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History of Workplace Safety for Black Americans

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Historically, Black Americans have faced significant discrimination and have been refused equity in our society, including in workplace safety and health. At the same time, they’ve also been at the forefront of fighting for stronger workplace protections for all Americans.

From the Atlanta Washerwomen to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to the Black miners who all took a stand against abusive labor practices — and countless others — we honor their leadership and sacrifices during Black History Month as we continue to fulfill our mission to improve workplace safety and health. 

It was 55 years ago this month, in Memphis, Tennessee, when two Black sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, died after being crushed when the truck they were working on malfunctioned. When the city failed to respond to this tragedy more than a week later, 1,300 Black workers from the city’s public works department went on strike to demand better wages and safer working conditions.

In support of the workers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. joined the strike and played a key role in leading nonviolent protests to help the workers and the city come to an agreement for better wages and better work protections. In fact, he was in Memphis to support the workers when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The event became part of the larger civil rights movement. 

Fast forward to today: While we’ve made great strides in workplace safety, too many workers are still subjected to conditions as dangerous as what Cole and Walker faced.

In 2021, more than 14 workers were killed on the job every day. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the share of fatalities among Black workers reached an all-time high at 12.6% in 2021, increasing to 653 from 541 in 2020, with most in the transportation industry or related to workplace violence.

The disparity is especially clear in the fatality rates for major demographics: Black or African American workers had a fatality rate of 4.0 per 100,000 full-time workers, compared with an average of 3.6 for all workers. 

The rise in fatal injuries and illnesses links to racial disparities and social issues Black Americans face, such as limited education opportunities, lower earnings and more exposure to hazardous jobs than white Americans. They are also more likely to fear retaliation for speaking up about health and safety concerns at work. 

Last September, the Occupational Safety and Health Administrated hosted our first Workers’ Voice Summit in Washington, D.C. We heard from workers across the country about cases of job steering, where employers assign workers of color to the most dangerous, dirtiest and most unpleasant jobs.

No worker should ever be at any disadvantage because of the color of their skin.

That is why OSHA is taking steps to expand our effort to those disproportionately impacted by injuries and illnesses while on the job — including Black workers — in high-hazard industries like construction, health care and warehousing.   

We are collaborating with stakeholders, Black-led union groups and worker centers to better understand how we can make resources more accessible, and equip workers with proper tools, knowledge and training to ensure equitable enforcement.

With the right resources and support, workers can raise their voices with confidence and trust OSHA will listen and support their needs. 

As we celebrate Black History Month, we know we must do more to create equity and safety for all workers.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said during the Memphis sanitation strike, “whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth.”

If each employer implemented that level of humanity in their business today, we could see more equity for everyone and safer workplaces. 

This blog originally appeared on the website for the U.S. Department of Labor on February 17, 2023.

About the Author: Doug Parker is the assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).


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How To Be an Ally in the Workplace

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Dakota Murphey

There can be no doubt that we are starting to get better at facing up to uncomfortable or awkward issues in the workplace.

The rise of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have taken topics that were once taboo and pushed them into the mainstream. In doing so, they have shown us how necessary it is to be allies to others at work. 

Promoting inclusivity and diversity in the workplace is a benefit not only to staff, but also the whole organization, as it can push forward new ideas and create a competitive edge for the company over competitors.

Ideas around this subject need to target everyone from the top level down the company, while understanding disability and the language of discrimination being key. Implementing diversity and inclusivity training can support everyone work at to be a better ally in the workplace.

Indeed, even if you feel like you are already doing a lot to be an ally, it is always a good idea to continue learning and re-learning these important lessons. 

In this article, we examine how anyone can be a better ally to underrepresented communities in the workplace. 

Educate yourself

The most crucial step to being an ally in the workplace is actually educating yourself. Learning – and in some cases unlearning – behaviors and mindsets is a crucial starting point, and there are many ways to do this.

It’s a great idea to start reading about ideas about systemic inequality, as well as finding ways to diversify the thoughts and ideas that you hear. It is too easy to go into the idea of being an ally with a fixed mentality – and actually, much of this way of thinking can be unhelpful, even if it comes from a good place. 

Promote creative expression

We can sometimes get stuck in the mindset that being an ally is all about political or economic matters in the workplace. In fact, there is a huge range of different ways to be authentically an ally to others in the workplace, in ways that you might not have considered. For example, promoting a colleague’s creative expression can be valuable.

