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Tag Archives: Management

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How to recover after a corporate scandal

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As a business leader, you know that not everything will go according to plan. Sometimes circumstances will arise that will reveal that, despite your best efforts, members of your staff have acted unethically. This is not only a blow against your values as an entrepreneur and your trust as an employer, but it can also be damaging to your business.

Recovering from a scandal is not an easy process. And in today’s connected environment, the news can spread globally via the internet in an instant. It’s also the case that even in the years after the core problem, details of your ethical issues will be just a quick search away. Any scandal has the potential to leave your online reputation in tatters if handled without due care.

How should you approach your recovery from a corporate scandal? What strategies and tools can you implement to improve both your reputation and toxic company culture? Let’s take a closer look at some key areas of focus.

Addressing the Problem

Some of the major mistakes that companies make in the wake of a scandal are in their initial response. Reacting too sluggishly, or in a lackluster fashion can be disastrous. A prime example of this is the 2009 Domino’s Pizza scandal, in which employees posted YouTube videos of themselves breaching food preparation laws. The company waited two days to respond, and when they did so it was little more than a simple apology.

Your reaction to a scandal needs to be both swift and well-considered. This is a difficult balancing act. Depending on the severity of the scandal, there may be a need to take legal advice before fully addressing consumers and staff. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t acknowledge the issue, however.

Work with your public relations department to produce an honest and direct initial press release. Inform the public that the company is aware of the problem and its severity, and that there is a need to investigate the matter fully. Set expectations as to what the next steps are, and when you intend to follow up.

Release this across all channels — your email list, press departments, website, and don’t ignore social media. This blanket coverage handles the need to vocalize the event to the public and doesn’t give the impression you’re ignoring the matter. It also provides you with time to make the necessary inquiries and planning to fully address the problem that resulted in the scandal.

However, don’t make the mistake of assuming that because you have made an announcement your responsibilities for communication are complete. Provide regular updates on progress and keep a dialogue open to reassure stakeholders that you and the company take the matter seriously.

No Quick Fix

For many of us, once a scandal has hit, we want to be able to just fix the situation. However, scandals are generally not that easy to repair. The issues that have a significant impact are ethical, social, and even legal and therefore require long term effort to put right — if they can be put right at all.

The Uber scandal in 2017, which revealed a culture of sexist and abusive behavior, resulted in the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick. However, the simple resignation of a CEO is often not enough to repair the damage; you need to put in the work.

Businesses must be demonstrative in their efforts to get to the root cause of the scandal, along with the actions they take to make retributions and prevent further incidents. If, as in the Uber case, there is a culture of abusive or discriminatory behavior, this points to a systemic issue. As a result, it’s often wise to bring in independent experts to assess practices and create improvement plans. These findings should be made public, alongside your reparation plans.

The behaviors that lead to a scandal are often already addressed in the employee handbook or company policies. Few businesses don’t have guidelines regarding sexual harassment and other unethical or illegal behaviors. If there is a culture that allows this behavior to thrive, this suggests that enforcement of these policies is somewhat lax.

One of the key ways to restore consumer confidence then is to enact a stricter approach to these rules and regulations. Conduct training exercises to reinforce their importance and demonstrate their application. Review the violation policy and make any disciplinary consequences clear — and enforce them.

Moving Forward

The dust has settled somewhat, you’ve taken what you feel might be the worst of the hits, and made plans to improve the overall culture of your business. So, now what? Your time must now be spent rebuilding the trust and respect of consumers and staff. It’ll be a long road, but by taking the patient and thorough approach, your business is likely to be stronger in the long run.

Moving forward, there needs to be a commitment to transparency and accountability. This must be a top-to-bottom policy; be open about how your business runs, your financial operations, and the partner companies you have relationships with. Invite staff members of all levels to attend key company meetings, seek their input on policy changes, diversity, and ethical operations. Invite the public to highlight when they feel you’re falling down in your obligations and make it easy for them to engage in a dialogue with company leaders. This not only encourages a culture of honesty throughout the company, it shows the public that it is a core aspect of your business operations.

It can also be wise to put some work into rebranding. This essentially acknowledges that the business has made mistakes in the past, but you’re also taking a concrete approach to be a better, different, more positive business moving forward. One of the key elements in creating a new brand is understanding your goals.

