Jackie: Thanks everyone for tuning in today, I'm glad you're here. My guest for this episode is Ashley Marchand Orme. Ashley is the director of corporate equity at Just Capital. She's responsible for overseeing the development, implementation and strategy of the organization's equity portfolio. Prior to joining Just Capital, Ashley served most recently as the associate director of governance content at the National Association of Corporate Directors or NACD. There, she led thought leadership and education efforts for board level oversight of diversity, equity and inclusion.
While at NACD, she also launched the Future Fluency Podcast, educating the corporate director community about a variety of emerging issues related to DE&I, the future of work and organizational culture. Ashley, thank you so much for being here today.
Ashley Marchand Orme: Thank you so much for having me, Jackie. It's just so good to be with you and your listeners.
Jackie: Of course. Thank you again. Ashley, tell us a little bit about your background, your family, your identity, whatever you'd like to share.
Ashley: Sure. Well, I come from a family where both my parents are Black folks from the deep south, from Louisiana, descended from African people who were enslaved and the European Americans who enslaved them. So I'm grateful for my parents and their parents before them, grandparents’ great grandparents, who've been part of centuries long efforts to help this country increasingly live up to its ideals.
And I think about my parents, both of whom took part in the civil rights movement in their youth. My dad, who did lunch counter sit-ins my mom integrated her high school. And, you know, beyond just thinking about my past, you know, my parents and their adulthood moved to Houston, Texas, which is where I was raised. And by the way, fun fact, the Peer Research Institute says that Texas is actually the state with the largest Black population in the US, followed closely behind by Florida and Georgia. Now, Houston is home for many oil and gas companies.
So for several years, my mom worked for Enron. So growing up, I remember experiencing things like, Enron day at our local theme park. Take your child to work days at Enron, but I also then remember starkly different situations, the downfall of Enron, when you could drive by the beautiful glass skyscraper in downtown, and you would see scores of people outside with boxes to take home personal items, cause they've been laid off. I remember very clearly when in the wake of all the accounting fraud, improper trading, unethical leadership, on both the board and C-suite, how my mom had friends who weren't far from retirement, whose retirement plans were completely upended, wiped out because their stock was no longer valuable.
You know, we lucked out because the division of the company that my mom worked for was actually sold to another company right before everything went completely downhill, but we saw very closely how devastating all of this was for workers and really for Houston overall.
Jackie: Wow, well thank you for sharing that Ashley. It's so great, your parents being so involved in the civil rights movement and the integration and wow, that's so amazing. Tell me, how did that affect your mom? Just watching that occur with, with her friends and colleagues and, you know, with this huge conglomerate that people depended on to now watch that downfall and, and watch their, their savings and their retirement go belly up.
Ashley: That was really tough to watch, and I remember my mom had quite a good social network of friends and colleagues at the time. And so we, you know, we would hang out with some other families who work there. You know, like I said, we ended up walking out in the end, but we have so many people that we know just fared so much worse.
And so difficult watching, you know, watching this happen when so many people had devoted so much of their time to that company into advancing, you know, it’s its strategy. And then to see it all sort of fall in the way that it did, it was just, it was devastating and it, it literally was something that not only affected the families who worked for that company.
When I say the entire city of Houston felt it, you know, it was, it was something we watched on the news all the time. Um and it was something that really impacted the way that people think about work and the, and the influence that that companies can have over communities.
Jackie: Absolutely, wow. Well, Ashley, tell us a little about your early career as a journalist and editor. Can you share some of the, you know, the progression there and then how you got to Just Capital.
Ashley: Sure. I started my career out as a journalist, as you mentioned, I got into journalism and studied it in college for two reasons. First I loved just the craft of editing, loved the work of taking content and really trying to draw out its strengths and make it more accessible to its audience. And growing up, I was a bit of a grammar nerd and fully embraced that. And then secondly, I really appreciated the power that I perceived journalists to have and being able to shine a light or give a megaphone almost to communities that were marginalized and whose stories were underrepresented. I felt like that was really important work.
So I started out doing some general assignment reporting in Houston, was a stringer for the New York times for a bit before moving to Washington DC and in the DC area, I did some higher ed reporting and then works for a healthcare consulting firm for a few years, writing about the health reform law and health IT issues. And then from there, I wound up at NACD, initially working as an editor for their corporate governance magazine, sort of the progression of how I got into corporate governance, writing and research.
