Jun 2, 2020

Axios @Work

By Erica Pandey
Erica Pandey

Welcome back to @Work. Please follow Axios' ongoing coverage of the protests for justice around the country here.

Thanks to all of you for sending along story ideas and feedback each week. Keep it coming by replying to this email or writing to me at erica@axios.com.

Today's issue is 1,377 words — a 5-minute read. Let's start with...

1 big thing: What we expect from our bosses

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Workers — especially millennials and Gen Zers — are paying close attention to the words and actions of their employers during national crises, such as the protests following the killing of George Floyd in police custody.

Why it matters: American companies have an enormous amount of wealth and influence that they can put toward effecting change, and CEOs have the potential to fill the leadership vacuum left by government inaction. More and more rank-and-file employees expect their bosses to do something with that money and power.

But while a slew of big firms and individual CEOs have put out statements of support for the black community, few have said what they're going to do about it.

  • "I see hundreds of brands posting the same image [of a Black Lives Matter symbol], but this issue has been around for hundreds of years, and a lot of these companies have been around for hundreds of years, too," says Andrew Sampson, founder and CEO of the app Rainway. "What are you going to do more than just post a tweet?"
  • "I find it baffling that these companies with market caps of billions are saying they'll match employee donations," they say.

By the numbers: The lack of meaningful action is exacerbated by the abysmally low representation of black leaders and workers in corporate America.

  • Black professionals held 3.3% of executive or senior leadership roles in 2018, according to data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cited by CNN.
  • There are just four black CEOs at Fortune 500 companies today, per CNN.
  • Black workers make up about 3% of Silicon Valley's workforce, reports Fortune.
  • Just 1% of venture-backed founders in the last five years were black, according to Crunchbase.

The big picture: Not only is putting money, hiring efforts and advocacy behind their statements the right thing to do, it's also good business.

  • "Values are important, and they are a recruiting tool, but it's more than just 'What are your values?' It's how you live your values," says Lars Schmidt, founder of Amplify, an HR consulting firm.
  • "There is absolutely an expectation that the company speak up and take action, especially on social justice issues," a Deloitte employee tells me. "Our leadership explicitly cites inclusivity and diversity as some of our highest values, and younger employees in particular expect that those come to fruition."
  • And it matters for firms' customers, too. 58% of millennials, 55% of Gen Xers and 51% of baby boomers think it’s important that brands they support invest in causes they care about, according to a report from InMoment, which helps firms improve customer and employee experiences.

The bottom line: "Job seekers are savvy," Schmidt says. When young, talented workers are deciding which job offer to accept, they'll be looking at how companies handled these protests and how they responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

2. Two staggering stats

A security officer at a food distribution pop-up in New York City. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

  1. Black workers have been disproportionately hit by pandemic-fueled unemployment. Less than half of black adults now have a job, per the New York Times.
  2. Black Americans are also more likely than other workers to occupy front-line jobs during the pandemic, per the Economic Policy Institute. While black workers make up 12% of all workers, they are 17% of essential workers.

Go deeper: Black Americans' competing crises

3. At home, having conversations

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

As Americans engage in difficult conversations about race, violence, privilege and more, one place they may receive training in such discussions is the workplace, my colleague Naomi Shavin writes.

Why it matters: Firms often ask or invite employees to attend programs that help them communicate about diversity and inclusion. With many people working from home, the skills they've picked up can also be applied in the family setting.

The big picture: "Unconscious bias trainings have been happening over the past couple decades, but ramping up in the last decade," says Rashawn Ray of the Brookings Institute and the University of Maryland, who leads diversity and inclusion training for companies, police departments and the military.

  • Cherie Brown, founder and CEO of the National Coalition Building Institute — which offers diversity training — said she was on a recent Zoom call with a client organization when one employee, who identified herself as white, shared that she was pulling together eight of her family members to read and discuss a book about racism.

Yes, but: Ray cautions that many companies will often host these programs, but fail to take meaningful next steps. "Without a follow-up, they don't have a plan to really integrate racial equity going forward."