One of your new goals is obviously a stronger culture that eliminates recurrences of the incidence that got you here in the first place. You can then start to tell an effective story through the visual and marketing aspects of your new brand. After a scandal, this story is likely to be about change, trust, and responsibility. Create brand values that reflect the new approach of your business and demonstrate these frequently.

Conclusion

Recovering from a corporate scandal isn’t a quick and easy process — and neither should it be. By correctly acknowledging the problems, working to make meaningful change in the company, and moving forward with patience you can help rebuild consumer and staff confidence in your brand.

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What you should know about the virtual strategic planning process

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Virtual strategic planning should be as effective and comfortable as an in-person retreat. As associations consider their position and value to members, communicating a strong plan is critical. Members want to know a strategy for recovering and rebound exists.

The plan has multiple purposes:

  • Guide for successive boards for 3 to 5 years.
  • Empowerment of staff to advance the vision set by the board.
  • Careful alignment of the committees and task forces with goals and projects.
  • Communicate value to members.
  • Distinguish the organization for similar entities, for example the chamber of commerce is not the economic development council, or the beef and cattle association is not the beef check-off board.

60- to 90-Day Process

Working virtually, the steps are a little different than an in-person meeting. Ideally, through research, input, and analysis, up to 70% of the work will be done before the online retreat. (It is possible for a hybrid retreat with some directors attending in-person and others preferring to join online.)

Success comes from breaking the process into steps. With webinar fatigue, it is not likely that the board wants to sit in on lengthy Zoom calls.

Reverse Engineering

If the board sets a deadline for when the strategic planning process should be completed, it is possible to reverse engineer the process.

Reverse engineering sounds like a term from NASA sending a manned spacecraft to the moon. The concept is to set a desired outcome and work backwards. Thus, the need for a strategic plan is to present to the membership on a specific date and would walk backwards to schedule all the necessary steps.

The aim is to instill confidence in the process.

Data Gathering and Study

It has been said if you can read a budget, you can identify the priorities. That’s a start, but there are more clues in the bylaws, committee roster, org charts, meeting minutes disclosing recent board discussions, IRS Form 990, and the prior strategic plan. Gather the documents, often in the format of the board’s Leadership Manual, and analyze organizational strengths and structure.

Survey

Member surveys should be a regular practice to gauge satisfaction and needs. The more targeted survey is of the board of directors. Ask them three questions about priorities, goals, and if anything should be dropped from the program of work. The input of the board, and invitation to the senior staff, will help populate the first draft of the plan.

First Draft

The study of documents and input of the board is vital information for creating a framework for a new strategic plan. Create an outline or template to be shared by officers and senior staff of should be included in the plan based on initial findings.

Comfort and Confidence

Circulate the draft outline or plan template to ensure officers and senior staff are comfortable with the process. Ask if they have additional input. Facilitate opportunities for further collaborate as recommended.

Brand Strength: Mission, Vision and Values

Every exempt organization has a purpose or mission statement. Vision and value statements are at the preference of the board. Acquire feedback about the mission to affirm or offer alternative drafts. Most mission statements are easy to understand and articulate in a single sentence.

Additional Input — Strategy Development

Keep the board and staff fully engaged in the process. Circulate updates and drafts. Encourage more input on the direction and findings thus far. The board may want to conduct focus groups, hold caucuses, or survey stakeholders for maximum input.

Circulate Draft

As the date for the virtual retreat draws near, share information with the board. Familiarize them with the agenda, desired outcomes, terminology of planning, process to date and the outline or template based on all the study and input. In advance of the retreat, introduce the full board to the draft mission, goals, and recommended strategies.

Retreat

Plan a retreat that is effective with detail to audio and camera needs. There is little use to a retreat if people cannot hear each other or see the subject matter on screen. Allocate about three hours to review details of the draft outline or template, asking for input, omissions and understanding. The board is affirming the mission, goals, and priorities. They are not making a to-do list for staff or delving into committee work.

Final Report

Within a week following the retreat, a comprehensive report of process and board input should be shared. The directors have a final opportunity for input before it will be on the agenda at an upcoming board meeting for a motion to approve.

