Is Benefits Equality the New Frontier in HR as PR?

Is Benefits Equality the New Frontier in HR as PR?

Over the past two years, we’ve seen a growing number of organizations leverage their HR strategies as a means of enhancing their employer and consumer brands simultaneously. The idea behind this “HR-as-PR” strategy is to make the organization more attractive to candidates—a growing concern in a tight labor market—while also cultivating a reputation among increasingly values-focused millennial customers as a progressive or socially conscious company.

Viewed through this lens, Rent the Runway CEO and co-founder Jennifer Y. Hyman’s recent op-ed at the New York Times illustrates the emergence of a new theme in HR as PR: ensuring that different classes of employees enjoy equal access to benefits like parental leave:

Like so many companies before us, my company, Rent the Runway, had two tiers of workers. Our salaried employees — who typically came from relatively privileged, educated backgrounds — were given generous parental leave, paid sick leave and the flexibility to work from home, or even abroad. Our hourly employees, working in Rent the Runway’s warehouse, on the customer service team and in our retail stores, had to face life events like caring for a newborn, grieving after the death of a family member or taking care of a critically ill loved one without this same level of benefits.

I had inadvertently created classes of employees — and by doing so, had done my part to contribute to America’s inequality problem. …

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Slack’s Unique Diversity Strategy Offers Some Lessons for Silicon Valley and Beyond

Slack’s Unique Diversity Strategy Offers Some Lessons for Silicon Valley and Beyond

The workplace communication and collaboration software startup Slack has garnered attention within the tech sector for its all-in approach to diversity and inclusion, issuing diversity reports at a faster pace and with more detail than their big-company competitors and making a point of giving its D&I commitment lots of visibility. Last month, Slack released its diversity report for 2017. The report touted a few victories, such as a 48 percent female management team and underrepresented minorities making up 12.8 percent of its technical staff, while also stressing the continued work it has to do.

In a profile of the company’s D&I program at the Atlantic on the occasion of that report, Jessica Nordell looked at several aspects of Slack’s approach to diversity that make it stand out from the crowd. One of these idiosyncrasies is that unlike many other tech companies, Slack doesn’t have a Chief Diversity Officer or other designated head of D&I:

While studies by the Harvard University professor Frank Dobbin, and colleagues, suggest having someone overseeing diversity efforts can increase the numbers of underrepresented groups in management, other measures, such as mentoring programs and transparency around what it takes to be promoted, are also important; a diversity chief alone may not be enough to make much of a difference. At Slack, the absence of a single diversity leader seems to signal that diversity and inclusion aren’t standalone missions, to be shunted off to a designated specialist, but are rather intertwined with the company’s overall strategy. As the CEO, Stewart Butterfield, has said, he wants these efforts to be something “everyone is engaged in.” Indeed, as the research by Dobbin and colleagues shows, involving employees in diversity policies leads to greater results.

The first lesson here is not “don’t have an appointed head of D&I,” but rather that there’s no one right way to structurally advance D&I. The Dobbin study makes sense because the D&I chief position ensures there’s always a voice in the room, but if any organization thinks they’ve solved D&I by creating a head of D&I role, they are sorely mistaken. In our work at CEB, now Gartner, we’ve seen organizations make progress with a large, singularly focused D&I function, or with a small but connected D&I function; with D&I reporting to HR, to the CEO, to the General Counsel, or to the Corporate Social Responsibility function.

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Nike’s Culture Upheaval Demonstrates the Power of Employee-Led D&I

Nike’s Culture Upheaval Demonstrates the Power of Employee-Led D&I

Since March, Nike has been conducting a massive overhaul of its company culture, executive leadership, and HR practices after a covert survey of female employees revealed widespread patterns of sexual harassment, discrimination, and hostile work environments for women. As the New York Times recently reported in a major story reviewing the upheaval, this toxic culture was driving talented women out the door. In recent months, several high-level male executives at Nike have left the company amid the scandal.

Some of these executives stand accused of engaging in sexist practices themselves; others do not, but have been faulted for failing to address employees’ concerns, creating the perception of an executive “boys’ club” in which male managers were protected from consequences for their misbehavior. Another key theme in the Times‘ report is the Nike women’s dissatisfaction with the response they received from HR.

Nike CEO Mark Parker has moved quickly to bring the situation under control and assure employees that the company is taking its culture problems seriously. At an all-company meeting last Thursday, Parker admitted that he and other executives had missed signs of the problems that have come to light recently, apologized to the affected employees, and promised a thorough investigation into their complaints, along with changes to the company’s training and compensation practices to make them more inclusive, particularly toward women.

