Featured in today's briefing:
- What the Supreme Court’s ruling on race-conscious admission in higher education means for corporate recruiting.
- How to use ‘play dates’ to help employees experiment.
- How front-line workers feel about AI adoption.
Implications of the Supreme Court Decision on Affirmative Action for Workplaces
The court ruled on Thursday in a 6-3 split that race-conscious admissions in higher education are unconstitutional, a decision with implications for how employers build and sustain diverse hiring pipelines.
- This is at least partly because it will create more racially homogenous student bodies at the selective schools where many companies focus their recruiting efforts.
- A Washington Post analysis of student outcomes in California, which outlawed consideration of race in admissions in 1998, found that Black and Hispanic representation at the University of California Berkeley dropped by 50% as a result of the ban, but increased at the state’s less-selective institutions.
- In the short term, employers should prioritize expanding the range of schools where they source talent, while monitoring how their current go-tos are impacted by this ruling, says Wharton management professor Stephanie Creary, who studies workplace inclusion. “For example, an employer who recruits from my institution, the University of Pennsylvania, might want to pay attention to, what does the diversity of our student population look like in 2023, and what does it look like in 2024?” she says. “If they see a strong dip in the percentages of students from Black communities, from Latino communities, then Penn might not be the most attractive place to recruit that kind of talent.”
- Katy George, chief people officer at McKinsey, told us in an interview last year that many employers are already making such shifts to their recruiting strategy, moving from “pedigree to potential” amid a newly prominent focus on hiring for technical and other specialized skills.
- While some experts caution that the court’s decision will have a chilling effect on workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion programs more broadly, leaving private companies more vulnerable to “reverse discrimination” claims—“I think it really begins to throw into jeopardy whether or not we can continue to use race and ethnicity as a demographic identifier,” one DEI strategist told Fortune—others urge employers to take a more measured view for the foreseeable future. “Keep calm,” advised Kenji Yoshino and David Glasgow, directors of NYU Law’s Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, in a recent column. “This decision did not overturn decisions authorizing affirmative action in the workplace, nor did it outlaw the many forms of DEI that do not involve affirmative action.”
AI and Work Radar
- House of Representatives employees this week received a memo detailing new staff restrictions around staff use of ChatGPT, including a ban on all other large language models, a requirement that employees enable privacy settings and use only the paid ChapGPT Plus, and a warning to only feed the chatbot information that was already public. The memo also specified that ChatGPT could be used only for research purposes at this point, noting: “House offices are authorized to experiment with the tool on how it may be useful to congressional operations, but offices are not authorized to incorporate it into regular workflow.”
- The use of AI tools has saved IBM’s human-resources department an estimated 12,000 hours of work over the past year and a half, according to CHRO Nickle LaMoreaux, including an automated function that provides managers with promotion recommendations and a chatbot that shares personalized benefits information.
- While medical professionals say that concerns over inaccuracies and patient privacy will slow AI adoption in some parts of healthcare, one use of generative AI has emerged as a game-changer: helping practitioners with their heavy paperwork loads.
- Some companies introducing AI tools into the flow of front-line work are meeting resistance from employees who are reluctant to trust the new tools, frustrated by inaccurate recommendations, or caught between conflicting directions from AI and managers. “I understand it, because they were in the situation where—if you don’t produce enough rotisserie chicken, my AI engineers are not the ones dealing with angry members,” Pete Rowe, vice president of merchandising and AI labs at Sam’s Club, told The Wall Street Journal of store associates’ reticence to follow an algorithm’s food-prep recommendations.
Focus on the Importance of Play at Work
Employers’ attempts to mix work and play are often met with employee skepticism—”For some, there’s nothing less fun than company-sponsored ‘fun’ with coworkers,” declared one recent Wall Street Journal article—but a thoughtful approach to play is a powerful way to make workplaces more dynamic, argues Michelle Lee, partner and managing director at IDEO North America and a leader of the design firm’s Play Lab.
“We tie it to curiosity,” she says. “We tie it to creativity and innovation. Play opens up the possibilities.” We spoke to Lee about the importance of play at work, how to build design thinking into the employee experience, and how to optimize team-bonding efforts for maximum engagement. Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for length and clarity:
Why is it important to have play in the workplace, and what does that look like?
We tie it to curiosity. We tie it to creativity and innovation. Play opens up the possibilities. When you say ‘work,’ often work gets you to the thought that there's one way to do things, that there is a right answer that you have to get to, which can put a lot of pressure on you in terms of how you approach your work. Play can be very freeing. It gives you that freedom to explore a little bit, to experiment, and that's what helps get you to different solutions that are often more innovative and that can allow you to adapt to new situations.
As we're returning to the office and we're finding that a lot of the things that we did before don't work anymore, that's a great opportunity for play. That's a great opportunity to step back to imagine, to try some experiments, knowing that not everything you do right away has to stick. What's a prototype that we can run? If it works, that's great, but oftentimes there's some kind of lesson that you can get out of it to improve that situation.
What’s an example of an experiment rooted in play?
One is, what do people do between projects? How do people stay busy and stay motivated? So we created ‘play dates.’ We've tried different versions of this. We would say, ‘Give me a project that you want to do.’ And then someone is like, ‘I want to create a newsletter for the team to help share what's going on.’ Someone else is like, ‘Oh, I want to experiment with AI and see how far we can push that and what our point of view might be.’
You start realizing you have different levels: One thing's a one-hour experiment. Another’s a one-week experiment. So how do we categorize play dates so that they make sense? Recess is the quick thing that you want to try that will fill maybe half a day, because you only have half a day. Spring break is where you’re going to actually spend a week or two on this project. That got us to, when you finish the project, what happens to it? How do we carry it on? How do we find some continuity? How do we find a home for it? And then sometimes people get pulled off of a spring-break project. What is a mechanism to hold it, so that someone else can pick it up while this person's busy or they can come back to it? So those are all things that we'll learn in the process of being like, ‘Let's just try it.’ Give yourself room to come back and answer those questions as they arise to keep iterating on whatever process you've created.