Performance Metrics Added

The plan has little traction if metrics are not set. While the board may suggest KPIs at the retreat, where metrics were not offered, the senior staff can suggest performance, accountability, and timelines. The annual budget may need adjustment based on strategic plan opportunities for revenue generation or spending.

Implementation

Members and stakeholders should be informed of the new strategic plan or “Vision 2025.” Committees will work to advance elements of the new plan. Staff may create their program of work based on board plans. The plan should always be on the board table to guide board discussions and decisions.

Plan Champions

To track progress on the plan, appoint a “Strategic Plan Champion” or assign directors to be responsible for tracking program as “Goal Monitors.”

Annual Updates and Tweaks

At least annually, review progress on the plan, and external influences and achievements to make adjustments. Most plans are updated every three years.

The steps will differ for every organization, some wanting to hold focus groups while others want an in-depth survey of members. Use these steps to stay on track and maintain confidence in the process.

A free, two-page Guide to Strategic Planning is available here.

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3 simple workarounds for when you feel overwhelmed

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Many people these days are feeling disillusioned, shocked, vulnerable, depressed and full of dread. Any one of those feelings can be difficult to handle, but when you’re feeling a mix of those feelings, it’s overwhelming.

Although some people are responding to personal circumstances, the majority of those feelings are triggered by the global events unfolding each day. None of us knows what we will face when we wake up in the morning. Nor do we see a clear resolution in front of us. Therefore, we must find a way to navigate the overwhelming feelings.

The first step is to reduce the intensity and power of what we’re experiencing by simplifying it. We can do that by recognizing that the common thread through all of those overwhelming feelings list above is fear. Once we’ve identified that fear is behind all difficult emotions, then we can remedy it with some simple workarounds.

Here are three workarounds (based on decades on working with clients and students) to help you cultivate more peace (and less fear) in your life:

1. Being Present

On a practical level, fear is about the past and the future. We fear that what has happened in the past will happen again in the future. We also worry about the future, sometimes sinking into feelings of dread about it. Fear is usually associated with the belief we may lose something — our health, our job, our money or our relationships. Or if we don’t have one or more of those things, we’re afraid we’re not going to ever find them.

The pathway to peace is to become present. Being present means being fully being aware of what’s happening right in front of you. One of the easiest ways to do this is to become aware of how you’re feeling in your body. You start by tuning into your five senses and also noticing your surroundings.

Ask yourself these questions: “Where am I?” “What am I feeling?” “Am I OK right now?” Then pay attention to everything that is happening within and around you in the present moment.

2. Taking a Time Out

About 10 years ago, I started spending time every morning praying, meditating, reading and writing. I now spend at least two hours doing this, which may seem like a lot, but it’s my favorite time of day.

For a brief period, when I worked full time and had to be at work by eight in the morning, I woke up at five so that I had at least two hours of quiet time before entering the chaos of the world. It is a break from texts, emails and interactions with others that allows me to establish a peaceful, grounded flow for my day.

Taking a time out can be a morning routine as I described above, or it can be a nightly bath, time spent in nature, working on a creative project, dancing to some uplifting music, doing something with your hands, etc. The key is to find something that takes you away from the news, from social media and from conversations about what’s happening in the world. To work well, it needs to be something you do regularly and consistently. If not daily, then at least several times per week.

3. Reach Out

The root of fear is the belief that we are all alone, that we must take matters into our own hands and take care of our problems all by ourselves. We live as if we have no help whatsoever. We tell ourselves, “I have to figure everything out. I have to solve all of my problems. I have to fight to survive.”

This is not true.

As someone I know recently said, you can be “pathologically independent,” meaning so self-sufficient that you cause yourself untold suffering. As h ard as it may be, the answer is to ask for help. This can mean reaching out to friends and family or a professional coach, counselor or healing practitioner. Joining a Meetup group or an online Facebook group can also help diffuse overwhelming feelings because you can connect with others who share your experience. In addition, many group members offer tips, tools and resources that have helped them.

John Lennon wrote, “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

May we all find a way to embrace life again.

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5 data protection trends of 2020 that will define security next year

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As more businesses move online, the field of cybersecurity has grown in importance. Workplace digitalization has led to many changes, including a move to new platforms and strategies. Many companies are adopting a cloud-first strategy, requiring new methods of protecting data.

