Speak Your Mind, Lose Your Job: The Challenge of Diversity at the Modern Corporations. That was the topic of another great program at Stanford Law sponsored by the Rock Center for Corporate Governance on December 5th. @StanfordLaw @StanfordRock Register for upcoming events.
Speak Your Mind: as Advertised
The issue of viewpoint diversity at corporations and academic institutions has taken center stage in recent months, driven in part by a Google employee’s memo on the company’s “ideological echo chamber,” the termination of high level executives for conduct or expression outside of the workplace, and debates over conservative speakers on college campuses. The increasing politicization of corporate America within a highly polarized society means that companies and universities are frequently identified as “left-leaning” or “right-leaning.”
What does this mean for employees, students, and faculty who hold different views?
Panelists will discuss the pros and cons of viewpoint diversity at corporations and suggest policies and practices that can encourage viewpoint diversity without detracting from the corporate message. Panelists will also consider when employee expression crosses the line and whether employees should be terminated for expressing dissenting views.
Speak Your Mind: Panelists
- Erby Foster, Chief Diversity Officer, The Clorox Company.
- Lynne Hermie, Partner (Employment), Orrick.
- Robert J. MacCoun, social psychologist and public policy analyst at Sanford Law
- Deborah L. Rhode (moderator), director of the Center on the Legal Profession, Stanford Law
Speak Your Mind: Discussion
What follows is what I heard, which is probably as much my own filters as being reflective of what was said. These events are well worth attending… plenty of room, a little to nosh on, great company and programs.
It was clear from the start that we were going beyond a discussion of protective classes. One takeaway: Don’t hire everyone with the same regional, ethnic, or racial background or the same training or schooling.
Prioritize different types of diversity. Don’t think you can create viewpoint diversity with written policies. Diversity must be valued and encouraged by senior staff. #Metoo movement discussed. Expect hate mail from those with a different viewpoint. Encourage dissension on business issues.
Corporate culture – the goal is growth and innovation. Demographics – we want a safe space for self-identification. 20% baby boomers; 44% Millennial. Core concept of diversity expands over time beyond race or other protected classes.
In most cases those in the US are not suppressed because of viewpoint. Diversity of ideas is recognized as critical to mission. However, there are standards of professionalism. Employees advocating specific social positions should ask themselves if they are representing yourself or the company.
One panelist discussed that an LGBT group wanted a company to take public stance. However, since the company is international and still wants to sell to bigots (my word not panelist’s), the company was not going to be the first jumping out on that issue (or many more). I forgot the exact strategy the company used but think it was something like making use of an award, like maybe a community service award to a gay employee, to highlight the company’s diversity without proselytizing to others.
What about when employee expresses a deeply unpopular message (Google memo)? When and how it is appropriate to express different points of view depends on the setting. The corporation’s point of view evolves with the people in it… especially those with influence. We were reminded, there is no first amendment right in private workplaces but there are anti-discrimination and unlawful workplace practices. Labor code has protections for political expression. National labor relations act re employees banning together. Employers are expected to maintain nondiscriminatory environment.
Protection on social media? Should an employee be fired for political activity showing up on social media? That depends on how much it impacts the company. What is your business? What your core values?
If you make such memorandums toxic and forbidden, you attract attention. Google firing. Now he’s the martyr and will get all kinds of news coverage. It could have been handled better.
Risks of conformity at least as important as the risk of a lack of diversity. Company looked at diversity as plus. It is a business driver. Capability, capacity, chemistry are drivers to help boards become more dynamic and productive. Changing the conversation. What is the unmet need? Boards are built-in focus groups.
Belonging events at corporate offices. Black consumer may be today’s thought. That does not mean throwing out core values but moving forward, embracing the “new.” Demand for diversity at board level combined with unlawful decisions below that level. We’re supposed to be color blind in normal hiring. Expect reverse discrimination suits.
How much of it is issues around millennials? They are less loyal. Searching for values. Driving factors can be generational. Things that become more common as issues pass. It is also dangerous to dehumanize generationally. Can’t get away with it. How they are rewarded counts.
How do you deal with unwanted opinions? The main task is to preserve openness. The needle has moved. In many workplaces it has become more difficult to have political conversations. That could be a real loss.