Along with this social and institutional reckoning has certainly come a lot of progress when it comes to DEI, but many feel that there is much farther to go.
The conversation surrounding DEI certainly raises a lot of questions. So where do issues related to DEI stand today? How have companies made changes to address these issues? Where are we seeing progress and where are there still inequities to be addressed? What’s more, how has the pandemic set us back when it comes to DEI efforts?
This is a challenging subject, and I certainly wouldn’t put myself forward as the foremost authority on the issue, nor the person whose voice is most important in this conversation. However, I’m deeply passionate about the need for greater diversity and inclusion in the world of work, so I’ll do my best to address some of these questions.
How has DEI advanced in recent years?
While the challenges of the pandemic and the social upheaval of the summer 2020 protests really brought conversations about DEI to the forefront, in reality, these issues have been discussed in many sectors for quite a while.
Throughout the 2010s, dialogues around racial and gender equity, LGBTQI+ issues and media representation of underrepresented groups came to the forefront of cultural conversations around the world. As more Americans began to reckon with structural inequities throughout our society, businesses increasingly began to evaluate their cultures and practices with regard to these issues.
In 2015, McKinsey published an influential study entitled “Why diversity matters,”the findings of which show strong correlation between diversity and financial performance. Data from this study showed that companies with greater ethnic and racial diversity among staff performed 35% better than companies whose staff demographics matched the national average. Furthermore, companies with greater gender diversity performed 15% better than companies with less gender diversity.
In 2018, a follow-up study entitled “Delivering through Diversity” was published. The paper examined many companies’ approaches to diversity and inclusion, highlighting some of the reasons that these issues were increasingly relevant in business.
For some companies, the push for diversity was directly related to the desire for socially conscious practices aligned with company missions and values. For others, diversity was integral to their business models and plans for growth, or simply a question of complying with regulation.
The 2018 numbers showed that gender diversity was even more relevant in company performance, with gender-diverse companies performing 21% better than the national average. The study also found that ethnically and racially diverse companies had 43% higher profits. Nevertheless, the rate at which such companies outperformed the national average dropped slightly to 33%.
This paper also notably acknowledged the double bias faced by Black women in the workforce, a group which is statistically underrepresented in executive and line functions. Black women face an especially hard path to a CEO role, with 65% of Black female executives in a staff role, as opposed to line roles.
The higher one ascends in a company’s ladder, the more precipitously diversity drops off. Needless to say, many companies seem to have missed the memo about the link between diversity and company performance.
According to U.S. Census data on the 2020 working population, it’s at the support staff or operations level where racial demographics in the workplace most closely match U.S. demographics overall, although Latinx individuals make up just 10% of this tier of the workforce, compared to the 18.5% of the general population.
The percentage of white staff increases steadily at each level of the corporate ladder, finally representing 85% of executives. At the executive level the racial inequity is particularly significant: though13.4% of the total US population is Black, only 2% of executives are Black; 18.5% of the U.S. population is Latinx, but only 3% of executives are Latinx.
These numbers are striking, and illustrate the fact that inequality is deeply structural in the world of business and will take tremendous ongoing efforts to rectify.
The percentage of Asian American and Pacific Islander workers is more consistent across different rungs of the corporate ladder, and the disparity between corporate representation and AAPI demographics is less severe. AAPI individuals comprise roughly 6.8% of the population as of 2020, and have 8% participation at support staff level, 11% at the professional level and 8% at the executive level.
Many feel that these numbers don’t exactly tell the whole story of the wide range of Asian American and Pacific Islander experience within the U.S. workforce. A major issue here is a lack of data disaggregation in these statistics and studies; there is a widespread tendency for researchers to lump individuals from many different AAPI ethnicities into one demographic category.
One project that aims to address this issue is AAPI Data, which disaggregated data on AAPI individuals, creating more specific data sets and analyzing of smaller demographics within the larger AAPI community.
A data breakdown of poverty rates among different AAPI demographics in 2014 tells an important story of why it is important to disaggregate data related to these groups.
Grouped as one, AAPI poverty rates from 2014 were 12.3%. However, the number varied greatly when broken down into smaller demographics. The Filipino American poverty rate was 6.5%, and the rate for Japanese Americans was 8.5%. Other groups had a significantly higher poverty rate, with 14.5% of Vietnamese Americans below the poverty line and 16.7% of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders falling below the poverty line.
This data also tells an interesting story that relates closely to DEI practices. We cannot attempt to rectify inequality within any system unless we are careful about the ways in which we approach data collection and think about demographic information.
Major cultural shifts in companies in 2020
Summer 2020 represented something of a cultural reckoning as millions took to the streets across America and around the globe to protest the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Elijah McClain and countless other Black Americans.
These protests helped shed light on police brutality against Black Americans, for whom the number of civilian deaths at the hands of police is significantly higher than for any other demographic, with 35 of every 1 million Black Americans being killed. The conversation extended well beyond policing and led to many conversations about institutional racism and bias.
Along with these far-reaching conversations came increased pressure on companies to address bias and discrimination with their ranks and make public their plans to rectify such problems.
In a July 2020 survey, 49% of workers responded that their companies had directly addressed the news related to the death of George Floyd, whether through public statements, internal discussions or donations. The same survey noted that 76% of American workers believed that racism was a problem in American workplaces, with 64% of African Americans workers expressing the sentiment that racism was a problem within their own workplace.
The public response from corporations has ranged from seemingly heartfeld, to reductive and self-serving, a notable example being Nike’s rather goofy “Just Don’t Do It” campaign against racism.
In June 2020, in honor of Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the liberation of enslaved Black Americans, worldwide conglomerate WPP announced that it would commit $30 million to fund inclusion efforts internally, as well as support external causes. Subsequently, in July, WPP shared its employee demographic information in an internal email along with the announcement of a formation of an inclusion council to fight internal discrimination.
In July 2020, Verizon announced its “Citizen Verizon” project with the aim of upskilling 500,000 workers, mostly from minority demographics, for jobs of the future by 2030. The same month, Old Navy launched the “We Are We” campaign featuring five young activists in a bid to project inclusivity.
