From employer vaccine policies to shareholder activism, JUST Capital continues to rank and report on the companies, leaders, and trends advancing the stakeholder capitalism movement. As the leading voice in ‘just’ business behavior, JUST Capital is a nonprofit organization with a mission to equip the market with the data, tools and insights to deliver on the promise of an economy that works for all Americans.
To talk about the evolution of this movement and continued impacts of the pandemic, we spoke with Martin Whittaker, CEO of JUST Capital. On his fourth Purpose 360 appearance, Martin discussed new initiatives including the Corporate Racial Equity Tracker and how companies can better “walk the talk” to address some of the world’s most intractable social issues.
Listen for Martin’s insights on:
- How JUST Capital made strategic changes to the JUST 100 annual rankings framework, evolved based on the pandemic
- Why the organization launched the Corporate Racial Equity Tracker to bring greater transparency and accountability to the corporate world through a DE&I lens
- How CEOs can make authentic decisions using honest internal assessments
Links & Notes
- JUST Capital
- JUST 100
- The Corporate Racial Equity Tracker
- Martin Whittaker on LinkedIn
- Martin Whittaker in Forbes
Carol Cone: Welcome to Purpose 360. I’m Carol Cone. And today, more than ever before, companies, brands and their partners need to stand for something beyond the bottom line. I’ve created this program to provide insights and ideas to share with you so that you can apply them to your work the very next day. The goal here is to uplevel your purpose and to benefit companies and society. So please, join us. Joining me today is Martin Whittaker, CEO of JUST Capital, and this is his fourth time on the show. I am absolutely mesmerized by JUST Capital because they’re a non-for-profit, and their mission is to equip the market with the data, tools and insights to deliver on the promise of stakeholder capitalism and an economy that works for all Americans. This is a conversation that everyone needs to listen to because social issues are so in the news today: voter suppression, a livable wage, racial justice, gender equity, mental health, gun control. Through over a hundred thousand surveys with the American public, the American public says that they want companies to be just, and it’s not just in words, it is in actions. And so, my conversation with Martin today really dives deep into what is a CEO and a C-suite to do? Where do you place your bets? What do you do beyond talking? What is the walking look like? So, there’s a lot of great things in this interview. Don’t miss it. Join us. Martin, this is your fourth time on the show, so welcome.
Martin Whittaker: Thanks, Carol. I bet you say that to all the guests.
Carol Cone: No, I don’t. That’s not true. You are my favorite guest, and just [crosstalk 00:03:00]
Martin Whittaker: Well, that’s very kind. It’s very kind. You’re my favorite podcast host.
Carol Cone: Oh, okay. I’ll take that one. Well, you’ve named us one of the top podcasts to listen to, so we actually utilize it, so thank you. Martin joined the show for the first time on July 31st in 2019, and he then came back a couple times in 2020. And since JUST Capital is just advancing so comprehensively with all of its data and research and insights and thought leadership, I just said, "It’s time to have Martin back." So welcome, Martin.
Martin Whittaker: I’m so thrilled to be here. The work is … You mentioned July 2019; boy, haven’t things changed since then, isn’t it? It’s just incredible. And I think everything just has been … stands for. And it’s not only us. We’re part of a bigger movement to use markets and use business and use money and capitalism to try and address our sort of most intractable problems, and also try and create a better future. This is what it’s all about. So all of that has become so much more important.
Carol Cone: And I’m glad that you just riffed on that, because some of our listeners may not be up to speed on JUST Capital. So can you just talk a little bit about when you were founded, the role of Paul Tudor Jones, and your role? So just a little bit of baselining for those that don’t know you, because once they listen to you, they’ll want to follow you, daily.