“Creative support and encouragement is pivotal, especially from those who are in similar playing fields as you,” says Dondre Green, a photographer speaking to MPB. “This could look like sharing opportunities, advice, and budget negotiation numbers. I’ve seen even more Black creatives come together over the last few years and be put in positions to hire artists for assignments, too, which is a plus. In terms of representation, it matters.”

Listen to and lean on colleagues

It is important to resist the temptation to make assumptions about what is best for your colleagues. Even though your intentions may be good, you can end up putting your own presumptions forward and this might not end up being the best possible outcome from those you are trying to be an ally to. 

Remember that being an ally isn’t about doing what you think is right for an individual or community – rather it is about listening to what they need and putting that into action. And crucially, you need to think of listening as an act not only of understanding but also of empathizing.

It is therefore important to understand the nuances and language around racial issues and other issues that might affect minority groups  in the workplace by educating yourself, seeking professional guidance or finding support from colleagues.

The challenges that minorities and underrepresented groups face is often not the fault of the actions of individuals but rather systemic problems that won’t go away until they are acknowledged and faced.

Use your privilege 

Often misunderstood in the context of allyship, privilege is a key issue when it comes to providing support in the workplace. Some people take the concept of ‘privilege’ to be an insult or an attack on their personal character. This isn’t the case at all.

No one is saying that being privileged means that you have never faced any hardship of your own, or that you haven’t worked hard to get where you are.

Rather privilege should be seen as something that each of us generally has in one form or another.

Having a university education, for example, or facing no mental health issues, are forms of privilege that some people have. True allyship involves using the privileges that you have to defend or advocate for those who don’t have those same privileges. 

The first step in using privilege effectively is acknowledging it. From there it can be understood, and it can then be used to the advantage of those you are being an ally to. 

Many people are reluctant to be an ally in the workplace because they are worried that they might ‘say the wrong thing’ or act in a way that isn’t actually helpful. Don’t let this discourage you. Allyship exists in a sometimes awkward space and no one is expecting you to be perfect – it is all an opportunity for everyone to learn. 

Being an ally in the workplace is something that you can do that will make a genuine difference to colleagues’ lives and livelihoods.

Whether it is anything from ensuring that you are inclusive when listening to opinions in meetings, to implementing a diversity policy for future hiring; these are things that will benefit you and your business in the long-term. 

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness on January 4, 2023. Published with permission.

About the Author: Dakota Murphey is a contributor to Workplace Fairness.


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Focus on Black Women to Address Workplace Segregation

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Kemi Role

Occupational segregation in the United States reflects the systemic and structural racism built into the economy that marginalizes people of color.

Black workers are “crowded” into industries with poor working conditions, wages, and job security.  Black workers have also historically worked in jobs with the highest injury and fatality rates than other workers. Black women in particular are sorted into low-wage service sector occupations and five occupations account for more than half of all the jobs in which Black women work. 

The COVID pandemic has destabilized health, housing, and economic security for many communities in the United States and specifically for underpaid Black women. COVID disruptions to work and healthcare have compounded the challenges that Black women already face. Sixty-eight percent of Black mothers are the primary or sole breadwinners for their families. Black women are overrepresented in underpaid work, and are especially vulnerable to the disruptions to income and job loss caused by the pandemic.

Many Black women also work in positions that are now deemed essential including as nursing assistants, home health aides, and child care workers. This requirement to work at the frontlines of the pandemic puts Black women and their families at increased risk of exposure to the health and economic impacts of COVID. It has become abundantly clear that the US does not have the cohesive, integrated infrastructure to meet this monumental moment. Yet an ecosystem of Black women leaders and Black-led organizations are visioning new and bold program, policy, and narrative solutions that support Black women workers and address the impacts of occupational segregation. 

An Economy for All: Building a Black Women Best Legislative Agenda is a robust policy framework that centers Black women and recognizes that Black women’s economic well-being is central to a thriving economy. This framework recognizes the compounding impacts of racial and gender discrimination, and how Black women are sorted into underpaid, unstable, and dangerous occupations.

NELP continues to advocate for policies recommended in the report such as increased wages, paid family and medical leave, expanded access to unemployment insurance to support building Black women worker power and addressing the harmful impacts of occupational segregation. 

