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3 ways Black people say their white co-workers and managers can support them and be an antidote to systemic racism

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Professor of Accounting, University of Delaware
Professor of Business and Leadership, University of Delaware
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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President Joe Biden committed the U.S. government to racial equity by issuing four executive orders on Jan. 26 that seek to curb systemic racism. In the orders, he cited the killing of George Floyd in 2020, which sparked months of protests and prompted many U.S. companies to likewise commit themselves – and hundreds of billions of dollars – to helping Black Americans overcome institutional discrimination.
Shortly after the protests began last year, we hosted a panel that addressed this very topic. Held on Juneteenth, the webinar featured four Black women – including one of us – who poignantly shared their own frequent encounters with racial bias in job interviews, shopping for clothes and even working with their peers.
A common question we got from the predominantly white audience was some variation on “How can I be an ally?” That is, a lot of people wanted to know what they can do as friends, colleagues and managers to support African Americans in overcoming ongoing discrimination and bias and achieving success.
This prompted us – business scholars with a keen interest in diversity, one white, one Black – to try to find an answer to these questions of how white people can support their Black colleagues. So we interviewed five successful Black professionals and the mostly white “allies” they said were instrumental to their achievements to see if we could find an antidote to racial bias in the workplace.
Three themes stood out from this ongoing research, which we plan to submit for peer review.
Racism often seems embedded in the fabric of Black people’s everyday lives. And it’s not just being treated differently by the police, which was the impetus for the 2020 protests.
Black people even experience bias from well-meaning schoolteachers, neighbors, colleagues and managers. Small acts of reckless disregard build toward broad racial disparities.
Therefore, we sought to understand the small acts of resolute connection that could shift the tide toward greater justice and equity.
Using our own networks, we reached out to five Black professionals in a range of industries – financial services, packaged foods and sports management – who were all in executive roles in their organizations. We asked them to think of the individuals who were instrumental to their success and describe the specific support these people offered to help manage explicit or implicit moments of discrimination. Next, we interviewed the eight allies they identified – seven white, one Black.
These 13 in-depth interviews yielded key patterns about the simple ways to address racial bias that defy conventional wisdom. Unlike research that relies on surveys to get representative viewpoints, a qualitative approach allowed us to gain a richer, more comprehensive understanding of the factors and variables in these relationships that made them powerful.
Consistent with social exchange theory, we found that these relationships worked best when there was a partnership and both parties benefited.
People of color said they did not want to be objects of pity. Even the question “What can I do?” implies a power dynamic – someone in power reaching out to someone in need.
The people of color we spoke to found the strongest support when their allies recognized their talents and helped them apply these talents more effectively in the workplace. And that support was more authentic and trustworthy when both parties benefited from the relationship and learned from each other.
The Black professionals we interviewed said that they were already performing at a high level and trying to prove themselves invaluable, which made colleagues and managers who benefited from their efforts seek to promote them in the organization. The allies likewise said they supported Black workers because they saw their talent.
For example, one ally reported seeing that the dominant white macho culture in his organization did not appreciate his female Black colleague’s talent and was limiting her success. When he moved to a new company, as soon as he saw an opportunity he actively recruited her. The new role involved much more responsibility than her previous positions, but he convinced her that she could do it.
She told us that his ongoing support in the position encouraged her continued success. The relationship focused on talent, not pity, and benefited both parties.
These relationships were not careful or guarded; they were straightforward and honest.
Past research has found that white supervisors often avoid giving critical feedback to Black subordinates and peers out of a fear of being viewed as biased. Yet it can be more biased to say nothing. Avoiding difficult conversations can impede a young professional’s upward mobility.
People of color need advice from more experienced individuals on how to successfully navigate racism traps that may exist in the workplace. They might be unaware that some of their actions or approaches are being perceived negatively in the office. These difficult conversations can strengthen relationships.
For example, an ally observed that although it was difficult, she considered it a managerial responsibility to tell her Black colleague that he was not meeting her expectations. Another ally reported explaining to a junior Black colleague that proving you are right to a supervisor may not always be beneficial if it harms your long-term career prospects.
These difficult but honest conversations helped shape the person of color’s conduct and laid the foundation for lifelong trusting connections.
Finally, it made a big difference to the people of color we interviewed when an ally tried to get to know them better as a person, not only in terms of work.
People are more productive at work when they feel that colleagues see them with nuance – with unique passions, talents and interests – rather than pigeonholing or stereotyping them based on race or gender. It also becomes a lot easier to champion and advocate for someone you know well.
But as a result of real or perceived racial barriers, Black professionals often report feeling anxious during work-related social engagements, in part because they say they don’t understand the rules. Black and white professionals also tend to move in different social circles outside of work.
Our interviewees said a key antidote to this came when allies made an effort to connect outside of work. Whether over a cup of coffee or a home-cooked meal, these social encounters allowed relationships to flourish and stereotypes to diminish.
One white ally we interviewed reported realizing that she often had white colleagues to her home for dinner but had never invited a Black colleague. So when discussing her vacation plans – a seven-day chartered Alaskan fishing trip – with a Black woman who worked in the same office, she discovered her co-worker’s husband loved fishing and invited them on the trip, where they bonded and formed a friendship.
Doing this doesn’t require becoming friends. It only means closing the “psychological distance” that can separate people along racial lines at work.
Black people in the U.S. are faced with a world that can make them feel both empowered and vulnerable. Recent scenes at the U.S. Capitol just two weeks apart sum up this jarring narrative.
On Jan. 20, Kamala Harris took the oath of office on the Capitol steps as the first Black vice president – and only hours later swore in the first Black senator from Georgia. Contrast that with images exactly two weeks earlier of white supremacists storming that very same building.
Americans face great challenges on the road to a more inclusive society. To be sure, addressing institutional racism requires systematic interventions by companies and substantial policy changes by the government. But our research suggests they also could use something simpler from their colleagues, managers and others in their lives: genuine relationships.
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What the $25 billion the biggest US donors gave in 2020 says about high-dollar charity today

