Labor & Employment


“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a short tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent – while in reality, they make no clothes at all, making everyone believe the clothes are invisible to them. When the emperor parades before his subjects in his new “clothes”, no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as stupid. Finally a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

When I meet a CEO for the first time, when he or she has asked for my help with some organizational obstacle – my first question is always “Where do you get the truth from?” I want to know who in the CEO’s inner circle has the confidence to speak freely to the head honcho, especially about sensitive issues.

Sometimes, there’s a person on the executive team who’s known the CEO so long that there’s no pretense any more (and typically the truth-teller’s employment agreement makes it hard for the CEO to get mad one day and say ‘Off with his head!’ without financial consequences). Sometimes if a CEO is lucky, the exec team bands together as a unified truth-telling squad, and then staff meetings are often knock-down drag-outs, maddening and emotional but with reality threaded through them.

Sometimes – most of the time – the CEO tells me “Well, I rely on my team to tell me the truth” and then I meet the team, and see the dynamic that keeps them locked together in a dysfunctional chorus of Why No Your Majesty, Your Outfit Looks Perfectly Fine to Me.

It is hard to say unpopular things to powerful people. That should go without saying and every CEO should take that reality into account, but I am here to tell you that many CEOs don’t. Here’s why: they are human. They like to have their ideas applauded. They don’t like to be told “No” or “That plan doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense” or “What have you been smoking?” They have ideas and they want people to act on them.

Let’s face it, we don’t put milquetoast nebbishes in the CEO spot very often. We put commanding, decisive Alpha Males (and a few females) in the CEO’s chair, so we can’t pretend to be surprised when they aren’t spending tons of time begging for their subordinates’ feedback and input. We made our CEO-leadership-style bed, you might say – “we” being the Board of Directors that likes the cut of a hard-hitting CEO’s jib. We put decision-makers in charge, and much or most of the time, any input that’s out of line with the CEO’s vision is marginalized if not squelched outright. That’s a bad thing for customers, employees and shareholders, but it’s common as rain. Here’s why: physics.

Entropy is a feature of the universe and pretty much every closed system. Physical things break down over time – leaves fall off the trees and scatter, and an egg that falls off the edge of a table lies in pieces and yolky puddles on the floor. Broken eggs don’t gather themselves back up into their shells very often. Things tend to fall apart and decay. When an organization is itself a closed system, the same entropy holds sway.

If you are in a position of power, what would you do when someone speaks shocking truth to you?

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A friend sent me a link to The Voice of Nonprofit Talent: Perceptions of Diversity in the Workplace, a study produced by Commongood Careers and Level Playing Field Institute. I didn’t read it right away because honestly, most reports about diversity in the nonprofit sector pretty much say the same damn thing and are a total waste of funder’s money.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Nonprofit staff isn’t very diverse. Nonprofit boards aren’t very diverse. Nonprofits need more diversity. Nonprofits don’t know where to find people of color. Nonprofits can’t seem to attract young people. Or gay people.

But this study is a little different. Yes, the study focuses on ethnic and racial diversity in the nonprofit workplace, but it’s the first report I’ve seen that doesn’t focus on the fact that nonprofits are ruled by white people, but instead examines the repercussions of what happens when organizations do nothing to change this reality.

I’m Not Making This Up

The numbers don’t lie, people. The research says it better than I ever could. From the Commongood Careers report:

Today’s nonprofit employees are approximately 82 percent white, 10 percent African- American, five percent Hispanic/Latino, three percent other, and one percent Asian or Pacific Islander. The gap in representation is more pronounced in nonprofit governance, where only 14 percent of board members are people of color. Similarly, in specialized functions such as development, less than six percent of roles are filled by people of color. When examining organizational leadership, the gap persists. According to the 2006 report by the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance (formerly American Humanics), up to 84 percent of nonprofits are led by whites, and 9.5 out of 10 philanthropic organizations are led by whites.

Of course, there is much more anecdotal evidence from my peers which bear this out even further, but there’s a start for folks who don’t see why this is such a big deal.