While Parker and his executive team will be responsible for making these needed changes to Nike’s culture and practices, none of these changes would be possible without the women employees who took the initiative to bring the company’s problems to light. One important takeaway from this story, therefore, is the power and promise of employee-led D&I initiatives.

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How Starbucks Can Make Its Massive Bias Training Count

How Starbucks Can Make Its Massive Bias Training Count

Last month, a manager at a Philadelphia Starbucks called the police on a pair of black men who were waiting in the store for a business meeting and had yet to make any purchases. A cell phone video of the two men’s subsequent arrest, which also captured other patrons’ outrage over the incident as it happened, quickly went viral and prompted a nationwide conversation about the racial profiling that black Americans often face in places of business. For Starbucks, which has sought to establish itself one of America’s most progressive employers, it has created a crisis, raising questions about whether this was truly an isolated incident and whether the roughly 40 percent of Starbucks employees who identify as racial minorities have faced hostility or felt unwelcome in the workplace—as many Americans of color have indicated in surveys that they do.

In an unprecedented response, Starbucks quickly announced an ambitious initiative in which it will close all of its over 8,000 company-owned US stores on May 29 so that nearly 175,000 employees can attend an anti-bias training. By conveying that the company takes this matter seriously and is committed to addressing it, the announcement won the coffee chain praise in the world of public relations, but from the perspective of HR—and Diversity and Inclusion more specifically—the standards for success are much higher and more difficult to meet. To make this response count as more than a PR spectacle, Starbucks will need to demonstrate that it’s not just making the right kind of noise, but actually making meaningful changes that are tangible to its vast numbers of nonwhite customers and employees. Furthermore, whether the initiative succeeds or fails, it stands to have an impact far beyond this one company. The stakes are high and all eyes are on Starbucks.

From the D&I research team at CEB, now Gartner, here are some points Starbucks should keep in mind in designing and deploying this anti-bias initiative—and for HR leaders at other organizations to consider in their own efforts to combat the insidious problem of bias.

Anti-Bias Training Should Encompass all Stakeholders’ Perspectives

To underscore the importance of this training, Starbucks announced that the curriculum would be designed with help from prominent experts in civil rights and racial justice, including former attorney general Eric Holder, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Sherrilyn Ifill, and Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. This A-list roster lends an extra dose of credibility to the initiative, but Starbucks might also consider engaging with the communities they serve to understand the experiences of their nonwhite customers on a more personal level. A great example of this kind of stakeholder-focused inclusion strategy is ANZ Bank’s accessibility initiative for people with disabilities, which involved stakeholders across the workforce, workplace, and marketplace in determining accessibility goals and how the bank would achieve them. (CEB Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council members can read the case study here.)

Starbucks could also benefit from bringing employees’ voices and experiences into the conversation as opposed to making this a one-way training exercise. To be fair to the staff, they’re often at the frontlines of how the public feels about the company (like the time that a Miami man was videoed screaming “Trump!” at a black Starbucks employee, or the “Trump cup” protest, or the “open carry” protest, or the annual “war on Christmas” protests). Starbucks doesn’t exist to serve the community in the same way as the police or the government, but the company has consistently worked to cultivate a brand image of its cafés as public spaces, which imposes a unique set of challenges for its front-line employees.

Treat Employees as Partners, Not Part of the Problem, in Combating Bias

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CEO Responses to Charlottesville Show HR as PR More Relevant Than Ever

CEO Responses to Charlottesville Show HR as PR More Relevant Than Ever

Over the course of three days, five US business leaders, including the CEOs of Merck, Under Armour, Intel, and 3M, plus the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, have resigned from President Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council, amid backlash over the president’s response to the violence that took place at a gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. Two AFL-CIO officials have also left the council, and the CEOs of PepsiCo and Campbell Soup Co. are also under pressure from activists to do so. [Update: On Wednesday afternoon, the CEOs on both the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum decided to disband the groups.]

Trump has faced extensive criticism for declining to specifically denounce white supremacism in his initial remarks on the violence and waiting until Monday to do so. On Monday, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier appeared to echo that criticism in his statement announcing his resignation from the council, writing: “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy.” From an HR and management perspective, these high-profile resignations illustrate how high the stakes have become for American CEOs at a time when millennial employees and customers increasingly expect them to take on an activist role in the social and political issues of the day.