  • And Brown says there's an important distinction between the diversity and inclusion work embraced in the corporate sphere and "hard conversations about race and dominance and privilege. That conversation is not yet in the corporate arena."

What they're saying: There is a silver lining to the present situation, according to Ray — and an opportunity to be seized. "We are capturing a moment where people are paying attention."

Read the full story.

4. The pandemic could break tech out of Silicon Valley

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

One effect of the pandemic could be the redistribution of Silicon Valley's jobs and wealth to the American heartland.

The big picture: "Over one-third of the nation’s digital services job growth in the last decade was concentrated in just five metropolitan areas: New York, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, and San Jose," Brookings' Mark Muro writes.

  • "As for the rest of the nation’s large metro areas, no less than 63 of them saw their share of the tech sector actually decline due to slow or negative growth."

Now as Twitter, Square, Facebook and more firms turn the remote trial into a permanent fixture, some of those jobs could seep into the other 63% of metros.

  • Decentralization is typically slow, Muro notes. But even if 10% of the tech jobs at these massive companies moved out of the Valley and into left-behind cities, their impact on those economies would be significant.

But, but, but: The rise of remote work could come with unforeseen consequences. For example, Facebook has said that it will adjust its remote employees' compensation based on the cost of living in the cities in which they live. That means no Silicon Valley-level salaries for those living in the middle of the country.

  • Stitch Fix, the online clothing retailer based in San Francisco, said Monday that it was laying off 1,400 employees in California in order to hire replacements in lower-cost cities like Dallas, Austin and Minneapolis, per CNBC.
5. More new coronavirus careers

I've been tracking the new types of jobs that are cropping up as companies and governments figure out how to safely reopen America.

Among these new coronavirus careers are temperature checkers who monitor the health of people entering office buildings and schools and contact tracers who try to locate people who have been exposed to the virus and give them advice on how to contain it.

Here are a few more, per CNBC:

  • We'll need coronavirus testers to swab people at offices and factories once they open.
  • And there's been a spike in demand for caregivers for those who have contracted the virus, CNBC notes.
  • Companies may also need bylaw enforcement officers whose time will be devoted to making sure firms and employees are observing safety and social distancing guidelines.
6. Worthy of your time

Charging Alabama state troopers pass by fallen demonstrators in Selma on March 7, 1965. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

Here's what I'm reading this week.

The technology of witnessing brutality (Axios)

  • The ways Americans capture and share records of racist violence and police misconduct keep changing, but the pain of the underlying injustices they chronicle remains a stubborn constant.

Pandemic-battered retailers face protests (NYT)

  • Riots around the country are roiling retailers — large and small — who have already been hurting throughout the coronavirus lockdowns.

Microsoft wants to own the work-from-home economy (WSJ)

  • The pandemic has supercharged a race to develop new technologies — and Microsoft aims to dominate the market for tech that facilitates video-conferencing, team chatting and computing, But it's up against strong rivals.

The CEO's guide to safely reopening the workplace (MIT Tech Review)

  • While many Americans will want to continue on with the coronavirus' remote work experiment and keep doing their jobs from home, many others will be eager to return to their offices and routines. Here's how CEOs can begin to accommodate both of those groups.
7. 1 quarantine thing: The power prop

There's my copy of "The Power Broker." And, fine, I'll admit it — I haven't gotten a chance to read it yet.

These days, watching cable news means catching a glimpse of the inside of the homes of journalists, politicians and academics.

  • There's even a Twitter account dedicated to rating the rooms people Skype or Zoom from.
  • And now there's a new "it" prop that's taking over television, the New York Times reports.

"The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York," Robert Caro's 1,246-page epic on the man who was arguably New York's most influential public official ever, keeps appearing on TV screens.

Dana Rubinstein writes in the Times:

"Reading the book is a rite of passage for New York’s political class, a pledge to learn the art of politics as it is practiced in big cities, not textbooks. To display the book prominently is to signal that you, too, understand how politics works, in both its pitfalls and its promise."
Erica Pandey

Thanks for reading!