Good Intentions Are Not Enough

The researchers asked 1,600 nonprofit professionals nationwide what they thought about this whole diversity thing and the response was clear: Nonprofit employees believe that good intentions are not enough when it comes to staff diversity.

More specifically, the study showed that most nonprofit employees perceive that their employers claim to value building diverse and inclusive organizations, but that they do little to back up that claim.

What?! Nonprofits are not walking that warm and fuzzy “everyone is welcome” talk? (Um, how about NO.)

Where it really gets interesting is that the report reveals perceptions of diversity and inclusiveness play a significant role in recruitment and retention of employees, particularly employees of color.

“Until the disconnect between value and action is addressed, there will continue to be negative implications for attracting and retaining diverse employees across the nonprofit sector,” said Level Playing Field Institute Executive Director Robert Schwartz, Ed.D. “Diversity commitments must move beyond a tagline on a website, and must be followed by specific and strategic actions implemented in order to ensure that diversity becomes a reality within organizations.”

This is why even if recruitment is successful, retention can be a challenge. Once people of color join the staff of a nonprofit, they need to feel included and supported within the organization – or else they feel like they’ve been duped. Hustled. Hoodwinked.

The Disconnect

  • Nearly 90 percent of employees believe that their organization values diversity. However, more than 70 percent believe that their employer does not do enough to create a diverse and inclusive work environment.
  • More than half of employees of all races—and 71 percent of employees of color—attempt to evaluate a prospective employer’s commitment to diversity during the interview process.
  • More than 35 percent of people of color who indicated that they examine diversity during the hiring process report having previously withdrawn candidacy or declined a job offer due to a perceived lack of diversity and inclusiveness.

The Repercussions

As the study points out, the disconnect between the value placed on diversity and the actions taken to diversify nonprofit organizations perpetuate a cycle with three key negative outcomes (taken directly from the report):

  1. Inability to attract employees of color
  2. In an attempt to create more diverse staffs and boards, many prospective employers seek to recruit diverse employees. As the survey highlights, the top indicator of an organization’s commitment to diversity is the presence of diverse staff at all levels of the organization. If an organization is unable to show diversity on its team, prospective candidates of color may be less likely to join that organization. This is manifested by candidates withdrawing during the interview process, or even choosing not to apply at all.
  3. Increased employee dissatisfaction
  4. If diversity is not represented on staff, employees of color may experience a sense of tokenism or alienation in the workplace. Even within organizations that have multicultural staff, many employees of color have reported perceiving bias in the form of lack of professional development or upward mobility opportunities. Employees that perceive even subtle forms of bias—such as feelings like they are treated differently than their colleagues —are more likely to feel demoralized which can have negative repercussions on employee productivity, output, and retention.
  5. Inability to retain top talent
  6. As the economy begins to improve, the sector will inevitably experience shifts in employee retention, as well as more competition between organizations to attract talent. For professionals of color who place a premium on the importance of diversity and inclusiveness in their career choices, this could mean higher attrition rates amongst previously dissatisfied employees who have been “sitting tight.” As employees leave, organizations experience the financial costs of attrition—up to 150 percent of an employee’s salary—as well as collateral damage to remaining employees’ morale and productivity.

The report also outlines five strategies for organizations to shift from just valuing diversity to actually building and sustaining diversity, which are interesting to think about, though things you’ve heard before: (1) open conversations about race that include executive leadership, (2) effective communications about diversity commitments that include measured results, (3) building partnerships and networks that facilitate effective recruiting, (4) a hiring process free from subtle bias, and (5) taking the time to develop, mentor and promote a diverse staff.

OK. The tools are out there, freely available. The solutions and strategies are not hidden treasure in the depths of the Atlantic. Which leads me to the conclusion that nonprofits aren’t challenged by the “how” of diversity. It’s just that they don’t really care.

Download the full report here: www.cgcareers.org/diversityreport.pdf

I’d love to hear your comments on this issue. Should nonprofits just stop talking the diversity talk if they aren’t willing to walk the diversity walk? Why can’t organizations just be honest in saying they will never prioritize diversity, no matter how many reports get written? (Seems like it would sure free up a lot of HR’s time and make-believe attention being paid to this issue. And future employees wouldn’t be disappointed when they find out that all the warm and fuzzy language about diversity and inclusion they saw on the organization’s website was nothing but lip service.)

