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Racism Impoverishes the Whole Economy

Discrimination hurts just about everyone, not only its direct victims.

New research shows that while the immediate targets of racism are unquestionably hurt the most, discrimination inflicts a staggering cost on the entire economy, reducing the wealth and income of millions of people, including many who do not customarily view themselves as victims.

The pernicious effects of discrimination on the wages and educational attainment of its direct targets are being freshly documented in inventive ways by scholarship. From the lost wages of African-Americans because of President Woodrow Wilson’s segregation of the Civil Service, to the losses suffered by Black and Hispanic students because of California’s ban on affirmative action, to the scarcity of Black girls in higher-level high school math courses, the scope of the toll continues to grow.

But farther-reaching effects of systemic racism may be less well understood. Economists are increasingly considering the cost of racially based misallocation of talent to everyone in the economy.

My own research demonstrates, for example, how hate-related violence can reduce the level and long-term growth of the U.S. economy. Using patents as a proxy for invention and innovation, I calculated how many were never issued because of the violence — riots, lynchings and Jim Crow laws — to which African Americans were subjected between 1870 and 1940.

The loss was considerable: The patents that African-Americans could have been expected to receive, given equal opportunity, would have roughly equaled the total for a medium-size European country during that time.

Those enormous creative losses can be expected to have had a direct effect on business investment and therefore on total economic activity and growth.

Other economists are beginning to estimate harm to the economy caused by racism in broad ways.

An important principle suggests that the person who can produce a product or service at a lower opportunity cost than his or her peers has a comparative advantage in that activity. Recent research calculates the effects of the discriminatory practice of placing highly skilled African-American workers, who might have flourished as, say, doctors, into lower-skilled occupations where they had no comparative advantage. Such practices 50 years ago — which linger, to a lesser extent, today — have cost the economy up to 40 percent of aggregate productivity and output today.

Similarly, other research estimates that aggregate economic output would have been $16 trillion higher since 2000 if racial gaps had been closed. To put that total in context, the gross domestic product of the United States in 2019 was $21.4 trillion. The researchers estimate that economic activity could be $5 trillion higher over the next five years if equal opportunity is achieved.

Right now, if more women and African-Americans were participating in the technical innovation that leads to patents, the economist Yanyan Yang and I calculate that G.D.P. per capita could be 0.6 to 4.4 percent higher. That is, it would be between $58,841 to $61,064 per person compared with $58,490 per person in 2019.

This entire line of research suggests that organizations — companies, laboratories, colleges and universities — are leaving colossal sums of money on the table by not maximizing talent and living standards for all Americans.

I have thought and written a lot about remedies. Here are a few ideas aimed at addressing discrimination in the innovation economy. First, we need more training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), like the extensive and highly successful program once sponsored by Bell Labs to encourage participation in these fields by women and underrepresented minorities

STEM fields should not be the sole target, however, because the innovation economy encompasses more than this narrow set of subjects. Two of the last three people I’ve talked to at tech firms have a B.A. in international relations and a Ph.D. in political science. Clearly, problem-solving skills matter, but these skills are not unique to the STEM majors.

Second, there is substantial evidence of systemic racism in education, which needs to be addressed. Research shows that professors are less likely to respond to email inquiries about graduate study from Black, Hispanic and female students than from people who are discernibly white and male. A system of incentives — and penalties — could hold those responsible accountable at every level of the education and training process.

At the invention stage, such as at corporate, government and university labs, my research shows that mixed-gender teams are more prolific than those whose members are all female or male. And a large body of literature has documented the positive effects of diversity in teams. Managers at each level should be held responsible for being good stewards of the resources of their companies and promoting diverse teams and behavior and, therefore, better outcomes.

When invention is commercialized and companies sell shares to the public, the wealth gaps are stark. Seven of the world’s 10 richest people on the Forbes list are associated with tech companies that commercialize inventions. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are in the top five. None among the top 10 (or 50) is Black.

The statistics for venture capital funding are striking. In 2014, less than 1 percent of venture capital funding went to businesses founded by African-American women, and in 2015, only 2 percent of all venture capitalists were African-American.

A number of worthwhile recommendations have been made to address the lack of diversity at the commercialization stage of innovation. These include:

  • Enhancing mentoring opportunities through programs such as those of the Small Business Administration.

  • Seeking and recruiting founders to invest in places like Atlanta, and not exclusively in Silicon Valley.

  • Addressing systemic racism at every level of management and within venture capital firms.

  • Diversifying corporate boards so that senior leadership will be held accountable for diversity and workplace climate. (California has done this with women on the boards of public companies.)

The Kapor Center, a think tank that promotes participation by underrepresented minorities in tech fields and education, has proposed noteworthy remedies at many stages, including at the pre-college level.

The social compact most societies have with their governments is that standards of living will rise continually and that each successive generation will be better off than preceding ones. We are robbing countless people of higher standards of living and well-being when we allow racial discrimination to flourish from generation to generation.

Lisa D. Cook, a professor of economics at Michigan State University, is a member of the Biden-Harris transition team.

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The White Issue: Has Anna Wintour’s Diversity Push Come Too Late?

Vogue’s September issue was different this year. Anna Wintour and her staff put it together when more than 15 million people were marching in Black Lives Matter protests nationwide and employees at Vogue’s parent company, Condé Nast, were publicly calling out what they viewed as racism in their own workplace. At 316 pages, the issue, titled “Hope,” featured a majority of Black artists, models and photographers, a first for the magazine.

For members of Vogue’s editorial team, the September edition came in the uneasy wake of an internal email Ms. Wintour had sent on June 4. “I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators,” wrote Ms. Wintour, the Vogue editor in chief since 1988 and Condé Nast’s artistic director since 2013, making her the editorial leader of all its titles. “We have made mistakes, too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes.”

Black editors who have worked with Ms. Wintour said they saw her apology as hypocritical, part of a calculated play by an executive known for her ability to gauge the public mood. Other Black journalists who are current or former employees of Condé Nast said the email and the September issue that followed it represented an awkward, though heartfelt, attempt at genuine change.

More than any other institution, Vogue has defined fashion and beauty for generations of women, and the runway looks encouraged by the London-born Ms. Wintour, 70, have trickled down from haute couture houses to fast-fashion retailers and into the hands of everyday consumers. From Manhattan to Hollywood and beyond, she has helped set a standard that has favored white, Eurocentric notions of beauty.

Credit…Will Ragozzino/Getty Images

The rare magazine editor who is known outside the publishing industry, Ms. Wintour — she is simply “Anna” to those in the know, or those who want to be — has become a singular cultural figure. After establishing herself in fashion, media and entertainment in the first part of a career that stretches to the 1970s, she has more recently become a political power player as a bundler for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And as the orchestrator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit, better known as the Met Gala, she has transformed an affair for Manhattan’s society set into a full-blown East Coast Oscars, with luminaries from fashion, music, movies and sports on the Anna-controlled guest list.

As Ms. Wintour ascended, Vogue’s publication of “hurtful or intolerant” content rarely resulted in lasting negative attention for her. But Black journalists who have worked with Ms. Wintour, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, said they had not gotten over their experiences at a magazine whose workplace mirrored its exclusive pages.

Under Ms. Wintour, 18 people said, Vogue welcomed a certain type of employee — someone who is thin and white, typically from a wealthy family and educated at elite schools. Of the 18, 11 people said that, in their view, Ms. Wintour should no longer be in charge of Vogue and should give up her post as Condé Nast’s editorial leader.

“Fashion is bitchy,” one former Black staff member said. “It’s hard. This is the way it’s supposed to be. But at Vogue, when we’d evaluate a shoot or a look, we’d say ‘That’s Vogue,’ or, ‘That’s not Vogue,’ and what that really meant was ‘thin, rich and white.’ How do you work in that environment?”

Many of the people interviewed for this article said the racism they encountered was usually subtle, but sometimes blunt. Their main accusation was that Ms. Wintour created a work environment — and there is no facet of Vogue that she does not control — that sidelined and tokenized women of color, especially Black women.

Many Black people who worked for her said they felt so out of place in Ms. Wintour’s domain that they created white alter egos — two used the term “doppelgänger” — just to get through the workday, reconditioning their presentation and dress in a way that was mentally draining.

Some Black editors did not want to comment on the experience of fellow colleagues, but offered another view. Lindsay Peoples Wagner, the editor of Teen Vogue since 2018, said she had experienced uncomfortable moments in the industry but that Ms. Wintour “has given me opportunities in leadership, and I’ve made inclusivity a deep part of the conversations we’re having.”

Three other people of color said Condé Nast had made positive changes and Ms. Wintour had promoted them to top roles. Naomi Campbell, one of the first Black supermodels, who was on the cover of Ms. Wintour’s first September issue in 1989, vehemently defended the editor.


Credit…Condé Nast

“The first cover try I ever did, I had no idea she had to fight for me,” Ms. Campbell said. “She’s been a very important factor in my career and my life and has been honest about what she can do and what she cannot.”

The recent tumult at Condé Nast has knocked Ms. Wintour off balance. Inspired by the protests that arose after the police killing of George Floyd in May, employees have confronted their bosses at companywide meetings and in smaller gatherings. Their complaints have led to the resignations of key editors and pledges from the chief executive, Roger Lynch, and Ms. Wintour herself, to revamp Condé Nast’s hiring practices.

“I strongly believe that the most important thing any of us can do in our work is to provide opportunities for those who may not have had access to them,” Ms. Wintour said in an emailed statement. “Undoubtedly, I have made mistakes along the way, and if any mistakes were made at Vogue under my watch, they are mine to own and remedy and I am committed to doing the work.”

Devoting the September issue — the most important of Vogue’s year — to Black contributors indicates Ms. Wintour grasps the intensity of the protest movement roiling the country. But in fashion, of course, appearances are paramount. During a large Condé Nast meeting on race in June, Ms. Wintour — who is the head of the company’s diversity and inclusion council — was conspicuously absent. Employees exchanged Slack and text messages during the session, asking the same question: “Where’s Anna?”

Long before Condé Nast employees went public with complaints about the company’s handling of race, Ms. Wintour has been criticized for Vogue’s portrayals of Black people.

For many readers, a 2008 cover of LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen was reminiscent of racist images of Black men from a century ago. The basketball star is bellowing and gripping the supermodel around the waist, and some saw an unmistakable parallel to a racist World War I propaganda poster. Ms. Wintour also drew criticism when she helped the fashion designer John Galliano, who was fired from Christian Dior in 2011 after he was caught on camera making anti-Semitic remarks and declaring, “I love Hitler.” She continued to support Mr. Galliano even after he was found guilty of a hate crime by a Paris court.

Being indisputably the most important magazine in fashion means Vogue comes in for extra scrutiny — especially in its cover selections. Last year, The Pudding, a publisher of visual essays, used algorithms to analyze 19 years of the Vogue archives and measure the average “lightness” of cover models’ skin tones. In one span, from 2000 to 2005, only three of 81 women were Black. In a statement, Condé Nast said that from 2017 to 2020, 32 percent of Vogue covers featured Black women.

Former Vogue employees said that in recent years, Ms. Wintour has not kept pace with the public’s changing attitudes on issues of racism and discrimination. At a London fashion week party hosted by Burberry in February 2017, the reality TV star Kendall Jenner showed up with a new look: fake gold teeth. Vogue noted the choice in a breezy online story written by a white contributor: “The flashing teeth felt like a playful wink to the city’s free-spirited aesthetic — or perhaps a proverbial kiss to her rumored boyfriend, A$AP Rocky.”

A Black staff member contacted one of the magazine’s executives to object, saying the story insensitively endorsed an instance of cultural appropriation, according to emails obtained by The New York Times. Other staff members brought the article to Ms. Wintour’s attention, with one lieutenant explaining by email why some people on staff and on social media had reacted negatively: “If Kendall wants to do something stupid fine but our writers (especially white ones) don’t need to weigh in and glorify it or ascribe reasons to it that read culturally insensitive.”



Ms. Wintour appeared not to grasp the issue. After several exchanges, she wrote: “Well I honestly don’t think that’s a big deal.”

Condé Nast said in a statement: “The coverage itself is not cultural appropriation.”