Bold policies such as guaranteed income also have the potential to build Black women worker power. The Magnolia Mothers’ Trust, a program of Springboard to Opportunities, is the first basic income pilot that specifically centered Black women head of households in Mississippi. The framework for the pilot was to provide “unrestricted, no strings attached cash…to better understand how a non-punitive, trust-based benefit could support families in not only exiting poverty but knowing that they have the freedom, dignity, and agency to be the anchors of their own lives”.

The initial pilot found that 100% of participants reported being able to meet their basic needs, increased positive family engagement, ability to pay bills, completion of high school education, and ability to pay over $10,000 in predatory debt. Make Sure the Shoe Fits: An Exploration of Guaranteed Income Pilots in California, a recent report from the Insight Center, underscores that targeted guaranteed income for Black women, creates more expansive choice with respect to work, has the potential to lift families out of poverty, and move the US towards a more equitable economy. 

Shifting the harmful impacts of occupational segregation for Black women workers also means dismantling the pervasive anti-Black narratives that undergird how work & the economy are shaped for them. Anti-Black racism is the scaffolding and fulcrum of radical economic inequality in the U.S., and of continued attempts to strip workers and communities of power and dignity.

Moving towards narratives that Center Blackness  “demands that we create and design policies and practices that intentionally lift up and protect Black people.

Radical shifts for Black women workers mean building new narratives centered on abundance, dignity, and collective liberation.  

This blog originally appeared at Nelp on December 13, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Kemi Role is the Director of Work Equity for Nelp.


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Your Employer’s Responsibility to Diversity in the Workplace

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Initiatives that advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace have made meaningful differences in the workplace in the last five years. Equitable access to education and opportunity has been on the rise, and employers are reaping the benefits of hiring diverse talent. 

However, considerable barriers to workplace opportunities still exist. A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report found that, on average, people of color were more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts, and that white and Asian adults were considerably more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher than other races. 

Additionally, a 2020 BLS report found that 71% of people living with a disability faced a barrier to gaining employment. Amongst these barriers, their own disability ranked as the highest barrier, but 12.2% cited a lack of education or training, and 9.9% reported that workplaces did not provide the adaptable features they needed to work. 

These findings are troubling and speak to the continued effect that systemic inequality has on our society. However, as an employee, it’s hard to know what you can do to help. It’s unlikely that you will be able to change the underlying causes of inequity in society, and it’s easy to feel helpless when faced with hundreds of years of direct oppression and the overt effects of racism and ableism. 

However, you can make a difference in your workplace, and should start by understanding your employers’ responsibility to diversity in the workplace.

Non-Discrimination Acts

There have been a series of acts enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) since 1964. These laws make it illegal for employers to directly discriminate against employees based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, or political affiliation. Unfortunately, workplace discrimination still happens. 

If you suspect that your employer isn’t holding up to their responsibility to avoid discrimination, you can take legal action to end the discrimination in your workplace. The process isn’t easy and is largely dependent upon what kind of business you work in. However, it is still in your best interest to  know your rights so you can file an official complaint to the EEOC

Proactive Steps

Despite the presence of non-discrimination laws, workplace discrimination still happens and often goes unchecked. A recent Vox report found that only 18% of claims made to the EEOC were successful, and the history of the EEOC is woefully underwhelming. 

This means that it is largely up to employers to make up their own guidelines when it comes to diversity in the workplace. As an employee, you can advocate for your organization to take proactive steps to ensure that your working environment makes a serious commitment to diversity. 

Community Leadership

One of the best ways to advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is to form community leadership groups. Ideally, these groups should be made up of a diverse range of backgrounds and demographics. 

You will also need to establish clear ground rules before jumping into a community leadership initiative. These will help break deadlocks and will ensure your organization can move forward even if you have disagreements within the community leadership panels.  

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeship programs are a great way to draw more diverse talent to your organization. These apprenticeships are usually able to target specific, underrepresented groups, and will show that your organization has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

Education

Unfortunately, not everyone in your workplace will be receptive to initiatives that promote diversity. However, you must recognize that these folks may not have had great access to education themselves and simply haven’t learned about systemic biases. 

To overcome this, you should advocate for further education about diversity in your workplace. This means that your organization’s employees can avoid harmful microaggressions that undermine people’s sense of belonging, and your organization can work together to help promote a more just, diverse society. 

Employers have a responsibility to follow discrimination laws, and you can actively promote diversity in the workplace by advocating for new diversity-centric programs and re-education for folks who are a little behind.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Dan Matthews is a writer, content consultant, and conservationist. While Dan writes on a variety of topics, he loves to focus on the topics that look inward on mankind that help to make the surrounding world a better place to reside. When Dan isn’t working on new content, you can find him with a coffee cup in one hand and searching for new music in the other.