A recent McKinsey study found that the entertainment industry alone is losing a potential $10 billion annually because of its issues with inclusivity and representation of the Black community. This September, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it would be implementing a diversity quota system by 2024 for any film seeking eligibility for an Oscar, with the intention of increasing representation on screen and diversity in production.
In November, CBS followed suit and announced that its reality shows moving forward would feature at least 50% Black casts, following many years of criticism with how its flagship shows have dealt with issues of race.
These are just a few of the many corporate responses to the outcries for the examination of internal biases and prejudice. While all of these corporate initiatives represent a move in the right direction, some critics question the commitment to the ongoing work of DEI within the corporate space.
Starbucks is a good example of the seeming disconnect between public corporate values and internal practices. In 2018, Starbucks announced that it would close many of its stores for half a day to undergo racial bias training following a widely viewed instance of racial profiling.
In June 2020, Starbucks announced that it would donate $1 million to support racial-justice-oriented causes. However, shortly afterward the company came under fire for a leaked internal memo banning employees from wearing any merchandise supporting Black Lives Matter. Facing criticism, the company subsequently reversed the policy, going so far as to distribute Black Lives Matter T-shirt to their baristas.
To their credit, in January 2021 Starbucks announced that it would be launching the Starbucks Community Resiliency Fund with a $100 million endowment to support equity and inclusion in the communities it serves.
It would appear that the company is trying to do the right thing; however, their track record of making public statements instead of dealing internally with issues of racial bias illustrates a sentiment held by many that public-facing messaging around issues of bias and prejudice are often an optics game. Put simply, many feel that companies pass the equity buck when they worry about being “too political” or impacting profits or the bottom line.
Whether many of these corporate moves were motivated by genuine concern for creating greater equity is a challenging question to answer. While some corporate leaders were probably genuinely moved and forced to confront bias within themselves, for many it was likely motivated by the need to keep up with the times and get ahead of the issue with PR that reflected the growing sentiments being expressed widely through protests and social media.
While many companies proclaimed progressive values in regard to racial equity, many are less than forthcoming about the reality of demographics within their own ranks. As of July 2020, only 3.2% of companies within the Russell 1000 are transparent about the racial makeup of their staff.
Employees’ reactions and perceptions to increased DEI efforts
How have employees perceive this increased public focus on DEI and confront racial inequity within corporations?
Many employees feel that public-facing efforts to promote greater equity and inclusion have not necessarily matched internal corporate practices or culture, especially within certain industries.
A pertinent article in Wired magazine published this March spoke to the experience of employees of color within the tech sector, describing the actions of tech companies such as Google, Amazon, and Google, as “diversity theatre.” While the companies made headlines pledging financial support to racial justice causes and a commitment to rectify internal bias, employees continued to face ongoing discrimination in the workplace and pressure to be silent on issues of racial justice.
Indeed, despite major initiatives to address racial inequity within their ranks, many tech companies have failed to live up to promises of greater diversity. Between 2014 and 2020, Black and Latinx workers at Facebook rose by only 2% per group. In 2018, at the most recent count, Google listed only five Black female executives among their top 357 officers — that’s just 1.4%!
The Equal Employment Opportunity Coalition is currently investigating Facebook for racial bias in its hiring practices. And Facebook is not the only tech company under fire for its hiring practices. In April 2020, former Google recruiter Christina Curley revealed that she was fired over her efforts to extend more recruiting to candidates from historically Black colleges.
In many cases, it seems that corporate culture has not caught up with messaging coming out of the PR department. This is not only a shortcoming when it comes to creating a truly inclusive and equitable environment for all members of staff and candidates — it’s actually proven to be bad business.
To be competitive in recruiting, companies need to prioritize DEI. Data shows clearly that DEI is a priority for workers and job seekers, with 67% of people on the job market stating that racial and gender diversity is an important factor in their job search. Furthermore, 50% of current employees want their company to commit more energy toward promoting diversity.
Issues of diversity, equity and inclusion certainly don’t begin and end with corporate initiatives and workplace practices. It’s worth noting that while many efforts to implement DEI have been undertaken in the business world, the pandemic has represented a major setback for many within already marginalized groups. Job loss related to the pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and Latinx workers, with 11.5% of Black workers experiencing job loss and 12.3% of Latinxs, compared with 7.5% of white workers who lost their jobs.
The pandemic has also dealt a difficult blow to gender equality within the workplace. A 2021 study on gender equality in the workplace found that the Covid-19 pandemic set workplace equality back by several years, with the gender equality index projected to drop two points between 2019 and 2021 to levels below that of 2017.
Throughout the first 10 months of the pandemic, American women lost 5.4 million jobs, almost 1 million more than men. The gender discrepancy in job loss created by the pandemic has been so dire that some are describing it as the “first female recession.”
Next steps in DEI
An important takeaway here is that DEI efforts cannot be viewed as a Band-Aid for systemic problems. A trending marketing video or a one-off corporate training session will not go far to address biases, discriminatory practices and attitudes that are, in many cases, hardwired into corporations and industries.
To look at how to move forward with strong DEI practices, I’d like to share some thoughts from John Rice, a prominent DEI expert and founder of Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a nonprofit which focuses on rectifying systemic inequality and empowering the next generation of leaders.
In a very informative article on LinkedIn, he shared five important hallmarks of strong DEI policy. I’ll share a short summary of the primary 5 points he speaks about, but with the caveat that DEI strategy should always be facilitated by a trained professional and with a careful assessment of company culture.
Recruitment and ongoing retention policies that focus on representation at every level
Careful assessment of pay gaps based on data, and policy for rectifying gaps in earnings
Commitment by top executives to creating an actively anti-racist workplace
Company policies and business practice based on racial justice that are value driven, and not simply virtue signaling
Philanthropic contributions to causes rooted in racial equity and justice
The entire article is definitely certainly worth a read to dive deeper into what the future of proactive DEI policy could look like.
The work of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion must be ongoing and far-reaching, facilitated by experienced professionals and amplifying the voices of those from marginalized groups. Some progress has been made, at least on a public-facing level; however, in assessing the data and listening carefully to the perspective of individuals of diverse identities, it is clear that there is much more work to be done.
