Jun 9, 2020

Axios @Work

By Erica Pandey
Erica Pandey

Welcome back to @Work. Keep sending your reflections and ideas to erica@axios.com, or just hit reply to this email.

Today's edition is 1,792 words, a 7-minute read. First up...

1 big thing: The unequal workplace

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Racism has long festered in workplaces, keeping black workers out of positions of power in every single industry.

Why it matters: Unequal opportunities at work contribute to the massive wealth gap between white and black America.

The big picture: There are structural inequalities built into recruitment, hiring and promotion that keep black professionals from advancing in every sector. The number of black students graduating from colleges and business schools has been rising, but black representation in the C-suite remains abysmally low.

  • Black adults make up 10% of college grads and 8% of professionals, but just 3.2% of executives or senior-level managers and just 0.8% — or four — of Fortune 500 CEOs, according to a recent study from the Center for Talent Innovation.
  • 42% of Americans say they have witnessed or experienced racism in the workplace, per a 2019 Glassdoor survey.

What's happening: "Workplaces haven’t adapted to the multiracial workforces that we see now," says Adia Harvey Wingfield, a sociology professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an adviser on the Center for Talent Innovation study.

  • Most of the people doing the hiring in corporate America are white, and often recruitment and hiring are based on who you know. "For many white people, their networks are extremely homogeneous," she says. "That presents a problem in even getting into these industries."
  • Multiple studies have shown that biases are baked into recruitment, with hiring managers demonstrating preferences for resumes that have white-sounding names.

But "hiring is just where we start," says Wingfield. Even after they are hired, workers of color, especially black workers, are often alienated by an exclusionary workplace culture.

  • Culture includes everything from what sorts of hairstyles are considered "professional" (it's typically white Western styles) to where off-site gatherings are held — for example, country clubs, which are overwhelmingly white, could feel exclusionary to workers of color, she says.

Climbing the ranks at American companies also often depends on whom you know.

  • "Advancement is built on networks and mentoring and sponsorships in ways that can easily leave black workers behind," Wingfield says. And people in positions of power typically choose to mentor and promote those who look like them.
  • In the Center for Talent Innovation study, 34% of black men said they had access to senior leaders at work, compared with 49% of white men. For black and white women, it was 30% and 40%, respectively.

What's next: One part of the problem is that these issues are rarely discussed in workplaces, experts tell Axios. "There is a real discomfort to talk about the aspects of culture that are detrimental to workers of color or black workers in particular," Wingfield says.

  • But these deep-rooted problems won't go away without uncomfortable conversations and formal reviews of the policies that determine recruitment, retention and promotion at firms, says Rashawn Ray, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland and fellow at the Brookings Institution.
  • "I don’t think there’s such a thing as too late," he says. "But it’s not enough to diversify your workforce if the people that are at the decision-making table don't have diverse perspectives."
2. The unpaid labor of working from home

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There are a slew of tasks — cooking, cleaning, child care — that come with the at-home economy, and these burdens are disproportionately taken on by women.

Why it matters: Prompting stay-at-home orders around the country, the coronavirus has exacerbated the consequences of this unequal division of unpaid labor.

  • In many households in America and around the world, women are doing more work than ever, and the stresses and sacrifices that come with that work could set them back in their careers.
  • It's a phenomenon that sociologist Arlie Hochschild labeled "The Second Shift" in a seminal 1989 book (reissued in 2012 with updated data). Hochschild found that in dual-career households, working moms do a month's more of work than working dads — when you count paid work, housework and child care.

The big picture: "If American women earned minimum wage for the unpaid work they do around the house and caring for relatives, they would have made $1.5 trillion last year," the New York Times' Gus Wezerek and Kristen Ghodsee write.

  • Per a recent Morning Consult poll conducted for the Times, 80% of mothers say they're doing most of the home-schooling, 70% say they're handling the bulk of the housework, and 66% say they're responsible for all or most of the child care.
  • There's also a perception gap among parents. Nearly half of fathers say they're doing more of the home-schooling, but only 3% of mothers agree with that.
  • In two-parent households in the U.K., mothers are getting just a third of the uninterrupted paid work hours as fathers, according to a University College London survey.

The stakes: There is already evidence of the toll of work-from-home's unpaid labor. The UCL survey found that mothers were 47% more likely to have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

The bottom line: "The effects of this lockdown are gendered," says Sarah Lux-Lee, founder and CEO of Mindr, a consultancy that works with tech companies to help retain women and parents as employees.

3. The biggest coronavirus hiring slumps

Driving for Uber in New York City in the time of coronavirus. Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

The pandemic’s upending of the way we work and live has roiled the job market — triggering hiring surges in some sectors and massive slumps in others.

Why it matters: Look for some of the pain to last beyond the end of the pandemic. “If some of the increase in remote work, distance learning and online entertainment is permanent, these jobs will be threatened by the new at-home economy,” says Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter.

