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The Business Case for Boardroom Diversity

The DealBook newsletter delves into a single topic or theme every weekend, providing reporting and analysis that offers a better understanding of a big issue in the news. If you don’t already receive the daily newsletter, sign up here.When Goldman Sachs announced that it would help companies go …

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With Vaccines and Stimulus on the Way, Banks Brighten Their Outlook

The results showed that JPMorgan’s retail customers have been buying houses and cars. The number of mortgages and auto loans rose 20 percent compared with a year earlier. The bank’s profit from stock trading jumped 32 percent, while earnings from trading in bonds, currencies, commodities and other products rose 15 percent from the same period a year earlier.Citigroup said on Friday that it had released nearly $1.5 billion from its reserves, but it was not enough to raise its quarterly earnings above what it earned in the same period in 2019. The bank reported a profit of $4.6 billion on revenue of $16.5 billion. …

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A New Way to Invest for the Vengeful and the High-Minded

Imagine a 401(k) where there’s no investment menu of stock funds. Instead, you get to make one that aligns with your values.You could begin by knocking out oil drillers or gun manufacturers, or subtracting companies one by one depending on which ones have crossed you (or the world) lately. And when you’re done, you — and not a mutual fund — own individual pieces of every other security that you’re not beefing with, whether personally or as a citizen of the world.Some of the biggest names on Wall Street can conjure up this tantalizing prospect, which is …

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What Counts as Race Discrimination? A Suit Against JPMorgan Is a Test

Over 18 years of working as a secretary at JPMorgan Chase, Wanda Wilson had learned to brush aside remarks directed at her race.

“Wanda, do you mind if I tell a Black joke?” a colleague once asked her. Another co-worker told her that she disliked Black people in general but made an exception for Ms. Wilson.

Ms. Wilson saw no reason to complain. JPMorgan had been a good employer, giving her opportunities to rise through the secretarial ranks and providing assistance during a fraught time in her personal life. She felt proud defending her career to her family, which included several prominent civil rights activists. (Her mother is the poet Amina Baraka, and her stepfather was Amiri Baraka, the playwright and poet. Her younger brother is Ras Baraka, the mayor of Newark.)

But things soured in 2016 after a new colleague began to bully Ms. Wilson and order her around, according to a lawsuit Ms. Wilson filed against JPMorgan and its chief executive, Jamie Dimon. For the first time, Ms. Wilson felt that she was not on equal footing with her white colleagues, according to the suit. She complained to JPMorgan officials, but the bank’s response shattered her faith in her employer, she said. After she was unable to find a different job within JPMorgan, the bank fired her. She then sued, alleging race discrimination and retaliation and seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

JPMorgan said its officials had done everything in their power to make things right for Ms. Wilson. “The firm denies that it engaged in any race discrimination or harassment or retaliation with respect to Ms. Wilson’s employment,” said Joe Evangelisti, a JPMorgan spokesman.

The bank tried to have the lawsuit, filed in 2018, dismissed. This month, a judge ruled that the two sides should engage in mediation instead.

Wall Street has come under growing scrutiny for how it treats people of color, and Black employees in particular. Last year, The New York Times detailed allegations of racism at Phoenix-area branches of JPMorgan. Recently, a former head of global diversity at Morgan Stanley, a Black woman, sued the bank for discrimination.

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Credit…Seth Wenig/Associated Press

But while such cases claim broad and systemic discrimination involving banks, Ms. Wilson’s lawsuit tells the complicated story of interactions between co-workers that can carry racist undertones. It shows how allegations of racism in a workplace can be difficult to verify, even when a company conducts an investigation. That’s especially so in the absence of explicit language or actions — such as a racial slur or blackface — that are easily identifiable as racist.

“This isn’t the ’60s or the ’50s,” said David Carlor, a financial adviser who is Black. “No one’s going to tell you: ‘Because you’re Black, go get us coffee.’ You’re just going to find that you’re the one that’s being treated most disrespectfully in the office.”

At JPMorgan, Ms. Wilson was often the first to arrive and the last to leave, according to three of her former colleagues, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. She got lunch and coffee for her superiors and ran errands that seemed well outside her job description, like buying a mirror for her boss’s office.

In March 2016, Ms. Wilson joined the audit department as an executive administrative assistant — a coveted position among secretaries because it involved handling duties for one senior executive in that department.

Around the same time, Janet Jarnagin was also assigned to Ms. Wilson’s boss as a team leader. A midlevel executive, Ms. Jarnagin’s duties included helping the audit department prepare presentations and reports, according to a publicly available résumé.

Over the next few months, Ms. Jarnagin began ordering Ms. Wilson to hang coats, get coffee and lunch, or carry out requests — such as making photocopies — by visitors to the department, according to the lawsuit.