You’d have a tough time finding any company in America that doesn’t at least outwardly embrace diversity. Why else would every corporate giant choose to air TV ads that somehow touch on diversity during the Super Bowl or host diversity days? The truth is that diversity days or featuring diversity hires in one’s marketing collateral do little to advance the cause of true diversity and deprive businesses of the transformational changes a diverse workplace affords.
Diversity is key to innovation in the workplace, offering radically new perspectives to business problems and a breadth of life experience and wisdom that strengthens a company and our teams. Diversity makes business better.
Here are five steps to ensure diversity isn’t a nice extra but instead a pillar of your company that unites social justice along with the best of business strategy.
Just like we need our teams to understand company vision to succeed, we require everyone’s understanding of how and why a diverse organization helps everyone. Educating the workforce should be part of creating an inclusive culture. Institute diversity and inclusion training across all levels of your company and ensure all team members understand why it helps your business in the long run, builds a more innovative company and financially benefits everyone.
3. Build a support structure.
The proper structure not only makes everyone feel welcome but collectively builds a culture where diversity is interwoven into the fabric of daily work. Build employee support teams that onboard new employees, gather feedback, meet regularly to understand culture challenges and provide senior leadership recommendations to formulate more inclusive company policies.
Additionally, build cross-culture and cross-skills teams to identify new business opportunities or to problem-solve new challenges. Use these teams for customer insights and employee development and as a catalyst to improve employee communication. Finally, integrate your diversity values and philosophy into your mentoring and leadership training.
4. Adapt diversity initiatives to each region.
“One size fits all” doesn’t work. Diversity initiatives should be tailored to local regions where a company operates and competes. A centralized approach is likely to either stall or fail. Strive to learn from microcultures rather than enforce a centralized global viewpoint when putting your global strategy in place.
To develop a sustainable program, create a shared understanding of what it means to be a globally diverse company, and give the responsibility to drive such programs to your local teams.
5. Take the long view and measure results.
Workplace diversity is a long-term ambition. Any steps you take should provide measurable results so you can continue to refine your efforts for greater diversity and inclusion (D&I). Make sure that the metrics you choose to measure help identify long-term trends.
For example, suppose you measure the number of women hired into management positions but fail to count how many women left the company across all roles. In that case, you won’t understand the nature of the actual diversity you are building. Measuring long-term trends can help you identify a minor blip and not discourage your ongoing D&I efforts.
Diversity will remain a cultural touchstone due in large part to the swell of changes that have occurred in our social fabric over the course of the past few years with the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements and other societal shifts. Many will claim they are answering the call to build a truly diverse workplace, but few will do the hard work necessary to ensure it happens.
Be different and bold as you make these changes. The path to both social justice and a transformed workplace doesn’t begin with nice gestures. It begins with solid foundational work and a plan to execute and grow from strength to strength.
The lack of diversity in tech isn’t a pipeline problem. It’s a process problem, according to Ariel Lopez, founder of Knac, a recruiting software that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to screen all job applications.
Lopez spent about a year as a career coach for General Assembly, a job training and placement company, where she helped people transition into the technology field.
“It’s frustrating that recruiters are still using antiquated software and not really changing their processes,” Lopez said. “Lack of diversity and bad candidate experiences are the things we’re trying to fix that are a result of that process.”
Knac, founded in 2019, aims to help recruiters make unbiased decisions on their next hire while providing feedback to the job searchers.
Lopez said companies have a better chance of increasing diversity of thought and people by using Knac. Instead of relying on their personal networks, recruiters can use Knac software to filter specific resume data, creating a fairer vetting process.
The Atlanta startup, which has three employees, is getting its legs during a time in which workforce diversity is a huge conversation in the Atlanta technology ecosystem.
Data shows companies with more diversity perform better financially. Tech giants Microsoft and Airbnb specifically mentioned the city’s diversity as a major attraction when they both chose the city as their East Coast hubs.
Leaders in the community hope the West Coast companies follow through with those diversity commitments, in part to prevent a similar pattern of displacement that plagued the San Francisco Bay Area as Silicon Valley exploded into a tech mecca.
But companies have the responsibility to make recruiting process changes that reflect their commitments to diversity, which is where Knac could help.
Knac screens all applications that come in for a specific job based on what the recruiter needs in terms of skills. Knac says 85% of applications do not get considered because they got lost or overlooked in the process. Lopez said the startup should have about 25 customers by the end of the year.
If the applicant is not a good fit, Knac can send a rejection letter with specific feedback to the job seeker.
“Our ethos is just making this process more human and repairing the relationship between the company and job seeker,” Lopez said. “It shouldn’t feel like you’re throwing your resume into a black hole.”
Lopez launched the beta version of the company in 2019, moving to Atlanta from New York because of its growing reputation for technology and corporate residents. When the pandemic hit, her business stalled as her customers looked to cut costs.
She joined the Acceleprise accelerator for software-as-a-service companies, which helped her revamp the company to be more data-driven and automated with better integration capabilities. Knac relaunched an updated version of the product in 2021.
Knac has funding from Google for Startups Black Founders Fund and a strategic partnership with hiring software company Greenhouse to use its customer base to grow Knac’s sales. Greenhouse CEO Daniel Chait also invested in Knac, Lopez said. The startup has about $500,000 investments total.
By this time next year, Lopez hopes to have about 10 employees and raise another funding round. Right now, Knac is focused on onboarding new customers and continuing to update its technology, including adding more insight features.
As one of the most prominent anchors of CNN for the last 13 years, Brooke Baldwin became a familiar face for many in America. She relayed news on everything from school shootings to her own experience with COVID-19 to her “American Woman” series, and everything in between. Ahead of her big exit this month, however, Baldwin has called out the CNN network for diversity issues.
The Peabody Award-nominee has been previously evasive on her exact reasons for leaving CNN. Her announcement alluded that there was “just more I need to do.” Yet when discussing “Women and Media” with On the Issues with Michele Goodwin, CNN veteran Brooke Baldwin had this to say:
The most influential anchors on our network — the highest-paid — are men. My bosses, my executives, are men. The person who oversees CNN Dayside is a man and my executive producer for 10 years is a man, so I’ve been surrounded by a lot of men. . . . There’s no way we will have progress if a bunch of white women are winning. It’s brown women, Black women, Asian women, it’s across the board. We have to see them reflected in our stories. It’s getting better but we still have a bit of a ways to go, I think.
