Preparing For The Future Of Work: Margaret Greenberg and Gina Greenlee On The Top Five Trends To Watch In The Future Of Work

An Interview With Phil La Duke

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine

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Public pressure for corporate boards and executive leadership teams to be more racially diverse. Businesses run on this fundamental formula: define your strategy, set specific goals with clear accountabilities, and then tie rewards to successful outcomes. Creating a racially equitable culture is no different. However, where many companies come up short is in accountability, and it starts at the top. The very top. Not only with CEOs and their senior leadership teams but also at the board level. Both senior leaders and board members will need to do their own inner work, examine their racial composition, and commit to bringing more racially diverse voices to the decision-making table.

There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.

To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.

As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Margaret H. Greenberg and Gina Greenlee.

Gina and Margaret are the coauthors of the recently released book by McGraw-Hill titled, The Business of Race: How to Create and Sustain an Antiracist Workplace AND Why It’s Actually Good for Business. The authors are not traditional diversity experts, and that is precisely why their ideas are fresh. With deep backgrounds in business, coaching, positive psychology, and OD (organizational development), they prompt us to explore what’s needed at the individual, team, and organizational levels to reimagine a workplace that mirrors the customers we serve. Gina and Margaret met in the workplace more than twenty years ago and have remained friends ever since. https://www.thebusinessofrace.com

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

Our paths would probably have never crossed had it not been for the workplace. Although we are only one year apart in age and both born, raised and educated in the northeast, that’s where our similarities end. Gina is Black and grew-up in the multi-cultural, multi-socioeconomic lower east side of Manhattan. Margaret is White and grew-up in a predominantly White, blue collar suburb of Connecticut’s capital city, Hartford. By the time Gina’s career brought her to Hartford in the mid-90’s, Margaret had moved to a rural Connecticut town and commuted into Hartford for work. It was there that Gina hired Margaret, an independent consultant, to work with her company’s senior executive team.

Gina: The life experience that most shaped who I am today was leaving my hometown of New York City at nearly age 30. Why was this seminal in my development? First, I had to learn how to drive. There is no reason to learn to drive when you grow up in Manhattan, a borough in the city that has the largest mass transit system in the world. However, Johnson & Johnson, my employer at the time, was relocating me to Baltimore that had no such ubiquitous public transport. Learning how to drive at a relatively late age was a shock to my system. And though I didn’t know it at the time, it would become a golden ticket to my independently exploring the world.

Second, New York is a city with an outsized global reputation. Yet, a hometown is a hometown, even if it’s the global mecca of Manhattan. It had never occurred to me that other American cities didn’t have mass transport, which shows how narrow my vista was at the time. By leaving New York I came to understand, while only in my twenties, how textured the world is. This experience greatly expanded my worldview and development as a human being.

Margaret: The life experience that most shaped who I am today was the death of my mother by suicide when I was 12. Talk about disruption. Every aspect of my life — where I went to school, where I lived, who cared for me — changed overnight. I learned to be resilient. I learned to express my emotions. I learned compassion. I learned to be independent.

The other life experience that has had a profound impact on my life was returning to school in my mid-forties to earn a masters degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. At the time, it was the one and only graduate program of its kind in the world. Although I have always been an optimist, I actually got to study the science of optimism. The program also is how I met my first coauthor and dear friend Senia Maymin.

If you had asked us eighteen months ago that we would collaborate on a business book about race and racism in the workplace we would have been incredulous. But the life experience that put us on this trajectory was a fateful phone call.

On May 26, 2020, the day after the murder of George Floyd, Margaret called her friend Gina and said, “I’ve been thinking about you and wanted to hear your voice. What is going on in the world?!” And that’s where Margaret left the space for Gina to share her feelings.

In our 20-plus-year friendship, we rarely talked about race, until now. “You’re one of only two White people of the many in my circle who reached out to me,” said Gina.

She shared how isolated she felt. She shared her anger, frustration, and sadness. That fateful call between two friends prompted a series of LinkedIn articles. Not alone. Together. We felt compelled to act. We would use our friendship and love of writing to bring voice to what nobody wanted to talk about — race and racism in the workplace.

What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?

Customer and employee expectations will be the biggest disruptors, especially due to changing racial demographics not only in the U.S. but in countries around the world. Customers will expect to see themselves in the brands they buy. And job seekers will expect employers to treat racial equity like any other strategic business priority: with clear goals, transparent measures, and resources to operationalize and sustain it.

Employers will need to adapt by recruiting and hiring racially diverse talent, contracting with racially diverse vendors, and embedding racial equity into every company policy and practice.

The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?