Here are the jobs that saw the greatest declines in postings between mid-February and mid-May, according to ZipRecruiter data shared with Axios:

  1. Uber/Lyft Driver (-91%) 
  2. Flight Attendant (-90%) 
  3. Car Washer (-87%)
  4. Tour Guide (-85%)
  5. Retail Store Associate (-84%) 
  6. Event/Conference Planner (-82%) 
  7. Hotel Staff (-82%) 
  8. Office Manager (-81%)
  9. Chef (-80%) 
  10. Catering Assistant (-80%)
  11. Commercial Pilot (-79%) 
  12. Ticket Seller (-75%)
  13. Usher (-73%)
  14. Valet (-70%) 
  15. Actor (-70%)
  16. Musician (-69%) 
  17. Loss Prevention Specialist (-62%) 
  18. Barber (-58%)
  19. Commercial Property Manager (-49%) 
  20. Front Desk Associate (-47%)
4. Tech's problem with Black Lives Matter branding

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There's a disconnect between tech giants' messaging supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and the adverse effects of the companies' products.

The big picture: Tech firms stand accused of contributing to the very problems spotlighted by the nationwide protests they now vocally back. In many cases, the industry still hasn't reckoned with the way its products and services have deepened racial divides, or with its own failure to diversify, Axios' Kyle Daly reports.

As I wrote last week, employees — especially younger ones — expect their bosses to speak out on social justice issues. And tech CEOs have been among the most vocal corporate leaders amid the George Floyd protests. But at the same time...

  • Amazon has deals with hundreds of law enforcement agencies to share footage from people's Ring cameras, and, as The Intercept notes, sells facial recognition software to the police. Critics argue that both tools are used in police tactics that disproportionately target black people, and a large and growing body of evidence suggests facial recognition software is more likely to misidentify people of color.
  • Facebook has long drawn criticism that it has provided a global forum for racists to gather and spread their messages, sometimes in secret private groups. It has also faced charges that it let advertisers discriminate against black people and other minorities with housing ads shown to some groups and not others.
  • Google, Twitter, Reddit and Airbnb are among the other companies that have endorsed Black Lives Matter and committed to anti-racism — in some cases with six- to eight-figure donations to match — but have been criticized in the past for providing platforms for racist language and actions.
5. Stir crazy and ready to go back

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While the coronavirus' months-long work-from-home experiment is working out for some firms and their employees, many other workers are stressed out or cooped up in their homes — and eager to return to their workplaces.

Why it matters: Corporate America's decision to send their workers home in March was an overnight one, but bringing those people back will take much longer. It'll happen over months and in phases.

What's happening: Human resources departments around the country are fielding emails from workers asking when they can start coming in again, and they're formulating plans to open back up safely.

  • Cloudflare, the web infrastructure company, is soliciting petitions from employees and will let a fraction return to work first based on who makes the most compelling argument, reports Quartz. Is it hard to take a sales call because you're working around one kitchen table with three roommates? Do your pets make it impossible for you to concentrate?
    • But problems could arise from asking staff to share personal information, Quartz notes. People could have any number of reasons why they feel stressed — or even unsafe — working from home that they don't want to share with their employers.
  • Other companies, Apple among them, are starting by inviting back those workers who cannot do their jobs remotely.

The bottom line: Even though there are many people who can't wait to be back in the office, many of those people become less excited when they hear what the post-pandemic office will look like.

  • Workers envision big meetings and coffee breaks with colleagues, but when they hear the office will have only a few people — plus social distancing and temperature screenings — far fewer say they want to come back, Janet Van Huysse, head of people at Cloudflare, told Quartz.
6. Worthy of your time
Data: 2018 American Community Survey, U.S. Census; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

This week's reading list:

More black police officers, yet the killings persist (Axios)

  • Nationally, over 15% of law enforcement is black — a bigger share than the black U.S. population. But there's no hard evidence that improving diversity alone leads to fewer deadly interactions with the police.

America is giving up on the pandemic (The Atlantic)

  • People are crowding the streets to protest yet another black man's senseless murder, and, at the same time, many businesses are reopening without quite hitting the public health benchmarks to do so. Here's what all of it could mean for the course of the pandemic.

Companies find new perks for the remote worker (Wall Street Journal)

  • With everyone home, there's no such thing as Pizza Fridays. So firms are offering alternative perks, like mental health services and virtual workout classes.

How the pandemic is roiling the rental economy (WIRED)

  • The Airbnb and Uber models of spending a few nights in a stranger's house or riding in a stranger's car are definitely making people uneasy amid a global pandemic. But certain aspects of the rental economy — renting office furniture to work from home, for instance — are thriving during these times.
7. 1 🎬 thing: Post-pandemic Hollywood

Photo: RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images via Getty Images

Hollywood is going back to work on Friday — but with new rules.

Why it matters: The new coronavirus-era health guidelines for how the film industry should operate could change what we see on our screens, per a white paper put together with input from Disney, Netflix, HBO and other big-name studios.

  • Expect fewer sex and fight scenes, as actors try to maintain 6 feet of social distance. "Consider measures to minimize scenes with close contact between performers, such as amending scripts or use of digital effects," the paper says.
  • Auditions will likely be held over video conferencing to minimize contact.
  • Remote work will continue for the members of cast and crew who can swing it. That could mean empty writers' rooms.
  • And "the use of live audiences is discouraged," the paper notes.
Erica Pandey

Thanks for reading!