Consumers are more empowered than ever — and they demand transparency and security in how their data is stored and used. Data protection will become vital to an organization’s success.

1. Data Protection in the Cloud

The cloud is becoming an increasingly common platform for both storage and communication. From a hosted contact center to cloud-based digital asset management, the peace of mind and ease of use of these technologies make them ideal for businesses.

In order to use these technologies, you need to consider:

  • Data protection regulations
  • Privacy standards
  • Risk management

In 2018, the Bitglass Cloud Adoption report showed that over 81% of organizations used the cloud in some form. The problem with the cloud is the varying measures businesses use to protect online data stored within it. For instance, there are different standards on password strengths, how widely passwords are distributed, and where they’re stored.

Luckily, one major trend in 2020 was an increased focus on data protection. Going forward, you should expect to see a shift in company policy and government regulation to protect data in the coming year. The shift to online operations will see companies on the lookout for the best e-commerce platforms and data protection and storage services.

2. Continued Rise in Regulations

Commerce and business activities are increasingly digital-based. This means governments are stepping in to regulate the use and protection of data. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulates data protection and data privacy within the EU and European Economic Area.

The GDPR also applies to any organization processing data of EU and EEA citizens and residents. These regulations have created a precedent for other governments. Moving forward, it’s likely government legislation will focus more on creating increased data quality and governance.

Image: Gartner

These regulations have provided increased security on cloud services and increased the attention on third-party risk management. Businesses will need to be vigilant on how they use and protect data. The potential financial burden of breaking government regulations can be detrimental to your business. France fined Google over $50 million for GDPR violations. Overall, the GDPR fines have amounted to over $126 million and continue to increase.

This means that companies have begun to create frameworks to take responsibility for how they protect data. One component of this includes increased monitoring of third parties who have access to consumer data. Certifying third parties means that their use of data and practices meet legal standards and your organization’s privacy policy.

3. Increased Privacy Standards and Transparency

This year we saw an increased awareness of how companies process, store, manage and secure data.

While data storage is important for tracking your customer lifecycle, there is such a thing as unnecessary data. Data graveyards — repositories of unused data — will continue to be increasingly undesirable. This unused data jeopardizes database utilization and creates an unnecessary financial burden. Storage not only costs money but also unnecessarily increases the scope of a potential data breach.

The coming year will see businesses attempt to limit the amount of unnecessary data they store. It will also revolutionize how they manage automated systems of obtaining user data. We saw companies, like Google, commit to a cookie-less future. Cookies store information to provide consistency as users navigate through pages and sites.

The way companies manage this data can violate trust. The unnecessary holding, selling, and use of data collected by cookies can lead to legal and public relation nightmares. In the event of a data breach, the information stored from cookies can also lead to problems for the organization collecting this data.

Even matters of telecommunication, such as inbound call center solutions, demand transparency in order to maintain consumer confidence and trust. B2C companies need to take extra care with transparency. It can be detrimental to a business when a data breach occurs, or if customers find companies not managing their data responsibly.

4. Job Creation and Shifts in Responsibility

This emphasis on data protection has increased the need for oversight of digital operations. The move towards remote working has already made IT staff essential for business operations. Data Protection Officers (DPO) now have more responsibility than ever.

However, DPOs cannot single-handedly manage all aspects of cybersecurity. They are responsible for supervising and the implementation of data protection laws and policies. This means that human resources, marketing, and legal departments must also be involved in data protection.

Workplace digitalization has also created new positions within companies. New roles like Chief Data Officers (CDO) and Chief Information Security Officers (CISO) need to communicate with their IT teams in order to work together, align priorities, and build value-based recommendations. In many companies, this will require finding software to enable video conferencing for small business.

As we shift to more online operations, jobs will be created within HR, Marketing, and Sales departments to manage digital operations. It will require more than just IT to ensure organizations are running smoothly and efficiently.

5. Training

New jobs mean increased training. With people working from home and online activities on the rise, remote training will be an essential aspect of business operations.

Responsibility for data protection should not fall solely on your IT staff but should be spread throughout your operation. Knowledge is power. Staff who interact with data at any level should be informed about company policies and practices.