Jackie: Perfect, and then how did you come to Just Capital? What was interesting to you about that organization? And then we'll talk a little about what they do.
Ashley: So when I was at NACD, a strong focus of mine was oversight of diversity, equity and inclusion at the board level., It meant paying attention to issues of board diversity, so thinking about representation at the board level, but also inclusion within the dynamics of the board itself. And then also thinking quite a bit about board level oversight of diversity, equity and inclusion within the company itself. So beyond the board, how is the company doing in terms of its equity practices and what, what levers is the board able to pull to actually ensure that there's accountability there for senior management when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.
So with that background knowledge, I was aware of Just Capital and I knew about their work. I was very impressed by some of the tools they had, like the corporate racial equity tracker, which I'll maybe talk about a little bit later, but was just really enthralled by this idea of putting data behind some of these issues and really focusing in on how we can measure and really gain greater transparency around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
I think, you know, when you're considering that broad umbrella of ESG, environmental, social, and governance issues, it's sometimes hard for companies to understand the S part of that, the social part., So Just Capital has done some great work and really trying to bring transparency around that, that S in ESG. So that's why I was interested in and hopping over to Just, and joining that team.
Jackie: Awesome. And then Ashley, often corporate directors are really focused on the business results of an organization, right? What the numbers are. Can you talk about why they need to care about diversity, equity and inclusion from the board?
Ashley: Yeah, well, as you mentioned, so there's always the business aspect. The board has always, always cares about that and that's important, and we've seen so many studies over the years about the link between diversity, equity and inclusion and business performance, that there's sort of a positive correlation there.
And I think beyond that, it's, we've seen over the past decade plus that there has been increased attention on the importance of organizational culture. I think that's something that people are increasingly paying attention to because again, there is a realization that that also links to performance, but the reality is that we go to work, you know, for a significant portion of our time.
And you want your workplace to be a place where people feel like they can contribute, and when you have the kind of work culture where people feel valued, they feel like they belong there, they're better able to contribute to your strategy that you're, you're better able to unlock the innovation that those people bring to the table, helps with retention too, which is so important, especially in a competitive environment like we have right now where it's easy for people to walk away from a company, find a new job elsewhere, easier than it has been, you know, in the past.
So I think those are issues that the board is paying attention to culture is a critical one. And you can't get culture right if you're not paying attention to diversity, equity and inclusion, that’s critical and you have to pay attention to, not only representation within your workforce, not just at the lower levels of the company, but in senior management, but also thinking through how you make your workplace equitable and inclusive.
Those are the things that are a little bit more difficult for companies to wrap their heads around sometimes, the inclusion piece. How do you make sure that your employees of color, your gender diverse employees, are in a position where they can succeed and where you're removing barriers and discrimination so that they can truly contribute and feel valued at your company?
So, this is certainly a board, a board related issue. The board has to pay attention has to be involved and has a special opportunity to actually keep senior management accountable to these issues. So definitely think that this is a, a board issue.
Jackie: Ashley. I totally agree, and I love that you just said keeping their senior management accountable, because one of the, the pitfalls with diversity equity and inclusion practices is that there isn't that accountability, right? Those, those don't show up on those annual performance reviews, the progress on DEI, right? And so the board can certainly make sure that that's part of the way that those senior managers are being evaluated, to make sure that that's an important part of their role and it permeates through the organization. So thank you for mentioning that.
Let's talk about Just Capital. Tell us about that company and what the company does and what you do there.
Ashley: Yeah, Just Capital is actually a non-profit. We're an organization that aims to build an economy that works for all Americans. And we do that by trying to help companies serve all of their stakeholders, namely workers, customers, communities, the environment, and shareholders. We believe that the world needs more just companies and we aim to provide the public with tools, research, rankings, and indexes that help provide transparency on corporate practices and several critical areas, including worker wellness and racial equity. Just Capital was founded in 2013, so we're still a fairly young company, by a group of concerned leaders from business and finance, along with civil society, and that founding group included folks like Paul Tudor Jones, Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington and Alan Fleishman among others.
And since that time in 2013, we've made significant efforts to let our work be guided by the priorities of the American public. So we partner with the Harris poll to poll the American people on what they think about corporate America. And we hold focus groups to go into even greater depth around what the public thinks when it comes to corporate practices. And that kind of data is powerful. We're very transparent about what the public thinks.