Vogue’s content has, though, been accused of being exactly that. The March 2017 issue showcased Karlie Kloss, a white model, in a geisha outfit, with her face in pale makeup and her hair dyed black — a blatant form of yellowface. Readers condemned the layout, which was shot in Japan by Mikael Jansson and included a photograph of Ms. Kloss with a sumo wrestler. New York Magazine’s fashion site The Cut was among the many critics, writing: “One thing’s for certain: Embracing diversity does not mean styling Karlie Kloss as a geisha.”


Credit…Mikael Jansson

A Condé Nast human resources executive in charge of the company’s diversity program fielded numerous complaints, and alerted Ms. Wintour. According to three people with direct knowledge of the exchange, Ms. Wintour responded that she took full responsibility, but added the feature could not have been cut because of its “enormous expense.”

After an online outcry, Ms. Kloss issued an apology on Twitter: “These images appropriate a culture that is not my own and I am truly sorry for participating in a shoot that was not culturally sensitive.”

The tweet angered Ms. Wintour, according to the three people, and Ms. Kloss sent a note in an effort to mollify her. “I imagine the feeling is mutual, that it was hurtful to see the criticism from our Japan trip,” the model wrote. “I had written a short piece on social media as I wanted to make known that it was never my intention to offend or upset anyone from this spread.”

Ms. Wintour’s reply the following day was icy: “Thanks Karlie another time please give us a heads up if you are writing about a Vogue issue.” (Ms. Kloss has continued to appear in the magazine’s pages.)

In the fall of 2017, there was yet another awkward exchange on race between Ms. Wintour and Vogue staff members. It concerned a photo shoot by Patrick Demarchelier that showed several dark-skinned Black models wearing head scarves.

As Ms. Wintour weighed whether to publish the images, she asked an employee by email if they might be misconstrued as racist. But she flubbed the attempt, using a dated, offensive term: “Don’t mean to use an inappropriate word, but pica ninny came to mind,” Ms. Wintour wrote.


Credit…Patrick Demarchelier

In a statement, Ms. Wintour said: “I was trying both to express my concern for how our readers could have interpreted a photo and raise the issue for discussion, and I used a term that was offensive. And for that, I truly apologize.”

In the 2017 email, Ms. Wintour requested that a specific Black staff member evaluate the photo shoot. The employee, an assistant, told her superiors that the work was fine. The real problem, she continued, according to several people familiar with the meeting, was why a low-ranked person such as herself had been asked to assess it. The room fell into an uncomfortable silence.


Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

For Ms. Wintour, who descends from British nobility and was recently made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, the pace of the current moment of protest may be a challenge. But she is also the daughter of a London newspaper editor and has made a career out of anticipating and responding adroitly to cultural trends.

In 2016, Ms. Wintour made a change to her pool of assistants. (She had three aides for many years, but more recently has had two.) That year, according to three Condé Nast employees, she told the company’s human resources department that her next assistant should be Black. Eventually, most of her assistants were people of color, the people said. The job is highly sought after, a steppingstone to bigger roles in fashion and media, but because it is low-paying, it usually goes to women from wealthy families. The sight of Ms. Wintour’s new adjutants made for a vivid contrast with the usual Vogue hires.

In 2017, Ms. Wintour was part of the small committee that decided to replace the departing Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter with Radhika Jones, the editorial director of the books department at The Times, making her one of the few top editors of color in Condé Nast’s history. Ms. Wintour has since championed Ms. Jones against in-house naysayers who complained that she had featured too many people of color in Vanity Fair. “My experiences with Anna have been nothing but positive,” Ms. Jones said. “She’s supportive of my vision and she understands what I’ve been trying to achieve and she has helped me to achieve it.”


Credit…Acielle Tanbetova for The New York Times

Last month, Ms. Wintour replaced Stuart Emmrich, a former Styles editor at The Times, as the editor of the Vogue website with Chioma Nnadi, a Black woman who had been the magazine’s fashion director. And in August, Ms. Wintour was instrumental in the hiring of the superstar book executive Dawn Davis, who is Black, as the editor of Bon Appétit. (She replaced Adam Rapoport, who resigned under pressure in June after staff members accused him of running a discriminatory workplace.)

In a statement, Condé Nast said that 42 percent of its editors in chief were now people of color — all of them put in place by Ms. Wintour — and that all photo shoots are ultimately overseen by Raúl Martinez, the corporate creative director, who is the son of Cuban émigrés.

Some of Ms. Wintour’s relationships with Black editors have been rocky. André Leon Talley, a fashion titan, was one of Vogue’s most recognized personalities, often seated beside Ms. Wintour in the front row at runway shows in Paris, Milan and New York. She lavished professional and financial support on Mr. Talley, but the two had a falling-out, and he left the magazine in 2013.

This year, he published a memoir, “The Chiffon Trenches,” which reads in part as a scathing takedown of the fashion industry for its whiteness. During a promotional interview, a podcaster asked Mr. Talley about Ms. Wintour’s apology for Vogue’s “hurtful or intolerant” content. “Dame Anna Wintour is a colonial broad,” Mr. Talley replied. “She’s part of an environment of colonialism. She is entitled and I do not think she will ever let anything get in the way of her white privilege.”


Credit…Will Oliver/EPA, via Shutterstock

Edward Enninful, a Black editor at Condé Nast who has led British Vogue since 2017, is among the next generation of Condé Nast leaders, and is often mentioned as Ms. Wintour’s potential successor at the magazine’s American flagship. The two are said to have a difficult working relationship, according to people in New York and London who have directly observed their dynamic. (In July, Mr. Enninful said that a security guard at Condé Nast’s London office racially profiled him, telling him to “use the loading bay.” Mr. Enninful described the incident on Instagram, writing “Change needs to happen now.” Condé Nast dismissed the guard, he said, and the post has since been deleted.)

When Ms. Wintour promoted Elaine Welteroth, a Black woman, to a top position at Teen Vogue in 2016, the appointment was heralded as a step forward for diversity. But the promotion was fraught, Ms. Welteroth wrote in her 2019 memoir, “More Than Enough.” Instead of running Teen Vogue herself, as the editor in chief, she was given a more ambiguous title, “editor,” and was asked to split leadership of the publication with two others. Ms. Welteroth felt that the structure effectively sidelined her, giving her less power than that of the previous Teen Vogue boss, Amy Astley. (A year after her appointment, Ms. Welteroth was named editor in chief. She left Condé Nast in 2018.)

“Would any of it have gone down this way if I were a White man?” Ms. Welteroth wrote.

The killing of Mr. Floyd sparked difficult discussions about race and diversity in magazines and newspapers across the country, including at The Times. Employees everywhere have become more vocal about what they see as racist attitudes in the workplace.

At Condé Nast, Bon Appétit, a rising profit center thanks in part to its popular cooking videos, has been the red-hot center of dissent in recent months, with many of its staff members quitting in protest. Before the hiring of Ms. Davis to lead the magazine, Ms. Wintour watched closely over its editorial operations, people who worked at the property said.

At the time, people of color who had been featured in the videos complained that they were paid less than their white colleagues and that Bon Appétit had whitewashed their recipes — a trend in food journalism where ethnic cuisines are recast from a white perspective. Readers flooded the comments section of Bon Appétit’s Instagram account with messages of support for those who complained.

In a post to Bon Appétit’s account, Priya Krishna, a freelancer who had accused Condé Nast of unequal pay, was quoted as saying: “I have been forced to think outside of myself and my identity my entire career. So why can’t white editors change their mindset now?”

Ms. Wintour asked to have the item removed, according to internal Condé Nast Slack messages. But by the time of her request, the Krishna post had been online for hours, and Ms. Wintour was warned that deleting it would only attract more attention. The social media team suggested posting new content that would push the item down in users’ feeds. Ms. Wintour approved the plan, according to two people involved in the discussion.

Marcus Samuelsson, a celebrity chef who signed a one-year agreement with Condé Nast as a Bon Appétit consultant, said the company’s history with diversity “was challenging,” but he added that Ms. Wintour had worked to create more inclusivity. “She championed it from Day 1,” he said.

Many people who have worked at Vogue or with Ms. Wintour said that despite her moves toward a more diverse staff, she was still responsible for a hostile workplace. They singled out two of Ms. Wintour’s best known lieutenants: Phyllis Posnick, a Vogue editor who styled the 2017 geisha and head scarf shoots, and Grace Coddington, another fixture at the magazine.

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, as staff members were despondent that Mrs. Clinton had lost to Donald J. Trump, Ms. Posnick said, in a voice that three people could hear, “I knew this was going to happen. It’s all the Blacks’ fault. They didn’t vote.” The next year, when Rihanna showed up late for Vogue’s annual fashion conference — hardly an unusual occurrence for a musician — two people heard Ms. Coddington say, “Black people are late everywhere.”

In a statement, Ms. Posnick, 78, denied making the comment. “I have never and would never say something like this for the simple fact that I don’t believe it,” she said. Ms. Coddington, 79, also disputed that she had made the Rihanna remark: “Why would I say that when I am perennially late myself?”


Credit…Leslie Kirchhoff

Ms. Coddington is perhaps the second-most visible figure of the Wintour era at Vogue, having stolen multiple scenes in “The September Issue,” a popular 2009 documentary about the magazine. In 2016, the year she switched her Vogue status from employee to freelancer, Ms. Coddington was photographed in her Manhattan kitchen, with a shelf of racist “mammy” figurines clearly visible in the background. The collection was roundly criticized.

In a statement, Condé Nast noted that Ms. Posnick and Ms. Coddington no longer contributed to the magazine.


Credit…Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

To work at Vogue is to inhabit a kind of prep school dormitory where relationships are defined by family ties and social connections that span generations. For many younger people of color who came from less rarefied backgrounds, gaining a toehold was considerably more difficult.

Condé Nast assistants famously put up with grueling hours and humiliating tasks, a job satirized in “The Devil Wears Prada,” a best-selling novel by a former Wintour assistant and later a hit movie starring Meryl Streep as the demanding boss. The hazing is seen as a rite of passage, part of why the company has the nickname “Condé Nasty.” And while Black staff members acknowledge all that, they said that race complicates matters.

Black employees are often asked to participate, or merely show up for, high-level meetings — a corporate practice known as fronting, six people interviewed for this article said. At Vogue, they have been asked to weigh in on cover images or take part in discussions with advertisers, forums that do not typically call on junior employees.

In a statement, Condé Nast said, “Anna and Vogue and all the leaders at our brands have made concerted efforts to build inclusion into all we do every day.”

In 2016, the actress Lupita Nyong’o showed up at Vogue’s office at One World Trade in Lower Manhattan to discuss a planned photo shoot. Ms. Nyong’o sat down with top editors, who had proposed photographing her in her home country, Kenya, along with some family members. The accompanying article would also focus on her family.

Ms. Nyong’o expressed concern about how her family would be portrayed, saying she feared they might come across as cultural props, according to several people with knowledge of the meeting. After a long pause, a junior editor — the only Black staff member in the room — piped up. Addressing the actress, she suggested that the shoot would be an opportunity to showcase Africa, a rarity in any American magazine, let alone Vogue.

The shoot was a go. And the junior editor was never asked to attend a fashion meeting again.

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Black Products. Black Shoppers. Black Workers. But Who Owns the Store?

The crowd was growing impatient as Crystal Holmes fumbled with the keys to the store.

Dozens of people were swarming the street around Western Beauty Supply, the Chicago shop where Ms. Holmes works. She had persuaded some of them to let her open the store so they could rob it without breaking the windows.

“She’s taking too long,” someone yelled. “Let’s go in and get it.”

Western Beauty Supply sells products like wigs, hair extensions and combs mostly to Black women. Most of the employees, like Ms. Holmes, are also Black, but the owner is a Korean-American man, Yong Sup Na.

When a few young men appeared outside the store earlier that evening in May, Mr. Na went out to speak with them. He offered some of them cash, and they walked away. At that point, Mr. Na told Ms. Holmes that he felt confident his business was safe. “They are not going to break into the store,” he told her.

A few minutes later, though, a larger group showed up. A woman snatched Mr. Na’s keys, but Ms. Holmes persuaded her to give them back. Then she ordered Mr. Na, her boss, to leave. “You don’t know what could happen,” she told him.

Even as Ms. Holmes tried to save the store from ruin that evening, when protests and looting followed the police killing of George Floyd, she understood what was causing the turmoil roiling Chicago and dozens of other cities.