Brooke Baldwin makes good points here about the current state of women in positions of power and influence. Diversity issues are prevalent in almost all forms of media, though changes are being made left and right. BET just announced last month that the network would have its first trans non-binary host and executive producer. ABC had to make some new decisions concerning who should take over Bachelor Nation hosting duties amidst “racially insensitive” comments this year. Efforts have also been made to change up the canon and diversify various movies and comics.
Yet Brooke Baldwin’s departure from CNN doesn’t exactly help issues concerning diversity at the network. CNN announced that they will be essentially just reshuffling the deck, with Alisyn Camerota and Victor Blackwell taking over Baldwin’s old slot from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and then Brianna Keilar taking over as co-host on New Day.
The recent comments made by Brooke Baldwin do, however, align with what seems to be her path going forward. She just recently released her new book, Huddle: How Women Unlock Their Collective Power. In it, she speaks with all manner of female trailblazers, such as actress Reese Witherspoon and activist Stacey Abrams. Baldwin explained to Yahoo Entertainment that her exit from CNN was a necessary one, saying,
It’s going to be hard to walk away. I have to walk away. And the main reason is — listen, it’s been a total privilege… but I, in spending all this time with all these trailblazing women and these huddles, I cannot hold space with them and not be the bravest version of myself.
In other words, it seems Brooke Baldwin wants to raise the bar for herself. Moreover, she is putting out there that CNN needs to raise their bar, as well.
he recruiter quit after 11 months, adding fuel to claims that it discriminates against Black applicants
Rhett Lindsey was so eager to work at Facebook, he applied for a job there three times. When he finally got the offer to become a recruiter for highly paid engineers, he says he jumped at the chance to help the social network push for greater employee diversity in its ranks.
Eight months later, in August 2020, Lindsey attended a virtual meeting to discuss the company’s goal of hiring more Black engineers. In the meeting, a White manager played a Drake song in the background whose chorus repeats the phrase “Where the [n-word]s be at?,” five times, according to videos of the incident reviewed by The Washington Post.
Lindsey asked in the chat system why they were playing the song, then said he was “really disappointed,” according to the video. Nine other employees who were present in the meeting echoed his frustrations by putting emoji expressing shock alongside his comment.
“It shows you the insensitivity and the lack of awareness,” Lindsey said. A manager subsequently apologized, according to the video.
The country was in the midst of a historic reckoning over racial justice, and Facebook had just set an ambitious hiring goal of 30 percent more people of color in leadership by 2025.
But Lindsey and other current and former Black employees involved in hiring — as well as potential recruits who filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last summer — describe a problematic system that makes it difficult to achieve that and other diversity goals. They say the company has adapted metrics that prompt recruiters to go through the motions without actually delivering talent. Even the diverse candidates who are brought in can be rejected over vague terms such as “cultural fit.” They also say that the problem goes deeper than hiring and that many employees of color feel alienated by the social network’s culture.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said the company is focused on advancing racial justice in the workplace and in recruiting. “We’ve added diversity and inclusion goals to senior leaders’ performance reviews. We take seriously allegations of discrimination and have robust policies and processes in place for employees to report concerns, including concerns about microaggressions and policy violations,” he said. He did not address the incidentinvolving the Drake song.
Lindsey quit the company in November, just 11 months after he started, and has since founded a start-up.
Facebook is facing a federal investigation by the EEOC that launched last summer into allegations of bias in hiring, promotion and pay, according to the complaint. That case has since been expanded into a systemic probe by the EEOC, a special designation which means that the federal agency is examining whether company practices may be contributing to widespread discrimination and is assessing the potential to bring a broader lawsuit representing an entire class of workers, according to the lawyers representing the complainants.
The EEOC declined to comment. The agency can only speak publicly about charges if they result in a lawsuit against the employer.
In the EEOC complaint, three Black job applicants say they met all the advertised job qualifications but were rejected after going through the interview process. They say they were told by Facebook interviewers that the company was looking for people who would fit in culturally. One candidate, whose lawyer requested The Washington Post withhold her name because parts of the complaint are not public, was told by a Facebook hiring manager, “There’s no doubt you can do the job, but we’re really looking for a culture fit,” but was not given any further explanation.
Culture fit is an ill-defined term for whether a candidate is a good match for a company’s internal culture.
A Facebook operations manager who is identified in the complaint, Oscar Veneszee Jr., who is Black and still works at Facebook, said in an interview that he had submitted more than half a dozen qualified applicants who were underrepresented minorities for jobs at Facebook, but that all were rejected and he suspected it was because they failed the cultural fit test.
“When I was interviewing at Facebook, the thing I was told constantly was that I needed to be a culture fit, and when I tried to recruit people, I knew I needed find people who were a culture fit,” he said. “But unfortunately not many people I knew could pass that challenge because the culture here does not reflect the culture of Black people.”
Facebook’s Stone said the company’s recruiters do not assess cultural fit, but the company looks for whether skills and behaviors in the interview process, such as responses to questions about what a person might do in a particular scenario, align with Facebook’s values.
“There is no culture fit check mark on an application form, but at Facebook it is like this invisible cloud that hangs over candidates of color,” said Lindsey. He added that at least a dozen qualified candidates of color that he referred for interviews were also rejected by Facebook, with culture fit was part of those decisions. “It really boils down to who do I feel comfortable hanging out with.”
Racial issues at Facebook have been particularly acute over the last year because of the decision by CEO Mark Zuckerberg to give wide latitude to racially divisive comments by President Trump during last summers’ protests, and because of the company’s role in providing a platform for extremist groups that espouse white supremacist ideas. The decision to leave up Trump’s comment was of particular concern to workers of color, some of whom met personally with senior leaders to protest the decision while others have left the company. Facebook software engineer Ashok Chandwaney quit publicly in the fall, citing unease with the social media giant’s role in fueling hate.