Martin Whittaker: We’re a nonprofit. We were founded seven years ago by a group of relatively high profile folks, but people who really cared about where the country was going, and had great faith that business and capitalism and markets sort of had to be part of the solution, and that included not just Paul Jones, but Arianna Huffington, Deepak Chopra, Ray Chambers, Rinaldo Brutoco. There was a whole group of really, I’d say, very passionate founders, and they’re all still with us, and they’re all still part of the organization. We are now about 40 people. We’re New York City-based, although obviously the last year, we’ve kind of spread out. We’re chaired by Paul Tudor Jones. And we’ve built a really strong network around us, I think, because our mission and the way we operate as a nonprofit is unique. And so, without sort of getting into too much detail, we basically do three things. We survey the American people at great length on all manner of things to identify what issues matter, and what does a just company actually look like; what does it do, what specifically does it mean to you? And that’s polling that’s done on a fully representative basis all around the country. And you know this, Carol, but we’ve sort of painted a picture of how Main Street really thinks about corporate America today. So that brings the objectivity, so it’s not about what issues Martin Whittaker cares about, it’s what issues does the public care about? Secondly, we then track how the biggest publicly traded companies actually do on those issues. So, we gather data, we engage the companies themselves. We are trying to be very sort of data-driven, just measuring and putting out there in a fully transparent, objective way, exactly how big companies do on all those key issues. And so, if you wanted to know who’s the best at gender pay equity, come to JUST Capital. You want to know which company is donating most of its profits to charity, come to JUST Capital. You want to know which is making the most progress on diversity, equity and inclusion, you come to JUST Capital. That’s the idea. So, that data and information empowers the user to make more informed choices, which brings me to the third set of things we do, is with all of that data and analysis, we sort of do things that help to drive change. We support investment products. We tell stories of leadership. We highlight companies that are doing the right thing and really out in front. And we’re very prominent in the media. So we try to do a lot of things that take all that information and actually drive changes towards a more just economy. So, that’s really what the organization does.
Carol Cone: Let’s take a break and talk about the numbers. Since 2015, they have polled over 110,000 Americans on their priorities for capitalism. They’ve tracked, analyzed and ranked 922 companies this year across five stakeholder groups, 29 issues, 88 metrics and over 400 data points. They’ve directly engaged over 650 of the largest public U.S. companies on ways to improve their business practices. And over 80% of America’s Most JUST Companies showcase the JUST seal in recruiting, marketing and investor relations contents. But by the way, they don’t have to pay for it. They just earn it by their just actions. They have demonstrated the business and investor case, really, really important for just business behavior, by releasing over 10 JUST Alpha research reports investigating the correlation between just business behavior and financial performance. They also have some hardcore data, and I love this. And anybody listening, if you have a C-suite that is lagging in evolving toward just behavior, throw these stats at them. Just companies had 56% higher total stakeholder returns over the past years. Let me repeat that again: just companies had 56% higher total stakeholder returns over the past five years. They used 123 more green energy. They had a 7.2% higher return on equity. They emit 86% fewer tons of emissions into the atmosphere. They give six times more to charitable causes. They are 4.7 times more likely to have conducted a gender or race equity pay equity analysis. They pay 18% more to their median workers, and are six times more likely to have set diversity targets. That’s America’s Most JUST Companies. And again, I want to read two numbers here that you should take to your C-Suite when you’re discussing the evolution of your company to stakeholder-based capitalism. Just companies had a 56% higher total shareholder returns over the past five years, and had a 7.2% higher return on equity. Just companies are better-run, just companies perform better, just companies have higher employees, just companies have a stronger social license to operate in their communities, and have happier customers. So why wouldn’t you want to be a just company? Let’s return to your conversation with Martin. You’ve polled over 110,000 Americans over the years, and that’s a really large group. And every year, you have the JUST 100. And so, last October 14th, you announced the JUST 2021, but that was in the middle of COVID. And so, very curious to hear how has that ranking changed, if it has or not, during COVID? And I was thrilled to see the leader, but who are some of the leaders, and why?