“I understand where the rage is coming from,” Ms. Holmes, 40, said in an interview. “We don’t have any businesses in the community and we are getting killed by the police and killing each other, and we are just getting tired.”

In the years she has spent working for Mr. Na, customers have constantly told her that she should open her own store. But she has watched some Black women struggle as owners in the industry, and her priority has been keeping a steady job to support her family.

Outside the store, people in the crowd kept pushing for Ms. Holmes to let them in. But she couldn’t get the keys into the lock. Her hands were shaking too much.

Mr. Na, who is 65, grew up in South Korea in a home with an outhouse. He watched television by standing outside a neighbor’s window and peering in at the set. Mr. Na was in his late 20s when he arrived in the United States. He knew only one person, a friend from his village who had moved to Chicago.

Not religious but seeking to meet other immigrants, Mr. Na soon joined a Korean church. A few years later, a friend from the church bought a shoe store on Chicago’s South Side from a white man who wanted out.

“This man was upset that the Black people were moving into the neighborhood,” Mr. Na recalled in an interview. “Koreans didn’t care. This was an area that they could afford.”

Credit…via Sandra Na

With no access to a bank loan, Mr. Na bought the store from his friend by using proceeds from the shoe sales. He paid $5,000 a month for 13 months. The business was straightforward.

“You were buying cheaply made goods at a low cost from a wholesaler,” Mr. Na said. “The customers were not snobby.” He also owned businesses that sold pagers, cellphones and clothing. The endeavors allowed him to pay for private school and then college for his two daughters.

Over the years, other Korean retailers told Mr. Na that beauty sales were a steady proposition, even in recessions. In 2007, he started his first beauty shop. He opened Western Beauty in 2014, on the city’s West Side, and started Modern Beauty in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville two years later.

The portion of the beauty industry that caters to Black women generates about $4 billion in sales a year. Much of those sales are rung up in small beauty supply stores, which are ubiquitous in predominantly Black neighborhoods. The stores seem like a natural answer to the numerous calls from policymakers and corporate America to create more Black-owned businesses after protests over systemic racism broke out this spring.

Yet fewer than 10 percent are owned by Black women, said Tiffany Gill, a history professor at Rutgers University. Instead, many of them are owned by Korean immigrants. Korean Americans also lead some of the largest wholesale distributors that import the hair products from China.

“These are two historically marginalized groups fighting over the same small slice of pie when there is so much more of the pie that neither has access to,” said Ms. Gill, the author of the book “Beauty Shop Politics: African-American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry.”

For years, Mr. Na worked seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. His daughter Sandra, 33, remembers one night when her father didn’t come home. He had been rushed into emergency surgery to remove a shard of glass from his face after a scuffle with someone who tried to rob the store.

The Na family lived for a time in a Latino neighborhood and eventually moved to a largely white suburb north of the city. Ms. Na said her parents had insisted that she spend her summers learning Korean, working as a tutor and taking academic enrichment classes. Ms. Na and her sister, Jenny, visited the store only rarely when they were growing up and played with the register.

She said her father never talked about the “social and racial impacts” as a retailer on the South Side. Her father came from a generation that experienced poverty and hardships, Ms. Na said, and didn’t have the time to focus on much else except taking care of his family, which included sending money to his siblings back in South Korea.

As part of a younger generation faced with fewer of these pressures, Ms. Na said, she has had opportunities to think about issues of race from a different perspective.

“But everything for my dad was about survival,” Ms. Na said.


Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

Crystal Holmes grew up a world away from South Korea, in Chicago’s East Side. But like Mr. Na, she faced challenges from the start. She was raised mostly by her grandmother until she was a teenager.

“I knew I wanted better,” she said. “I always said I would never put my kids in the situation I was in.”

Ms. Holmes, a mother of two, worked for a time for a fried chicken chain, but switched to beauty supply stores when she found that many pay every week.

At the first store she worked in, the owner, a Korean man, was so impressed with her sales skills that he said he would help her open a store one day, Ms. Holmes said.

Then things soured. The owner accused her of stealing from him after he discovered the register short of cash, she said. She told him how one employee, who was also Korean, had insisted on taking turns on the register and had a gambling problem. But the owner didn’t believe her.

“I just walked out of the store,” she said. (A security tape later showed that she did not steal anything, according to Ms. Holmes.)

Many beauty supply stores have a reputation for being demeaning places for the Black women who shop in them. Ms. Holmes said she had been in numerous stores where employees followed customers or required them to check their bags at the door.


Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

It’s not just small retailers. Until June, Walmart kept its Black beauty products in locked display cases. “You can’t treat everyone like a thief,” Ms. Holmes said.

Mr. Na’s stores are different, she said. Women are allowed to shop without being watched. She likes to walk the floor talking to the customers about their hair and offering them advice.

Ms. Holmes sometimes accompanies Mr. Na on trips to the wholesaler to pick up inventory. She is usually the only Black person in the warehouse. Once, she encountered another Black woman from a beauty shop in Wisconsin.

“I said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’” Ms. Holmes recalled. “And she said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’”

Still, there is tension. Some customers ask Ms. Holmes why she works so hard for a Korean owner. One woman said she was like a “slave.”

Ms. Holmes, who earns $14 an hour, was able to pay for three years of her son’s college tuition but could not afford his final year. Her son, now 26, plans to go back to school. But he lost his job at a downtown restaurant during the pandemic and has a baby on the way, so college may be further delayed.

Ms. Holmes also hopes her 20-year-old daughter, who has a 9-month-old son, can attend college eventually.

Mr. Na has been encouraging Ms. Holmes to start her own business one day and offering her advice on how to get started, like how much money she will need to save.

For now, Ms. Holmes appreciates the small perks of the job. How on a good day, the store can feel like a gathering place where women talk about their lives and swap beauty tips.

On many Sundays, Ms. Holmes opens and closes the store on her own. “Some customers see me by myself and say: ‘Where are the Koreans? Are they in back?’” When she explains that she runs the store on Sundays, “they are shocked,” she said.

“It’s mind-blowing to them that a Black woman is in charge.”


Credit…Haruka Sakaguchi for The New York Times

Sandra Na has also wondered why Koreans dominate the sale of Black women’s hair products.

She acknowledges that Korean immigrant communities can be “insular,” and that her father, who speaks limited English, prefers to do business and associate with other Koreans because it is easier.

But other forces are also at play. Ms. Na said her father had been shaped by his parents’ experience living through the Japanese occupation of Korea and then the Korean War. That left him with a shared feeling of grief and loss, which Ms. Na said is often referred to as Han.

It helps explain, she said, why her father typically hires Korean managers in stores where most of the employees are Black.

“Han creates a level of trust among Koreans,” Ms. Na said. “That trust goes back decades.”

Since the protests, many business leaders and public figures have sought to address racial disparities with more investment. Square, the payments company led by Jack Dorsey, the billionaire founder of Twitter, has pledged $100 million to financial firms supporting Black communities. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, has proposed a $7 billion federal fund for Black entrepreneurs.

But the struggles of Black women in the beauty supply industry show that some barriers to success are more complicated.

In interviews this summer, Black women who own beauty shops in Dallas, Buffalo and Sacramento said they were consistently denied accounts with major Korean-owned suppliers. One of the women said that as soon as she had sent over a copy of her driver’s license, the supplier stopped returning her calls.

These rejections, the women said, prevent them from stocking the most popular hairpieces, forcing their customers to shop elsewhere.

While Mr. Na is a retailer, not a distributor, he said he was aware of some of the challenges Black women proprietors faced in obtaining products.

He said Black owners are often unable to rent or buy stores that are physically large enough to allow them to work with the big suppliers.

“It has nothing to do with racism,” Mr. Na said. He acknowledged that if Black women gained a larger footing in the beauty supply industry they could seriously challenge Korean businesses.

“It is competition,” Mr. Na said. “Eat or be eaten.”


Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

In the end, the group didn’t wait for Ms. Holmes to let it in. The looters smashed the window and barged inside.

Mr. Na walked across the street, sat in his car and looked on as his store was ransacked.

Like many Americans, Mr. Na had watched the footage of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck in horror. He wondered if the unrest would ever stop and whether he should bother to rebuild.

“I feel like racism is something that will never go away,” he said.

After the looting, Ms. Holmes returned to the store to clean up. Some people from the neighborhood were surprised to see her helping Mr. Na. A few customers were angry she would not let them take some of the products that had been knocked off the shelves.

“Why are you on their side?” she remembers one Black person asking her. “Why aren’t you riding with us?”

Ms. Holmes said some people were too quick to judge. “They are on the outside looking in. They don’t know the person I work for. He’s a good man.”


Credit…Sandra Na

When Sandra Na drove to Chicago from Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband, she was struck by the level of destruction at Western Beauty Supply and Modern Beauty. A cash register that contained no money was smashed, the glass in the display case had been shattered, and dozens of bottles of hair solutions had been dumped on the floor.

She believes most of the looters were seizing on the chaos wrought by the protests over the killing of Mr. Floyd to steal desirable products, she said. A range of businesses across the city were destroyed that day, including pawnshops, grocery stores and Walmarts. Some of the damaged stores were Black owned.

Ms. Holmes said she agreed that the crowd wanted only to steal merchandise from Mr. Na — not to make a statement that his store was not Black owned.

Still, Ms. Na said she recognized that some people might begrudge small businesses like her father’s stores. “I have a hard time thinking there isn’t resentment there,” she said. “You see an outside ethnic group capitalizing on your people.”

As painful as it was to see her father’s shops destroyed, Ms. Na said she was heartened that the broader protests had spurred efforts to address systemic racism. “The attention is there,” she said.


The moments when a crowd broke into Modern Beauty in Chicago.

Mr. Na was able to reopen his business with insurance money, government grants and more than $94,000 in donations from a GoFundMe page his daughters set up. In August, though, he temporarily boarded up his stores after a police shooting in Chicago set off a fresh wave of protests and looting.

Back at work, Ms. Holmes said a few customers had told her again that she should open her own store.

She’s hoping Mr. Na will help her get started. Mr. Na, who is planning to retire in the next few years, said he had been considering ways he could do so.

“One day I’ll have a store, and you come shop with me,” Ms. Holmes tells customers. “Just wait.”

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Their Bosses Asked Them to Lead Diversity Reviews. Guess Why.

Last June, Deana Jean received a strange request on LinkedIn: A software company wanted her to lead a diversity, equity and inclusion program for their executive suite.

Ms. Jean does not do D.E.I. work. Nor does her LinkedIn profile suggest as much. Her background is in educational technology sales and leadership coaching.

She is, by the way, Black. After a short back-and-forth with the company, Ms. Jean, who is based in New York, learned that she’d been recommended by a former colleague — a person she barely knew. She declined the contract, but asked if the company needed a sales consultant.

“After that, there was no response,” she said. “There’s never a response. On one side, they’re looking at me as a Black woman, which means I’m automatically equipped to deliver diversity, equity and inclusion. But then on the other side, that is the only thing you see me as able to do.”

For many Black professionals, the experience of being asked — or even required — to lead or participate in a company’s diversity and inclusion work simply because of their race is an uncomfortable ritual. Ms. Jean said she has been in such situations before, often because she has been the only Black person in the room.

As the corporate world continues its attempt to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement, such requests threaten to undermine the inclusion efforts they’re supposed to promote. Bosses, managers and colleagues — well-intentioned or otherwise — often fail to recognize the emotional and professional stakes of giving Black employees D.E.I. tasks, like reviewing or writing company statements, leading anti-racism meetings or heading employee resource groups, especially when it’s not their area of expertise.

Many companies seek out consulting firms that specialize in D.E.I., including Awaken, the Dignitas Agency and Inclusion Strategy Solutions. Michelle Kim, the chief executive of Awaken, based in Oakland, Calif., said her company has been so inundated with requests that she created a database of Black-owned agencies to manage the overflow. The firms sometimes field requests for help from salaried Black workers whose employers have asked them to review race-related issues on their own.

“To assume that every Black person has the skills and desire and knowledge for this work is tokenization,” Ms. Kim said.

Paula Edgar, a partner at Inclusion Strategy Solutions, agreed. “I find it ironic because companies outsource expertise for everything else,” she said. “You’re not going to say, ‘We have an accounting need, does anyone know math?’”

