Anyone in the US who has recently had a work meeting derailed by their coworkers talking politics knows that the elections coming up on November 6 are attracting far more attention and interest than midterm elections normally do. The political environment in the US remains highly charged and polarized, while these elections are seen as having particularly high stakes. Poll watchers are expecting voter turnout to be high, partly helped along by a growing number of employers giving their workers paid time off to vote on Election Day. Beyond that, Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor reports, they are actively encouraging their employees to go out and vote:
At Cava, the Washington D.C.-based chain of Mediterranean fast-casual restaurants, its 1,600 workers will get two hours of paid time off to vote on Election Day this year if they request it in advance, a nationwide perk for its workers. For the first time, Tyson Foods, the meat company, has launched a company-wide voter registration initiative, with many of its plants participating in an effort to register employees and offer details about early voting, absentee ballots and voting locations. Levi Strauss & Co. has named volunteer “voting captains” in each of its offices and distribution centers to hold registration drives and educate workers; it’s also giving employees, including retail workers, paid time off to vote.
Organizations that give their employees time off on Election Day, whether they make it a holiday or simply let staff take a few hours off to vote, do so for a variety of reasons. At some companies, this decision stems from a culture of social responsibility; at others, it may be part of an effort to improve their public image. Though few companies take public positions in favor of a particular candidate or party, still others may be hoping that their employees vote a certain way. It could also help boost employee engagement and perceptions of the organization; a recent study by O.C. Tanner found that US workers who get time off to vote have more positive things to say about their employers than those who don’t, HR Dive reported last week:
The flexible office startup WeWork told its 6,000 employees last week that it would no longer pay for any red meat, poultry, or pork at company events or allow employees to expense meat meals, Bloomberg reported:
In an email to employees this week outlining the new policy, co-founder Miguel McKelvey said the firm’s upcoming internal “Summer Camp” retreat would offer no meat options for attendees. “New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact,” said McKelvey in the memo, “even more than switching to a hybrid car.” Individuals requiring “medical or religious” allowances are being referred to the company’s policy team to discuss options. A WeWork spokeswoman confirmed the contents of the memo.
Other startups have adopted no-meat policies, but these companies are predominantly makers of health and lifestyle products, which attract a specific set of customers and employees whose values and interests align with those policies. WeWork, by comparison, is a growing player in the global commercial real estate business with offices in 76 cities around the world. As such, Felix Salmon comments at Slate, the policy of banning meat (but not fish or eggs) at company-provided meals will likely “cause a ridiculous amount of agita for its frontline staffers and, especially, the benighted HR folks tasked with enforcing the policy.” He also criticizes the policy as internally incoherent when measured against its own stated purpose:
It bans lamb, for instance, and it bans chicken, but it doesn’t ban eggs. Eggs cause just as much environmental damage as chickens do, and much less than lamb does. It’s hard to see much environmental logic in a policy that’s fine with factory-farmed salmon but that forbids people from eating pigeon. (There are far too many pigeons in the world, eat as many as you want.)
Smart executives know that an organization’s culture drives top-line growth, but it can be difficult and time-consuming for new hires to learn the ins and outs of the culture as they get up to speed. Companies are constantly searching for more innovative and effective ways for their new employees to learn the culture. For example, l’Oreal released its Fit Culture App for new hires last year, which uses “texts, videos, employee testimonials, … quizzes, games and real-life missions” to “give each and every employee, from the moment they arrive, the keys to succeed in full alignment with company values such as multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion.”
More recently, Quartz’s Leah Fessler profiled the onboarding program at the ethical clothing company Everlane, which sets the cultural tone from day one by making every new employee’s first day a “Passion Day”:
“It’s called a passion day,” says Michael Preysman, CEO of the direct-to-consumer clothing startup, which hit $100 million in revenue in 2016. Every Everlane employee starts their new job with a passion day, on which they’re given $100 to spend doing something they love. … There are no limits on what the cash can be spent on, so long as it’s outside of the office and legal. And while they’re not warned ahead of time, every employee has to share how they spent their cash upon being introduced to the entire company the following week. …
Passion days are an extension of an already hyper-individualized hiring process. Everyone who applies to Everlane has to complete a project, regardless of their seniority, to evaluate their skills. “One of our core values is to hire people who are entrepreneurial thinkers—people who are creative and passionate,” Preysman says.