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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: DPE Announces Legislative Push to Advance Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

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Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

The arts, entertainment and media unions affiliated with the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO, (DPE) last week announced their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policy agenda during a digital press conference with union leaders, staff and members. The DEI policy agenda details the legislative action the unions will urge members of Congress to support to help make their industries more representative. “Diversity is a strength,” said DPE President Jennifer Dorning. “Creative professionals and their unions know this, and continue to prioritize making their industries more accessible to underrepresented people. Advocating for policy changes at the national level is a natural continuation of the work arts, entertainment, and media unions have been doing to advance DEI in their creative industries.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on February 17, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


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LGBT advocacy groups sue over Trump diversity training order

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LGBT advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate President Donald Trump’s September executive order banning the government from working with contractors that conduct “any form of race or sex stereotyping,” including diversity training.

The groups receive federal grants and contracts to provide multiple services and health care to LGBT individuals. Their lawsuit, filed Monday in a California federal court, contends that the order limits them from using “scientific and medical-based information regarding systemic race or sex disparities in the provision of medical treatment” when training their staff.

The organizations say they provide training to their staff “to prevent and address discrimination against the populations they serve,” which includes information “about how systemic racism and implicit bias contribute to health disparities, mortality, and disproportionate criminalization.”

Trump’s executive order explicitly prohibits contractors from using any workplace training “that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating.”

The Labor Department clarified that “race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating” includes using concepts in training that suggest “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously” or that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”

The lawsuit argues that the order violates freedom of speech protections and is overly vague as to what conduct would violate the order.

The advocacy groups say that if the order is allowed to stand, “more people will fall out of care, become homeless, fail to get tested, decline to take a vaccine when one becomes available, sicken, and even die.”

Opposition building: Groups from across the political spectrum have lined up in opposition to Trump’s order.

More than 150 trade groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have urged the president to abandon the executive order, warning that it will “lead to non-meritorious investigations, and hinder the ability of employers to implement critical programs to promote diversity and combat discrimination in the workplace.”

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, National Urban League and National Fair Housing Alliance also filed a lawsuit over the order late last month.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on November 3, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.


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When is a hairstyle not just a hairstyle? When it’s a pretext for discrimination.

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African Americans in particular find that their afros, cornrows and dreadlocks are held against them at school and when applying for jobs.

Employers in California no longer will be allowed to reject job candidates because they dislike their curls, coils, kinks or locks, after the governor signed a first-of-its-kind bill outlawing hair discrimination.

The new measure, signed Wednesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), bans discrimination against a job candidate or school applicant for wearing natural hairstyles.

“There’s a human element to this. We don’t want to diminish people, we don’t want to demean people … We have to own up to the sins of the past,” Newsom said. “I hope that folks are paying attention all across this country.”

The bill was approved unanimously in both the California House and Senate.

The text of the measure states that throughout its history the United States has been “riddled with laws and societal norms that equated ‘blackness,’ and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment.”

The issue is a particularly fraught one for African Americans who have been expected to style their hair to conform with Caucasian norms of beauty or acceptability, especially in the workplace.

“Professionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms, which entails that those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional,” the text of the legislation said.

Discrimination over her dreadlocks led Chastity Jones to fight a 10-year legal battle with an employer who fired her because she refused to get rid of the hairstyle. “It had nothing to do with the job,” she said. “It just had everything to do with my hair.”

Jones sued in 2013 for discrimination and lost wages, but her was dismissed by the court. The NAACP filed a petition last year on her behalf to the Supreme Court, but it declined to take the case.

And it has not just been a problem for workers: Last August, Louisiana sixth grader Faith Fennidy was kicked off the grounds of her Catholic school because her hair, neatly parted and swept back into braided ponytails, violated school policy.

ThinkProgress readers might also recall the case of Andrew Johnson, the high school wrestler in New Jersey who was told in December that he would have to submit to having his dreadlocks shorn off or forfeit the match.

California state Sen. Holly Mitchell introduced the anti-discrimination bill in her state, which extends the same protections that an individual would be afforded because of their skin color to their natural hairstyle and texture.

“The way the hair grows out of my head as a black woman is a trait of race,” Mitchell said, explaining the thinking behind her legislation, which has been dubbed the CROWN Act.