Martin Whittaker: Well, you say it was in the middle of COVID; let me expand on that a bit. I would say it was in the middle of a once-in-a-multigenerational period of global tumult. So, yes, COVID, but COVID also caused a global economic shutdown. It threatened the survival, literally, of millions of people, their jobs, their livelihoods. It also exposed great inequities in society and created a major reckoning with racial inequities, in particular. You think of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. And so, it sort of became … We actually launched our rankings in the middle of a period where sort of social issues, let’s say, were absolutely front and center. And no matter whether you’re an investor or a corporate leader or just an ordinary person like me or you, your life was kind of upside down. And so, trying to make sense of what was just and what wasn’t was actually a big challenge for us last year. And we did a lot of survey work to really try and not just identify sort of what the baseline issues are, because obviously we’ve been surveying for multiple years. We have our sort of core framework, which doesn’t really change that much, which I can describe in a moment. But what we asked were very pointed questions about, how has COVID changed things? How has George Floyd changed things? How has the economic buzzsaw that we went through changed things? And the answer, which may surprise you, was actually not a huge amount. What I mean by that is, people have been telling us for years that how you treated humans mattered. It was the most important thing. So we have five categories of sort of stakeholder. We have how a company treats its workers, which has always been the most heavily weighted by any demographic, any economic group, no matter where we go in the country, Carol. So workers, number one. And then the four others were how a company treats its customers, the communities where it operates, the environment, and then, of course, its shareholders, and is it an ethically run company? And those basics didn’t really change that much. In fact, what we found was that going into the pandemic, the companies that were best placed in the JUST rankings, the companies that already recognized that investing in their workers and paying a living wage and providing great benefits and health benefits and dependent care benefits, they did better during the pandemic. Now, that’s obvious, right, with hindsight, they’re better equipped going into a force 12 hurricane, so not surprisingly, they did better during that event. Microsoft was the number one company.
Carol Cone: And haven’t they been number one for multiple years?
Martin Whittaker: Two years [inaudible 00:15:22]. And then before that, Intel led. And Apple does well. We’ve seen strong leadership from J.P. Morgan this year. We saw a lot of other sectors, because retail was so prominently hit, and very uppermost in people’s minds. You think about frontline workers and who kept the economy going. It was the folks sort of delivering stuff to your door and keeping the supermarkets open, that kind of stuff. So, we saw a lot more attention on the worker issue, and we actually saw the weighting of several issues related to workers increase. So yeah, it really provided us a chance to spotlight leadership. In the middle of it all, I don’t know if you remember, but we actually stood up a COVID tracker. We were tracking how the top-
Carol Cone: I followed that daily. It was fascinating, and it was pages. It was six, seven, eight pages.
Martin Whittaker: And I think we talked about it on the last podcast-
Carol Cone: Yeah.
Martin Whittaker: … why we did that and how important it was. And the whole point with that is … And I mention that only because we just, this week, put up a racial equity tracker.
Carol Cone: Right. We want to talk about that, and we’ll do that later, yeah.
Martin Whittaker: Right. And we’ll come to that. But the whole point was, how did people know what companies were doing? You read all these things about hazard pay and companies changing their benefits so that people could take time off if they were sick, or take time off to look after dependents or loved ones or parents. And we wanted to just track that so that people would know, okay, who’s doing a good job on that, and who’s not doing quite so good a job on that?
Carol Cone: And who do you believe … Did your readership increase substantially, and who was reading it to track it?
Martin Whittaker: It did. I mean, we saw all of our sort of profile … We have a whole bunch of key performance indicators that we track for our marketing, our profile. Our profile is very important to us, not because we want to be important and we sort of get kicks out of it. It’s like when more people know about the data, the more people will use the data, the more sort of credibility and powerful we become as an agent of change. So, we really wanted to try and spread the word as much as we could. We had tons of press coverage, which was great. What was also interesting was a lot of companies were calling us to say, "Hey, how do we get on the list? We want to be featured, because we think we’re doing good things," or even better, "Here are the changes we’ve made over the last 12 months. Here’s what we weren’t doing on pay. We’ve lifted pay by, whatever, two bucks an hour." That, to us, is sort of a recognition that companies can and should do more, and companies in fact that are doing more to invest in their stakeholders, we want to celebrate them and lift them up. So, that’s all in service of the mission.
Carol Cone: So, I’m curious, if a company is not yet on the tracker, you’re not following them … But you say, "The largest." So, what is the floor for you to track them? And then, very tactically, what do they do? Do they call you up? Do they send you an email? Do you have an analyst that they get to know?