Some of our expert researchers at CEB, now Gartner, had different points of view on whether Everlane’s Passion Day program is an idea worth emulating. Here’s what they had to say:
Andrea Kropp, Research Director: It’s great to see companies putting action and money behind their culture initiatives, especially when the culture they are striving for is very different from the norm. The vast majority of new hires have worked somewhere else before, even if just part-time or in a family business, so they’ve already been exposed to someone else’s culture. If you know your culture is dramatically different, you need something attention-grabbing to show new hires that you are serious and not just paying lip service to the idea of being different.
At the CEB’s ReimagineHR event in Washington, DC, last Wednesday, over 60 diversity and inclusion leaders and other HR leaders came together to discuss where their organizations were in their D&I journey and how best to continue advancing it. Participants in Wednesday’s session answered a series of live survey questions and engaged in a dialogue with panelists Nellie Borrero, Senior Global Inclusion and Diversity Managing Director at Accenture, and Karen Wilkins-Mickey, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Alaska Air Group, Inc.
The conversation focused on strategy and metrics as well as branding and communications. Although D&I leaders continue to face many of the same issues raised in last year’s peer benchmarking session, a few new themes emerged from the conversation on Wednesday:
1) D&I Leaders Must Align Their Efforts to the Organization’s Values
Gaining buy-in for advancing D&I is still a challenge for many D&I leaders. However, some organizations have found success by embedding D&I efforts into business objectives. When D&I is connected to initiatives or goals the organization already values, senior leaders come to see how it relates to their day-to-day work. One participant said their organization does this by tying measurements of diversity and inclusion to business results in order to communicate the impact of D&I on the business.
Organizations beginning their D&I journey may be tempted to move quickly to get to the more progressive D&I initiatives, but skipping foundational steps such as aligning D&I efforts to organizational values can slow down their ability to move forward in the future. “Don’t jump the gun in your D&I journey,” Wilkins-Mickey said. “Even if you are a senior D&I professional, if your company is new to this space, you need to meet them where they are.”
Writing at Recode, Inkling founder and CEO Matt MacInnis discusses how he discovered his own values as a leader when he left Apple after eight years to start his own company. In the beginning, he explains, he attempted to emulate the tech giant’s famous culture of secrecy, because he had seen it work so well for Apple, but soon began “to recognize that some of the default settings I had adopted were at odds with my own values”:
I did at Inkling what I had been trained to do at Apple: I strictly controlled information flow in and around our tiny organization. I had an aversion to speaking with media. I insisted that new employees sign strict NDAs. And I behaved as though our little-known brand and products were worthy of instant, outsized coverage. It was a tad nutty. …
My own move from middle management at Apple to executive leadership in a startup provided time for reflection and recognition of what is most authentic in me. While retaining some of the most valuable characteristics of Apple — a commitment to craftsmanship, strong top-down leadership and a devotion to hiring A-level players — I also forged an independent course. I found my own voice in radical openness and transparency, a hallmark of the Inkling culture.
We all eventually recognize that we don’t get to choose our core values. Rather, they choose us.
MacInnis’s experience both at Apple and as a founder speak to some of the core lessons of our latest research at CEB (now Gartner) into how organizations can effectively and design and manage culture.
Although the candy company Mars owns some of the world’s most famous brands (who hasn’t heard of M&Ms?), its employer brand is much less well known, Quartz’s Oliver Staley observes. Staley takes a close look at the company’s ongoing efforts to become more attractive to talent as it plans to expand its workforce by 70,000 employees over the next decade. Like other big players in the confectionery industry, Mars has historically been very serious about guarding its trade secrets, but its notoriously secretive culture had the downside effect of limiting the number of people outside the organization who knew what it was like to work there.
The company now faces the challenge of attracting talent from a generation of young people who grew up enjoying Mars products, but may never have thought of it as a place to pursue a career:
To get its message out, Mars is doubling the staff dedicated to luring college students, deploying social media, and honing its sales pitch to woo potential candidates. That often means showering them with M&Ms, and handing out gift boxes stuffed with candy bars and snacks. In making its pitch to MBAs and recent college graduates, Mars also stresses the variety of opportunities it can offer new hires because of its many business lines, and recruiters talk a lot about the company’s corporate culture, which historically combines egalitarianism with eccentricity—sometimes with surprisingly forward-thinking results.
That culture has in some ways been ahead of its time—Staley notes that Mars was ahead of most American corporations in adopting ideas like open offices, flat management, and bonuses based on company performance. The company scores high on lists of great places to work and people who work there tend to stick around. Indeed, that’s one possible reason behind the company’s current recruiting challenge:
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.