Zuckerberg’s decision “created such lack of psychological safety on all kinds of levels, and Black employees in particular didn’t know how to truly process that,” said a former Black executive who cited the decision as one of her reasons for resigning.
Facebook is one of the several Silicon Valley companies, including Google and Microsoft, to announce ambitious diversity targets in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed while in police custody. But years of annual tech companies’ diversity reports show only incremental progress on increasing the ratio of Black and Latino employees, and high attrition rates among Black women, supported by recent accounts of racial bias and inequities in pay and promotion from Black women at Google, Pinterest and Amazon.
Google’s leadership is more than 95 percent White or Asian and 73 percent male, and Facebook’s is more than 87 percent White or Asian and 66 percent male, according to the companies’ 2020 diversity reports.
The independent civil rights auditors Facebook hired to scrutinize its record last summer found attrition was of concern to employees of color and to civil rights advocates, and noted a “disconnect” between the experiences described by employees of color and the company’s myriad diversity and inclusion initiatives. In the report, which was made public by Facebook, auditors also called the company’s permissive stance on politicians’ speech a “tremendous setback” for its civil rights progress, saying such decisions were made by members of senior leadership who lacked civil rights expertise.
The auditors noted that “civil rights leaders have characterized the current numbers for Hispanic and African American staff as abysmal across every category.“
Facebook has pledged that 50 percent of its workforce will be made up of underrepresented people by 2024 — defined as underrepresented minorities and women — but its progress so far has been modest. Currently just over 85 percent of its workforce is White or Asian, and more than 90 percent of those in highly compensated technical roles are White or Asian, according to its annual diversity report. That is down from 91 percent of the overall workforce and 94 percent of the technical workforce in 2014, when the company first published its annual diversity report.
Women make up 37 percent of all roles, up from 31 percent in 2014. And they now fill 24 percent of technical roles, up from 15 percent in 2014.
Many tech workers and civil rights advocates say progress on diversity often is thwarted by invisible biases and outright discrimination that permeate Silicon Valley culture, leading to fewer hires, unwelcoming environments and high attrition among workers of color.
Ifeoma Ozoma, a former public policy official at Facebook, said that when she was asked to interview job candidates at the social media giant, the process was superficial and numbers-driven. In one instance, she alleged, a Facebook recruiter told her there were already sufficient numbers of women in the running for a particular role, implying there was no need to find additional applicants from underrepresented groups.
Ozoma added that none of the recruiting measures matter if retention isn’t a focus, “because even the best managers are not always able to protect their hires from toxic work environments.”
When Lindsey started sourcing candidates for Facebook, he said he and other recruiters used a custom-built software dashboard called FBR, or Facebook Recruiting platform, where recruiters recorded their outreach to candidates and created profiles of them. Their manager had weekly meetings with them to gauge their progress.
If recruiters didn’t hit targets of making contact or starting the recruiting process with a specific number of people of each race and gender each week, they were told specifically that executives, namely Zuckerberg, were unhappy with them, Lindsey said. Managers would then enforce 30- to 90-day “lockdowns,” a long-standing companywide practice where employees are told to drop all other responsibilities to make progress on a single metric, such as a requirement to increase the number of Latino candidates a recruiter pinged on LinkedIn. Sometimes the recruiters were able to hit the targets, but it’s not clear how well it worked, he said.
Managers primarily instructed recruiters to infer the race and gender of candidates by scouring the Internet, particularly Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, he said.
They then formalized those guesses and inputted them into a system that any person who interviewed the candidate couldsee, according to Lindsey and to a screenshot of the system viewed by The Post. The screenshot showed nine affirmative action, or AA, categories with a bubble next to them for check marks, that are part of a candidate’s profile for a job at Facebook. Seven of the categories were race-based, including Black and Hispanic, and there were two other categories for women and veterans. He said the system was still being used when he left.
The pressure sometimes led the recruiters to make problematic assumptions, Lindsey said, based on his conversations with other employees, discussions at their team meetings and his own experience.
Tech recruiters say it’s a common, if unspoken, practice in Silicon Valley to guess the race and gender of applicants. It’s a less-than-ideal outcome of companies trying to reduce the risk of violating civil rights laws, which effectively prevent employers from requiring candidates to disclose their race outright.
Another former Black Facebook recruiter, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, confirmed that FBR contained race tags when he worked there in 2018. He said in his department, which was different than Lindsey’s, both team leaders and other recruiters told him not to use them. He was told they were being phased out because that type of guesswork was frowned upon. His team also no longer used “culture fit” as hiring criteria, he said.
Julie Levinson Werner, a partner at the law firm Lowenstein Sandler, said that becauseboth state and federal law prohibit making hiring decisions because of a protected characteristic, companies avoid asking to try to mitigate their risk of a lawsuit.
But many recruiters don’t put those guesses in writing or, if they risk doing so, might note the guesswork in code, such as emoji, in their applicant-tracking software, said diversity expert Nicole Sanchez, founder and CEO of Vaya Consulting. She advises clients against this kind of guesswork.
Lindsey’s description of that practice within Facebook was troubling, Sanchez said, because it took that guesswork to another level bypotentiallyexposing it to everyone involved in the hiring process.
Stone said the company does not instruct recruiters to visually inspect the race of prospective candidates and instead asks them to use objective criteria, such as membership in a professional society for a certain ethnicity or whether a person went to a historically black school.
According to Lindsey, the pressure resulted in some cases in recruiters feeling the need to duplicate candidate profiles — manipulating the profile slightly so the same candidate would count twice, or tagging White people as people of color — in the tracking system to inflate their numbers. He said he never did so.
Facebook’s Stone declined to comment on Lindsey’s allegation.
That system then fed into an interview and selection process that was itself not inclusive, Lindsey said. The educational backgrounds of candidates of color, who more frequently came from less prestigious universities, coding boot camps or HBCUs, were often dubbed less of a “cultural fit” in HR meetings than other candidates, Lindsey said.
Lindsey says his time at Facebook led him to co-found his start-up, Siimee, focused on helping job candidates connect with recruiters on an app that focuses on prioritizing inclusivity and mitigating bias. It lets people create profiles where they can openly discuss their identities and ambitions and show those to potential employers.