Reports say similar legislation is being considered in New Jersey and in New York, where a bill against discrimination on the basis of a person’s natural hair has passed both chambers of the state legislature and is awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Stephanie Griffith is a senior editor. She has worked as an editor and reporter for the Associated Press, The Washington Post, and Agence France-Presse, among other journalism gigs.

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You do not have a constitutional right to be extremely sexist at work

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A male software engineer at Google, James Damore, wrote a 10-page memo in opposition to hiring practices that consider racial and gender diversity in tech, arguing that women were unable to do the same kind of work as their male peers. Days after it was circulated throughout the company and leaked to the press, he was fired.

Now many journalists, activists, and even politicians are arguing that he was unfairly punished for expressing his ideas, with some going so far as to say the employee was banished for “thought crimes.”

In this case, Damore’s thoughts were that women were biologically unsuited for advancement in tech in a number of ways and that women deserved their current status. In his anti-diversity screed, the software engineer decided to list personality traits that he says women have more of. Here is one:

Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.

He also wrote that women have “higher agreeableness” and “extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness,” and that this is why women tend to have a harder time negotiating salary. He does not acknowledge that research shows again and again there is a social cost for women who negotiate for higher salaries.

In addition to saying that women will always have these specific qualities that prevent them from advancing in their careers, he flat out writes, “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.”

He also wrote, “However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices.” He listed mentoring, programs, and classes “only for people with a certain gender or race.”

Men from all sides of the political spectrum weighed in to argue that he should not have been fired.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) tweeted out a National Review article with the headline, “Google Fires Employee Who Dared Challenge its Ideological Echo Chamber.” Julian Assange condemned the decision as “censorship.” Tim Miller, co-founder of the America Rising PAC, said Damore is being banished for “thought crimes.” Jeet Heer, senior editor at The New Republic, said the engineer should not have been fired for his ideas.

The engineer’s decision to write a 10-page memo, which he clearly spent a good deal of time writing, and then share that memo, is an action, however, not merely a thought.

In a Medium post, Yonatan Zunger, a former Google employee, explained why the memo was enough to create a hostile workplace environment and thus warranted termination.

Do you understand that at this point, I could not in good conscience assign anyone to work with you? I certainly couldn’t assign any women to deal with this, a good number of the people you might have to work with may simply punch you in the face, and even if there were a group of like-minded individuals I could put you with, nobody would be able to collaborate with them. You have just created a textbook hostile workplace environment.

Research shows that frequent and less intense but unchallenged sexist discrimination and organizational climates were similarly harmful to women’s well-being as more overt but less frequent acts of sexism, like sexual coercion. Heer suggested demotion as an alternative to firing but no matter his position, Damore would have some power over his co-workers since Google’s performance review process allows peer reviewers to give feedback on job performance. This includes employees who are junior to them.

Viewed this way, the decision to fire Damore was not censorship. It was a decision to protect women from a hostile workplace environment. Google prioritized the well-being of its workers and the company’s overall success over one man’s career.

Like most of the tech industry, Google employees are predominantly white men. In April, the Department of Labor accused the organization of “extreme” gender pay discrimination and pointed to evidence of “systemic compensation disparities.” Diversity statistics the company released last month revealed that 69 percent of its employees are male and 31 percent are female, but when it comes to technical roles, only 19 percent of the positions are held by women.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress.org on August 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress. She covers economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.


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Lyft releases its first-ever diversity report

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Lyft has produced its first-ever diversity report, months after its chief competitor Uber released its own data about the make-up of its staff.

While its numbers ring similar to other tech companies—which are predominantly white and male?—?Lyft does have more female employees than Uber. Overall, 42 percent of Lyft’s employees identify as women, compared to Uber’s 36 percent.

Lyft, however, is more white than Uber with 63 percent white employees opposed to Uber’s 49 percent. Uber bested Lyft by having a better representation of Asian, black, and Latinx employees overall, with 30 percent, 8 percent, and 5 percent respectively?—?compared to 19 percent, 6 percent, and 7 percent for Lyft.

All of those numbers shrink considerably for tech and leadership roles. At Lyft, only 18 percent and 13 percent of its tech staff and leadership respectively are women. There are no black people in tech leadership roles while Latinx leaders make up just 4 percent. Thirty-four percent of tech leaders at Lyft are Asian while the remainder, 59 percent, are white.

In a blog post releasing the inaugural report, Lyft said releasing diversity data will help keep the company accountable.

