Featured in today's briefing:
- A structured approach to diversity and inclusion efforts in the face of legal scrutiny and opposition.
- What makes workers happier about returning to offices.
- The critical importance of the office coffee machine’s location.
AI and Work Radar
- Some 87% of executives believe generative artificial intelligence will augment rather than displace workers, an optimism especially pronounced among those in procurement, finance, and compliance, according to a global IBM survey of 3,000 c-level leaders. Survey respondents also highlighted an urgent need for widespread reskilling, predicting that 40% of their workforces will need to learn new skills over the next few years to keep up with AI and automation.
- Nearly half of US workers somewhat or strongly agree that their jobs can easily be automated away, with concern especially pronounced among industrial, younger, Black, and Hispanic workers, an American Staffing Association survey found.
- New research finds that large language models can show political biases depending on the material they were trained on, which in turn skews what the models consider offensive content or misinformation.
- Generative AI tools can assist workers with disabilities, helping them to process, access, and communicate information with less effort. Text-to-speech capabilities for chatbots and designs that accommodate visually impaired users are among the ways AI tools can help.
Focus on What to Do About Diversity and Inclusion Efforts Given Anticipated Legal Challenges
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling against race-based affirmative-action practices at universities has emboldened critics of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in workplaces, and led companies to re-assess their practices.
What to do remains a bit murky, since the court ruling itself doesn’t apply to private companies. But we recently heard Kenji Yoshino and David Glasgow of NYU School of Law’s Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging lay out clear recommendations for a group of corporate leaders, and we followed up to share them with Charter readers. Here are excerpts from our conversation with Glasgow, edited for space and clarity:
What are your recommendations for workplaces in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative actions at universities?
I would divide these into thinking about legal recommendations and cultural recommendations. Because the debate about what the ruling means for private workplaces has a legal dimension to it—which is challenges that may be brought in future lawsuits against private corporations—but it also speaks to a much larger cultural debate that people are having around DEI, ESG, 'wokeness', all of these kinds of topics. There's a role for organizations to play in how to navigate those cultural dynamics.
Starting with the legal dimension, first and foremost, it's going to be really important for organizations to do an audit of their existing DEI programs. I need to emphasize it should be done with legal counsel for that kind of audit. It's really to look at what you're already doing and consider the level of risk.
We would suggest a traffic light system: red, yellow, green. Red being the most risky, green being the least risky. It's a little bit of tea leaf reading because the affirmative-action decision is not directly about employment practices of private workplaces, it's about higher-education admissions. One naive view would be to say, 'This has nothing to do with DEI, so we can just carry on doing everything that we were doing before.' But this red/yellow/green analysis is really about saying where do we think the law might be headed, and what might that then mean for the programs that we're currently doing in DEI?
What activities fit in the red, yellow, and green categories?
We're in a weird position in the law where affirmative action has been struck down in higher education, but it is technically still on the books in a private-employment context. But it would be incredibly naive to think that the old '70s and '80s precedents on private workplace affirmative action are going to survive in the contemporary era. The court is way more conservative now than it was at the time that it rendered those decisions. The law has moved on from the logic of those decisions in a number of ways. The conservative legal movement already has gone after private workplaces, filing lawsuits, making complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, writing angry letters to corporations telling them to stop doing all these DEI programs or they're going to sue them, etc.
The red programs are the ones most directly analogous to affirmative action in the higher-education context, meaning situations in which employers directly and explicitly take account of protected attributes like race or sex under Title VII when making decisions like hiring and promotion.
Any employer that has a quota or reserves slots for members of underrepresented groups, or says that when they're choosing between candidates for promotions, they will give a preference to candidates who belong to an underrepresented group—those are the programs that are most analogous to affirmative action in a higher education context. Those are the ones that I think are the most vulnerable if a case goes up under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to the Supreme Court.
What are yellow and green practices?
Green practices are really three categories of DEI work:
- One is de-biasing work. A lot of DEI is not about actually taking race and sex into account to put a thumb on the scale in favor of members of underrepresented groups. It's about trying to identify and remove bias from decisions to create a more even playing field for everyone in the organization. If you think about practices like creating structured interviewing for jobs where you look at the criteria that you're using to hire people, you find that some of them have potential implicit bias built into those criteria. So you audit those recruitment processes to create a more merit-based, structured process with consistent interview questions.
That's nothing like affirmative action. You're not preferencing anyone. In fact, to the contrary, you are trying to create an even, consistent process across the board. I can't see any problem with that. Similarly, something like training people on inclusive recruitment or implicit bias. There may be other substantive reasons why you might think that implicit-bias training is not worth doing. But from a legal standpoint, just making people more aware of biases that can be built into some of these employment practices and trying to mitigate those is fine. Removing stereotypical or biased language from job advertisements is another example of that.