For years, diversity, equity and inclusion issues have often been treated as a sideline or add-on in corporate America. During the first two months of the coronavirus pandemic, D.E.I.-related job offerings declined at twice the rate as overall job postings, according to a report in mid-July from Glassdoor. Many new businesses don’t make those issues a priority, only taking them up when the companies reach a certain size. By that point, racism and discrimination can already be baked in.

“Diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism should be embedded into the DNA of organizations in a fully realized way,” said Kim Crowder, a consultant based in Indianapolis, who specializes in such issues. But companies tend “to stuff D.E.I. into the corner and hand it over to HR or level it to employee resource groups.”

Often, employers don’t know the difference between diversity, equity and inclusion. “The No. 1 question everyone is asking right now is, ‘How do we hire more people of color?’ or ‘How do we have more Black candidates in our pipeline?’” Ms. Kim said. That only addresses diversity; it ignores equity, equally distributing resources based on the specific needs of underrepresented groups; and inclusion, having real decision-making power. “We need to be specific about naming the problem we’re trying to solve and prescribing the right medicine,” Ms. Kim said. “That’s anti-racism training.”

Some D.E.I. consultants I spoke with said, essentially, more power to those Black employees who are happy to take on such assignments from their employers. But without proper boundaries, they said, people risk being taken advantage of.

Ms. Edgar laid out a list of questions for Black workers to consider before taking on those responsibilities: “What percentage of your time will be taken for this? How much will this benefit you — are you making the culture better, or will you have access to leadership to help your trajectory? Is there any compensation — vacation time, increase in pay or a bonus structure? Specifically for lawyers, is there credit to your required billable hours?”

Black employees must also consider whether they have the right emotional reserves, she added. “All eyes and expectations will be on you,” she said. And that could have lasting consequences.

Ms. Crowder used to work for a local government agency. Once, she said, she was asked to hire a replacement for one of her team members. But when Ms. Crowder tried to get her choice — a Black woman — the same salary as the woman’s white predecessor, she was questioned repeatedly about the candidate’s credentials and eventually, Ms. Crowder was sidelined. It wasn’t a unique experience, she said.

“When I tried to speak about my own experiences around racism within organizations, I was shunned and turned into an outcast,” Ms. Crowder said. “I was bullied out of the workplace and didn’t receive fair treatment, nor support or acknowledgment for my ideas and hard work.”

She said she decided to specialize in D.E.I. consulting. “I feel strongly that current employees should avoid and not be asked to become the ‘expert’ on diversity, equity and inclusion within their organizations,” Ms. Crowder said. “They are often not protected and don’t have the power to make changes.”

Untrained employees may also be unprepared to shoulder the emotional weight of the work. “I’m literally a therapist. They dump everything on,” said Jennifer Payne, a communications strategist whose company, Social Sovereign, is consulting on D.E.I. for companies in Michigan and Los Angeles. “I don’t have all the answers, and sometimes it is very emotionally draining. We’re in the midst of a pandemic, an economic crisis, a racial injustice movement. And at same time, everybody wants to ask questions about what is it like to be Black.”

Stacy Parson, a partner at Dignitas, which is based in Boise, Idaho, said Black employees need a chance to heal before they’re asked to help bring about change. “Answering those questions comes at a cost,” she said. “We’re talking about trauma. If we can recognize that witnessing a man getting killed on TV for no good reason is traumatic for Black people, then it’s traumatic for them to revisit it.”

So many companies have issued statements in support of Black Lives Matter that it’s easy for managers to believe that everyone on staff will be receptive to diversity efforts. That’s not the case. This summer, Ms. Payne said, employees of all races have asked her: “Are we supposed to be having these conversations in the workplace? I thought these topics were off limits, like religion and politics.”

That makes it easy for Black employees leading the diversity and inclusion efforts to end up on the receiving end of their colleagues’ confusion and frustration. Even their anger. “When you start digging into political differences, like Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter, this can be an ugly discussion,” said Lindsey D.G. Dates, a partner in the Chicago office of Barnes & Thornburg, who has been asked to lead on diversity and inclusion efforts at the law firm. “So the risk that you run by having these discussions so publicly, is that you can be ostracized by colleagues, intentionally or unintentionally.”

Mr. Dates said he had taken on the work despite those risks. “I do not come to these conversations enthusiastically,” he said. “With that said, I do believe I have an obligation to advocate for people like me.”

Qhaurium Douglas, a lawyer and consultant in Oklahoma City, said she gave a categorical “no” when a colleague asked her to lead an educational workshop on the Black Lives Matter protests. She said she had seen other employees at her firm post articles on Twitter about the criminal records of police brutality victims. “As if that was a justification for a death sentence,” Ms. Douglas said.

She understood that her co-workers were uninformed, but she said she suspected they didn’t want to learn. “The willful ignorance was blatant,” she said.

Further, she worried that the conversation would devolve into a political debate, which she was not emotionally prepared to handle. “I didn’t want to contribute to that me vs. you dynamic,” she said. “Black Lives Matter is not a statement for you to disagree with or feel bad about or have to defend.”

Like Ms. Jean, Mr. Dates was approached on LinkedIn to give a talk about diversity and inclusion despite having no training in the field. The request came from a professional organization for in-house counsels, who had seen a post he’d written about systemic racism. He gave a lot of thought about whether to accept, and ultimately said yes.

But he decided to approach the presentation as a litigator. “In many ways, I was freer to make points that a diversity and inclusion professional cannot make,” he said. “It’s not their job to ostracize people but to bring people to the table.” Mr. Dates said he had a different objective: to kick out the table’s legs.

He approached the group as if he were building a legal case before a jury. Brick by brick, he said, he led them to the conclusion that American law firms are bastions for segregation and would remain so until more Black lawyers became capital partners. He wasn’t subtle; he named the hypothetical law firm in his talk Jim and Crow LLP. “I got a lot of surprised looks. A lot of stunned faces,” he said. But he said he believed his argument left an impression.

Mr. Dates said that diversity and inclusion professionals play an important role. His law firm is unusual in that one of its partners is an expert in the field. Her encouragement, he said, is why he decided to join a new committee addressing equity and inclusion at the firm.

“It’s uncomfortable to have these difficult conversations when you have not done the hard work of building relationships with the people you want to talk to,” he said. “But so many firms leave their Black lawyers in utter isolation to the point that it’s embarrassing for them to reach out to them for their own self- interested purposes.”

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Black LinkedIn Is Thriving. Does LinkedIn Have a Problem With That?

One day in September, Elizabeth Leiba opened the LinkedIn app and saw a post by Aaisha Joseph, a diversity consultant with nearly 16,000 followers on the platform.

“Ima need #companies to stop sending their dedicated House Negros to ‘deal with the Blacks’ they deem out of control,” read the item. “It’s really not a good look — it’s actually a very #whitesupremacist and #racist one.”

The post was exactly the sort of thing Ms. Leiba, an instructional design manager at City College in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was looking for. These days, when she pulls out her phone in search of boisterous conversation, hot takes and the latest tea, she finds herself tapping LinkedIn, which since the killing of George Floyd has become a thriving forum for Black expression.

“I go onto Twitter and I get bored,” Ms. Leiba, 46, said. “Then I go right back to LinkedIn because it’s on fire. I don’t even have to go on any other social media now.”

It’s an unexpected development for what has long been the most polite and perhaps the dullest of the major social networks. LinkedIn was founded in 2003 as a place to network and post résumés — essentially, a directory of white-collar professionals. A few years ago, LinkedIn added a Facebook-like news feed that encouraged users to post links and updates, but it has never been a rollicking space. A team of editors helped enforce a mood best described as corporate.

“You talk on LinkedIn the same way you talk in the office,” Dan Roth, LinkedIn’s editor in chief, told The New York Times in August 2019. “There are certain boundaries around what is acceptable.”

Two staggering events have changed that. In early 2020, the pandemic hit, forcing millions to work from home and miss out on break-room chitchat — boosting LinkedIn as a place to vent. Then, the killing of Mr. Floyd in police custody in May put workers over the edge. Black grief went on display, uninhibited, at corporate America’s virtual water cooler.

“I was just 43 years tired,” said Future Cain, a social and emotional learning director at a middle and high school in Wisconsin. “I was using LinkedIn to post positive things and uplift people during the pandemic, and I decided I can’t sit here quietly anymore.”

As protesters took to the streets to demand police reform, Ms. Leiba and Ms. Cain were among those who discovered that LinkedIn was a place to speak to the executive class on something like their home turf. Black users have taken to the site to call out racial discrimination in the workplace and share their stories of alienation on the job.

Not that it’s all serious: Much of the posting is exuberant — full of memes, Black cultural references and linguistic panache. This summer, Ms. Leiba shared a video about code-switching, in which a Black employee transforms while greeting colleagues of color (“Oh, hey, Black queen!”) and a white one (empty-headed hiking talk). “I’ve watched it at least fifty eleven times,” Ms. Leiba wrote.

These are the kinds of conversations, and ways of speaking, that cubicle-dwelling Black workers have typically held out of earshot of their white colleagues. As unusually charismatic posts appeared in my own feed this summer, it seemed clear that Black LinkedIn was emerging as a professional cousin to Black Twitter — the unapologetically Black digital space where people expose long-ignored injustices and pump their experience into the mainstream.

What’s less clear is how comfortable LinkedIn is with the development, having placed its content moderators in the incendiary position of determining what manner of race-related speech is appropriate for its virtual workplace of 706 million users.

Credit…Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Black users who post in forceful tones, and some of their allies, say they feel LinkedIn has silenced them — erasing their posts and even freezing their accounts for violating vague rules of decorum.

For example, the “House Negros” post that Ms. Joseph wrote in September vanished from the platform. Ms. Joseph, who lives in Brooklyn, was able to see it when she viewed her own page, but no other users could — a practice known as shadow banning. (Later, LinkedIn added an unsigned note in red, saying the post had been removed for violating the site’s Professional Community Policies, which instruct users to “be civil and respectful in every single interaction.”) Ms. Joseph began a new item: “Let me say it louder since LinkedIn wanted to delete my post the first time.” The company removed that post, too, saying it included “harassment, defamation or disparagement of others.”

Another user, Theresa M. Robinson, a corporate training consultant in Houston, said LinkedIn had deleted a post she wrote about racism, then reinstated it after she complained. She said she had never received an explanation. Two others, Ms. Cain and Madison Butler, who works in Austin, Texas, also said LinkedIn had restricted their commentary on race.

In the absence of clear communication from the company, these users are left guessing as to what the rules are — and feeling that the company is not just policing their tone but stifling their opportunity to force change in corporate America.

Nicole Leverich, a LinkedIn spokeswoman, wrote in an email: “We are not censoring content and have not made any changes to our algorithm to reduce the distribution of content about these important topics.” She added in an interview that LinkedIn was introducing a new process for notifying users when their posts were flagged for violating platform rules, and that some people hadn’t been phased in by the end of September.

The company acknowledged that it had erred in taking action against some users and restored content that was found, on appeal, not to violate its policies.

“If we make a mistake, we will own it,” said Paul Rockwell, the head of LinkedIn’s trust and safety division. “We will be very clear — this is a learning opportunity for us. We’re going to continue to use that in our journey to get better and better. And we do want to nail this thing.”

Few people think LinkedIn should look anything like the wilds of Reddit or Twitter, which have a certain amount of anonymity and even anarchy built into their DNA. Much of LinkedIn’s value — Microsoft acquired it in 2016 for $26 billion — is tied to its sense of professionalism and respectful conduct. Users must share their real names and credentials, and it’s understood that their current or prospective employers might well scan anything they post.

For Black people in the corporate realm, however, words like “professional” and “respectful” are red flags. Like the natural Black hairstyles that were once widely considered unprofessional, certain behaviors — being too Black, speaking too Black or talking too much about Black topics — have long limited advancement in companies with white cultures.

That’s what has changed on LinkedIn in the last few months. Black people are being, to use a technical term, Blackity-Black Black on LinkedIn. Much of the behavior is not so different from Black Twitter; users pepper their posts with clap emojis to emphasize every syllable, and GIFs celebrate cultural touchstones like Issa Rae’s “Insecure” and Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” The difference is that it is all happening on a social network that mirrors the business world — a place that is predominantly white.