[W]e have a lot of work to do. Releasing our data will hold us accountable, but it’s the actions we take that will make a difference to the people who come to work every day at Lyft. Our diversity data exposes gaps in important areas. So we’re doing something about it.

The diversity report comes on the heels of Uber’s, which released its numbers following a massive sexual harassment scandal earlier this year. Lyft hasn’t had such a scandal but its numbers, which can be improved all around, suggest that it’s doing much better on gender representation than race and ethnicity.

Tech companies in general, however, have struggled to improve their diversity numbers in spite of releasing transparency reports. For example, Apple has previously called improving diversity “unduly burdensome” and recently shot down a proposal to diversify its all-white board led by CEO Tim Cook. Even Google, which started the diversity report trend in 2014, hasn’t been able to solve its race and gender diversity?—?and retention?—?problems.

Along with the its diversity report, Lyft mentioned its hiring of Tariq Meyers, formerly the company’s community organizer, in 2016 to lead its diversity and inclusion efforts as well as its partnership with the diversity strategy firm Paradigm.

“We’re investing in more programs and taking stronger actions,” the company wrote. “Being a culture of inclusion requires continuous, purposeful work. And it’s work that we must do. Because Lyft is for everyone: no matter who are you, where you come from, or which seat you’re sitting in.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 1, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Lauren Williams is a tech reporter at ThinkProgress.


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Uber ignored its diversity problem. Now it’s paying for it in spades.

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Uber is under fire after a former engineer made headlines for publishing a detailed account of her experiences with sexual harassment—and Uber executives not addressing it. The timing seems particularly awful for Uber, which just lost 200,000 customers for the way it handled President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. But Uber has been one of the few holdouts not tackling the problems of diversity and inclusion that ail much of Silicon Valley. Now, the company has to pay for it.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick quickly responded to former engineer Susan Fowler’s claims that her supervisor made sexual advances toward her, and that the behavior went unchecked when she reported it to human resources. Kalanick called sexual harassment “abhorrent” on Twitter and then sent a memo to employees Monday announcing that the company was assembling a legal investigation into Fowler’s claims, spearheaded by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Fowler’s post seems to have triggered an about-face in Uber’s approach to claims of the company’s wrongdoing, unearthing a new company mission to root out “injustice.”

“I believe in creating a workplace where a deep sense of justice underpins everything we do,” Kalanick wrote in his memo to employees. “It is my number one priority that we come through this a better organization, where we live our values and fight for and support those who experience injustice.”

Kalanick’s justice-focused position also promised to look into the “many questions about the gender diversity of Uber’s technology teams.”

But the toxic culture Fowler described at Uber isn’t news. While Kalanick has previously denounced drivers’ acts of violence against women, the CEO has also made misogynistic comments. In a GQ profile, Kalanick referred to the company as “Boober” to denote how his success has helped his sex life.

During Uber’s rise, there have been sexist ad campaigns and executives suggesting the company should “dig” into a journalist’s personal life for criticizing Uber’s culture. Uber brushed off criticism that the company was violating customers’ privacy with its “God View” capabilities, and fought the unionization of and granting employee-status and fair pay for drivers?—?many of whom are immigrants and people of color.

So while it’s not brand new that Uber suffers diversity issues, the sexual harassment allegations could push the ride-sharing app to be more transparent. In the past, Uber has been one of the few tech companies that hasn’t released a diversity report, refusing to acknowledge requests for more transparency.

In January, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, which pressured Google to be the first tech giant to release its diversity report, urged Kalanick to reveal Uber’s demographic breakdown of employees, leadership, and new hires. Uber refused Jackson’s and the coalition’s request for 2015 data last year.

But following Fowler’s blog post, Uber might change course. Kalanick revealed in his memo to employees that the company’s number of female technical employees hasn’t budged.

“If you look across our engineering, product management, and scientist roles, 15.1% of employees are women and this has not changed substantively in the last year,” he wrote. “[Human resources head Liane Hornsey] and I will be working to publish a broader diversity report for the company in the coming months.”

But if Kalanick is dedicated to ridding the company of “injustices,” there’s a lot of material to work with.

This post appeared originally in Think Progress on February 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Lauren C. Williams is the tech reporter for ThinkProgress. She writes about the intersection of technology, culture, civil liberties, and policy. In her past lives, Lauren wrote about health care, crime, and dabbled in politics. She is a native Washingtonian with a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s of science in dietetics from the University of Delaware.


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