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As retailers focus on diversity, executive representation is stagnant | Retail Dive


One trend that emerged: Retailers were more likely to share statistics about the percent of women they had at various levels of their organization than about the percent of people of color.

“People are just more comfortable with it, and part of doing this work authentically is getting uncomfortable,” Washington said of why gender statistics tend to be more available. “I think that’s where organizations miss the mark, by only entering in this conversation in the spaces that they’re comfortable.”

Some countries retailers are headquartered in don’t track racial representation, or at the least don’t have regulations requiring it. Walgreens’ Cubia, however, says this has begun to change, with some companies beginning to track the information themselves even if not required.

For the companies that did share statistics on racial diversity, some gave simply the percent of employees of color in various roles, whereas others provided more granular data on representation.

Still others opted out of commenting entirely or never responded to requests for comment.

“The information is there. It’s just: Are people doing the work to track it?” Ngome said, adding that companies could easily make internal reports monthly or quarterly to track who is getting promoted or receiving pay raises to hold themselves accountable. “That’s the thing: All of this stuff has to be reported, it’s just how granular do these companies want to go?”

Ngome noted too that companies invested in diversity should be able to provide stats on improvement or backsliding from previous years, as well as the full breakdown at their company.

“If you just tell me, ‘Oh, we have 60% White women,’ I’m like, ‘OK. So are the other 40% White men? What’s the break up?’” Ngome said.

Cubia expects the levels of transparency coming from companies to improve over time, and noted that not sharing work on diversity and inclusion is “kind of defeating the purpose.” Sources agreed that much of the inconsistency is likely because companies are not proud of their diversity statistics or not fully committed to diversity. Challenger said the racial makeup of executive teams especially remains “opaque.” Arias noted it’s also easier to identify female executives than it is to identify executives of color.

“What gets measured, gets changed,” Washington said. “If they are not measuring diversity, and they’re not reporting on it, then it’s hard to hold them accountable.”

She noted, too, that companies that truly want to improve need to focus on the entire recruiting and hiring process, rather than just numbers. It shouldn’t be about “diversity goals,” which implies a demographic focus, but also goals surrounding inclusion, Washington said.

The differences in how retailers measure diversity also make it harder to compare between companies, especially when it comes to leadership.

“Their numbers look one way, and they might look very good because they’re including those lower management levels,” Dahms said. “Then you have other organizations that call senior managers the C-suite. Other organizations call senior managers the managers that report to the C-suite. It’s not easy to compare apples to apples.”

Catherine Lepard, managing partner of the global retail practice at Heidrick & Struggles, also noted that dedicated retailers are tracking all levels of leadership, rather than just the C-suite or all managers as a collective.

“Most organizations that are committed to diversity are taking a look at the entire lifecycle and funnel that they have to work with,” Lepard said. “So if you take a retailer, they’re going to be focused on diversity at a store manager level, at a director level, because that’s going to be the future for their VP levels and the VPs are the future for the SVPs and so on. So most organizations are going to track it at all levels and make sure that they’re feeding the funnel at all levels.”

In addition to the internal politics of tracking diversity, a myriad of other factors complicate efforts. For example, ingrained biases about which colleges and universities to pull talent from can make it harder to get applications from diverse candidates, and where a retailer’s stores or headquarters are located can change what talent pools they have access to and how diverse those talent pools are. Lepard noted that the latter challenge might be eased by the shift to remote work that the pandemic has brought on, making it easier for employers to recruit a more diverse set of candidates.

The way jobs are messaged, including required and preferred skills, can also deter some candidates from applying, and even what a company website says about diversity is important in how it comes across to candidates.

Outside of what retailers can do themselves to promote diversity, trying to build a diverse company also relies on employees disclosing personal information that they may not want to reveal.

“We’re still trying to figure out, I think, the best way to measure because we’re talking about gender diversity, but then you’re by accident using a heteronormative term that isn’t necessarily appropriate,” Bitar said.

With how multifaceted diversity is — it goes far beyond just the representation of women and employees of color in the workplace — measuring it can seem an impossible task. At the same time, though, not measuring it means losing the ability to hold oneself accountable for improvement.

For the moment, at least, the events of 2020 have pushed more retailers to embrace that difficulty, and commit to the task of not only tracking diversity, but achieving diversity-based goals. Now, the question becomes how long that commitment will last. Washington said she has seen some companies “back away” from the emphasis they placed on diversity in June, but others have stayed committed.

“It’s hard to tell. It’s reactive clearly,” Arias said of retailer responses to the protests. “Which is OK. But how sustainable is this? In my mind, the immediate reaction is to go out and find people. The real catch will be in three years, are those people still there?”

This content was originally published here.

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