Some questions that should guide your training are:

  • What data do you need?
  • How long do you need to store it?
  • Who should have access to data?
  • What security parameters are in place?

Throughout the rest of 2020, and continuing into the next few years, we should expect to see data protection become a key part of all employees’ responsibilities, not just IT.

These five key trends for data protection seen in 2020 will define how we store, manage, and disseminate information next year and for years to come. The use of cloud-based systems can ensure business continuity and create greater protection of digital data. It is important for your business to be aware of regulations and trends within cybersecurity to protect your business, your employees, your customers, and your reputation.

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Study: Coronavirus crisis is a mentorship opportunity unfilled by most organizations

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The pandemic has changed how we work, but it hasn’t necessarily changed the fact that employees are still interested in career development. While the opportunity for face-to-face training or coaching has been paused, companies can still take advantage of mentorship opportunities.

Employees want to advance

According to a new study by Doodle, 49% of people don’t think they’re receiving enough coaching, training, or mentoring to successfully advance their careers. And half of those respondents would describe their career development as “stalled” or “regressing backward.”

Jared Blank, CMO at Doodle, advises organizations to take note of these findings. “If companies don’t show their employees that career development is a top priority, during and after the pandemic, it’s highly likely that their employees will lose their motivation to do great work,” he explains. And that’s not the only negative implication. “They’ll become disengaged from the organization, and be more inclined to leave to work for another company that values and supports their career development plans.”

Employees connect with managers

Managers are in a unique position to positively impact workers because they work more closely with them, and have the ability to develop the type of interpersonal relationships that lead to successful mentoring. According to a study, employees trust the team they work with much more than the HR teams and senior leaders they occasionally see. And this trust extends to the area of career development.

“For example, 34% of employees feel comfortable speaking to their direct supervisor about their career development goals, and 28% are comfortable sharing their goals with colleagues,” Blank says. However, this number drops dramatically with people outside of this circle. Only 13% feel comfortable discussing their career goals with either HR or senior management.

In fact, 47% of respondents say they want their managers to play an active role in their development. “Thirty-two percent of respondents want clear direction on roles and responsibilities and 15% want guidance and support for career development goals,” Blank says.

However, without an intervention, the pandemic can cause these relationships to unravel. For example, 40% of respondents said the relationships with both their team members and managers have become impersonal or isolated and less engaged. Also, 66% say their bosses haven’t scheduled more one-on-one meetings with them since the pandemic and lockdowns went into effect.

“It’s striking that employees understand that career growth is not a one-way street — that to meet your career goals, you really need to build rapport with your boss,” Blank says. “That includes being able to have honest one-on-one conversations about what a career path looks like at the company, without making your supervisor nervous that you’re too focused on the next job, or that you’re threatening to leave if you don’t get what you want.”

And this is why a meaningful, trusting relationship between employees and managers is so important. “If employees don’t feel comfortable or safe expressing their personal goals and asking for their manager’s support in achieving those goals, the employee’s career development could get stalled or even regress.”

How managers can respond

Managers may still be adjusting to the new normal and focused on keeping their organizations afloat. However, Buck Rogers, VP of Keystone Partners’ North Carolina office, says this can also be a time of mentoring — in fact, he thinks it can be an ideal environment for mentoring relationships. “That’s because we now have a new perspective of our operations today and a new vision for tomorrow.”

And he believes this has created a perfect opportunity to connect with employees on a deeper level and in a more impactful way. “We now have the ability to mentor in true real-world situations where we’re genuinely trying to challenge ourselves to optimize and even find new models, methods, systems, and processes,” Rogers says.

“As leaders, we can model, actively discuss, and lead those we mentor with a transparency that will make a lasting impact on these individuals and their impact within our organizations.” And there’s the potential to stretch and challenge managers as well. “Mentors will grow and improve right alongside those they mentor, resulting in significant ROI for the company as well as everyone involved,” he says. In fact, reverse mentorship is another option that should be on the table. “Younger employees can help longer-term staff adjust to an increasingly digital workplace.”

Regardless of what form the mentoring takes, Rogers believes it’s important to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the pandemic. “The time is now — there’s no better time, situation, or environment than what we’re experiencing today to invest in mentoring relationships.”