Another piece of experimentation is understanding how people are responding to whatever prototypes you're putting out there and adjusting as you go. The key piece, when you think about, ‘Where does design thinking come into this? Where does human-centered design come into this?’, is listening and responding. Keeping an eye on things like forced fun. Where are people really uncomfortable? Where people are starting to get bored or not really see the point?
You mentioned ‘forced fun.’ How would you define that?
During a recent offsite, we did karaoke together. Not everyone has to sing. There's a role for people to sit and watch and enjoy or even just sing along, but from their seats. But forced fun is when you're like, ‘Okay, everyone has to take a turn, everyone's going to go up there and sing.’ If someone is petrified of singing, that's going to backfire on you. One of the things I look to a lot is [University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly] Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow, and how flow keeps you in this great engaged state. Engagement and play are two things that I equate quite a bit. But to stay in that state of flow, it has to be this really balanced state where it's not something so easy that it becomes boring, and it's not something that's so hard or frustrating that you just can't do it. It pushes upper bounds, but you don't want to push too hard. If you do, you'll break it, in the theory of flow. When you become frustrated, it might be when you become paralyzed and when you actually opt out or shut down.
So how do you stay in the area between boring and frustrating, where you have just the right level of difficulty to match the skill or the comfort level in this situation? And then as you get to know someone, your comfort level might increase. So almost like flow changes with skill and difficulty—you can apply that to a social situation where you increase the amount of vulnerability that might be needed.
And just modeling the ability to be vulnerable pays dividends in the long run. If we're each able to open ourselves up and do things that we aren't necessarily perfect at, in a safe environment where we can play—such as karaoke—that opens up the opportunity later on when it might be even higher stakes: in a presentation, or where we're debating the outcome of some learning and how we're going to apply it to our work. It gives people the courage to step forward and share their thoughts, even if they're half-formed, in a way that allows us to build off of each other and get to the final deliverable together.
What Else You Need to Know
Political controversy is leading businesses to change how they talk about environmental, social, and governance concerns. With so-called “woke capitalism” increasingly the subject of conservative attacks, corporate leaders are distancing themselves from ESG in their rhetoric, if not their actions. At the Aspen Ideas Festival this week, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said that he instead talks “a lot about decarbonization, we talk a lot about governance … or social issues, if that's something we need to address.”
- More broadly, top executives are split in their support for ESG: In a May poll of Fortune 500 CEOs, some 48% expressed support for the recent ESG backlash, while 52% agreed with the statement: “Business leaders should be encouraged to take into account environmental, social and governance issues in their decision-making.”
A new federal law expands protections for pregnant and postpartum workers. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act took effect this week, requiring employers with 15 or more employees to provide “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant and postpartum workers.
- A fifth of mothers have experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, and 23% of mothers have considered leaving their job due to a lack of accommodations, according to a 2022 survey from the Bipartisan Policy Center.
- The law does not define “reasonable accommodations,” which means that the law could require any accommodations that do not place “an undue hardship” on businesses, including providing chairs, increasing the number of bathroom breaks, changing responsibilities to limit exposure to dangerous toxins or physically taxing work, or providing more flexible schedules.
Women are overrepresented in unpaid internships and underrepresented in paid ones. In 2022, a majority of female students at four-year colleges and universities worked unpaid internships, compared to just one-third of male students, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
- This discrepancy could contribute to the gender pay gap after students graduate as well: Paid interns received a median starting salary that was $20,000 higher than that of unpaid interns, as well as more job offers overall. “Your past salary can be used as a benchmark for your future salary,” Mary Gatta, director of research and public policy at NACE, told Bloomberg. “If you were paid inequitably in previous jobs, you are then carrying that inequity forward.”
Employers are pushing Mondays as a day for in-person work. Office attendance at the very beginning of the week lags behind attendance numbers for Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. In the week before Memorial Day, office occupancy was just 45% of pre-pandemic levels on Monday, compared to 58% on Tuesday, according to card swipe data from Kastle Systems.
- Among companies that require workers to work in-office on specific days, less than one fourth currently ask employees to come in on Mondays, according to Scoop’s survey of return-to-office policies—but some have begun to dig in on the day as the next return-to-office battleground, arguing that workers are better off starting the week together.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Use a chart to clarify roles and responsibilities. Build shared understanding about the division of responsibilities on your team—and prevent anything from falling through the cracks in a shared project—by creating a chart that breaks down each role by actual responsibilities and perceived responsibilities. In person or using a virtual tool, have each teammate add to columns labeled “responsibilities (what others think)” and “responsibilities (what I think),” and discuss any discrepancies.
- Sound more confident during presentations with AI tools. Ask ChatGPT or another generative AI tool to “make this text more confident” to improve scripts for pitches and presentations.
- Enlist ChatGPT to help you reach your goals. Ask ChatGPT to act as a life coach that can create plans for whatever it is you want to accomplish. For example, you could share your goal of running a marathon and ask it to create a three-month training schedule.
- Prevent stagnation by reflecting on your recent growth and contributions. At a set cadence, take time to ask yourself whether you’ve recently learned anything new, the last time you contributed a novel idea, or recent projects you volunteered to take on, and use those reflections to identify where you may have become complacent or want to challenge yourself
Step right up to apply. The fitness company GymBird has posted a job listing for a “chief step officer,” a temporary role whose requirements include walking daily, recording steps on a smart watch, and creating weekly content on the way to logging 10,000 steps in a day. The monthly salary, appropriately: $10,000.