It’s not so much about whether you should go to college or not, it’s about learning how to learn and then doing so — for life. The jobs high school students will hold in five years or a decade after graduation likely don’t yet exist. When Margaret graduated from college, the profession she is in today — positive psychology coaching — didn’t exist. Both coaching and positive psychology are younger than the internet. Today’s ever-changing business environment requires us to be continual learners, always curious, open and on the lookout for opportunities and trends. If you decide to go onto college, don’t expect that your learning ends upon graduation. It’s the beginning.

Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?

We believe it begins with identifying your strengths. There are several strengths assessment tools in the public domain that can help you and they are either free or cost less than a pizza and beer. We all have strengths but we are often unable to name them and sometimes are not even aware of what they are because we have been socialized from an early age to focus on closing our gaps. Gallup, the polling company, has found that when we use our strengths everyday we are more engaged in our work, more fulfilled, and happier (yes happier) than those who do not.

Second, rather than looking for a job, what we should be looking for is a career or a calling at a company or organization that shares our values. Do your homework. Research the company. Find out what their values are. If racial, ethnic and gender diversity are among your important values, look at the make-up of the organization’s board, executive team, and the employees and customers they feature on their website — and beyond. If autonomy is an important value, be sure to ask about flexible work schedules in the interview. Or, if you place a high value on learning, find out what the company offers in terms of ongoing professional development.

The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?

Again, it goes back to learning how to learn. Think about the jobs you’ve held to date. How many were around fifty years ago? A decade ago? We must venture outside our comfort zones to acquire new skills. Companies must do this to remain competitive, and workers must do this to remain employable. Employees worldwide learned that lesson in 2020 when working remotely became the norm in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even when AI and automation replaces jobs onced performed by humans, other jobs are spawned. For example, although an increasing number of retail cashiers are no longer collecting cash and swiping credit cards, they have learned new hardware and software skills to serve as technical support for self-checkout machines.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

Absolutely this trend will continue. We know this not only from research but from working with different companies. When making any strategic decision it is important to get input. Most of the companies we work with have surveyed their employees to see what their preference is: return to work, continue working remotely or a hybrid. The results? It’s pretty much a third, a third and a third. However, working from home is now being replaced with working from anywhere in the world. With the enabling forces of technology and peer-to-peer commerce, many workers today are able to perform their job from just about any place that has internet service.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

  • The Relationship to Time. More Kairos, less Chronos. In other words, live more, work less. Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment. Chronos is quantitative, referring to chronological or sequential time. Kairos, qualitative in nature, is a period of indeterminate time in which an event of depth and significance occurs. The pandemic has remade society in numerous ways. Particularly, working from home (or anywhere in the world) is no longer limited to certain job functions or high-tech industries. We are seeing companies sell office buildings and transition to “fully distributed” business environments where all employees work remotely. The pandemic not only created an opportunity for businesses to pivot their operations beyond brick-and-mortar, it also provided an opportunity for workers to independently manage their own time — Chronos and Kairos. Not only did many employees like it, they found they were more productive. For decades we have been evolving away from the Industrial Revolution’s concept of time (assembly-line-driven that requires extended hours on the clock as the source of “productivity’’) to the Digital Revolution which allows us to embrace organic biorhythms instead of expecting humans to operate like machines. With technology we can accomplish more with less. And, we know more about how we, as a species, perform: MRI technology allows us to link physiology with psychology. Brain scans clearly show that 14-hour work days do not make us more productive.
  • Measuring Human Productivity. The related trend comes in the form of a question. How do we measure human productivity in the digital age overall? And, specifically, when do “facetime” and clock punching become a thing of the past in organizations that are fully- or partially- distributed? Measuring employee output in a reliable way has become much more complex and will require cross-organizational collaboration to explore. Inherent to Kairos time is experimentation — exploring projects that show no promise of paying immediate dividends but that might reveal big opportunities down the road. That’s time well spent. And, easier to achieve when working remotely in environments that employees choose for themselves. This makes it far easier to engage one’s natural rhythms.
  • New Approaches to Real Estate and the Reimagining of Cities. What happens to all this vacated office space as increasing numbers of employees work remotely to enjoy a higher quality of life and still be productive at their jobs? Office space that has housed, in some cases, hundreds and thousands of employees? What function will these buildings serve? Full time domiciles? And for whom? This potentially becomes a social justice opportunity (or debate) if such real estate is reimagined for underserved populations, such as the homeless, underskilled, abused women and children — populations that historically have been pushed to the fringes to support business development.

What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?

The pandemic has already paved the way for the societal changes we outlined above. That’s one flash of silver in the lining of multiple, intersecting business challenges. The viral crisis helped forge a new attitude. It reminded us that we human beings are adaptable, resilient, and inherently innovative. It’s not so much about change being difficult to accept. It’s about treating employees like adults and seeing them as creative, resourceful and whole.