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5 fresh rules for rebooting your brand’s keyword strategy as COVID-19 continues

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As a marketer, you know the crucial importance of monitoring consumer interest on an ongoing basis during the pandemic. One simple way to keep your ad content fresh across your brand’s social platforms and in search results is to focus on your keyword choices in a whole new way.

Google data finds that 49% of shoppers surveyed say they use Google to discover or find a new item or product, so analyzing and selecting the right keyword strategy is crucial to boost your brand at this challenging time.

The great news is that revamping your keyword strategy to meet your existing and potential customers’ needs right now is easier than ever. Here are five out-of-the-box, highly effective rules you can immediately put into practice to accomplish this goal quickly.

Here are the moves to make:

Reevaluate your campaigns like your competition would.

The brands trying to outsell you are experts at seeing your copy strengths and weaknesses, as you are at seeing theirs. Do as your competition does — get completely objective and break down your copy critically.

Is every word, phrase and reference in your copy as relevant and timely as it can be considering today’s economic and social conditions? Pre-pandemic copy that moved product because it’s fun and frivolous most likely won’t feel appropriate in tone today. Do a total overhaul on any ad that doesn’t fit your audience’s current needs, mood or circumstances.

Avoid keyword blocking.

The Drum finds that a “broad stroke” practice, in which marketers choose to avoid product placement or ads next to content that may be depressing or references negative topics, is outdated in the age of COVID-19.

Your consumers will not reject your product if it happens to be adjacent to a story about serious illness or even death in today’s climate. These references are unfortunately a part of the pandemic, and people have had to accept this.

Since web traffic is extraordinarily high, you want your ads to be seen, so don’t limit your exposure, and trust that your audience is discerning enough to separate your products from bad news.

Do detailed, local marketing searches of trending keywords.

Per Rio SEO, three important terms that marketers should look for are “BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store),” “contactless payment, pickup, and delivery,” and “accurate store hours.” Tailor your ad copy to show consumers in your area that you can fulfill their needs in these ways immediately and conveniently.

Be a people-pleaser to the max.

Ask your existing customer base to write an ad for a given product of yours that you want to push. Work up a campaign in which you publish their ads on your site and across your platforms, using their wording to ensure keywords that are going to sell.

A bonus to this approach is that you’ll know what features your core audience likes about your product right now. You can then use that info to adjust your content and perfect new keyword effectiveness. Plus, when your customers see their ads published, they’ll be pleased.

Perfect your pivot.

A Google blog from this year shows that reassessing campaigns on a constant basis is a necessity. Monitor your content daily and get rid of anything that feels dated or is not connecting with your consumer base. But, don’t overthink things, as you may have in the past. Go with your gut.

Ride the wave of what society is experiencing on an hourly, daily and weekly basis and make adjustments part of your routine. This is a great way to ensure you’ll be in sync with your customers — and that your keyword strategy will be a winning one.

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Coming to your workplace soon: Legal protections against hair discrimination

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Employers routinely try to control employees’ professional appearance at work through personal appearance policies in their employee handbooks. Now, unwitting employers risk claims of discrimination based on hairstyle under a new type of law or legal theory that is taking hold across the country.

Last year, California passed the CROWN Act, short for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, which prohibits discrimination based on natural hair style and texture. That law has become a model for similar legislation in other states, counties and cities.

Social Context

The CROWN Act joined the ranks of viral social movements along with #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. As evidence of its reach, the 2020 Academy Awards saw the movie “Hair Love,” an animated short film about natural black hair win an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. The director lauded the CROWN Act during his acceptance speech.

Moreover, Glamour Magazine’s September 2020 edition is dedicated to Black hair and to publicizing the CROWN Act. Celebrities such as Keke Palmer and Gabrielle Union have become spokespersons for the movement as it gains high-profile publicity.

Legal Background

Studies show that appearance is linked to success and, naturally, employers want to regulate the appearance of their workers. One’s looks can affect perceived traits such as intelligence, motivation, and overall capability.

Appearance has not been typically viewed as a legally protected characteristic. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act only prohibits employment discrimination on the bases of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. Other federal laws also create protected classes based on age, disability, pregnancy, familial status, veteran status, and genetic information. Characteristics such as height, eye color, blood type, and weight, however, are not protected in most situations. Federal law typically only addresses a person’s immutable — or unchangeable — characteristics.