We also work with companies, especially those in the Russell 1000, so public companies, to track their performance across a number of key stakeholder metrics. That means we talk to companies about where they've improved and where they need, where they're coming up short. And all of this is because we just really think that the $19 trillion private sector must be deeply engaged if we're to truly see the US move toward more of that stakeholder centric economy, that really does work better for all people.
Jackie: Ashley you've described it as pulling the curtain back on organizations, and this can be really scary for leaders who think they understand the sentiment of their employees or their customers, but why is this level of transparency important? Even, you know, despite that the feeling of apprehension that a lot of leaders feel and getting this real data.
Ashley: Well, by pulling back the curtain, the concept there is that we're able to make this data at Just Capital very accessible to the public. That means employees, customers, investors can all see this data. They can use it to make decisions about how they engage with companies. And when we create rankings, you even show how these companies are doing relative to other companies, but also relative to other specifically in their industry, which is powerful.
Again, so with our Just 100 ranking, for example, you can see who within a given industry is leading on these issues that the American public really cares about, and that can be intimidating. Not so much that we're revealing your data that's otherwise secret data, for the most part, we're tracking public company disclosures. We're looking at what companies are sharing publicly in several ways, but making that data so accessible and being able to tell stories with that data with our research and reports is what I guess can also seem on its surface, intimidating to corporate leaders.
The thing I want to underline though, is that stakeholders are really looking for this type of transparency, and we use our rankings and our research to invite corporate leaders into conversation with us, and many companies in the Russell 1000 actually do engage with us to better understand the performance in these key areas, and they know that this data that we have is valuable to them as they're trying to make decisions about their ESG practices.
So this level of transparency is, is so important, helps make decisions about how you engage with companies, but also helps business leaders know where they need to focus their efforts.
Jackie: Absolutely. And just for the sake of leaders that are listening that are a little bit nervous about the transparency piece, you know, whether they know it or not, or like it or not, they're prospective, employees are connecting on LinkedIn with other employees. They're talking to them. They're looking at Glass Door reviews others. Certainly consumers are looking at lots of different criteria for when and who to do business with.
That curtain is pulled back, whether they realize it or not. So it's, it's so important that what they want to portray and what they're doing for their DEI efforts, their sense of cultural belonging is important within the organization because your employees are talking about it. Your customers are already talking about it. So you may as well get the information and understand where you can improve.
Ashley: Exactly the customers and employees are, are already, they already have that data available to them. And the reality is they're also experiencing this, right? This, this data is out there because people are experiencing these things with companies. And then we find out about it on things like Glass Door. So yes, you're right, the data's out there, it's just sort of making it more accessible, and so that's, that's just really critical for our economy. I think.
Jackie: Absolutely Ashley, can we dig in Ashley, a little bit into some of the ways that you assess organizations?
Ashley: Definitely. So we have a few different ways that we assess organizations? And we talked about that phrase, pulling back the curtain. I'll say we help pull back the curtain and provide transparency partially through our Just 100 rankings. We look at the universe of Russell 1000 companies, assess their policies and practices through what they disclose.
And I'll say our methodology for this year's ranking included us looking at 241 raw data points that fell under 20 broader issues that are related to those five stakeholder areas that we care about that I mentioned before workers, customers, communities, the environment, and then finally shareholders and governance. Now we weight the importance of these issues based on our polling of the American public. And then from all this research and data analysis, we're able to determine which large public companies are performing strongest in terms of the public's priorities.
Being in our just 100 doesn't mean that those companies are perfect. It doesn't mean that a stakeholder is guaranteed to have a good experience with that company. It mainly means that relative to peer companies in the Russell 1000, that company has the policies and practices in place to be more just, again according to how the public defines corporate justness. At just capital, we also have a few other ways of assessing organizations.
We created, for example, a COVID 19 tracker to assess how companies were treating workers during the pandemic. And then one of my favorite projects is that we have another tool called the corporate racial equity tracker. That looks at the hundred largest employers in the US, and their practices in six dimensions of racial equity, including anti-discrimination policies, pay equity, we look at racial and ethnic diversity data, education and training programs provided, response to mass incarceration, and community investments.