Returning to race and racial equity in workplaces — the excuse, “we can’t find any people of color” won’t hold water any more if a company is fully or mostly distributed. This may be difficult for some employers to accept because they are going to have to do the heavy lifting of reimagining their hiring practices.

Truss, a software business in the San Francisco Bay Area, is a fully distributed company, where all employees work entirely remotely. What the Covid-19 pandemic ultimately forced many employers and employees to do, Truss has been doing for over a decade. Why? “We knew there are great women engineers, but they’re not on anybody’s typical list,” Everett Harper, CEO, told us in an interview last year. For Harper and his two cofounders, the question then became, “How do we find them?” That “what-if ‘’ exploration led Truss’ cofounders to consider that there are lots of people outside the Bay Area who are never thought of as potential employees of a startup tech company. That sparked the idea to structure Truss — from its founding — as a fully distributed company.

We asked Harper if the decision to hire a completely distributed workforce was a moral issue to create a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace. “We believe it is the right thing to do,” he told us, “but it’s not a moral issue.” Rather, Harper says, “It will enable us to hire better quality people with diverse backgrounds and ensure they stay because they are embedded in a system that is fair.”

The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?

Yes. Increase the federal minimum wage, which stands at $7.25 per hour, and has not changed since 2009. Though some states have increased hourly wages for retail, health care and food service industry employees, that’s inadequate, as the pandemic clearly showed.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

The factual change in racial and ethnic demographics in the US. Whether or not companies or business leaders agree that racial equity is the “right” thing to do, a moral imperative, if it were, the very fact of the existence of more Black, Brown and People of Color entering the workforce, makes this a business imperative.

Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?

As organizational development (OD) professionals, positive psychology pioneers, and coaches, we approach problems, including racism, with an asset lens. It’s how we are wired. Consequently, we do not subscribe to the “skills gap” narrative. It assumes objective, hiring practices and unbiased assessment of candidates. The skills gap mantra ignores the social dynamics of race in the hiring process — specifically that poverty and the wealth gap among races are directly related to systemic and historic economic oppression.

When we examine employment from an asset lens we see tremendous opportunities. What has fueled innovation in the U.S. for centuries are immigrants. AT&T, Big Lots, Kohl’s, Panda Express and countless other companies that are household names, have all been founded by first-generation immigrants who are responsible for creating millions of jobs. If we want to accelerate job growth we must reimagine our current immigartion policies.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. The evolution of workplace racial equity will mirror the evolution of the Quality Movement from a “program” to “baked” into a company’s operations. Remember quality programs such as Lean, Kaizen, Six Sigma and TQM? Even if you do, you likely have not heard those tems lately. That’s because in today’s business world, no matter your industry, quality is integral to a company’s operations. Not an add on. Not something you have to “sell” internally.
    What we now call Diversity and Inclusion will evolve as an expression of accountability in every business policy and practice. That means it will be transparent and measured. It will no longer be a “program” that is monitored by an organization’s Compliance or HR department.
    Specifically, we define “E” (equity) as a measure of “D” (diversity) and “I” (inclusion). And that “E” measures how and to what extent “D” and “I” are embedded into an organization’s business strategy, policies and practices. The organization’s “E” perpetually monitors and, as necessary, recalibrates “D” and “I” to stay ahead of potential relapse and continually advance toward an antiracist workplace.
    We predict that companies who are successful at integrating diversity, equity and inclusion into their business strategy and operations will not have to “call” it anything because it is fundamental — proactive, intentional, and monitored for sustainability. In an interview last year with Ray Martinez, Co-founder and President of EVERFI, an educational curriculum company, he expressed the trend this way: shared: “My hope is that many years from now, we’re not having this conversation; that racial equity and diversity are ingrained in the institutionalization of every organization across the globe. This is the moment where we can make sustainable change so that in the next generation or two it is just who we’ve become.”
  2. Rise of worker strikes: Striketober 2021. Nationwide, unions representing as many as 100,000 workers have walked out or are threatening to do so in October, amid rising corporate profits, a severe labor shortage, and a widening income gap (remember our response to question 9). After years of declining strength, labor unions are flexing their collective muscles across the nation.
    In Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, 1,400 Kellogg plant workers are on week two of a strike over forced overtime amid rising corporate profits. Health care workers across the nation are also walking the picket line over pandemic-fueled burnout and staff shortages. In California and Oregon, unions representing 38,000 Kaiser Permanente nurses and health care workers authorized a potential strike after contract negotiations stalled. Nurses have asked for 4% annual raises and more hiring following pandemic-induced burnout and low staffing levels. The complaints by workers have been lingering for years, but COVID-19 exacerbated them. Many U.S. essential employees have worked overtime throughout the pandemic, in conditions in which they’re chronically short-staffed or underpaid.
  3. Measuring productivity beyond the clock. The Energy Project is a company we see doing this work with businesses large and small. It focuses on “outcomes over hours” (Kairos not Chronos), scheduling time for reflection and creative thinking (what 3M initiated in 1947 as the “15% Project” and Google popularized as the “20 Percent Project”). And, structuring our work schedules based on human energy dynamics, what psychophysiologist Peretz Lavie calls “ultradian rhythms,” or short natural cycles that take place several times throughout the day.
  4. No more compensation secrets, which will evolve to pay transparency becoming the norm. Like race, compensation is yet another undiscussable in the workplace. We were all taught that it’s impolite to talk about money. And certainly not to share information about how much we earn with others, especially coworkers. Why? Salary discussions may expose gross inequities that have nothing to do with our experience and knowledge, and instead have more to do with our race, ethnicity, age, gender, if we are disabled in some way, and/or our ability to negotiate. This secrecy in pay is changing. What do a multinational supermarket chain (Whole Foods), industrial machinery company (Semco Group), software developer (Truss), and social media innovator (SumAll) — companies as diverse in size as they are in the products and services they offer — have in common besides high profitability? They’ve all implemented pay transparency, which is the professional way of saying everybody knows everybody else’s salary.
    More than half a century ago, the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act were supposed to protect employees from pay discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion, national origin, or disability. “Equal pay for equal work” has made some progress since then, but the racial wage gap still exists. Black men and women, in particular, still earn substantially less than their White coworkers in similar positions. Innovative businesses are taking the lead to close the wage gap by making pay transparent.
  5. Public pressure for corporate boards and executive leadership teams to be more racially diverse. Businesses run on this fundamental formula: define your strategy, set specific goals with clear accountabilities, and then tie rewards to successful outcomes. Creating a racially equitable culture is no different. However, where many companies come up short is in accountability, and it starts at the top. The very top. Not only with CEOs and their senior leadership teams but also at the board level. Both senior leaders and board members will need to do their own inner work, examine their racial composition, and commit to bringing more racially diverse voices to the decision-making table.

