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Showing Up for Workers Through Crises: Why Giving to JUST Capital Is More Than Philanthropy

Target came in as the top ranked retailer in this year’s annual rankings of America’s Most JUST Companies. (Target)

The afternoon of Friday, March 14 would be the final time that our small but mighty JUST Capital team would be in person together at our Manhattan office. Chatter about the impending virus’ descent on the city dominated the conversation. I knew things would soon change, but not enough that I didn’t think twice about leaving my suit jacket on the back of my chair, as I normally would. Little did I know that it was the final time I would be in the office.

After New York City locked down, and weeks passed working from home, my personal and professional lives became increasingly intertwined and at odds. We lost a close family friend, a great man who was a father and teacher. I had tearful conversations with my mother over video about when we’d be able to see each other again. My relationship with my partner fell apart. As I’m sure many of you felt, I had my own personal “Groundhog Day”– every day I would get up and put on a T-shirt and gym shorts, log into Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Chime, and BlueJeans (hoping these video chat tools wouldn’t overheat my computer), and just try to show up. The circumstances, though, meant that new potential partnerships crucial to my role as Director of Development stalled, and I grew used to hearing, “Let’s revisit in the summer, fall, or end of the year.”

Something else also happened. As I pushed through those first few weeks, the work that started to develop at JUST Capital was inspiring and motivating; in all honesty, it kept me going. Over the course of an unprecedented, challenging year – from the fear and uncertainty of a pandemic, to a national reckoning with racial injustice, to an election that tested our democracy – our team was producing work that was relevant, meaningful, and impactful.

From the outset, we moved quickly. After discussions with our Board, we decided to pivot all of our resources to helping corporate leaders and their stakeholders navigate the pandemic. We built a tracker of what the country’s largest employers were doing in response to COVID-19, we interviewed business leaders for their valuable insights, we homed in on the “S” in ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance), and our brilliant research team spent an ungodly amount of time tracking down and analyzing data to support all of it.

Parallel to that work, our fantastic survey research team was busy collecting sentiment from the American people on what their views of just business looked like during the crisis, and what the priorities of corporate America should be. The key takeaway: In times of crisis, companies must continue to protect the health, safety, and economic security of their workforces and communities, placing people over profits.

So what happened once this tool was up and running? Well, shortly after publishing the tracker on our website (which we keep free from a paywall) we saw a large spike in traffic to our site, and started to field inbound calls from corporate partners trying to understand what good leadership looked like throughout a pandemic.

We started to unpack what policies best safeguard workers, customers, and communities over the long term – and more importantly made the case for why these policies were critical and urgent. Through hosting a corporate leadership series with C-suite leaders to talk about pertinent actions. and showcasing how companies that prioritized doing right by their stakeholders actually outperformed their respective industry peers, we showed how corporations could meet Americans’ expectations.

How we’re making an impact

One big win from this work was JUST’s influence on a large restaurant retail chain, which extended its hazard pay (hero pay) policy for two additional months for their frontline workers. The impact of something like this goes far beyond a single story. It’s shifting mindsets for corporate decision makers and setting a new standard of good business looks like in a crisis.

We all know that there is no playbook for dealing with a pandemic, or for ongoing racial and economic inequality within corporations. But at JUST we are working to create one for leaders everywhere – and more importantly, making it accessible to the public.

The Ford Foundation is one of our funders, and in June, its president, Darren Walker, wrote an editorial for the New York Times, where he argued, “No chief executive, investor or rich person wakes up in the morning, looks in the mirror, and says, ‘Today, I want to go out and create more inequality in America.’ And yet, all too often, that is exactly what happens.” To dismantle systemic inequalities, for the benefit of all, he noted, “It will take a concerted effort to reverse all of this, and to remake America in the process.”

I believe that JUST is one of the answers to reverse this sustained effort, and to rebuild America in a way that will actually benefit all Americans – and what better way to do this than receiving direction directly from the public?

Right now, we are championing two very important initiatives to move the needle forward on inequality – our Worker Financial Wellness Initiative and racial equity work. We are teaming up with other leading organizations to achieve our goals. We cofounded the financial wellness project with PayPal and brought the Financial Health Network and the Good Jobs Institute as launch partners, and have teamed up with PolicyLink and FSG on racial equity work.

Our Worker Financial Wellness Initiative is calling on the CEOs of America’s largest companies to conduct a Worker Financial Wellness Assessment as a vital first step toward understanding the financial vulnerability of their workforces. JUST Capital’s research shows that before the pandemic, 50% of workers at Russell 1000 companies weren’t making enough to support a family of three, even with a partner working part-time. The pandemic has only exacerbated these systemic economic inequalities. JUST chairman Paul Tudor Jones and PayPal CEO Dan Schulman wrote an editorial for CNN making the business case for raising wages. If a handful of CEOs of large corporations do this assessment, the likelihood of their rectifying any discrepancies around wages and benefits for their most vulnerable employees (typically women and minority individuals) could be literally life changing.

And if we are going to remake America, then racial equity needs to be front and center – and not just talked about but acted on. In the wake of the George Floyd protests that swept the country, the leaders of JUST Capital, PolicyLink, and FSG put together a blueprint for CEOs to help them in achieving racial equity at their corporations. We will continue to research, analyze, and define what North Star actions leaders should be instituting, as we highlight the need to bolster diversity, equity, and inclusion data.

Out of the 922 companies we tracked in our 2020 Rankings, more than half did not disclose any workforce demographic whatsoever; just 31 companies disclosed detailed demographic data as part of their EEO-1 Surveys; and only one company, Intel, disclosed wage data by demographics, an exceptionally transparent move. Publicly disclosing workforce demographics is key to making lasting progress and achieving the equity for Black Americans that so many corporations publicly supported this year.

You can help us build a more inclusive, stronger economy

JUST Capital’s mission is to help build an economy that works for all Americans. This year added urgency to our work, and it deserves robust funding in order to scale, allowing us to continue to push corporate America and the market to do more and do better, and to be more equitable. Guided by the priorities of the American public, our research, rankings, indexes, and data-driven tools help measure and improve corporate performance in the stakeholder economy. JUST Capital is the only independent nonprofit that tracks, analyzes, and engages with large corporations and their shareholders on how they perform against the public’s priorities.

Making a gift to support JUST Capital is more than philanthropy. Each policy we help influence and each win that we achieve – like extending a company’s hazard pay, building a coalition to ensure no worker at a corporation is struggling to get by, and giving CEOs the tools they need to break down racial barriers – means we take one more step toward a system that works for all Americans.

Our collective future is at stake in this very moment and we know at JUST that the influence we have on corporations and the markets can significantly affect many peoples’ lives, the environment, and outcomes for communities nationwide.

Like me, if you believe in the power of philanthropy, that Black Lives Matter, that climate change is a global threat, that corporations should do more for their workers and communities – that we can build an economy that works for all Americans together – then please join me in making a gift to JUST to support our #JUSTimagine #GivingTuesday campaign, so that we can move from rhetoric to reality in changing our country’s systemic inequalities.

I invite you to reach out to me at jrizzi@justcapital.com to have a discussion about this article, to share your story throughout this unprecedented time, and to get to know JUST better. I hope you will join the movement. Thank you!

Have questions about our research and rankings?  We want to hear from you!