Proponents of this new legal theory argue that hair discrimination is not appearance bias but rather a conduit for racial discrimination. The CROWN Act sprung up partially as a result of a 2013 Alabama case where the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a racial discrimination lawsuit on behalf of a Black job applicant who was offered a job as a customer service representative but was informed that her dreadlocks violated the company’s grooming policy. When she refused to cut and restyle her hair, the company rescinded its offer of employment.

The Southern District of Alabama dismissed the claim, stating that hairstyle is not an immutable characteristic protected by Title VII because it can be changed. In upholding the opinion, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016 stated that “Title VII protects persons in covered categories with respect to their immutable characteristics, but not their cultural practices.” The court considered hairstyle a matter of individual expression rather than a biological imperative. Despite pleas from special interest groups, the Supreme Court refused to review the case.

Other courts have also refused to expand protection to an individual’s hairstyle. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed a case against an airline where a black employee was fired for refusing to take out his cornrows. The court noted, however, that hair texture was different than style. If the company had banned natural Afros rather than corn rows, it may have violated Title VII because hair texture constitutes an immutable characteristic.

Recent Legal Developments

Many state legislatures have now acknowledged the public’s interest in hair equality by introducing a version of the CROWN Act in their states. States such as California; Colorado; Maryland; New Jersey; New York; and Washington, and cities and counties such as New York City; Cincinnati; and Montgomery County, Maryland, have passed similar laws. In fact, at last count, over half of the states have considered adopting laws following this legal theory.

On a federal level, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) introduced legislation modeled after the CROWN Act in December 2019 in both chambers of Congress. According to H.R. 5309, it would specifically prohibit discrimination based on hairstyle or texture “if that hair texture or that hairstyle is commonly associated with a particular race or natural origin.”

That bill specifically recognizes Afros, Bantu knots, braids, cornrows, dreadlocks, and twists as hairstyles predominately worn by Black individuals. Proponents of the bill believe it will help avoid facially neutral policies that disproportionately affect African Americans, unconscious bias, and overt racial discrimination.

Recommendations for Employers

Based on these recent developments, you should be sensitive to and aware of this new movement to create protections for hairstyles. In addition, you should take the following concrete steps to avoid potential litigation:

  • Closely monitor legal developments in the jurisdictions where you have operations;
  • Review your employee appearance policies and remove references to specifically prohibited hairstyles;
  • Apply policies equally to all employees regardless of race;
  • Educate employees on all policies, including appearance and grooming policies;
  • Train managers on any changes in policies and on how to handle appearance policy infractions with sensitivity;
  • Train any individuals responsible for hiring not to comment on an applicant’s appearance and on appropriate interview questions and comments;
  • Consider instituting unconscious bias training; and
  • Consider instituting progressive discipline for appearance policy infractions (and eliminating immediate termination for such infractions).

Most importantly, appearance policies should be tailored to align with professional dress codes and employee cleanliness.

The hair revolution has begun, and it will continue to sweep through the media and legislatures alike. Do not let your company become another unfortunate headline or a test case

Lastly, if you need to work out the contours of your appearance policies or train your employees on the nuances of the CROWN Act, you should consult your employment attorney.

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No federal deal yet: What are the consequences of no stimulus?

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Discussions for a new relief/stimulus bill fell apart this week, apparently. It began with tumult, as President Trump, infected with COVID-19 and taking a cocktail of drugs including hormone-altering steroids, tweeted on Oct. 6 that federal aid for the economic harm from the pandemic will resume after the Nov. 3 election. He then reversed that position, muddying the waters.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin discussed a stand-alone bailout of air carriers facing financial distress and making thousands of job cuts. Further, the president has mentioned a separate round of $1,200 stimulus checks for individual Americans.

Additional Paycheck Protection Program loans for small-business owners are possible, according to the president. It is unclear, though, what the prospects of such aid is amid the rhetoric on and off Twitter for a new economic recovery package before the Nov. 3 election.

Much is uncertain, which is not what businesses and investors cheer. One consequence of Washington failing to deliver more federal aid to businesses and the households that patronize them will be a deeper weakening of consumer purchasing power across the U.S. Unfortunately, that process which characterizes economic recessions is underway.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the ending of weekly $600 jobless benefits in late July cut personal income by $667 billion, expressed on an annual basis, in August.