Today, in the United States, only 3 percent of C-suite positions are held by African Americans, and there are only five Black CEOs on the Fortune 500 list today. Of those five Black CEOs, only two are women: Walgreen’s Roz Brewer and TIAA’s Thasunda Brown Duckett. In addition, as of 2019, about a third — 187 to be exact — of the S&P 500 companies had zero Black board members.

One US state, California, is accelerating the racial diversity of corporate boards much like it did for gender diversity in 2019, and we predict other states will follow suit. Last year California passed a bill requiring all public companies headquartered in the state to include at least one board member from an underrepresented community (Black, African American, LGBTQ+, Native American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian, or Alaskan Native) by 2021. The size of a company’s current board is what determines the minimum number of board members who must be from an underrepresented community.

We believe this trend will continue not only because of state mandates and public pressure, but also because it makes good business sense. To grow new and existing markets it is essential that business leadership resemble the consumers they serve and want to attract.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

Margaret’s — “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (African proverb) I believe when we collaborate we are able to tap into our collective strengths resulting in an even better end product, no matter what you create. Having co-authored two books, with two talented professionals, I know first-hand the power of “go together”.

Gina’s — “Attract don’t chase” means BE what you wish to achieve in life. Radiate the energy you seek. Concrete example: this book. We didn’t go looking for someone to be our spokesperson or anoint us. We chose to model behavior and a point of view we were not seeing in the workplace and put that energy out into the world. It took McGraw Hill one week to offer to publish the book based on our “being the change we sought.” And the subsequent response to our raised voices has been positive and life affirming.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Mellody Hobson. Mellody is a Black American businesswoman, President of Ariel Investments, and Chair of Starbucks board and Co-CEO. While conducting research for our book, we came across a June 2020 podcast in which Chair/Director of McKinsey Global Institute, James Manyika, interviewed Hobson. We love her take on accountability applied to institutionalizing, and thereby sustaining, workplace racial diversity:

“Every other thing we do gets measured. I like to say a line that I learned from a CEO: Math has no opinion. But in this area [diversity], we want credit for trying. You don’t get credit for trying to meet earnings expectations. You don’t get credit for trying to deliver the product on time to your client. You either do or you do not.”

We like to think of ourselves not as thought leaders, but thought explorers. Hobson is a savvy businesswoman and financial whiz. We’d love to meet-up with her and explore more ways businesses can reimagine their workplaces to create and sustain racial equity.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

Website: The Business of Race (download your free chapter here)

Margaret’s LinkedIn Profile

Gina’s LinkedIn Profile

The Business of Race LinkedIn Page

The Business of Race Facebook

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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