Over the past 18 months or so, a growing number of companies have started to push their HR strategies into their broader consumer brands in a bid to attract and retain customers as well as talent. In this “HR as PR” strategy, businesses adopt progressive benefits, for example, or take strong positions on diversity and inclusion as a way to show that they care about their employees and thereby to encourage consumers to patronize them. We’ve seen quite a few examples of this recently, from Lyft advertisements suggesting it treats its drivers better than Uber does, to Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya’s high-profile efforts to hire refugees from Syria and other troubled countries, and the evidence, while limited so far, suggests that this strategy is effective at generating revenue.

Since Trump’s election last November, HR as PR has taken on a new dimension as the CEOs of corporate America find themselves increasingly called upon to take stances on a variety of social issues ranging from immigrants to LGBTQ rights, from racial tensions to women’s rights. While these decisions have been bold and courted criticism, they have not been fraught with potentially massive blowback—until now.

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How Should Employers Respond to Challenges Like Google’s Diversity Memo?

How Should Employers Respond to Challenges Like Google’s Diversity Memo?

Google’s decision to fire James Damore, a senior engineer who circulated a memo criticizing the company’s diversity efforts and making questionable claims about the biological differences between men and women, was bound to fan the flames of the controversy the memo had sparked. Was terminating this employee the right call? Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides of the debate, and as our HR practice leader Brian Kropp remarked in an interview with the Washington Post, Google had no good options here: Whether it had fired Damore or declined to fire him, either decision was going to upset a certain group of people.

One of the challenges that any talent executive or head of diversity and inclusion will face when inflammatory internal communications like Damore’s memo go public is in figuring out whether they are dealing with a single person who has managed to rile up the Internet (the “don’t feed the trolls” challenge), or are facing a real source of tension from a segment of the workforce. If it’s the former, it’s a great opportunity to make sure that people are aware that you are addressing D&I, and that it’s a key part of your core values; if the latter, it could prompt the organization to reorganize its D&I strategy along the lines of what Deloitte is doing, and double down on inclusion to ensure that everyone gets on board.

Below are some thoughts on what the Google controversy reveals about the challenges facing diversity and inclusion, as well as what employers can learn from the debate in order to strengthen their future D&I efforts.

The Dangers of Backlash

The downside for an organization of reacting to an incident like this with absolute rejection is that it contributes to the framing of D&I as a zero-sum game, which gives ammunition to those who oppose it. When an organization treats a skeptic like Damore as a threat, employees who fear being left behind by D&I efforts or having their viewpoints marginalized in pursuit of diversity will tend to see that as proof of their point. While Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees that Damore’s memo had crossed a line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes, he also acknowledged the more valid concerns it raised about whether Google’s approach to diversity was optimal and whether employees with minority opinions could safely express them in the workplace.

In other words, irrespective of whether Damore violated norms of professionalism and collegiality in the way he voiced his opinions, and of whether the company was within its rights to terminate his employment, Google does not want to be perceived as making rules about what employees are allowed to think.

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New Inclusion Campaigns Focus on Educating Allies

New Inclusion Campaigns Focus on Educating Allies

Earlier this month, Kyle O’Brien at the Drum took a look at HP’s latest and inclusion marketing campaign, a series of videos called “Reinvent Mindsets,” which takes aim at unconscious bias by highlighting the subtler forms of discrimination black Americans and women are subject to in the workplace. The first video in the series addressed the fact that black Americans are three times more likely than their white colleagues to be rejected for a role they are qualified for, while the second touches on the sexist expectations women must navigate in job interviews:

In its latest video in the Reinvent Mindsets series, HP tackles gender bias through a powerful video pairing fathers and daughters talking about the tough process of job interviews. ‘Dads & Daughters’ pairs fathers and daughters having one-on-one discussions. The dads were asked to read generic interview tips for women that had been found online and talk about them with their daughters.

Tips included “Don’t wear too much perfume”, “Don’t be aggressive trying to negotiate your salary”, “Don’t look too hot”, “Don’t be chatty” and “Just found out you’re pregnant? Best to keep it to yourself for now”. The daughters, unsurprisingly, look exasperated. But as the dads read they spark a discussion about bias, strength and individuality.

Another company with a new D&I initiative worth noting is Accenture, whose latest video, “Inclusion starts with ‘I’,” features real employees sharing their feelings about unfair ways they have been treated at work. Fortune’s Ellen McGirt applauds the initiative, which was developed through a series of workshops and hammers home the point that inclusion means creating an environment in which everyone feels valued and respected:

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