“It is liberating. It feels like it’s about time,” Ms. Joseph said. “We are taking back what was stolen from us — and that’s our voice. I’m talking specifically to my people in the way that we talk to each other in other spaces, and without regard for any outside audience. No longer having to stifle that has been freeing.”

Part of what Black LinkedIn has done is brought together Black professionals to be their authentic selves in front of their white colleagues. For many, it has been an existential relief, and may provide a blueprint for how Black employees choose to conduct themselves once the physical workplace reopens.

“The days of hiding and masking who you are and dealing with the BS — I just can’t even go back to that,” said Jessica Pharm, 33, who works in human resources at a manufacturing firm near Milwaukee. “Any company that gets me next is getting the full-on Jessica.”

Ms. Leiba posted on Sept. 17: “It means code-switching is OUT. It means the AFRO is coming at you on a daily basis. It means you’re getting these bangle earrings and the poppin’ lip gloss.”

Inevitably, not everyone accepts this kind of exuberance. Posts about Black Lives Matter and racial justice often attract the same kind of dismissive, and sometimes bigoted, responses found on other platforms: rejoinders that “all lives matter,” for instance, or claims about Black-on-Black crime. But because the activity takes place on LinkedIn, these comments typically come with the user’s headshot, place of employment and entire work history attached.

“You start to see these people who are absolutely not OK with this focus on Blackness popping up in commentary, with their name and their company fully on display, giving zero deference to the moment,” said John Graham Jr., 39, a digital marketer and strategist at a California biotechnology company. “I find it telling that people would put their careers in jeopardy and their unconscious biases on full display.”

LinkedIn has also struggled internally with how to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement. In June, the chief executive, Ryan Roslansky, publicly apologized for “appalling” racial comments some employees had made at a companywide staff meeting.

Rosanna Durruthy, LinkedIn’s head of diversity, inclusion and belonging, said in an interview that the company was engaging in hard conversations about race, both inside the company and out.

“We’re really beginning to focus very consistently on how we begin to address this externally” on the platform, she said.


Credit…Eli Durst for The New York Times

One of the most vociferous presences on Black LinkedIn is Ms. Butler, a human resources consultant and vice president at a start-up. She has posted on LinkedIn since 2018 and with increasing frequency and fervor this year. The potential to speak truth to capital, she said, makes the resulting rounds of death threats worth it.

“There is something to be said about the access LinkedIn gives you to powerful C.E.O.s and V.C.s to help change their outlook and how they support Black employees and founders,” said Ms. Butler, 29, referring to venture capitalists. “The conversation that has to happen in order to break down the status quo in corporate America isn’t happening on Instagram.”

Ms. Butler, who has about 40,000 followers, posts on LinkedIn daily. Her style is to be prescriptive, assail corporate norms and call out whitesplainers and trolls; she tends to close each missive with the hashtags #isaidwhatisaid, #thatsthetea and #blackgirlmagic. One recent post scolded companies that make a show of cheering on the Black Lives Matter movement but haven’t done right by their employees.

“Do the Black people in your organization feel like they matter, or do they feel like the Black stock photos you used to enhance your ‘wokeness’ footprint in the marketplace. If you can’t make the Black lives under your own roof matter, do not use Black Lives Matter as a brand strategy,” Ms. Butler wrote recently. “Don’t talk about it, be about it. Period.”

Other stars of Black LinkedIn target specific companies. Ms. Joseph, for example, has recently called out Wells Fargo, DoorDash, Microsoft and Google.

There has also been no shortage of criticism of LinkedIn itself. Users are holding the company to a standard it set for itself in June, when Melissa Selcher, the chief marketing and communications officer, wrote an open letter on the platform.

“We have a responsibility to use our platform and resources to intentionally address the systemic barriers to economic opportunity,” she wrote. “We also believe we play a critical role in amplifying Black voices.”

Also in June, with Black Lives Matter protests spreading across the country, LinkedIn highlighted “Black Voices to Follow and Amplify,” a curated list of chief executives, media personalities and other influencers, including the Rev. Bernice King and Karamo Brown from the Netflix show “Queer Eye.” For the most part, members of the list post content that is general, motivational and safe.

Ms. Joseph and others took to LinkedIn to say the group contained too many establishment names and not enough activists. “Where are the Tamika Mallorys of LinkedIn on that list?” Ms. Joseph wrote, referring to a co-founder of the 2017 Women’s March.

“Black voices aren’t just corporate C-Suite ones,” wrote Patricia S. Gatlin, a talent sourcing specialist in Las Vegas. “All Black voices need to be heard in this moment,” added Scott Taylor, a recruiter in Los Angeles. “Not just the ones your team of analysts think we should hear from.”

Ms. Leverich, the LinkedIn spokeswoman, said by email: “We use a number of factors in our selection, including members who have self-identified as Black, people from a variety of industries and with an interesting perspective to share. We’re constantly adding new voices and sorting through requests to join this program.”

In September, LinkedIn used its own company page to pose a question to its 13 million followers: “What are the best ways to normalize having conversations about race and anti-racism in the workplace? #ConversationsForChange”

The responses quickly turned sour. “LinkedIn, you can facilitate that objective by normalizing those conversations on your platform,” wrote Lenzy Ruffin, a communications strategist in Washington, D.C.

“The irony that you should post this!” wrote Abi Adamson, a diversity and inclusion consultant in London. “Kindly stop censoring Black content around racism. People like me have had our engagement go down astronomically when highlighting racism or how to be anti racist. Help amplify our voices and stop silencing us.”

Sabrina McClimans, a graduate student in Seattle, asked the platform to “stop ‘accidentally’ disappearing the posts of Black women on your platform when they talk about race and anti-racism.”

“I have seen cases in which individuals who harass Black women on this platform have maintained their accounts while those who speak out against racism and prejudice have had accounts suspended,” added Phil Molé, who works at a software company in Chicago. “It’s time for a thorough review of the way the issues are handled.”

LinkedIn did not respond to those comments. Philip Mix, a consultant in London, added to the thread after a day and a half, when there were 344 comments, saying he had gone through them “three times to make sure I wasn’t mistaken.” By his count, LinkedIn had replied to five users — four times to say “Thank you for sharing” and once with “Nicely put.”

Mr. Mix concluded: “Not sure if I’m more shocked or depressed by this miserably inadequate show from LinkedIn.”

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Is an Algorithm Less Racist Than a Loan Officer?

In 2015, Melany Anderson’s 6-year-old daughter came home from a play date and asked her mother a heartbreaking question: Why did all her friends have their own bedrooms?

Ms. Anderson, 41, a pharmaceutical benefits consultant, was recently divorced, living with her parents in West Orange, N.J., and sharing a room with her daughter. She longed to buy a home, but the divorce had emptied her bank account and wrecked her credit. She was working hard to improve her financial profile, but she couldn’t imagine submitting herself to the scrutiny of a mortgage broker.

“I found the idea of going to a bank completely intimidating and impossible,” she said. “I was a divorced woman and a Black woman. And also being a contractor — I know it’s frowned upon, because it’s looked at as unstable. There were so many negatives against me.”

Then, last year, Ms. Anderson was checking her credit score online when a pop-up ad announced that she was eligible for a mortgage, listing several options. She ended up at, a digital lending platform, which promised to help Ms. Anderson secure a mortgage without ever setting foot in a bank or, if she so desired, even talking to another human.

In the end, she estimated, she conducted about 70 percent of the mortgage application and approval process online. Her fees totaled $4,000, about half the national average. In November 2019, she and her daughter moved into a two-bedroom home not far from her parents with a modern kitchen, a deck and a backyard. “We adapted to the whole Covid thing in a much easier way than if we were still living with my parents,” Ms. Anderson said this summer. “We had a sense of calm, made our own rules.”

Credit…Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Getting a mortgage can be a harrowing experience for anyone, but for those who don’t fit the middle-of-last-century stereotype of homeownership — white, married, heterosexual — the stress is amplified by the heightened probability of getting an unfair deal. In 2019, African Americans were denied mortgages at a rate of 16 percent and Hispanics were denied at 11.6 percent, compared with just 7 percent for white Americans, according to data from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. An Iowa State University study published the same year found that L.G.B.T.Q. couples were 73 percent more likely to be denied a mortgage than heterosexual couples with comparable financial credentials.

Digital mortgage websites and apps represent a potential improvement. Without showing their faces, prospective borrowers can upload their financial information, get a letter of pre-approval, customize loan criteria (like the size of the down payment) and search for interest rates. Software processes the data and, and if the numbers check out, approves a loan. Most of the companies offer customer service via phone or chat, and some require that applicants speak with a loan officer at least once. But often the process is fully automated.

Last year, 98 percent of mortgages originated by Quicken Loans, the country’s largest lender, used the company’s digital platform, Rocket Mortgage. Bank of America recently adopted its own digital platform. And so-called fintech start-ups like Roostify and Blend have licensed their software to some of the nation’s other large banks.

Reducing — or even removing — human brokers from the mortgage underwriting process could democratize the industry. From 2018 to 2019, Quicken reported a rise in first-time and millennial home buyers. Last year, said, it saw significant increases in traditionally underrepresented home buyers, including people of color, single women, L.G.B.T.Q. couples and customers with student loan debt.

“Discrimination is definitely falling, and it corresponds to the rise in competition between fintech lenders and regular lenders,” said Nancy Wallace, chair in real estate capital markets at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. A study that Dr. Wallace co-authored in 2019 found that fintech algorithms discriminated 40 percent less on average than face-to-face lenders in loan pricing and did not discriminate at all in accepting and rejecting loans.

If algorithmic lending does reduce discrimination in home lending in the long term, it would cut against a troubling trend of automated systems — such as A.I.-based hiring platforms and facial recognition software — that turn out to perpetuate bias. Faulty data sources, software engineers’ unfamiliarity with lending law, profit motives and industry conventions can all influence whether an algorithm picks up discriminating where humans have left off. Digital mortgage software is far from perfect; the Berkeley study found that fintech lenders still charged Black and Hispanic borrowers higher interest rates than whites. (Lending law requires mortgage brokers to collect borrowers’ race as a way to identify possible discrimination.)

“The differential is smaller,” Dr. Wallace said. “But it should be zero.”


Credit…Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York Times started in 2016 and is licensed to underwrite mortgages in 44 states. This year, the company has underwritten about 40,000 mortgages and funds roughly $2.5 billion in loans each month. After a Covid-19 slump in the spring, its fund volume for June was five times what it was a year ago.

With $270 million in venture funding, the company generates revenue by selling mortgages to about 30 investors in the secondary loan market, like Fannie Mae and Wells Fargo. The company attracts customers as it did Ms. Anderson: buying leads from sites like Credit Karma and NerdWallet and then marketing to those customers through ads and targeted emails.

In 2019, saw a 532 percent increase in Hispanic clients between the ages of 30 and 40 and a 411 percent increase in African-Americans in the same age bracket. Its married L.G.B.T.Q. client base increased tenfold. “With a traditional mortgage, customers feel really powerless,” said Sarah Pierce,’s head of operations. “You’ve found a home you love, and you’ve found a rate that’s good, and somebody else is making the judgment. They’re the gatekeeper or roadblock to accessing financing.” Of course, is making a judgment too, but it’s a numerical one. There’s no gut reaction, based on a borrower’s skin color or whether they live with a same-sex partner.

Trevor McIntosh, 35, and Brennan Johnson, 31, secured a mortgage for their Wheat Ridge, Colo., home through in 2018. “We’re both millennials and we need to immediately go online for anything,” said Mr. Johnson, a data analyst. “It seemed more modern and progressive, especially with the tech behind it.”

Previously, the couple had negative home buying experiences. One homeowner, they said, outright refused to sell to them. A loan officer also dropped a bunch of surprise fees just before closing. The couple wasn’t sure whether prejudice — unconscious or otherwise — was to blame, but they couldn’t rule it out. “Trevor and I have experienced discrimination in a variety of forms in the past, and it becomes ingrained in your psyche when interacting with any institution,” said Mr. Johnson. “So starting with digital, it seemed like fewer obstacles, at least the ones we were afraid of, like human bias.” ( introduced me to Ms. Anderson, Mr. McIntosh and Mr. Johnson, and I interviewed them independently.)