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Associate Professor of Public Administration, Binghamton University, State University of New York
Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Leadership, Seattle University
Associate Professor of Public Policy and Public Administration, George Washington University
David Campbell is vice chair of the Conrad and Virginia Klee Foundation in Binghamton, New York.
Elizabeth J. Dale has received funding from the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation via Indiana University and The Giving USA Foundation for her research on philanthropy. The views expressed in this essay are strictly my own and do not reflect policy stances of Seattle University.
Jasmine McGinnis Johnson is a Visiting Fellow at Urban Institute, the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy.

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Editor’s note: According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the top 50 Americans who gave the most to charity in 2020 committed to giving a total of US$24.7 billion to hospitals, homeless shelters, universities, museums and more – a boost of roughly 54% from 2019 levels. David Campbell, Elizabeth Dale and Jasmine McGinnis Johnson, three scholars of philanthropy, assess what these gifts mean, the possible motivations behind them and what they hope to see in the future in terms of charitable giving in the United States.
Campbell: Pandemic. Pandemic. Pandemic. The share of giving that went to social service nonprofits, food banks and homelessness assistance groups rose sharply. At the same time, performing arts organizations, largely shut down as a result of the pandemic and starved of revenue from ticket sales, received more support from big donors in 2020 than in 2019, with charitable gifts and pledges to them increasing to $65 million from $51 million.
McGinnis Johnson: Likewise, Racial justice. Racial justice. Racial justice.
For example, basketball legend Michael Jordan declared that he would personally give at least $50 million to racial equity and education causes over the next decade, with his footwear and clothing company kicking in another $50 million. Also, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Quillan gave a total of $120 million divided into three equal gifts to Morehouse College, Spelman College and UNCF – the group previously called United Negro College Fund that pays for students to attend historically black colleges and universities. Neither Jordan nor Hastings and Quillan, who said their increased awareness about the country’s racial injustices and the deaths of Black people in police custody inspired them to give, made the Chronicle’s list of top donors in 2019.
These and other unusually large gifts taking aim at racial injustice, and other forms of social injustice (not counting HBCU donations), totaled $66 million in 2020. But I had anticipated that there would be even more of this giving by the biggest donors.

Dale: In particular, MacKenzie Scott – Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife – made many gifts to HBCUs. These donations included $50 million for Prairie View A&M University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Morgan State University. In addition to racial justice, her philanthropy has raised the profile of causes like civic engagement, community development and the need to address the medical debt crisis in the U.S. Scott was the second-largest donor for the year, after Bezos. Combined, their commitments totaled nearly $16 billion. Neither made the top 50 in 2019.
Until now, the ultra-rich haven’t typically supported causes like these. Instead, extremely wealthy donors have historically been more inclined to fund higher education and health care, largely with big donations to elite universities, hospitals and arts institutions like museums and operas.
The other aspect that strikes me is the “who” part of the list. There are many new faces: Eight of the 20 top donors didn’t make an appearance on the Philanthropy 50 list for their 2019 giving.