He says a lot of people are surprised that he left such a prestigious company.
“It was a hard year. The work from home, the racial justice protests. I worked for a platform where there was a lot of hate and disconnect, and as a Black man, I felt I was always under a microscope,” he said. “Just because you’re in this place everyone thinks is great and have stability, you don’t have to stay somewhere that is problematic in your eyes.”
The enormous leaps in technology and HR have created many opportunities for companies to rethink how they address processes around human resources. Services range from software identifying a candidate’s employability through facial recognition and body language to on-boarding services for new graduates. The potential for efficiency and speed is unlike anything considered, and at a time when there is more choice than ever to draw talent from a global pool. Still, there is a greater need to ensure successful recruitment and retention. As organizations grapple with moving towards the next normal after successive lockdowns, they also need to continue a proactive approach to handling diversity challenges in the workplace. While HR AI tech creates numerous opportunities, we are at the stage where many solutions still require further iterations and development.
When dealing with HR AI tech, the limitations around diversity are the by-product of how solutions are designed. We are rapidly moving into space where solutions provide emotional recognition. AI analyzes facial expressions or body posture to determine decisions around recruitment. Current estimates expect emotion recognition is projected to be worth $25billion by 2023. Despite extraordinary growth in this area, there are challenges and significant kinks to be addressed, namely, ethical elements concerning the creation of the algorithms. Companies are grappling with HR AI and ethics. Recent examples demonstrate the enormity of the ramifications when things don’t go according to plan. In other words, when things go wrong, they go badly wrong. Consider, for example, Uber, when fourteen couriers were fired due to a failure of recognition by facial identification software. In this case, the technology based on Microsoft’s face-matching software has a track record of failing to identify darker-skinned faces, with 20.8 percent failure rate for darker-skinned female faces. The same technology has zero percent failure for white men. There are additional problems when even organizations work with AI ethicists. We saw this recently when Google was in the spotlight for firing two AI ethical researchers; Margaret Mitchell in February 2021 and Timnit Gebru in December 2020.
Building an effective HR AI strategy relies on the leadership team working with HR to identify the solutions. Still, the processes’ effectiveness needs alignment with scrutiny on the algorithms’ compositions that make the decisions. Currently, we have little or no legislation governing the development of AI applications; over seven hundred AI applications are available in an unregulated market. As the field of HR AI tech is evolving, albeit, at unprecedented speed, it is even more essential to create a benchmark of what constitutes good quality AI. In the United Kingdom, the government is drawing together a wide range of stakeholders to develop a regulatory framework. In the United Kingdom, the AI Council provides cross-governmental guidance on how partners engage with AI by creating a sixteen-point roadmap. The strategy provides the framework for an AI ecosystem, drawing on the government’s views and over a hundred experts.
Dr. Robert Elliot Smith, Chief of Science and Technology for Centigy, a company that provides audit programs for sustainable AI, explains the importance of these questions. He states, “AI is completely changing the world of HR. How people find and benefit from their workplace is becoming more influenced by machine decision-making. Unfortunately, much of the tech developed is unaware of emerging standards and practices for protecting people from potentially biased AI decisions.” Centigy has created ethical frameworks or sustainable AI proposed by IEEE in the US, The Alan Turing Institute in the UK, and the European Commission for AI.
By combining global insights from AI ethics authorities, Centigy is establishing itself as the first HR software-focused AI ethics certification body. Proving the certification allows organizations to provide more equitable approaches to human resources and supporting colleagues in the workplace. As AI and HR tech are rapidly developing, leaders have the opportunity to engage with conversations and help shape thinking some of the challenges identified in this article.
Smith suggests the critical questions leaders should consider asking when exploring HR AI tech options for their organization:
What are the ethical implications of the software, and how does this impact our organization?
What lens is used as a decision-making framework?
What artifacts have been developed to illustrate this thinking?
Kevin Butler, CEO of Centigy, suggests leaders need answers to these questions. He states, “if vendors can’t answer these questions, then it’s a red flag, and they probably can’t handle the complex questions. Leaders need to get more comfortable to ask these questions and know what to expect in terms of strong answers”.
Butler explains the particular challenge for leaders; “we see similarities to the D&I space, where leaders get the concept, and at a very high level they recognize its importance. The moment you go into the granularity, there is a tendency to leave this to the subject matter expert – which is great. However, you still need strategic leadership to shape this thinking for the organization.” To create effective AI HR tech, you need conscious thinking and challenge assumptions embedded in the algorithms.
As leaders become more comfortable engaging with AI tech and HR, they become more knowledgeable about the processes and algorithms. They can identify areas where bias is in the program and, more importantly, what is done to reduce biases’ likely impact. Butler emphasizes the need to recognize where responsibility lies; “there’s a certain amount of responsibility on the vendor right to ensure that the users are proficient. But at some point in time, it’s really up to the actual users and management within that organization to ensure that everybody knows what they’re doing.” Doing Good HR tech doesn’t just rest with HR; leaders are essential to this discussion.
Coming out of the crisis, recruitment firms are seeing great demand for human resources and diversity leaders who can meet the challenges of the “new normal.” These key executives must be sophisticated, proactive, inspirational, and strategic-minded, with strong business savvy, say search professionals.
As the pandemic raged last spring, chief human resource leaders stepped up around the nation. Their task: to play a starring role in helping organizations navigate and fight through a challenge that has turned out to be far greater than the one faced during the Great Recession. A recent article in The Economist noted that during the health crisis of 2020, CHROs “keep employees healthy; maintain their morale; and oversee a vast remote-working experiment.” As companies now begin to slowly emerge from the COVID-19 era, these HR chiefs have other pressing dilemmas, like whether to downsize their workforces – or to rebuild – in the aftermath.
Meanwhile, chief diversity officers have emerged as key leaders during this enormous period of transition. With a global workforce shifting in complexity, there is a growing need for diversity experts who can shape the vision, culture, and very face of organizations. At issue: Too few women and people of color are serving in too few senior executive positions. Pandemic or not, organizations and their very cultures thrive on diverse talent and it is now falling on top DE&I leaders to make it happen. For executive recruiters in hot pursuit of both leadership roles, the search is on for big guns who are sophisticated, proactive, inspirational and strategic-minded, with strong business savvy to drive their people capabilities like they would a P&L. According to these search experts, chief executives are pushing people programs to become sustained board-level agenda items – and mandates to find the best CHROs and chief diversity officers is hitting an all-time high as a result.