Martin Whittaker: The entire universe of companies that we cover is the Russell 1000, so it’s the 1,000 biggest publicly traded companies in America. And we rank those companies, whether they like it or not, and you’ve noticed from the beginning, right? So right at the start, we had a few companies that said, "Oh, that’s interesting. You’re going to poll the public. Okay, I get it. Yeah, that’s kind of neat." I don’t have the current numbers, but it’s incredibly impressive. We’ve got something like 650 or more companies that we’ve tracked, engaging with us. And that tells me we’re doing something right. It tells me that this idea of tapping the public for their perspectives is actually really valuable, and companies sort of find that really interesting. The other thing that I think it tells me, anyway, as the CEO, is the way we’re doing it is important. We’re very open, very transparent. We’re not naming and shaming. So we play the inside game, meaning we have a lot of relationships with companies, but we don’t take money from them, so we can stay objective. And we’re really just trying to sort of, let’s say, incentivize and encourage and reward just behavior, anyway. So, just to say that off the bat. But going back to your question, the ones on the COVID tracker were just the biggest employers. So we just decided to pick initially the biggest 100, and then I think we added 200 more names. So we’ve got the 300 largest employers, and we picked that as the criterion because if you employ a lot of people, then COVID issues are more relevant to you. We thought that was important. For the racial equity tracker, which we’ll talk about in a second, we’re basically tracking what companies are doing on a whole range of diversity, equity and inclusion metrics. Right now, we’re at the 100 largest employers. That’s sort of how that’s … And we just selected them because we felt like that was a good number. I don’t mean to sort of come across as a sob story, but we’re just a tiny nonprofit with not that many resources.
Carol Cone: And people think you have a lot, yeah.
Martin Whittaker: I know, I know. There’s only so much we can do. So we did all that we could. And that was the coverage we felt like we got good data, it told a great story. And of course, we want to expand over time if we get the resources.
Carol Cone: So very tactically, if a company is large enough and they want to engage with you, what do they do?
Martin Whittaker: They call us, or they email us. We have a whole corporate engagement team, which is glorifying it a bit. It’s three or four wonderful colleagues led by Yusuf George and Liz Kneebone. So we have a corporate engagement group, and we’ve also invested a lot through our amazing tech team in sort of an interface, a corporate portal, where we engage companies. They have a login password. They can speak to our analysts-
Carol Cone: Oh, great.
Martin Whittaker: … or engage with our analysts. So, we’re very proactive in reaching out to companies, and they know where we are now. So there’s only a few hundred, to be honest, that haven’t engaged with us. I don’t know why. Maybe they will in the future. What’s also interesting, Carol, is we’re getting a lot of inbound interest in calls from companies and private equity firms who own private companies that we don’t rank, who say, "Hey, this is really interesting. How do we do? We’re a private company. You don’t rank us. We’d like to know how we do on all these things."
Carol Cone: Right, and you’re a great guest, because that’s a question I wanted to ask. We work with a lot of private companies, and there are very large private companies. And so, how are you thinking, in the future, how they can get into the game, or are you going to give them some advice and … I mean, they have 50,000, 100,000 employees.
Martin Whittaker: We would love to. We’d love to. Okay, I’ll tell you a secret.
Carol Cone: Oh, tell us a secret.
Martin Whittaker: We have been working on a toolkit for private companies, or actually any companies that we don’t rank, where we could just have them use that and they can upload their own data and they can benchmark themselves. Now, we think it’s a great idea. We’ve done some early work on it. We’ve got some wire frames. We just worked through what it might look like from a design standpoint. We literally just haven’t had the resources to build it out. But I think we’ve had a few conversations with some partners on doing that. But I think it would be tremendously valuable, to your point. You don’t have to be a big public company to be just. You could be a hundred person company. And not everything applies to you, but you still want to do the right thing and you still want to know, what are the leaders doing? What is Microsoft doing on sort of employee training? Maybe there’s one or two things that we could learn. And also the flip side, which is actually fascinating. I’m a hundred and fifty person company, let’s say. I’m actually doing something really cool on diversity. I want JUST to know what I’m doing, so maybe we can have a showcase moment where we celebrate a small company as part of our work.
Carol Cone: Oh, I bet you’re doing to do that. You’ve got Forbes, who’s a great partner. And you also work with Harris. And I bet that’s coming sooner than later, so we look forward to it.
Martin Whittaker: Well, if there are any big donors listening to this or anybody who’s interested in that, please reach out.