“One way to scale this impact is to express it as the equivalent of an across-the-board pay cut for all U.S. workers — in these terms it can be thought of as an economy-wide 7.1% pay cut,” writes the EPI’s Josh Bivens. “In September’s data, when the full $600 is completely gone from personal income data, this will rise to closer to 10%.”

At the beginning of October, Small Business for America’s Future, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., conducted an online survey of 1,511 small-business owners from its national network. The findings are alarming, as mom-and-pop shops’ hiring steered the U.S. economy out of the Great Recession in mid-2009.

“The pandemic continues to hit small business owners hard, with 15% saying their businesses can only survive through October without further federal relief and 34% saying they can only make it to the end of 2020. More than half, 52%, “say that Congress should pass a new economic relief package.”

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has hammered down the tax revenue of state and local governments. Their need for relief/stimulus from Washington looms large. Without that cash infusion, there will be service cuts and price hikes. Such an outcome will also slow growth in the private-sector economy.

Jerome Powell heads the Federal Reserve Bank. “Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses,” he said on Oct. 6. “Over time, household insolvencies and business bankruptcies would rise, harming the productive capacity of the economy, and holding back wage growth.”

The clock is ticking in the nation’s capital.

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A signed commitment to serve

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It is not unusual to hear a volunteer leader say, “I was told you won’t have to do anything when you get on the board.”

It’s a hoax. Board service is an honor and opportunity. With it comes fiduciary duties to represent member interests, protect and build resources, and advance the mission.

Should board orientation be mandatory? Do board members sign a commitment form?

Familiarization Tour

New directors must understand their roles and governing responsibilities. It starts with organizational familiarization, followed by board orientation and then a commitment to serve.

It is common to brief new directors in a one to one setting about the history, culture, staffing, structure, finances, milestones, and priorities of the organization.

Beyond familiarization with the organization, the entire board should be oriented as a team. It only takes 2 to 3 hours but is critical for all to attend a “refresh and blend” session covering:

  • Job Descriptions of Directors and Officers
  • Bylaws and Policies
  • Performance
  • Financial Acumen
  • Strategic Direction
  • Risk Awareness and Avoidance

Governing documents should be distributed in a leadership notebook, memory stick, or accessible online.

Travis Toliver, IOM, executive director at the Waverly Chamber of Commerce/Main Street said, “Board orientation for new members of our chamber’s leadership team provides an opportunity for them to learn more about their role as a director and to better understand how our organization works and leads the way for businesses in our community.”

Signed Commitment

Following orientation, directors are asked to sign a commitment form.

The form reinforces the duties and is archived in case there was a legal case with a judge asking, “is there any proof you received the documents” or “were you advised to avoid antitrust violations?”

“Our board has an annual retreat to discuss roles and responsibilities. At the end of the meeting directors sign for receipt of the governing documents and their understanding of items like disclosing conflicts and avoiding antitrust violations,” said Steven Beazley, CEO, Wyoming REALTORS®.

Keep the form simple for ease of understanding, avoiding legalese. This example covers six areas.

Governing Documents: Acknowledges documents were received and will be read.

Mission Statement: Understanding the role of directors is to advance the mission.

Confidentiality: Directors recognize they don’t speak for the board or organization. There are lines of communication to respect.

Conflicts of Interest: Conflicts will be disclosed at least annually and at any meeting in which a potential conflict appears on the agenda.

Antitrust: The FTC urges that associations have a measure in place to avoid antitrust violations.

Unanimity: Decisions made at the board meeting will be supported by all directors, no matter the dissent or positions expressed during the meeting.

In summary, volunteer leaders benefit from familiarization, orientation, receiving the governing documents and signing a commitment form.

At the close of orientation, the final thought might be, “Don’t plan to just sit on the board, plan to serve on the board.”

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Infographic: How legendary companies make money

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Many companies are excited for and know their top-line revenue numbers very well. Legendary companies take themselves to the next level by paying attention to what so many have come to ignore: their existing customers. See how you can improve customer retention with this infographic.

Infographic courtesy Gravy

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