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Unemployment and underemployment lie at the core of poverty. For the poor, labor is often the only asset they can use to improve their well-being. Hence the creation of productive employment opportunities is essential for achieving poverty reduction and sustainable economic and social development. It is crucial to provide decent jobs that both secure income and empowerment for the poor, especially women and younger people.

Rapid economic growth can potentially bring a high rate of expansion of productive and remunerative employment, which can lead to a reduction in poverty. Nevertheless, the contribution of the growth process to poverty reduction does not depend only on the rate of economic growth, but also on the ability of the poor to respond to the increasing demand for labor in the more productive categories of employment.

Given the importance of employment for poverty reduction, job-creation should occupy a central place in national poverty reduction strategies. Many employment strategies are often related to agricultural and rural development and include using labor-intensive agricultural technologies; developing small and medium-sized enterprises, and promoting micro projects in rural areas. Many strategies promote self-employment, non-farm employment in rural areas, targeted employment interventions, microfinance and credit as a means of employment generation, skill formation and training.

Such strategies, however, often address the quantity of employment while the qualitative dimensions, such as equity, security, dignity, and freedom are often absent or minimal. In general, national poverty reduction strategies including Poverty Reduction Strategies do not comment on employment programmes, social protection or rights at work. Neither do they offer an in-depth analysis of the effects of policies on poverty reduction.

A social perspective on development emphasizes the view that the best route to socio-economic development, poverty eradication and personal wellbeing is through decent work. Productive employment opportunities will contribute substantially to achieving the internationally agreed development goals, especially the Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015.

There should be a focus on creating better and more productive jobs, particularly those that can absorb the high concentrations of working poor. Among the necessary elements for creating such jobs are investing in labor-intensive industries, especially agriculture, encouraging a shift in the structure of employment to higher productivity occupations and sectors, and upgrading job quality in the informal economy. In addition, there should also be a focus on providing poor people with the necessary skills and assets that will enable them to take full advantage of any expansion in employment potential.

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Project South, Apr. 17, 2018 – “A private prison company under contract with Stewart County to house individual’s detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is forcing detained immigrants at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia to work for as little as $1 a day to clean, cook, and maintain the detention center in a scheme to maximize profits, according to a class-action lawsuit filed today against CoreCivic, Inc.

Detained immigrants who refuse to work are threatened with solitary confinement and the loss of access to basic necessities, like food, clothing, personal hygiene products and phone calls to loved ones in violation of federal anti-trafficking laws, according to the lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Law Office of R. Andrew Free, Project South, and Burns Charest LLP. Similar lawsuits have been filed in California, Washington, Colorado and Texas challenging private prison companies’ work practices.

Azadeh Shahshahani, Legal and Advocacy Director for Project South, said, “The prison corporation Core Civic is exploiting the labor of detained immigrants to enrich itself– last year its revenues were nearly $1.8 billion. It must be stopped.”

“CoreCivic is placing profits above people by forcing detained immigrants to perform manual labor for next to nothing, saving millions of dollars that would otherwise provide jobs and stimulate the local economy,” said Meredith Stewart, senior attorney at the SPLC. “CoreCivic is padding its pockets by violating anti-trafficking laws.”

The “Dollar-a-Day” program creates a lucrative profit scenario for CoreCivic: Detained immigrants are forced to purchase basic necessities from CoreCivic’s commissary, and the primary way to fund their purchases is to participate in the work program that is necessary for the operation of the facility. These jobs include providing basic functions at the facility like cooking and cleaning, work for which CoreCivic would otherwise have to hire and pay outside employees.

Plaintiff Wilhen Hill Barrientos is an asylum seeker from Guatemala who has been detained for 33 months while his case is pending. When he arrived at Stewart Detention Center, he was faced with an impossible decision – either work for nearly nothing or lose access to basic necessities, safety, and privacy.

Refusing to work means that Barrientos would not have enough money to pay for costly phone calls to his family and that he would likely be moved from a two-person prison cell to an open dorm that has few bathrooms, round-the-clock lighting, frequent fights; or be placed into solitary confinement.