McGinnis Johnson: A total of about $14 billion of this giving went to foundations led by the givers themselves and donor-advised funds, which work somewhat like foundations in that donors set money aside for charity before they actually give those funds to nonprofits. When wealthy people set aside money this way, they receive tax benefits before giving those funds. In a troubling development, some foundations have begun to put some of their disbursed money, which was already designated for charity, into donor-advised funds rather than addressing today’s many urgent needs, such as alleviating hunger and staving off evictions amid a major economic crisis.
Dale: This list reminds me of the limits of philanthropy, especially with a problem as widespread as the COVID-19 pandemic. Even if you add all of the social service gifts together, including donations to food banks, efforts to help the homeless and gifts to pay off medical debt, it adds up to only about $700 million. Compared to the trillions of dollars in relief the government is providing individuals and small businesses for economic problems that began in 2020, you can see that philanthropy from the very wealthiest Americans doesn’t come close to meeting all of the nation’s needs.
One possible way Congress could encourage more donations is by increasing the share of assets that foundations must give away every year. A coalition of wealthy donors including Walt Disney Co. heiress Abigail Disney and at least two members of the Pritzker family – heirs to the Hyatt fortune – supports this change.

McGinnis Johnson: I think that major gifts in support of racial and social justice causes may continue. I also expect to see the emergence of new donors spurred on by these crises who can give in new and different ways. And I hope that more wealthy donors begin to pay more attention to leadership, by supporting organizations led by people of color.
Campbell: Donors like MacKenzie Scott and Susan Sandler – the heir to a fortune made in the home-mortgage business – and some foundations are going out of their way to invest in people, places and organizations that have long been ignored or marginalized.
Also, their public statements about their giving, along with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s spreadsheet listing his donations, have raised the bar for transparency in philanthropy.
I believe these new approaches can engage the public in an ongoing debate about the best way to use charitable dollars to build a better world. The question is, will other wealthy donors follow their lead?
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New steps the government’s taking toward COVID-19 relief could help fight hunger

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Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Richmond
Tracy Roof does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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President Joe Biden has pledged to tackle hunger as part of his administration’s efforts to alleviate poverty.
“We cannot, will not let people go hungry,” Biden declared on his second full day in office, invoking the “values of our nation.”
One way his administration aims to accomplish this goal is by expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the country’s largest anti-hunger program. I’m researching this program, long known as food stamps but today referred to as SNAP, for an upcoming book. The program helps struggling families while boosting the economy during downturns.
As Biden’s presidency gets underway, I’m watching to see not only whether the government expands the amount of aid this program provides people in need today, but whether there are lasting changes to SNAP and other anti-poverty policies that could reduce hunger in the future.
Unlike the Trump administration, Biden’s team is eager to find ways to maximize the use of SNAP to fight poverty during the pandemic and beyond.
Former President Donald Trump criticized the large number of people who remained on SNAP after the last recession, which occurred partly because poverty rates remained high even as unemployment went down. Believing that the program discouraged work, Trump repeatedly tried but failed to limit who could get SNAP.

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the number of people enrolled in SNAP soared again. Spending on the program surged even more because the government temporarily let all beneficiaries get the maximum amount of benefits.
Government aid through SNAP totaled a record US$85.6 billion in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, 2020. That money helped feed around 44 million people, up from 35 million a year earlier.
But until recently there was no extra help for the roughly 40% of the people who were already getting the maximum benefits because of their very low incomes. Congress changed that when it approved a 15% increase for all SNAP recipients as part of the December 2020 $900 billion relief package. That benefits boost started the following month.