Once, Ms. Jarnagin stood up from her desk and announced that she was “sending Wanda out for coffee,” asking if anyone else wanted to place an order with her. Other Black secretaries who had overheard Ms. Jarnagin later teased Ms. Wilson about being treated like Kizzy, an enslaved character in the book and television mini-series “Roots.”

Ms. Wilson said that she asked Ms. Jarnagin not to use the term “sending” any more, but that Ms. Jarnagin ignored her. Ms. Wilson described the incident in a 2017 interview with a JPMorgan official, a recording of which she provided to The Times.

In her lawsuit, Ms. Wilson described how Ms. Jarnagin had been making these demands only of her — the lone Black secretary in the vicinity. She tried to distance herself. When she rearranged her desk so that the two women no longer had an unobstructed view of each other, Ms. Jarnagin mocked her for trying to build a “Mexican wall” out of a stack of folders on her desk, according to the lawsuit.

Ms. Wilson complained about Ms. Jarnagin to their boss, who told her to work things out on her own, according to the complaint. She then told a human resources representative that Ms. Jarnagin was ordering her around and bad-mouthing her work. JPMorgan’s Mr. Evangelisti said the bank had begun investigating Ms. Wilson’s complaints immediately.

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Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Henry Klingeman, a lawyer for Ms. Jarnagin, dismissed the allegations. “In the high-intensity, high-stress world of New York banking, Janet was no more rude than a male employee who is assertive,” he said in an email. “That she asked an administrative assistant to get coffee for senior management is one of the criticisms made against her. There is nothing to this, much less implied racism.”

Ms. Wilson eventually emailed Mr. Dimon: “I have followed the chain of command and have not received any assistance.” Mr. Dimon did not personally respond, but her complaint was promptly shared with senior bank officials who stepped up their investigation.

Bank officials interviewed people in the immediate vicinity of Ms. Wilson and Ms. Jarnagin, two people familiar with the investigation said. The investigators determined that Ms. Jarnagin had behaved rudely toward Ms. Wilson. However, since Ms. Jarnagin had been rude in the past to other employees who were not Black, they concluded that her behavior was not racially motivated, the people said.

Mr. Evangelisti said the officials’ conclusions had been “based on information provided by Ms. Wilson at the time.”

Ms. Jarnagin was given two “coaching” sessions, including one by her boss, the people said. She was never formally disciplined, but was advised to treat Ms. Wilson more gently, they said. Ms. Jarnagin left JPMorgan in November 2017.

JPMorgan officials also did a broader “climate study” of the area where Ms. Wilson worked, the people familiar with the matter said. The study concluded that there did not appear to be a problem with racism.

However, two Black employees interviewed for the study, who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation, told The Times that race was a constant undertone in their interactions with non-Black employees. One said Black secretaries felt it was harder for them to get promotions, and they believed they were underpaid. But the Black employees said they downplayed the racism they witnessed to bank officials, partly because it wasn’t directed at them.

JPMorgan officials have recently acknowledged that some employees still do not feel safe speaking up. In March, the bank announced that it had reviewed its anti-discrimination practices and identified several areas for improvement.

Things didn’t improve for Ms. Wilson after her complaint.

Mr. Evangelisti said JPMorgan gave her nearly a year to search for a new job inside the bank as well as a raise and bonus during that time. Ms. Wilson said the only job the bank offered her was a role working for a man who had become enraged at her over a disagreement with her boss when she worked in the audit department.

Mr. Evangelisti said the role would have come with the same title, grade and compensation as her prior job, “but Ms. Wilson declined the role and refused to provide any context about an ‘unpleasant exchange’ she claims to have had.”

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Paid Time Off, Free Fries: How Corporate America Is Getting Out the Vote

Bank of America is offering employees up to three hours of paid time to vote this year. The spirits company Diageo North America has declared a no-meeting day on Nov. 3. Best Buy is closing stores until noon that day, and PayPal is offering a half day, paid, to workers who volunteer at polling places.

Less than two weeks before the general election, corporate America is having a civic awakening, with thousands of companies encouraging voter participation by offering their workers paid time off, voter-education tools and interactive sessions on how elections work. Some are even providing marketing and free legal advice to local election boards or nonprofit get-out-the-vote groups.

“Companies can’t do everything, but we can function in civil society in a way that really helps to encourage and enable civic participation,” said Franz Paasche, head of corporate affairs at PayPal, where the efforts have varied from paid time off to hosting a speaker series on elections.

Two years ago, when executives from PayPal, Patagonia and Levi Strauss founded Time to Vote, a nonpartisan project that asks companies to encourage workers to participate in elections, there were around 400 members. In recent weeks, membership has shot up to more than 1,700. A similar initiative, called A Day for Democracy, has attracted more than 350 companies since it began with seven Boston-area companies in July. ElectionDay.org, sponsored by the nonprofit organization Vote.org, has gathered pledges from more than 800 companies promising employees paid time to vote.