Digital lenders say that they assess risk using the same financial criteria as traditional banks: borrower income, assets, credit score, debt, liabilities, cash reserves and the like. These guidelines were laid out by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau after the last recession to protect consumers against predatory lending or risky products.

These lenders could theoretically use additional variables to assess whether borrowers can repay a loan, such as rental or utility payment history, or even assets held by extended family. But generally, they don’t. To fund their loans, they rely on the secondary mortgage market, which includes the government-backed entities Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and which became more conservative after the 2008 crash. With some exceptions, if you don’t meet the standard C.F.P.B. criteria, you are likely to be considered a risk.

Fair housing advocates say that’s a problem, because the standard financial information puts minorities at a disadvantage. Take credit scores — a number between 300 and 850 that assesses how likely a person is to repay a loan on time. Credit scores are calculated based on a person’s spending and payment habits. But landlords often don’t report rental payments to credit bureaus, even though these are the largest payments that millions of people make on a regular basis, including more than half of Black Americans.

For mortgage lending, most banks rely on the credit scoring model invented by the Fair Isaac Corporation, or FICO. Newer FICO models can include rental payment history, but the secondary mortgage market doesn’t require them. Neither does the Federal Housing Administration, which specializes in loans for low and moderate-income borrowers. What’s more, systemic inequality has created significant salary disparities between Black and white Americans.

“We know the wealth gap is incredibly large between white households and households of color,” said Alanna McCargo, the vice president of housing finance policy at the Urban Institute. “If you are looking at income, assets and credit — your three drivers — you are excluding millions of potential Black, Latino and, in some cases, Asian minorities and immigrants from getting access to credit through your system. You are perpetuating the wealth gap.”

For now, many fintech lenders have largely affluent customers.’s average client earns over $160,000 a year and has a FICO score of 773. As of 2017, the median household income among Black Americans was just over $38,000, and only 20.6 percent of Black households had a credit score above 700, according to the Urban Institute. This discrepancy makes it harder for fintech companies to boast about improving access for the most underrepresented borrowers.

Software has the potential to reduce lending disparities by processing enormous amounts of personal information — far more than the C.F.P.B. guidelines require. Looking more holistically at a person’s financials as well as their spending habits and preferences, banks can make a more nuanced decision about who is likely to repay their loan. On the other hand, broadening the data set could introduce more bias. How to navigate this quandary, said Ms. McCargo, is “the big A.I. machine learning issue of our time.”

According to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, lenders cannot consider race, religion, sex, or marital status in mortgage underwriting. But many factors that appear neutral could double for race. “How quickly you pay your bills, or where you took vacations, or where you shop or your social media profile — some large number of those variables are proxying for things that are protected,” Dr. Wallace said.

She said she didn’t know how often fintech lenders ventured into such territory, but it happens. She knew of one company whose platform used the high schools clients attended as a variable to forecast consumers’ long-term income. “If that had implications in terms of race,” she said, “you could litigate, and you’d win.”

Lisa Rice, the president and chief executive of the National Fair Housing Alliance, said she was skeptical when mortgage lenders said their algorithms considered only federally sanctioned variables like credit score, income and assets. “Data scientists will say, if you’ve got 1,000 bits of information going into an algorithm, you’re not possibly only looking at three things,” she said. “If the objective is to predict how well this person will perform on a loan and to maximize profit, the algorithm is looking at every single piece of data to achieve those objectives.”

Fintech start-ups and the banks that use their software dispute this. “The use of creepy data is not something we consider as a business,” said Mike de Vere, the chief executive of Zest AI, a start-up that helps lenders create credit models. “Social media or educational background? Oh, lord no. You shouldn’t have to go to Harvard to get a good interest rate.”

In 2019, ZestFinance, an earlier iteration of Zest AI, was named a defendant in a class-action lawsuit accusing it of evading payday lending regulations. In February, Douglas Merrill, the former chief executive of ZestFinance, and his co-defendant, BlueChip Financial, a North Dakota lender, settled for $18.5 million. Mr. Merrill denied wrongdoing, according to the settlement, and no longer has any affiliation with Zest AI. Fair housing advocates say they are cautiously optimistic about the company’s current mission: to look more holistically at a person’s trustworthiness, while simultaneously reducing bias.

By entering many more data points into a credit model, Zest AI can observe millions of interactions between these data points and how those relationships might inject bias to a credit score. For instance, if a person is charged more for an auto loan — which Black Americans often are, according to a 2018 study by the National Fair Housing Alliance — they could be charged more for a mortgage.

“The algorithm doesn’t say, ‘Let’s overcharge Lisa because of discrimination,” said Ms. Rice. “It says, ‘If she’ll pay more for auto loans, she’ll very likely pay more for mortgage loans.’”

Zest AI says its system can pinpoint these relationships and then “tune down” the influences of the offending variables. Freddie Mac is currently evaluating the start-up’s software in trials.

Fair housing advocates worry that a proposed rule from the Department of Housing and Urban Development could discourage lenders from adopting anti-bias measures. A cornerstone of the Fair Housing Act is the concept of “disparate impact,” which says lending policies without a business necessity cannot have a negative or “disparate” impact on a protected group. H.U.D.’s proposed rule could make it much harder to prove disparate impact, especially stemming from algorithmic bias, in court.

“It creates huge loopholes that would make the use of discriminatory algorithmic-based systems legal,” Ms. Rice said.

H.U.D. says its proposed rule aligns the disparate impact standard with a 2015 Supreme Court ruling and that it does not give algorithms greater latitude to discriminate.

A year ago, the corporate lending community, including the Mortgage Bankers Association, supported H.U.D.’s proposed rule. After Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter forced a national reckoning on race, the association and many of its members wrote new letters expressing concern.

“Our colleagues in the lending industry understand that disparate impact is one of the most effective civil rights tools for addressing systemic and structural racism and inequality,” Ms. Rice said. “They don’t want to be responsible for ending that.”

The proposed H.U.D. rule on disparate impact is expected to be published this month and go into effect shortly thereafter.

Many loan officers, of course, do their work equitably, Ms. Rice said. “Humans understand how bias is working,” she said. “There are so many examples of loan officers who make the right decisions and know how to work the system to get that borrower who really is qualified through the door.”

But as Zest AI’s former executive vice president, Kareem Saleh, put it, “humans are the ultimate black box.” Intentionally or unintentionally, they discriminate. When the National Community Reinvestment Coalition sent Black and white “mystery shoppers” to apply for Paycheck Protection Program funds at 17 different banks, including community lenders, Black shoppers with better financial profiles frequently received worse treatment.

Since many clients still choose to talk with a loan officer, the company says it has prioritized staff diversity. Half of its employees are female, 54 percent identify as people of color and most loan officers are in their 20s, compared with the industry average age of 54. Unlike many of their competitors, the loan officers don’t work on commission. They say this eliminates a conflict of interest: When they tell you how much house you can afford, they have no incentive to sell you the most expensive loan.

These are positive steps. But fair housing advocates say government regulators and banks in the secondary mortgage market must rethink risk assessment: accept alternative credit scoring models, consider factors like rental history payment and ferret out algorithmic bias. “What lenders need is for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to come out with clear guidance on what they will accept,” Ms. McCargo said.

For now, digital mortgages might be less about systemic change than borrowers’ peace of mind. Ms. Anderson in New Jersey said that police violence against Black Americans this summer had deepened her pessimism about receiving equal treatment.

“Walking into a bank now,” she said, “I would have the same apprehension — if not more than ever.”

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Michele Roberts Helped Put ‘Black Lives Matter’ on N.B.A. Courts

In early March, Michele Roberts announced she would be stepping down as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association after six years on the job.

Days later, the National Basketball Association said it was suspending its season because of the coronavirus. Basketball was the first major sport to shut down, and the decision became one of the defining moments of normal life around the country rapidly grinding to a halt.

Six months later, Ms. Roberts is still on the job, and working as hard as ever. She helped the league, owners and players design the “bubble” in Orlando, Fla., where the N.B.A. resumed play at the end of July. As part of those negotiations, she worked with stars like LeBron James and Chris Paul to get the league to paint “Black Lives Matter” on every court, embrace the concept of printing messages supporting social justice on jerseys and set up a fund to support economic growth in Black communities.

That work continued last month when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court after the shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, by the police in Kenosha, Wis. The Bucks’ decision triggered a leaguewide stoppage, and prompted players in other sports to join the protests. For a short time, it was unclear if the N.B.A. season would continue.

The players ultimately agreed to resume play, but not before Ms. Roberts collaborated with them to get the league to agree to additional efforts to promote racial justice, including a commitment to try to use some N.B.A. arenas as voting sites in November.

Her work isn’t done. While players won a lucrative contract three years ago, the pandemic has upended the economics of live sports, and Ms. Roberts, the union and league officials are trying to figure out when the next N.B.A. season will begin, under what conditions it will be played and how much money players will earn.

Ms. Roberts had no experience in the sports business before taking over the players association. She had spent decades as a lawyer, first as a public defender and then as a corporate attorney at firms including Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. But basketball, Ms. Roberts said, was “another business that I had to immerse myself in.”

“I had to understand its historical context, the relationship between management and labor, figure out who the stakeholders were and identify my enemies and friends,” she said in an interview from the bubble. “It was very much the way I prepared when I would get a new corporate client.”

This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

Tell me about growing up in New York.

I grew up in the projects in the South Bronx. We were poor. My mom raised us pretty much on her own. She was an extraordinary woman. She kept me safe, happy, fed and sheltered. And she kept me dreaming that there was nothing I couldn’t do. I give myself zero credit for this wistful desire to be great. My mom decided that, and I went along with the program.

What was the program like?

When you got home from school, you didn’t play. You went upstairs and did your homework. We had a television, but it didn’t go on until my mom had a chance to make sure the homework was done. If I brought home a B, I had to explain why it wasn’t an A. It sounds harsh, but I didn’t feel put upon. I enjoyed school. I loved to read.

Why did you decide to become a public defender?

My mom introduced me to the world of litigation and trial work. She was a trial watcher. It was a hobby she somehow developed. She liked to go watch cases and arraignments in a nearby court, and I went with her. I didn’t understand half of what I was seeing, but I thought it was the most magnificent thing in the world, and very early on I wanted to be a lawyer.

What did you learn about the American criminal justice system during your time as a lawyer?

I think the apparatus, the legal system, is second to none on the planet. I mean, if you think about the notion of a presumption of innocence — that someone does not have to prove his or her innocence, but instead that the state has to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt — that’s an incredibly high standard. And the system is required to appoint competent counsel. So there’s nothing that strikes me as being necessarily wrong with the legal apparatus.

It’s the operation of the system that can be horrifying, especially if you’re a person of color, and most especially if you’re poor, no matter what color you are. People say the criminal justice system is corrupt, and there’s some truth to that. But the corruption comes from the actors who abuse it. It’s not the system itself that is inherently corrupt.

As a woman leading a group of male players, have you ever felt like your gender was an issue?

Admittedly there was a time when I’d be incredibly conscious of the fact that I was the only woman at a meeting, or the only woman in the courtroom, or the only person of color. But I soon realized that spending energy and time on that was detracting from my ability to do my work. And so I trained myself to stop it. I’ve never encouraged anyone to spend a lot of time sitting in a meeting saying: “I’m the only Black woman in this room. Should I say anything? Do they hate me? Do they think I’m stupid?” That’s a process, a passage that I think everyone who looks like me has to go through. But you’ve got to go through it. And then you’ve got to stay through it. Thankfully I’ve been done with that for a while.

Why do you think we’re seeing players engage in social activism so forcefully these days?

Two words: social media. I have not stopped being amazed at the reach that is made possible through social media. When a new kid comes into the league I’ll check his Facebook and Twitter accounts, and he has 250,000 followers. Because he plays basketball and is very good at it, people want to hear what he has to say. That’s power.

These guys feel both the power but also the responsibility that they have. If they feel passionately about an issue, and they do, they want to be able to say: “This is wrong. This has to change.”

It’s a very different viewing experience now, with “Black Lives Matter” written on the courts, the slogans on the jerseys, and the announcers talking about Breonna Taylor and the Tulsa race massacre.