Carol Cone: I think it’s really important, because I think that, really, your trajectory’s going so fast now. And I do think that the other companies do want to get into the game. I’d love for you to talk about … You have a great infographic that I think it just came with the new JUST 100. I don’t know if you know it offhand. It talks about the impacts of just companies. You know the one I’m talking about? It says that just companies had a 56% higher total shareholder return over the past five years.
Martin Whittaker: Yep.
Carol Cone: They use 123% more green energy, had a 7.2% higher return on equity. I mean, these are powerful, current, justified numbers.
Martin Whittaker: Absolutely. And in fact, when I remember the first ever JUST 100 launch we did, back in … It would probably be 2016, I think, with Forbes, we were preparing my speech. We had a lot of companies in the room, a lot of donors. In preparing it, we were like, "Well, wait a second. Let’s just see if we can take these hundred companies and come up with those numbers. What do the stats tell us about how many more women are on their boards? What are they doing on pay?" And when I read them out, there was like an audible gasp. It was like, "Oh, this is exactly what we needed," because for far too long, as you know, we talk about this stuff in very sort of general terms and what companies should do. And there’s very little hard data on like, okay, what actually is changing, and are we seeing companies that are better on diversity, equity and inclusion, are better on fair pay, are better on engaging the communities where they operate? Do they actually do better in terms of their financials and their accounting numbers, and how much better? What does that look like? So we’re very data-driven, as I’ve said. So that was something we use a lot, and I pitch and I talk about JUST Capital all the time. That is always the slide on the graphic that really, I think, grabs people.
Carol Cone: Oh, it’s great.
Martin Whittaker: And I’m actually working on one now which will release sometime probably in May or June for our major funders. We’re kicking off a big fundraising campaign, because we’ve looked back now over five or seven years to say, "Okay, over that time, what’s changed? How much more do we talk about corporate living wage now, than we talk about it five years ago?" Because when we started, we talked about living wage; no one was talking about living wage, not in terms of corporations. Now, it’s all the time. And how many companies have lifted wages, and who are those people who have been affected by it? So there’ll be more coming out soon. And again, I’m sure my colleagues would be like, "Martin, stop doing that. You’re promising" …
Carol Cone: Oh, no, no, no. You’re going really fast. There’s another huge momentum happening with ESG equity funds, and leaning into being almost mandated disclosure. And that’s another huge data point in terms of shifting stakeholder capitalism. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Martin Whittaker: Absolutely. So, I’ve been in the ESG space for over 25 years now, and I’ve seen it go through various periods of sort of acceleration. I remember the major oil spills and environmental disasters which really thrust corporate environmental performance on the map. I remember the first UN environment program conferences on finance. And then, of course, we had a major acceleration with governance issues around WorldCom and Enron. You and I remember those. The last 12 to 24 months has been the S’s moment in the sun, right? [crosstalk 00:28:23] So, social issues now are front and center, and they’re not going away. They are now, I think, the key drivers of corporate performance, going forward. That is how shareholder value gets created. So, what’s happening now, to your point on disclosure, is all the major stakeholders realize that this is not just some sort of fad, or this is not some sort of nice to know, or this is not politics. This is just how companies compete these days.
Carol Cone: Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Martin Whittaker: Right? And we saw that with that recognition by the Business Roundtable two years ago on the redefinition of a purpose of a corporation. So, what’s happening now is if these issues are becoming more relevant to investors, which they are, and you look at the flow of funds into ESG, it’s just mind-boggling, and it accelerated over COVID. So all that money flowing in from investors, you think about consumer demand and worker awareness of sort of the environmental and social performance of their companies, all of that means the market is demanding information. And I think regulators are waking up to this fact that the market needs a different kind of information nowadays. And I think with the Biden-Harris administration with Gary Gensler, you’re going to see the SEC step up and say, "Okay, we’re going to start to require companies to disclose more," as they do in Europe. We’re probably going to see pension funds have to talk about what they’re doing on stakeholder, ESG, sustainability stuff. And access to information … I think a word of caution, because you want to make sure that you’re putting the right information out there. It can’t just be a free-for-all. So it has to be managed. I respect that. But I think you’re going to see an inexorable trend towards greater disclosure of material, environmental, social and governance factors, because it’s in the market’s best interest that that information be provided.