2020 was a “perfect storm” year for organizations and for their HR functions. “Last year, HR leaders were thrust at hyper-speed into COVID-19 response, remote work, the future of work, DE&I, social justice and organizational fatigue,” said Ruben Moreno, HR practice lead for Blue Rock Search. “Now, more than ever, CEOs and executive leaders are compelled to seek the experience, competence, coaching, and change leadership skills of these top leaders. And shareholders, consumers and government agencies (including the SEC) are demanding transparency with respect to DE&I at publicly traded organizations.”
Last year, of course, the top priority was employee safety and health. “The most immediate COVID-19 challenge was the rapid development and implementation of a pandemic response plan which many organizations did not have in place,” said Mr. Moreno. The lion’s share of that responsibility came to rest in HR, he said. Another top priority was business continuity, “which required extensive cross-functional collaboration to ensure the processes, policies, systems, and tools were in place that would enable ongoing business operations via remote work,” he said.
A full year into the crisis with a “new normal” setting in, the task at hand is to proactively prepare for what is to come in 2021. Mr. Moreno pointed to a few key points. First are the issues around the future of work: “Creating and compensating a more remote workforce,” he said. “Managerial effectiveness – building remote management capability at the individual and organizational level via people development and technology enablement, and policy development and deployment. As we begin the process of migrating back ‘to the office’ there are multiple policy and workplace systems that HR will need to address. Such as mandatory return, mandatory testing and social distancing in the workplace.” It is a full plate for any leader to tackle.
Managing a Distributed Workforce
“We believe companies are recognizing the importance of HR and the thought leadership that HR brings in dealing with complex issues around safety, engaging in a remote workplace, and creating an environment where diversity can thrive,” said Pam Noble, president of the consulting services division and head of the DE&I practice at The Christopher Group. “Creating a sense of belonging and engagement is becoming more challenging in a distributed work environment,” she said. Separately, in companies that are PE-sponsored there is a clear premium being placed on attracting, developing and retaining top talent, she noted.
“Many believe we are not going back to what it was like pre-COVID-19,” Ms. Noble said. “Companies are looking to their HR leader for guidance on managing the new environment, ensuring the business’ success and employees’ well-being as they look to balance a distributed workforce – all by building and creating a culture rooted in shared values regardless of background, location and tenure.” Some companies have been forced to slow hiring and some have reduced their workforces, only adding to their staffing problems. This has brought on organizational cultures and ways of doing business,” he added. History would tell us, he said, that there will not be meaningful and sustained change in the way corporations conduct business until the negative consequences of continuing with “business as usual” outweigh the fears of doing things differently. “The extent of the impact will depend upon the persistence and intensity of the social insistence for change.”
Most corporate C-suites, of course, have already publicly elevated diversity, equity, and inclusion to the top of their strategic checklists. A key driver: social uprisings in 2020 organized against systemic racism, according to Ben DeBerry, executive vice president at Slayton Search Partners. “It remains to be seen whether this will go beyond the superficial and have any material impact on organizational cultures and ways of doing business,” he added. History would tell us, he said, that there will not be meaningful and sustained change in the way corporations conduct business until the negative consequences of continuing with ‘business as usual’ outweigh the fears of doing things differently. “The extent of the impact will depend upon the persistence and intensity of the social insistence for change.” “It is the organizational culture of companies – their values, beliefs, and practices – that have produced a lack of diversity and absence of equity,” Mr. DeBerry said.
“Those organizational cultures need to change, not the individuals they have excluded from their ranks. The same culture will produce the same results. Organizations need to ask, ‘What is it about our culture that reinforces racial inequity?’ and not, ‘Does this executive fit in our biased culture?’ Diversity is not just about increasing the numbers of diverse people in the workforce. It is a completely new way of interacting, hiring, and providing a healthy environment that spurs an inclusive culture for everyone.”
Setting the Tone
So many elements come into play when HR leaders are trying to build an organizational culture that diverse leaders want to join. “Absolutely critical is having a commitment from the top, whether that be a president or CEO,” said Charlene Aguilar, a consultant in the education recruiting practice at WittKieffer. “The organization’s leadership sets the tone in articulating and prioritizing culture, mission and values that promote belonging and inclusion.” Another key aspect is having a chief diversity officer or other DE&I-focused executive who has real authority to facilitate transformation, innovate and drive culture change, she said. Then there is the need to build diverse representation holistically and within the organization. “When leadership candidates interview, they want to see peer leaders, board members and employees who are diverse and represent a multifaceted community of stakeholders. This gives candidates an understanding that the organization they are thinking about joining is the right one for them,” she said.
Array of Obstacles
“I’m optimistic that many leaders and the organizations they represent now take diversity, equity and inclusion much more seriously than ever before,” said Donna Padilla, managing partner and healthcare practice leader at WittKieffer. “The messages coming from the Black Lives Matter movement have resonated and organizations have been inspired to act towards social change. Meanwhile, the pandemic has highlighted a glaring need to address the great discrepancies in the health and well-being of communities. We see a greater commitment in our search work, as clients are prioritizing diversity more than ever as they look for new executives. Many institutions are also, for the first time, recruiting or elevating chief diversity officers and other diversity-focused leaders. These are positive trends that I hope will continue well after the pandemic passes,” she added.
HR Leaders Thrust into the Spotlight Once Again in 2021 The best CHROs emerged as trusted leadership voices in navigating the pandemic last year. Odds are that they will continue to hold that elevated position in the months and possibly years ahead, according to a new report from Slayton Search Partners. “COVID-19 created a make-or-break situation for HR leaders, and those who rose to the occasion are the ones who are prepared for 2021’s HR trends,” says report author John Doyle.