The world has changed. People always say, “When I watch sports, I just want to shut off the rest of the world.” OK. But the world is still out there. You can spend that two hours watching a basketball game, but the minute you click off that game, it’s still the case that Black men are being killed disproportionately in their contact with police. The world right now is on fire.

I’m a Christian. And so I think that I have responsibility to understand what’s going on in my world and in my community. If I was blissfully ignorant of what’s going on in the streets, I would consider it a sin. And people that want to just put blinders on and just not be bothered with events in the world that are uncomfortable, you know, shame on them.

The walkout following the shooting of Jacob Blake prompted athletes from other sports to take action, too. What did the N.B.A. players learn from that experience?

One of the reasons they decided to continue to play was because they saw the overwhelming amount of media attention that they received, and they observed the influence their behavior had on athletes in other sports. It just underscores that if they really want to influence what’s happening in this country, they can, and they can do it collectively in a way that sends a message throughout the country and around the world. To the extent the players didn’t appreciate their reach, they certainly do now.

How do you counsel players about these sensitive issues? A recent association meeting allegedly got heated when one player, Patrick Beverley, took issue with you discussing the financial implications of an early end to the season.

I don’t really want to comment on the Patrick thing. What happens in our meetings should stay in our meetings. But players have the responsibility to understand the consequences of their actions with respect to the business. And this is a business. This is how they make their living. Some of them are fortunate to be able to do this for 15 or 20 years. But most of them are not. Most of them have an average of less than five years in the league, and those will likely be their best revenue-generating years. So I’ve got to make sure that they understand what they’re doing, how much it will cost and what’s the impact.

Black men and women are underrepresented in front offices around the league. What needs to be done to change that?

When there’s a challenge to diversify in other industries, you frequently hear the complaint, “Well, it’s just hard to find people that have the skill set and experience to fill these roles.” That’s not something that can be claimed in this game at all. So there is no excuse. The way to remedy it is to be more inclusive. It’s that’s simple. Same thing with women. It just comes down to people just putting their money where their mouths are and just hiring more people of color.

How is the bubble in Orlando working so well?

I’m shocked when I turn the TV on and see college kids who are acting as if they are immortal and congregating with abandon. Our players are about the same age, but they got it. They comply, and people have all been safe. That’s the key. You’ve got to have a protocol, and then you’ve got to have cooperation. It breaks my heart to watch kids who want very much to go back to school and then immediately can get engaged in conduct that can shut these institutions down. They should take a lesson from the Orlando bubble. You can make it work if you just follow the protocol.

What do you think next season will look like, both from a protocol perspective and an economic perspective?

I do think we’ll have a season, but I don’t think it will begin in December. Some bubblelike environment may be necessary. I suspect that we will have a hybrid environment, maybe with division bubbles that last for a certain number of months, and then we stop. But the concept of putting our players in a bubble for an entire season is unrealistic.

There will be a revenue drop. I do see a possibility of there being some reopening of some arenas. But if we’re lucky we will see 25 percent of the revenue that ordinarily comes through gate receipts, etc. That’s optimistic. Hopefully we can soften the blow, but I don’t see us packing arenas.

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A Black Venture Capitalist Sees Challenges as an Investing Edge

Marceau Michel’s idea for a new on-demand staffing company, Werkhorse, was good enough to win a start-up pitch competition and a coveted spot in a tech incubator in Portland, Ore., two years ago. But no matter what he did, Mr. Michel could not seem to land the funding he needed.

As he met with mostly white investors, he had a sneaking suspicion that he was not getting a fair hearing. “I ran into that glass ceiling of being a Black entrepreneur,” he said. “I kept having the goal posts pushed out on me.”

He was told he should first try to obtain more money from family and friends. Or to offer more proof that his idea would really work. Or to reach out again a little later.

After months of frustration, Mr. Michel unleashed a material cri de coeur: a T-shirt bearing the phrase Black Founders Matter and an upraised fist. There was no plan behind it, and he had little time to devote to selling the shirts. He set up an e-commerce system on Shopify to automate their sales and turned his focus back to Werkhorse.

While he wasn’t paying attention, the shirts changed the course of Mr. Michel’s career: They were the catalyst for a new investment fund dedicated to Black-owned businesses that the accidental venture capitalist sees as entwined with racial justice.

Even with the pandemic upending the economy, Mr. Michel raised $1 million for the fund over the course of a month this summer. Those contributions arrived as protests proliferated across the country in response to the death of George Floyd, the Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

The fund’s $10 million goal is modest compared with those set by Silicon Valley investors — the median size of all venture capital funds this summer was $100 million, according to data by Pitchbook — but Mr. Michel plans to put its resources into companies that he views as strengthened by the obstacles they must overcome.

Black start-up founders face far more difficulty raising money than their white competitors. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a charity based in Missouri that promotes education and entrepreneurship, surveyed more than 500 founders and found that outside investors and lenders put up about two-thirds of the money that white start-up owners use to start their businesses, while Black owners had to put up more than half themselves. On average, 17 percent of the funding to white start-ups came from investors, compared with 1.5 percent for Black founders.

“I see the pain, the frustration, of: ‘Can you see me? I am viable,’” said Philip Gaskin, the foundation’s vice president for entrepreneurship, who works with Black business owners to help them raise capital. “The inequities have been there for a long time.”

Several groups, like Black Angel Tech Fund and the New Voices Fund, already focus specifically on supporting Black business owners, and they are far larger than Mr. Michel’s modest operation. New Voices, for instance, has dedicated its entire $100 million heft to funding start-ups owned by women of color. And in this moment of heightened attention on racial equity, the venture capital community at large has been rushing to pledge additional support for minority-owned businesses.

But rarely is a fund started by someone like Mr. Michel. He does not come from great wealth or even start-up success. Instead, he is turning the frustrations he faced with his first company into a way to help others overcome the same challenges.

And more than most venture capitalists, Mr. Michel can relate to the business owners he is seeking to support. The son of Haitian immigrants, Mr. Michel grew up in Queens in a family that was financially secure but that had little to spare on speculative investments like Werkhorse.

“My parents came from poverty, so they had turned over a leaf of being stable and raising me in a stable environment,” Mr. Michel said. “They didn’t have the capital to give me to invest.”

But even as the typical barriers Black start-ups face were stalling Werkhorse, Black Founders Matter was gaining momentum.

Credit…Akila Fields

Rick Turoczy, a founder at the Portland Incubator Experiment, where Werkhorse was based, put the Black Founders Matter shirts on his blog, Silicon Florist. So far, Mr. Michel has sold about $10,000 in shirts.

Mr. Michel began to tell his story to local business publications, and it resonated. “There weren’t many voices, Black voices, that were asserting themselves in this space,” he said. “I happened to be one that someone caught wind of.”

A report in Black Enterprise Magazine was spotted by the mother of a reporter for TechCrunch, who then contacted Mr. Michel for an article. “That was the interview that changed the future of Black Founders Matter, because she asked what I wanted to do besides sell T-shirts,” he said. Without hesitating, he blurted out an idea about starting a venture fund for Black-owned start-ups. When the reporter asked how much money he would raise, he picked a number — $10 million — and was surprised when it became the headline.

Mr. Michel’s advisers — including Mr. Turoczy — saw an opportunity for him.

“They said: ‘We love what you’re doing and we want to help,’” Mr. Michel said. He put Werkhorse on hold, and the Portland Incubator Experiment’s leaders introduced him to the managing director of a Portland-based venture capital fund, Rogue Venture Partners. Mr. Michel spent six months at Rogue absorbing the customs and procedures of venture capital investing.

By March 14, 2019 — his 35th birthday — Mr. Michel was ready to share a pitch for a venture fund. He presented it to a packed theater in Portland for the incubator’s annual pitchfest: Pie Day, the crowning event of Portland’s start-up scene.

Mr. Michel explained to the crowd how the hurdles that Black business owners face make their businesses more resilient and safer for investors. He pointed out that only 1 percent of investment in tech start-ups went to Black entrepreneurs, and that although Black women owned 12.5 percent of all businesses in the United States, they got only 0.02 percent of investment. And he highlighted examples of Black founders who had excelled — and made boatloads of money for the investors who dared to help them.

“Investing Black is financially viable,” he told the crowd. Then he announced the creation of the Black Founders Matter fund.

Stephanie Kelly and Jason Saunders, a white husband-and-wife team of start-up investors, were drawn to the potential of the companies Mr. Michel wants to support. “If you look at the return on investment there, it’s stratospheric compared to the broader venture universe,” Mr. Saunders said. “It’s kind of the other end of the spectrum from the Bay Area tech bros who have an idea and get $100 million.”

Even though the Black Founders Matter fund hasn’t handed out any money yet, Mr. Michel has already steered funding to one project. In June, he and Himalaya Rao-Potlapally, a venture capital consultant who has become a partner with him in the fund, announced that they had invested $40,000 in a Black-owned start-up publisher called A Kids Book About. Mr. Saunders and Ms. Kelly put up $25,000.

The publisher produces books to help children and parents talk about difficult subjects like bullying and divorce. Jelani Memory helped found the publisher after writing a book for his own children about dealing with racism.

He had such a hard time raising money at first that he found ways to minimize his costs, such as using a print-on-demand service that produced a copy only after a customer had paid for it. That meant Mr. Memory’s business was profitable almost from the start.

“When people really start seeing the metrics, there’s going to be a landslide in that direction,” said Mr. Saunders. He said he and his wife were eager to take part in the $10 million fund.

Recent months have provided Mr. Michel’s fund with obstacles, but also a renewed sense of purpose.

After the onset of the pandemic, “everything went dead” for the fund, Mr. Michel said. “I felt like, maybe this isn’t the right time to be doing this.”

Then came Mr. Floyd’s death in May. Suddenly, Mr. Michel’s idea was not a whisper on the fringe of the venture capital industry but part of a broader discussion on racial equity.

Mr. Michel began attending protests in Portland, which has had some of the country’s most visible demonstrations, and spoke at some of the gatherings. He believes ending police brutality is just the first step toward racial equality.

“If police officers are not killing Black people anymore, does that mean that Black lives are inherently better?” he said.

Without better opportunities for Black Americans to build wealth, Mr. Michel said, “we’re still locking them out of prosperity.”

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Working From Home Poses Hurdles for Employees of Color

Kimberly Bryant, the founder of the nonprofit group Black Girls Code, recalls the spontaneous encounters with other people of color around the office that gave her a sense of belonging as she forged a career as an engineer. The wave in the cafeteria, the smile in the elevator, the nod in the hallway — for Ms. Bryant, “all would lead to connections that were instrumental in terms of my success.”

Those serendipitous occasions are just a memory, a casualty of the pandemic and the shift of tens of millions of employees from office settings to working from home. It’s also one way in which the rise of the virtual office places special burdens on people of color, according to diversity and inclusion officers as well as many employees.

With fewer connections and less extensive networks than white colleagues to begin with, Black and Hispanic workers can find themselves more isolated than ever in a world of Zoom calls and virtual forums. Assignments end up flowing to people who look more like top managers — a longstanding issue — while workers of color hesitate to raise their voices during online meetings, said Sara Prince, a partner at the consulting firm McKinsey.

“It’s a critical issue, and there is a real risk facing diversity and inclusion in the current environment,” said Ms. Prince, who like Ms. Bryant is African-American. “When the leader is looking for someone to take up the mantle, most of them go to the comfort zone of people who remind them of themselves. This is exacerbated by the virtual office.”

The issues posed by working from home are worsened by the outbreak over all. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, 27 percent of companies put diversity and inclusion efforts on hold, according to a survey by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, a research group.

Without an aggressive effort to counteract the pandemic’s impact on workplace dynamics, workers of color may suffer lasting career damage. “The unmanaged outcome is more isolation, less advancement, more job losses, and a real retrenchment in the progress around diversity and inclusion,” Ms. Prince said.

Credit…Kaiti Sullivan for The New York Times

Corporations have been a focus for civil rights organizers since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May gave rise to protests and a broader examination of racial injustice.

In part, that focus reflects corporate America’s slow racial progress. Big businesses have made prominent contributions to organizations promoting social justice causes, and ad campaigns have highlighted companies’ engagement with communities of color. But the leadership of Fortune 500 companies continues to skew heavily white and male.