So if you were to go on our website, look at that racial equity tracker, you can actually click through and see details with links about what those companies are doing when it comes to those six dimensions I mentioned. We launched that to a last year and we're actually in the process right now of updating that tool for this summer. So it'll be ready for, you know, the two-year anniversary of when many companies made those very public commitments to advancing racial equity.
So those are just a few of the ways that we, we actually assess companies. And then, like I mentioned before, we always talk to companies, invite them into conversation about how they performed and where they can improve.
Jackie: Awesome. And Ashley, can you talk a little about this COVID-19 tracker? What are you trying to assess with that tracker?
Ashley: Sure. So that's something that we initially launched for the 100 largest employers. And then we looked at, you know, the Russell 1000 after that. And, that was a tool that essentially looked at the select number of data points about workers and company policies related to COVID-19. And I think that we received quite a bit of good, positive feedback about that tool.
People appreciated it because it was fairly unique in the marketplace and it came at a time where, you know, society at large was really looking at companies critically to understand how they were performing, what, if they were valuing workers? When it came to, you know, COVID-19 and, and, and, you know, understanding the complexities of being a worker in, you know, that kind of environment, you know, obviously the pandemic is still going on.
We're not completely clear of it, but I think part of the beauty of that tool was just being able to be responsive at a time when there was such great attention paid to whether companies were treating their workers well, at a time when they were particularly vulnerable. And I think that's, you know, that's, again also why our corporate racial equity tracker was an important tool and got such great feedback because companies made very public commitments to equity and the public wants to know are companies following through with those, those promises.
Jackie: Ashley, can you share some of the trends that you're seeing in business and some of the areas that we as leaders need to focus on to improve?
Ashley: You know, to answer to this question, I'll point first to an article that my colleague Alison omens or chief strategy officer at Just recently wrote, it was an article about how this year is really the year of the S in ESG, social. Any of your listeners, as we mentioned before, know ESG stands for environmental, social and governance issues, and it feels like the S for social has been one of those areas that's just been, you know, like I said earlier, harder for companies to grapple with.
It's a category that includes a lot, so that's maybe part of the challenge, but it's basically centered around how companies engage with people, whether that be within the company itself and the communities that the company touches or in society more broadly. Because of the work that we're doing here at Just and because of all the other key players in corporate America, like investors who are pushing for more focus on social issues.
I think that the social part of this of ESG is really the key trend to watch. I even hesitate to call it a trend, I think it's more of a new normal that people are going to pay more attention to these issues. You know, especially with, with COVID-19 and the racial equity movement really catalyzing, I think, this hyper on how companies are treating people.
So, you know, the advice in this article is really for companies to do three things. First for them to define what S means to their company specifically and, and figure out what it means to actually invest in workers and what that would entail.
Second thing is really that, you know, the markets should encourage companies to shift practices toward making those investments. That means there's a role for stakeholders like investors, especially, but also customers and others to really push companies to focus on these issues.
And then finally, you know, it's about ensuring that capital does actually drive meaningful outcomes, meaningful change, and that's, I think why this theme of transparency and accountability is just so critical. Something else I've mentioned to just pay attention to is, is really defining in greater detail equity. We talked about, you know, defining what the S is overall, but specifically, especially given my role, wanting companies to focus in more on equity.
You know, we are, we're lucky at Just Capital, we have a few different things that we're doing on this front to really help companies understand what equity means for them, and what stakeholders expect of companies when it comes to equity, especially racial equity, one of the things that we're doing is that we've partnered with consulting firm FSG and the research and action from Policy Link as part of this bigger group that we call the Corporate Racial Equity Alliance. And so the three organizations are on this multi-year journey to research and develop a set of corporate performance standards around racial equity, and that will touch multiple things like practices within the company, practices within the community the company engages with and then, more broadly in society.
So we're really trying to paint that picture of what equity looks like and provide your targets along the way, milestones that companies can meet to get toward that, you know, that, that vision of, of equity being an equitable company. So definitely think the social issue overall, but then putting a finer pinpoint on equity is going to be a big trend for the coming years.
Jackie: That makes sense. That's good advice. Thank you for that, Ashley. And what can you share on the same vein about, what advice would you share with leaders about the future of work?