- The second one is what we would call ambient DEI practices. What's really important under Title VII is that if you're going to bring a lawsuit—let's say I am a white man who feels like I was discriminated against because I wasn't promoted into a job that I was qualified for—there actually has to have been an adverse employment decision made against me. I have to have missed out on an opportunity of being hired or being promoted or something like that. I can't just file a lawsuit saying I'm just disgruntled about some program that the employer has in my workplace. I would say most DEI practices that organizations have are much more ambient, meaning they're just sort of in the air trying to create a more inclusive work environment for everyone in that organization rather than actually tied to a specific employment decision that's being made. If you think about something like creating employee resource groups, or doing outreach to diverse colleges, or having a speaker series on DEI issues in the workplace, or having family friendly policies like flexible work policies or nursing rooms in the office, there are so many practices that employers do that are aimed at creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce overall, but they don't actually build those considerations into account when they're deciding who to hire or who to promote.
- The third category is what I would call universal work, which is DEI practices that aren't actually targeted at specific demographic groups. They're really targeted at benefiting everyone in the workplace. These days, we are finding a lot of organizations are embracing universal DEI frameworks. They're looking at concepts like allyship or psychological safety or authenticity in the workplace, where they explicitly adopt those policies because it speaks not just to minority groups, but also members of historically dominant or majority groups. The idea is basically that a rising tide lifts all boats. If we make this workplace culturally safer for people to speak up and feel like they can be themselves at work, that benefits everybody. So again, if you're not targeting programs at specific demographic groups, but you're doing things that benefit everybody, I can't really see how that would be a violation of Title VII.
I honestly think the vast majority of DEI practices that organizations do fall into one of those three green categories.
Then the yellow is really the fuzziest one, which is the stuff that's kind of in between the hardcore taking into account race and sex explicitly when you're hiring and promoting people and the softer, broader three categories I was just describing. A couple of things could fit in there.
One is, a lot of organizations have demographic targets that they publicize, such as 'We would like to have X percentage of Black managers in this job classification by 2030.' Sometimes it's expressed in a purely aspirational way: Wouldn't it be nice if our organization were more diverse? Whereas others are much more strict: Here's a specific percentage and specific job categories of specific identity groups. Then they build in a bunch of policies to incentivize people to meet those targets. So they might say to managers, ‘If you meet your targets, you get a bonus,' or 'We'll give you some extra score bump in your performance evaluation process so that you're more likely to be promoted in the next round.' Or 'We are going to wave spreadsheets at you every quarter to assess how well you're doing in meeting the targets that we've set for you.' The reason I call that yellow is it is not strictly red in the sense that you would still have to point to a concrete individual who lost a job or lost a promotion because of his or her race or sex.
In that sense, it's more ambient. But it's a little bit dangerous, I would say, because if you are, say, a disgruntled white man who missed out on our promotion and you sue the company, you could point as evidence in your case to say, 'What's the evidence that I was discriminated against? Look, the company has said that it wants to hire more Black people or other people of color or women. It's set a really aggressive timeline for meeting that target. It told its managers that it's going to give them bonuses or other bumps if they meet the targets. It's putting a lot of pressure on them to meet it. And, look, I am one of the victims of this policy.' Courts, depending on how they look at that policy, could decide, 'Yeah, that's bad,' or they could decide, 'No, it's kind of more aspirational.'
How should organizations apply this red/yellow/green framework? Should they discontinue all red activities, for example?
Some of this is going to depend on the level of risk aversion of the particular organization, of course. Part of it is, what are you willing to tolerate? But to the extent that you've identified programs as 'these are probably more risky than we feel comfortable with,' instead of just immediately discarding those programs, you might think about whether there are ways that you can reframe or redesign some aspects of the programs to make them a little bit safer, to push them a little bit more toward the green zone. There's a few pivots that you might consider, and I'm going to be cutesy and alliterative here.
One is to think about shifts from cohorts to concerns. With programs targeted at specific demographic groups—let's say an employee resource group—a lot of organizations these days are opening membership of those things to anyone who is concerned about that topic rather than only people who belong to a particular group. Rather than it just being the Asian employee network and you have to be Asian to join, it could be anyone who cares about equity for Asian individuals—an Asian employees and allies group or something—so that you're broadening access to whatever program you're talking about.
Another one is a shift from diversity to de-biasing. This is about saying we are not going to focus quite as much on achieving specific demographic outcomes. We are going to try and shift over to a strategy of leveling the playing field, where the purpose of this program is to address unfair barriers and biases that are preventing people from having access to equal opportunity.
The third is numbers to narrative. This is about moving away from strict numerical metrics and thinking a little bit more about hardship narratives. For example, in the Supreme Court decision, the majority said you're allowed to take into account race to the extent that it reflects individual characteristics of the person. They can write in an essay about how race has affected their life and what adversities they've had to overcome. You could have a narrative-based thing in the workplace.
And then from unique to universal, meaning moving toward those green categories I was talking about, where instead of targeting unique programs for each individual group in the workplace—here's an LGBT program, here's a women's program, here's a Black person's program—you would create frameworks that encompass everybody and try to do a rising tide lifts all boats.
Just doing that audit process helps you defend the ones that are less risky, because there's a lot of confusion out there right now. You have things like that letter that went out from Republican attorneys general around the country to Fortune 100 companies essentially saying, 'We are watching you. You're probably doing all this illegal stuff in your DEI programs. Hold onto all of your paperwork because we're going to sue you.'