There is an array of obstacles that diverse candidates must overcome. “Historically, organizations have not done a great job of recruiting, identifying and developing diverse talent within their organizations,” said Ms. Padilla. “Additional challenges include lack of mentoring and continued development opportunities, the way that executive roles are defined and structured within organizations, implicit bias in organizations’ hiring and retention processes, and lack of proper onboarding and organizational support for diverse executives to succeed when placed in senior roles. These are things that can inhibit leaders who have already been successful in their careers from reaching the top echelon of their organizations.”
Committed, Active or Passive
“Since the start of the George Floyd protests last spring there has been a heightened interest in addressing diversity, equity and inclusion issues across all for-profit and non-profit organizations,” said Ted Pryor, managing director of Greenwich Harbor Partners. “There has been significant fresh interest in hiring diverse candidates for C-suite roles and board of directors. There has also been an increase in effort to create more welcoming environments for diverse employees such as creating mentorship programs. I would say one-third have been very committed to diversity for a long time, one-third have been interested and are increasing their level of activity now. And one-third are still somewhat passive and just beginning to think about what more they can do.”
Mr. Pryor said there is a shortage of diversity in the C-suite partly because of the time it takes for people to development and partly because people tend to want to hire people like themselves. “It takes extra effort to hire someone with a very different background and style of doing business,” he said. “One of the common stated objectives is the desire to hire people who fit in, but this can be a not-so-subtle screen for people who look and talk and think in different ways. If the C-suite executives all need to be golfers to fit in, then you will screen out a lot of people. However, if you focus on skills and experience, you will find a lot of diverse talent. In truth, the C-suite has become a lot more diverse in the last 30 years especially in marketing, HR and legal as people have risen through the professions,” Mr. Pryor said.
Finding Female Leadership
Women workers, to be sure, have been hard hit by the current economic crisis. The number of women who lost their jobs when the pandemic began exceeded all of the jobs created for women in the years between the Great Recession and today. So, what is being done to promote female leadership? What are executive search firms doing to promote women into senior leadership roles? Is there a concerted effort?
“I think it depends on the search firm,” said Judith M. von Seldeneck, founder and chair of Diversified Search Group. “In some cases, you are seeing a more concerted effort to diversify the ranks, and at others it doesn’t seem to be a priority. At the end of the day, it is a matter of intentionality: How important is this to you? Obviously, it is very important to us. We are the largest woman-founded executive search firm in the world. Our founder, me, is a woman, our president is a woman, and the three firms we acquired in 2019 – Koya Partners, Grant Cooper, and Storbeck Search – were all originally founded by women. So, we are clearly intentional about the importance of female leadership,” she said.
The country is, too, she added. “We have more women in Congress than ever, and the first woman vice president in the history of the nation. I think it’s important, as the people who find leadership for the country, that our leadership in executive search reflect our commitment to diversity.”
Ms. von Seldeneck also noted that women are getting the top-level positions more than they used to. “Women being considered for top C-suite roles, which would have been groundbreaking when I started Diversified Search in 1974, is now something completely taken for granted,” she said. “That’s very gratifying. But the executive search industry itself still has some work to do in this regard. There are no other women heading up major U.S. search firms, which just seems astonishing in 2021. As an industry, we should be leading our clients on this, not the other way around.”
One area Ms. von Seldeneck feels good about is equal pay. “The good news is we are making some headway,” she said. “Five years ago, women earned 74 cents for every dollar a man earned; today, the uncontrolled gender pay gap is 81 cents for every dollar. When you control for identical education and backgrounds, it goes to 98 cents for every dollar, which seems terrific. But, she noted, it still does not explain why women with identical experience and qualifications still make two percent less than men do.
“It gets a little trickier when you get into the issue of people of color, but the fact remains that black and Hispanic executives still lag far behind their Caucasian counterparts,” Ms. von Seldeneck noted. “Again, the solution here is that companies have to be more intentional. We are seeing a lot of clients who are undertaking a compensation audit and comprehensive job analysis, or abandoning salary history as a metric, something that is also being actively legislated. Anti-bias training, increased use of flexible or remote working arrangements – there are a lot of tools that can be activated to address this. You’re starting to see them used more robustly.”
“There is universal understanding that workplace equality isn’t going to be achieved by accident –there simply are too many structural impediments for women and people of color – and so companies need to be intentional about distributing opportunities to under-represented demographics,” she said.
Two Mid-South students were honored with prestigious achievements and awards for their work in the community.
For 14-year-old Johnathan Sherrill, it was about highlighting the injustice happening across the country. He and two other students came up with an idea to create an app allowing users to go through a day in the life of a middle-class Black man.
“At the time there was the social injustice movement, the Black Lives Matter movement and we wanted to make an app for that, to explain it,” he said.
The students are from CodeCrew, a non-profit organization serving underrepresented youth and empowering children and adults in the tech and innovator world.
“I think it’s really important for people to know that even if you already have your own perspective, it is very important for you to step into another person’s shoes to be able to better understand what it is that they’re saying to you,” said Jayda Murray.
Sherrill and Murray were accepted into the Raising Good Gamers and Ted ED Talks program, one that supports students as they discover, explore and present their big ideas.
They are two of only 30 students worldwide to be selected in the after-school program. It’s also an opportunity for recognition at the 2021 Games for Change Festival.
Sherrill, Murray and her sister Anaya also won first place in Tennessee’s Congressional App Challenge. This is the Murray’s second win.
On their first win, Jayda and her sister submitted an app about campus safety for girls, giving them the tools to navigate from high school to college.
“There’s some stats out there the Kaper Center put out a month ago that five percent of the workforce in tech is African American. That’s dismal,” said CodeCrew’s Deputy Executive Director Kela Jones.
She said diversity in tech is a real, concerning problem. It’s the result, she said, of students not knowing about the field and being exposed to it through school.
Those in CodeCrew are producers in technology. The organization has doubled its impacts since its start in 2015, serving hundreds of students in Memphis and across the country. Ninety-one percent of the students they serve are Black and Latinx, and ones with success stories or well on their way.
“I wanted to graduate from a prestigious university,” said Sherrill when asked about his future. “I also want to diversify my portfolio by investing in bitcoins, stocks and becoming a successful entrepreneur.”
“I wish to be a game developer and a game designer, but I want to start my own company to be able to help other kids,” added Murray.