Ashley: Mm. Well, I think a lot of attention you, when people say things like the future of work can be paid to things like the role of technology, in work in the present and future, but I really think that the reality is that the future of work is going to be more worker centric, and I think this goes back to what we were discussing earlier about the importance of the S in ESG, and that's not going away anytime soon.
So employees really need to think about how they can make their work places more equitable, how they value the people that make the company tick. I think organizations that understand this are the ones that are going to be outperforming their peers, and I don't say that lightly.
At Just Capital, we recently did some research that found that companies that lead on diversity, equity and inclusion, and our rankings have actually outperformed their peers that don't lead in those areas by over 2% over last year. So yes, there's definitely that link around, you know, focusing on these issues and performance at a company, but I really think the future of work is really going to be more, more worker centric.
Jackie: Yeah, I think you're right about that. I, if I, if I think about my own career as a gen X-er, you would go to an interview, if you were offered the job, you would take the job, and then you would work with your head down, based on, you know, salary looking for promotions at the right time. And the priorities of employees now are, are different, right.
They're thinking about how they're feeling at work. Do they have that sense of belonging? Do they feel like they're doing something that's valuable and important? And if you're not able to meet those needs, they're going to look elsewhere. And I think that's one of the reasons why there are so many shifts now with this great resignation is because people are evaluating their priorities for an employer different than they did in the past. So I think you're right on target there.
Ashley: Definitely. And I think what we're also seeing is sort of this evolution around the expectations of what it means to show up for work, right? There was a time where you show up, you do your work, you go home, you kind of, you almost were expected to be this different kind of being at work. You are a worker, you're an employee versus now, you know, the, the trend is more towards allowing people to be themselves fully at work, really emphasizing that we are whole people that it's not just about showing up at work, but it's also realizing that workers have all of these expectations that they have to deal with outside of work that do impact the way that we show up.
And that might be through things like being at home and having childcare issues that you have to deal with that may be, you know, thinking about caretaking for parents or other generations and all of those sort of play into how we're able to show up at work, and I think companies that are realizing that are those that are being really smart about the ways that they invest in their employees to show that they value the whole person, not just the person who's there from nine to five, but realizing that this person has a full life and really thinking about worker wellness a little bit more broadly.
Jackie: Absolutely. Well, Ashley, tell me what's the best advice that anyone has ever given you?
Ashley: Hmm, I love these questions and I, I feel like I always struggle with them because I've received so much good advice, you know, up until this point, professional and personal advice. But I really think that the best advice that I've received is the advice that I've seen lived out, through the example of my parents, my grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
And I think the overarching message that they've given me is really that you, you need to be yourself, even if the world doesn't accept your full humanity, never compromise who you are, that sometimes society needs to catch up so that they can really see your full humanity. I think that's really important, especially for those of us who are in equity related work, to keep front of mind that, you know, our work is yes, it's a professional thing that we do, but for many of us, it's, it's an extension of who we are and the things that we value.
so I think that's probably the best advice that I've received. And again, it's just advice. That's been lived out by the wonderful people that I have in community with me and my family.
Jackie: That's so great. Thank you for sharing that. And Ashley, how can people get in touch with you at Just Capital and find out more about Just Capital.
Ashley: Sure. So find out about Just Capital visit our website., I think we, like I said before, we've got so many tools available to the public that really do provide transparency, help you understand how corporate America is doing, and you can check us out at justcapital.com.
Folks in also reach out to me directly. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. But yeah, happy to, happy to share more about the wonderful work that we're doing, and what's on the horizon for us.
Jackie: Awesome. And then Ashley, finally, as we begin to wrap up, can you tell us what's the message that you'd like to leave our listeners with?
Ashley: Well, first of all, thank you. Thanks to your listeners. I'm so, so grateful for them listening to this episode, this specifically your podcast, which I know is covered so many important issues. I think I just underscore to be encouraged and be yourself that for many of us doing this work, it can get tiring and really the important thing is to remember that there are so many people who are trying to push, you know, corporate America toward paying attention increasingly to that S and valuing its people. So if anything, I think the message is you're not alone. Be yourself and be encouraged.
Jackie: I think that's fantastic. Thank you so much, Ashley. I love the work that you're doing. It's so important for employees, for consumers, and so keep up the good work and thank you for spending some time on the show today.
Ashley: Thank you so much, Jackie, it's been such a pleasure.