Most companies are quick to say that their goal isn’t to wade into politics or get any particular candidate into office. Rather, many executives say that they were galvanized by recent upheavals that have put issues of race and gender discrimination, economic inequality, climate change and other topics at center stage for employees and customers, and voting is a way to take a stand.

Keep up with Election 2020

“The Black Lives Matter and the civil unrest has been a call to arms for C.E.O.s in terms of informing corporate behaviors and civic actions,” said Peter Palandjian, a private-equity executive in Boston who started A Day for Democracy with commitments from the Red Sox and Bank of America. “And I think that’s what’s very different this year.”

Earlier this week, Goldman Sachs announced that it would give workers up to half a day off to vote, paid, for the first time. Other companies that have offered paid time to vote in the past, including Citi and Gap Inc., have announced that they’re providing additional paid hours if needed as well as voter-education resources this year.

The extra hours are likely to be necessary given that a record turnout is expected this year, which could mean long lines and additional safety procedures in light of the pandemic. In anticipation, Diageo North America, which owns brands like Guinness and Smirnoff, is changing course and allowing employees to take whatever time they need to vote without a written request. Previously, employees were given up to two hours of paid time off to vote, which they had to request in advance. The company also plans to set up a team for workers to call if they run into any trouble casting their ballots, said Laura Watt, its executive vice president of human resources.

Some companies are hoping to encourage voter turnout in general. Shake Shack is giving away free french fries to customers who vote early. Tory Burch, the clothing label, designed a T-shirt that reads “VOTE,” the proceeds from which go to a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote project called I Am a Voter. Coca-Cola dispatched a team of marketers to create public-service announcements on the importance of early, in-person voting that ran on radio, television and at bus shelters around its home state of Georgia; broadcast spots featured the voices of Ed Bastian, chief executive of Delta, the Atlanta Hawks forward Cam Reddish and other local celebrities.

Corley Kenna, who runs communications at Patagonia and co-founded Time to Vote, took advantage of additional benefits her employer is providing this year to work at election sites in Atlanta, her hometown, with two colleagues. Between morning and afternoon shifts at the State Farm Arena and the Southwest Arts Center this month, she caught up on work.

“I think it is on all of us — the private sector, nonprofit, academia — to help provide safe and secure elections,” said Ms. Kenna, a Democrat and environmental advocate who was a senior adviser in the State Department under President Obama.

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Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

Old Navy, the biggest brand owned by Gap, said it would pay employees to be poll workers, on top of what they get paid by county election commissions. The retailer said it hoped its policy would fuel voter turnout among its young store staff, more than 60 percent of whom are between the ages of 18 and 29. Levi’s extended its paid time off for voting to poll worker training this year and has been featuring environmental and racial justice activists on its Instagram account to talk about voting.

The push by retailers and restaurant chains is significant because it can be especially difficult for hourly workers to find time to vote. After health care, retail is the second-biggest private sector employer in the United States.

In addition to making sure that their efforts are not being seen as partisan externally, companies have been careful about how they communicate internally. Diageo North America has been holding weekly events in the run-up to the election with the African heritage group and women’s network, for example, discussing the issues at stake for their communities, but in a “neutral way,” Ms. Watt said. “We’ve been very clear about not being partisan or not having a particular view leaning one way or another,” she said.

Still, not every company is being so proactive. Workers at Amazon, who have been pushing unsuccessfully for a paid day off to vote, are threatening to shut down warehouses temporarily on Oct. 31 if the e-commerce giant doesn’t meet their demands. And on Thursday, Vote.org, a digital platform that helps people register to vote online and provides information about polling sites, called on more than two dozen companies that have not yet committed to giving workers time off to do so. It cited Pew Research Center statistics from 2014 showing that in the past, 35 percent of registered voters didn’t vote because of work or school conflicts.

Tory Burch, which employs nearly 3,000 people in the United States, was one of the few companies offering employees paid time off to vote in 2016, when its founder wrote an op-ed encouraging other company bosses to do the same. At the time, fellow chief executives, some from Fortune 500 companies, told Ms. Burch that they couldn’t follow suit because doing so would be regarded as a partisan act, intended to favor Democratic candidates.

The feedback was “eye opening,” Ms. Burch recalled, given that “encouraging Americans to use their vote is patriotic and not a Democratic initiative.” This year, she is closing all stores and offices on Nov. 3 and encouraging her staff to volunteer as poll workers, believing that the employee good will it generates far outweighs the lost revenue.

In a note to employees Thursday morning reminding them of their options to take paid time off to vote, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, talked about the importance of a smooth political process.

“The peaceful and stable transition of power — whether it is to the second administration of a president or a new one — is a hallmark of America’s 244-year history as an independent nation,” Mr. Dimon wrote, adding that while he acknowledges the “tremendous passion and strong opinions” that have played into the current race, respecting the democratic process “is paramount.”

Michael Corkery and Karen Weise contributed reporting.

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