If you've done the analysis of red/yellow/green and you've satisfied yourself with your legal counsel that some of your programs are actually safe or safe enough, you can push back on some of those efforts more easily. Or even in internal conversations. because within organizations, there are going to be conversations happening already in which the diversity and inclusion people and the general counsel are talking with each other. And sometimes the GC is going to be more risk averse and say, 'No, I don't like this. Let's just shut down all of these programs.' If you're a DEI officer who has equipped yourself with some of the knowledge of how these fit into frameworks, you can push back a little bit on some unfounded attempts to water down DEI programs.
Read a full transcript of our conversation with Glasgow, including more on the cultural recommendations.
Read our briefing on Yoshino and Glasgow’s recent book Say the Right Thing.
What Else You Need to Know
Illinois passed a new pay transparency law, joining California, Washington, and New York City, along with several other states and localities, in mandating disclosures about salary ranges in job postings. The law will take effect in January 2025 and will apply to employers with 15 or more employees.
- The legislation requires employers to post a “good faith” pay scale for each open position based on previous ranges, current employee salaries, and the budget for the position. The information must be included in the job posting itself or provided via a link to a public website with salary information for all open positions.
- Workplaces looking to prepare for new pay-transparency legislation, or to voluntarily introduce the practice, can start by developing a concrete compensation philosophy as outlined in Charter’s playbook, Get Your Organization Ready for Pay Transparency.
New research argues that workplace culture, rather than a “pipeline problem,” is the key factor preventing Black and Brown tech workers from advancing. Researchers at Boston University and Harvard Business School make the case in an Academy of Management Review paper that upper levels of leadership stay homogenous when organizations “conflate merit with idealized images of white masculinity.”
- Under the paper’s framework, most diversity, equity, and inclusion interventions based on awareness and allyship are ineffective in challenging the status quo.
- Instead, the researchers recommend that leaders support team members in dismantling the beliefs that support racial inequity, which includes doing their own reflection, redefining promotion criteria to be more inclusive and based in business results rather than based in vague qualities related to white masculinity, and setting an agenda for the whole group to discuss identity and inequality in both interracial and intra-racial groups.
The share of fathers among stay-at-home parents is increasing. Nearly one-fifth of all stay-at-home parents are dads, up from 11% in 1989, according to new data from Pew Research Center. When asked why they aren’t working, just 23% of stay-at-home dads cited caregiving responsibilities, compared to 80% of stay-at-home moms.
- Far more fathers reported dropping out of the workforce due to illness or disability, at 34%. Others cited retirement, school, or an inability to find work.
- Overall, women are still much more likely to be stay-at-home parents. In 2021, one-fourth of women were not employed for pay, compared to just 7% of men.
Workers are happier with their hybrid arrangements when they have a say in crafting them. Among workers with company-wide directives for when and how often to come into the office, 24% are unhappy with their working arrangements, compared to 6% of those who were allowed to decide at the team level, finds a new BCG report on hybrid work.
- Still, some companies are doubling down on their return-to-office mandates in the leadup to Labor Day. Grindr recently ended its remote-work policy, telling workers to come in two days a week starting this fall and offering severance packages for those unable or unwilling to comply.
- A number of organizations are attempting to ease workers’ transition back to the office by hiring mental-health professionals and behavior coaches to assist with RTO anxiety, communication, burnout, and relationship-building skills.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Raise your hand before speaking, even virtually. For more inclusive virtual meetings, encourage all participants to raise their hands before speaking to prevent the conversation being dominated by more senior attendees who feel more comfortable jumping in with a comment.
- Place your office coffee machine wisely. The location of the coffee machine can predict about one-fifth of interactions among colleagues, so use it strategically to influence collaboration and communication. For example, putting it in the middle of two different teams that often collaborate can encourage more conversation between them.
- Use loss-aversion principles to make your case. We’re wired to consider losses more heavily than gains. Use this tendency to your advantage by framing a request or argument around the concrete consequences of not doing what you suggest.
- Build your pitch using a four-part framework. Write a more compelling pitch for workplace and day-to-day interactions by filling in the blanks between these four phrases: “What if you could… so that… For example.. And that’s not all...”
- Structure meetings around key questions. During your next meeting or project launch, build your agenda by identifying questions that must be answered by a specific date, grouped by urgency and importance.
Working (out). Some gyms are now positioning themselves as workspaces for remote and hybrid workers, offering members access to desks, phone booths, and conference rooms.
Cheers! It’s Tuesday. With Fridays an unpopular day for in-office work, bars in business districts are adjusting to common hybrid schedules, amping up their midweek happy hours by offering more enticing drink specials, boosting their marketing, and bringing in DJs .
- “The average consumer has become more of a homebody since the pandemic,” Charles Lindsey, an associate marketing professor at the University at Buffalo School of Management, told Bloomberg. “They tend to get home earlier and also stay home more on the weekends. And so I think bars are adjusting their behavior accordingly.”
The handbook for this new era of business doesn’t exist. We’re all drafting our own as we go along—and now we’d like to start doing so together. You can sign up here to receive this briefing by email.