“When I arrived at Stewart I was faced with the impossible choice—either work for a few cents an hour or live without basic things like soap, shampoo, deodorant, and food,” said Barrientos. He chose to work to live with some privacy and maintain access to the commissary. “If I didn’t work, I would never be able to call my family,” said Barrientos, who works in the kitchen, cooking meals for up to 2,000 people each day.

For his work, Barrientos receives at most $4 to $5 per day for six to eight hours of work; approximately 50 cents per hour. Since Stewart has no paid kitchen staff, officers usually require Barrientos to work seven days a week, even when he is sick. Barrientos was sent to medical segregation for two months after he filed a grievance for being forced to work while he was sick.

“CoreCivic illegally enriches itself on the backs of a captive workforce to bolster their profits,” said Korey Nelson, a partner at Burns Charest, a law firm with offices in Dallas and New Orleans that specializes in complex class action suits.

“CoreCivic’s labor practices at Stewart are an affront to the human dignity of all confined there, and sad reminder of a not-so-distant past when the power to jail meant the opportunity to profit,” said Andrew Free, a Nashville-based immigration and civil rights attorney. “Neither our conscience as a nation nor our human trafficking laws permit this corporation’s conduct.”

In 2014, current and formerly detained immigrants who were forced to work at private detention centers began to file class-action lawsuits alleging violations of federal and state labor laws.”

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MALDEF, May 3, 2018 – “Bank of America illegally denies employment to qualified applicants based on their immigration status even though they are authorized to work in the United States, a lawsuit filed in federal court today charged.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and the law firm Elliot Morgan Parsonage PLLC of Winston-Salem, N.C., filed the suit on behalf of Daniel Marques, a 27-year-old native of Brazil who is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Marques is authorized to work by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, but he was abruptly disqualified from consideration for a job with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, a division of Bank of America after he informed the company of his DACA grant, the lawsuit states.

Bank of America is accused of violating the federal Civil Rights Act of 1866, which prohibits intentional discrimination based on alienage.

“Any company, like Bank of America, with a significant Latino customer base and that seeks to build further business with the growing Latino community, would do well to avoid policies or practices that discriminate, irrationally, on the basis of immigration status,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president, and general counsel.

Marques submitted an application in March 2016 through Bank of America’s online job application portal for a position in New Jersey as a Practice Management Development Associate within the financial advisor program of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. He received an email soon thereafter from Bank of America’s vice president, the executive recruiter for the mid-Atlantic market to schedule a March 30 telephone interview. The vice president informed Marques during the interview that as a non-citizen applicant, he was required to be eligible to work in the United States “without limitations.”

After the phone interview, the executive recruiter sent Marques an email the same day saying she would recommend further interviews. Marques responded with a request for further clarification of her statement that he would need work authorization “without limitations,” and attached a copy of his valid Employment Authorization Document, which is renewable every two years under DACA.

On April 4, 2016, the executive called Marques to say that he was disqualified from further consideration for the job because he is a DACA recipient. Marques sent follow-up emails seeking more specific information, but he did not receive any responses.

“We are determined to vindicate the full rights afforded to immigrants with federal work authorization,” said Burth López, MALDEF staff attorney, and counsel in the case. “Companies may not pick and choose among work-authorized job applicants based on the applicants’ immigration status.”

The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of all non-citizens who were authorized to work in the United States, including other holders of deferred action, refugees, and visa holders, and who were denied employment by Bank of America after April 4, 2016, because of their immigration status.

“Elliot Morgan Parsonage PLLC is looking forward to working with MALDEF to fight employment discrimination against young people with DACA,” said co-counsel Helen L. Parsonage.

The lawsuit is the third filed by MALDEF in the past year challenging employment policies that discriminate against DACA recipients. Last July, MALDEF and co-counsel Outten & Golden LLP sued consumer product giant Procter & Gamble on behalf of a former college student who had been denied a paid internship based on his DACA status.

The case is Daniel Marques v. Bank of America Corporation, Case No. 3:18-cv-00228, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division.

Read the complaint here.”

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