U.S. activists seek data to test corporate diversity pledges

Business

More data disclosure will help investors, employees and customers judge the pledges many American companies have made to diversify their workforces and boardrooms, activists and analysts said on Tuesday.

Companies should release specific information such as on the racial backgrounds of their directors or pay ranges of their workers, in order to maintain investors’ faith amid shifting public attitudes, said speakers on a panel at the Reuters ESG Investment North America conference.

In a recent poll of Americans, only a quarter of respondents thought capitalism was good for society, said Martin Whittaker, CEO of Just Capital, which measures corporate performance on areas like workforce equality.

“We’re not in a very good place right now in terms of faith in markets,” Whittaker said.

U.S. companies rushed to offer support for racial equality after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in police custody in Minneapolis in May, and amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Several panelists said they have gotten more outreach from top corporate executives this year who seem to have put a new focus on diversity and other ESG efforts.

“There’s been an awakening to climate [and] to systemic issues or more importantly structural barriers that seem to be woven into our institutions,” said Lanaya Irvin, president of Coqual, an advisory firm focused on workplace bias.

But so far only a few companies have taken steps like publicly disclosing the government forms they file showing the race and gender of all employees by rank.

Brandon Rees, deputy director for corporations and capital markets for the AFL-CIO, the largest American labor federation, said the disclosures should be mandatory.

“It’s important for the workforce as a whole to ensure that companies represent the communities that they serve,” he said.