Some specialists on workplace diversity worry that as work shifts to home offices, efforts to advance people of color into executive positions will be blunted. More traditional candidates will end up dominating the conversation, they say, leaving others out.

Evelyn Carter, managing director at Paradigm, a consulting firm, cited a concept called distance bias to describe the dynamic that can occur in the virtual office. “You put more emphasis on people closer to you,” she said. “You don’t have connections where you don’t have proximity, so you maintain relationships with the people you already know.”

When employees gather online, it’s easier for some to fall through the cracks.

It’s harder to tell which employees have shrunk back in their chairs or otherwise withdrawn in virtual meetings, said Ms. Carter, who is African-American, but moderators should pay attention to clues like people with their cameras off and try to draw those participants back into the discussion.

Being visible is critical for people of color in the workplace and harder to achieve in a work-from-home environment, said Joy Fitzgerald, chief diversity and inclusion officer at the drugmaker Eli Lilly.

“To succeed, 50 percent is performance, 25 percent is perception and the other 25 percent, which is a force multiplier, is visibility,” said Ms. Fitzgerald, who is African-American. “But if people don’t know you, they don’t see you. It creates a higher degree of complexity and challenge for underrepresented groups.”

With many companies not expected to ask employees to return to their pre-pandemic workplaces before 2021, the implications of the virtual office for people of color have become an increasingly urgent topic for diversity officers, human resource chiefs and leaders in the Black business community like Ms. Bryant.

“A lot of us have some concerns about the impact on Black and brown communities as companies move to remote workplaces,” Ms. Bryant said. That’s especially true in the technology industry, which has struggled to diversify its heavily white and male work force.


Credit…Kaiti Sullivan for The New York Times

People of color “have issues with feeling included in tech spaces,” she added. “There’s an added barrier to inclusion within a virtual space.” Black Girls Code, which she runs from Oakland, Calif., promotes the advancement of young women of color in technology jobs, offering training in software programs during after-school workshops and other sessions.

For Ms. Bryant, 53, who worked at the biotechnology company Genentech and other Bay Area operations, the connections that resulted from crossing paths in the hallway, the elevator and elsewhere led to lifelong friendships. There were few Black faces in what she terms a “monochromatic environment,” but out of adversity came deep bonds.

“You could share challenges as well as successes,” she said. “A good portion of those connections are still close.”

Other Black executives recounted similar experiences.

“I know what it’s like to be the only Black person or woman with your title in the room, and you do find that the opportunity to connect in person is helpful,” said Lanaya Irvin, president of the Center for Talent Innovation, a research group that looks at diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The unexpected encounter may have been replaced by the formal geometry of the Zoom square, but not all experts consider that a bad thing. Tina Shah Paikeday, who oversees global diversity and inclusion advisory services at Russell Reynolds, the headhunting firm, thinks there might actually be some advantages to it.

“Most minorities are left out of informal networks and might not have been invited out for drinks or lunch,” said Ms. Paikeday, who is of South Asian descent. “The Zoom meeting is intentionally planned, and managers feel very intentional about inviting everyone.”

“It’s a great equalizer, and it creates opportunities for affinity group within large organizations,” she said. “It could end up being a good thing for minorities.”

Other diversity and inclusion officers concur with Ms. Paikeday, and emphasize that with leadership from the top, the virtual office can be designed to embrace all employees.

At Lilly, Ms. Fitzgerald has organized online forums in which workers of diverse backgrounds can share concerns and have access to top executives. After the killing of Mr. Floyd on May 25, Lilly convened a companywide one.

“For many Black and brown people, May 25 was a defining event, and we had a day of solidarity,” Ms. Fitzgerald said. “We did a double click on racial justice. It was a learning opportunity, it was a connection opportunity, and it was a call to action.”

It was also a chance for employees to interact directly with the company’s chief executive, David A. Ricks, who kicked off the session. More recently, in mid-August, Lilly held its annual forum for Black and Hispanic employees, drawing 5,000 people for virtual discussions of issues like immigration, racial justice, equity and inclusion.


Credit…Kaiti Sullivan for The New York Times

Such efforts, she said, will prevent the virtual office from becoming a barrier.

Goldman Sachs’s chief diversity officer, Erika Irish Brown, who is African-American, acknowledged that “these are very isolating times,” but said that in the virtual office “there is a leveling that occurs when everyone has the same-size box onscreen.”

To encourage a sense of connection and ensure that different voices are heard, Goldman has organized a series of meetings aimed at a wide variety of employees.

In the spring, the firm organized a large forum on anti-Asian sentiment, with senior leaders discussing their experiences. It was followed by a global session on racial equity that featured David Solomon, Goldman’s chief executive, moderating a panel discussion on race with three Black partners.

At Dell Technologies, the Black Networking Alliance organized two “moments of reflection” after Mr. Floyd’s killing. Nearly 30,000 employees, including Michael Dell, the company’s chief executive, dialed in to share their feelings and engage in a dialogue.

The Black Networking Alliance is one of 13 employee resource groups at Dell, said Brian Reaves, chief diversity and inclusion officer at the company. Others include Pride, Women in Action and Latino Connection.

“Whether it’s the elevator or the lunchroom, it’s nice to connect,” said Mr. Reaves, who is African-American, but he feels that these groups can take the place of those spots and keep workers from feeling isolated. “You can connect with anybody around the world.”

Whether or not that proves to be the case, it’s clear that the virtual office will endure even after the coronavirus has been conquered. Longstanding practices in areas like recruiting are changing, too, with candidates no longer having to start at headquarters and get to know co-workers of color through a nod or a wave.

“We’ll never go back to where we were before,” Mr. Reaves said.

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In Britain, an Idea to Reduce Racial Inequality Gains Momentum

Nearly two years ago, the British government seemed to be on the verge of doing something truly novel about racial and ethnic inequality. Theresa May, the prime minister at the time, had adopted a plan to root out one of the causes of differences in incomes that would “create a fairer and more diverse work force,” she said.

It was October 2018, during Britain’s Black History Month. Ms. May suggested the government require companies and other large employers to report the disparities in pay among their employees based on ethnicity, as they had recently been made to do for gender. She announced a three-month public comment period, or consultation, toward the goal of introducing a new regulation.

“Too often ethnic minority employees feel they’re hitting a brick wall when it comes to career progression,” Ms. May said. Collecting and analyzing this data, which no other country seems to require, could enable companies to see disparities in pay and identify reasons, such as a lack of Black managers in senior positions, and do something about it.

But after the comment period closed in January 2019, little was heard about it.

Little, that is, until a surge of anti-racism protests this summer, provoked by the killing of George Floyd, revived the idea. In June, a petition to make ethnicity pay gap reporting mandatory amassed more than 100,000 signatures. In response, the government said that it would publish an update by the end of the year, having received more than 300 comments from businesses and other organizations.

Credit…Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press

The failure to demonstrate progress for a year a half was not lost on David Isaac, the departing chairman of the government’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. Last month, he said establishing the pay gap rule would be a quick win for the government, as he accused it of “dragging its feet” on action to address racial and ethnic inequality.

Since Mr. Isaac’s chairmanship of the commission began four years ago there have been three prime ministers from the same political party, two general elections, Brexit and a pandemic. There have also been four government-sponsored reviews focused on issues of ethnic inequality that have produced nearly 100 recommendations.

Mr. Isaac said that when he took over at the human rights commission, he believed he could achieve a lot, and he says he has since succeeded in helping more people fight legal battles for equal rights. But as he left his post, he still questioned why the government hadn’t taken advantage of a growing desire by businesses to do more to address inequality, and urged for more action instead of reviews.

“The time for more recommendations, in my view, is over,” he told the BBC. “We know what needs to be done, let’s get on with it.”

Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, said it was “just simply not true” that the government had dragged its heels on the issue. For example, she said, policymakers were working toward adopting most of the recommendations from a 2017 review of how “Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals” were treated in the criminal justice system. Among the proposals was collecting more complete ethnicity data across the system and recruiting a more diverse prison staff.

In response to Black Lives Matter demonstrations, Mr. Johnson has also created a new commission focused on race and ethnic disparities that will make recommendations for government action by the end of the year. This new board will be a fresh start, Ms. Badenoch told the BBC.

“We’ve picked commissioners who haven’t really done this sort of review before so they wouldn’t be bringing in prejudged recommendations,” she said. “There must be no jumping to conclusions.” She added that the commission would also look into why there was a public perception that the government hadn’t done enough to improve equality.


Credit…Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Amid mounting outrage about inequalities, ethnicity pay gap reporting is something that could be done quickly, Mr. Isaac said in an interview with The New York Times in early August, in part because of the work already done by Ms. May’s government to collect data about ethnic disparities across society.

Mr. Isaac is a lawyer who was once chairman of the L.G.B.T. charity Stonewall. The Equality and Human Rights Commission he led is responsible for enforcing the 2017 legislation that makes it mandatory for companies, charities and public sector organizations with more than 250 employees to publicly report the median and average pay difference between men and women on their payrolls each year. (Organizations were given a break this year, as the reporting deadline fell during the first weeks of lockdown to curb the pandemic.)

Since Mr. Johnson became prime minister, six months after the ethnicity consultation ended, the idea lost its urgency, possibly because leaving the European Union and tackling coronavirus has consumed more of the government’s energy, Mr. Isaac said. But, he added, “this is a leadership issue and a real opportunity to move quickly should the government really wish to do that.”

That said, there are additional challenges to reporting on ethnicity that are distinct from gender reporting. The thorniest issue is privacy. Employers have to get their staff to voluntarily disclose their ethnicity. There will also be companies that lack enough diversity to publish a nuanced breakdown of the data, or publish any data at all, without jeopardizing staff anonymity. (The government offers 18 different classifications of ethnic groups for census data in England and Wales.) And the severity of inequality and underrepresentation can really vary by region. Ethnic minorities make up just 14 percent of Britain’s total population but in London, 40 percent of people identify as having an Asian, Black, Arab, or multiple ethnic backgrounds.

In response to the online petition on ethnicity pay gap reporting, the government said it had done voluntary testing of the methodology in 2019 with a range of businesses, which highlighted “the genuine difficulties” in designing a policy that provides accurate information and protects anonymity.

One way to get around some of these difficulties has been demonstrated by Deloitte, the auditing and financial advisory firm that is one of a handful of companies in Britain that have voluntarily published their own data.

Deloitte offers a single pay gap, showing the difference in pay between whites and all others. The latest report found that the median pay for the group it identified as Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in 2018 was 7.9 percent less than whites, compared with a 6.9 percent gap the year before. The gap for bonuses narrowed, to 25 percent from 30 percent in 2017. This report was made public, but internally more granular data was studied to help make decisions, said Clare Rowe, Deloitte U.K.’s head of inclusion.

A more detailed analysis is needed because a binary pay gap figure, modeled on how gender pay gap reporting is done, can conceal disparities between different ethnic groups. For example, according to a government survey, average hourly pay in Britain in 2018 was 11.82 pounds ($15.53). For white British people it was £11.90 and higher than that for people who are Indian. But Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people received pay that was below the national average.

Business in the Community, a charity focused on responsible business practices, has been pushing for the government to require ethnicity pay gap reporting since 2018, when a study it did found that just 11 percent of people in Britain said their employer was collecting ethnicity pay data, and only half of those were then making it public.

Reporting this data “alone can’t fix everything, but it does ensure that this conversation remains at the top table and that there are actions to follow through on that,” said Sandra Kerr, the charity’s race equality director. “Because looking at the data you can’t just sit back and say, ‘Oh, that’s really terrible.’ You then have to act and say what you are going to do.”

Last month, the government said it would announce by the end of the year how it planned to proceed. Some are not waiting: In the past two months, more than 150 companies have signed on to Business in the Community’s Race at Work Charter, according to Ms. Kerr. The charter encourages, but does not require, the firms to capture ethnicity data as a step toward publishing information on pay gaps.

Mr. Isaac is clear, however, that the requirement needs to be enforced.

“If it’s discretionary, the exemplars will do it and are already doing it,” he said. But others won’t, given all the other pressures created by the pandemic, he said.

“There’s a general appetite now that has never existed in the same way before,” Mr. Isaac said. “Covid and the murder of George Floyd create that kind of tipping point when everybody has been shocked and everybody is keen to be an ally and do things. So why not take advantage of that?”

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