Despite SNAP’s expansion and additional aid flowing to food banks from government assistance and many high-profile donations to food banks and food pantries by some of the richest Americans, hunger has remained a problem throughout the pandemic.
By January 2021, a government survey found that some 11% of adults, and more than 1 in 7 of all U.S. households with children, said they were having trouble getting enough to eat – well above pre-pandemic levels. The problem is even worse for people of color.
Along with the 15% increase in SNAP benefits Congress approved in December 2020, which initially was to last for six months, were changes to make it easier for college students and those on unemployment benefits to get SNAP.
Biden wants to offer Americans who face economic hardship additional help. He has proposed extending the SNAP increase for at least another three months, through September 2021. Further, he has pledged to work with Congress to tie benefit increases to the health of the economy and the people so that Congress would not have to take action for extra help to kick in.
If Congress adopted such an approach, I believe vulnerable families would no longer be at the mercy of the kind of political squabbling that has delayed additional help during the pandemic.
Biden also signed an executive order directing federal agencies to try to do more for the poorest families through SNAP. In addition, his administration is trying to make it easier for states to send more help to families with children who are missing free or reduced-price meals at school or who are too young to attend.
The proposed SNAP changes are among many temporary benefit increases Biden and others have recently outlined, such as in unemployment benefits and new tax credits for families with children.
Columbia University researchers estimate that a combination of Biden’s proposals could reduce poverty in 2021 by almost 30% and halve the number of U.S. children living in poverty. If successful, this could launch a longer-term transformation in anti-poverty policies.
Many advocates of policies that help the poor have long argued that SNAP benefits are too stingy to provide enough nutritious food for an adequate diet.
On average, people on SNAP use over three-fourths of their benefits by the middle of the month – even in a strong economy. As a result, many SNAP recipients run out of benefits and regularly turn to food banks. In fact, more than 40% of food bank clients are enrolled in SNAP.
Why don’t these benefits fill more gaps?
Technically, food stamp recipients are expected to spend 30% of their own income on food. If they have income, as most SNAP recipients do, their benefits are calculated by reducing the maximum benefit for their family size by 30% of the value of their income after deductions for things like child care. But many financially stressed families don’t feel they can afford to spend that much on food.
Another problem is how the maximum benefit is set. It is based on the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan, devised by the Department of Agriculture in 1975 as “a national standard for a nutritious diet at a minimal cost.”
Despite changes to reflect new official nutritional recommendations, the government has maintained the same inflation-adjusted cap on spending in place for decades. As a result, the plan relies on unreasonable and outdated assumptions that underestimate average meal costs, especially in areas with high food prices.
One of Biden’s executive orders instructs the USDA to carry out an until-now overlooked mandate that could fix this problem, potentially increasing the amount of SNAP benefits during good times and bad.
To be sure, it’s unclear what will happen with SNAP benefits.
Presidents have often used emergencies to make lasting policy changes, but big expansions in anti-poverty programs have historically been passed with large Democratic majorities in Congress as in the New Deal in the 1930s and the War on Poverty in the 1960s.
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Today, the Senate is evenly split, with Democrats wielding control through Vice President Kamala Harris’ vote in that chamber. The Democratic majority in the House is also narrow.
Just as Trump failed at his efforts to cut many anti-poverty programs, Biden may not succeed in expanding them. But his proposed changes reflect a big shift in how the government uses policies to help Americans in need.
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Mothers who earned straight A’s in high school manage the same number of employees as fathers who got failing grades

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Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of North Carolina – Charlotte
Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of British Columbia
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.
Mothers who showed the most academic promise in high school have the same leadership opportunities as fathers who performed the worst, according to our new peer-reviewed study. That is, in their early-to-mid careers, mothers who got straight A’s end up overseeing a similar number of employees as men who got F’s.
To reach these conclusions, we used a U.S. national survey that since 1979 has tracked a group of baby boomers born from 1957 through 1964. We focused on the 5,000 or so participants for whom researchers obtained high school transcripts and then compared the data with their responses to career-focused surveys taken over an 11-year period from 1988 to 1998 – a period when most of them were in their 30s.
Overall, our results showed that men manage more employees than women regardless of their GPA. For participants without children, the leadership gap between men and women was fairly constant across GPA levels, with men managing about two to three workers more on average.
What was most interesting to us is what we learned when we focused only on parents. Fathers with 4.0 GPAs reported overseeing an average of 19 people, compared with 10 for childless men with similar grades and about five for fathers with a 1.0 or less. In contrast, the best-performing mothers managed fewer than five people, compared with seven for childless women with top GPAs and three for mothers with the worst grades.

In other words, becoming a parent boosts leadership opportunities for men while diminishing them for women. Even attaining a college or advanced degree had the same effect, helping fathers but doing little for mothers. Other research reveals that men have a faster route to leadership positions across occupations, including in stereotypically feminine fields such as human resources and health care.
Recent economics research has highlighted “lost Einsteins” – the really smart students from poor families who never become inventors because they don’t receive the same advantages and support that even low-achieving kids from rich families do.
The same can be said for women, whose talents have long been underutilized by corporate America. Our research showed that even the most talented and brightest women experience diminished leadership prospects on account of gender-related barriers, especially if they became mothers.
But the problem isn’t motherhood or fatherhood per se. Past research has shown it’s more about how society views mothers and fathers and the associated stereotypes that contribute to gendered outcomes. For example, fathers could be getting more leadership opportunities because employers stereotype them as better fits for positions that emphasize authority, long work hours and travel. Mothers, on the other hand, may see fewer chances because employers falsely believe they are less committed or competent.
Employers could help overcome this problem by reviewing how they evaluate workers and adopting fairer promotion practices that are more likely to recognize women’s talent. More family-friendly policies such as paid leave and subsidized child care could also help.
Given the limits of our sample, we do not know how our findings translate to younger groups, such as millennials. But given that progress toward equality in the workplace has slowed or even stalled on certain measures in recent decades, we believe it’s likely that the leadership prospects of academically gifted women haven’t improved much.
COVID-19 has harmed women’s employment and productivity more than men’s, particularly among parents because of a lack of child care support. We plan to conduct additional research to better understand how women’s leadership opportunities may have been affected by the pandemic.
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