Carol Cone: And let’s use that as a bridge to talk about your just-released diversity and equity tracker.
Martin Whittaker: Well, we’ve seen so many companies over the last year, and increasingly over the last few months, step up with new policies, new statements, new actions, let’s call it, around racial equity specifically and, more broadly, diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. It’s very difficult to track these, right? They’re sort of anecdotal. They’re coming at you from lots of places. And so, it’s very difficult to actually track what’s happening, who’s saying and doing what. So just tracking it, we felt, making it easy for people to know what big companies are doing on those issues, is valuable. And then secondly, what are companies actually doing; not what they say they’re doing, what are they actually doing? And once you put this tracker up there, now we can begin to literally, as the name implies, track what companies are doing, track progress, and bring more transparency and then ultimately more accountability to the corporate world. So, that’s why we created this. We measure companies, the 100 largest employees in America, publicly traded, I should say, through 22 data points across six dimensions of racial equity. So they are anti-discrimination policies, pay equity, racial and ethnic diversity data. The fourth is education and training. The fifth is response to mass incarcerations, a major element which not actually that many people know that much about in the corporate domain. And then supporting and investing in communities, which is obviously one of our major stakeholder groups. So, we have done sort of a dissection of what the 100 largest companies have done across those six elements. And the results are really fascinating. I mean, the major takeaway is that, by and large, companies are pretty good at sort of, let’s call it, baseline table stakes disclosure, like, "I have an anti-discrimination policy, check." If you don’t have that, I mean, come on. Where are you? So yes, we see a lot of that. When it comes to actual action and sort of showing progress towards those goals, so releasing, for example, data that shows where you are on your journey on pay equity, it’s not quite so good. We’ve seen only 31% of companies sort of disclosing what they’re doing on pay equity. And we can talk a little bit about why that might be. So the data’s all on justcapital.com. It’s front and center. And we released it last week, and we had, again, a huge amount of interest and attention on that.
Carol Cone: And I know that P&G did really well. It stood up really well. And you had a really interesting interview with Damon Jones, who’s head of communications and advocacy. Talk a little bit about their walk, because they’re not just talk.
Martin Whittaker: Well, when you look at actual devotion of dollars to programs, companies and commitments, when you look at what companies are doing in terms of the personnel, like the people who are running the company, what programs they have in terms of advancing minorities in the workplace through to senior positions and board positions, Procter & Gamble has always done very well in our rankings. And in this particular issues, we highlight them because they’re one of the few companies that have made progress across all of those areas. I would say the same about two of the companies I would call out, J.P. Morgan and Pepsi. Again, both companies that have made a lot of progress across all of the areas and have actually been more forthcoming about the actions that they’ve taken, as opposed to statements of policy or otherwise.
Carol Cone: Now, let’s take a moment from our conversation with Martin Whittaker to segue to our In The Know segment. If you care about social issues, you have to care about zoning. The Biden administration is off to a good start on housing, but there is much more that it could be doing. Housing segregation by race and class is a fountainhead of inequality in America, yet for generations, politicians have been terrified to address the issue. That is why it is so significant that President Biden has proposed as part of his American Jobs Act a $5 billion race to the top competitive grants program to spur jurisdictions to eliminate exclusionary zoning and harmful land use practices. Mr. Biden would reward localities that voluntarily agree to jettison minimum lot sizes, mandatory parking requirements, and prohibitions of multifamily housing. The Biden administration is off to an important start, but over the course of his term, Mr. Biden should add sticks to the carrots he has already proposed. Although zoning may seem like a technical, bureaucratic, and decidedly local question, in reality, the issue relates directly to three grand themes that Joe Biden ran on in the 2020 campaign: racial justice, respect for working-class people, and national unity. Perhaps no single step would do more to advance these goals than tearing down the government-sponsored walls that keep Americans of different races and classes from living in the same communities, sharing the same public schools, and getting a chance to know one another across racial, economic and political lines. Economically discriminatory zoning policies, which say that you are not welcome in a community unless you can afford a single-family house, sometimes on a large plot of land, are not part of a distant, disgraceful past. In fact, in most American cities, zoning laws prohibit the construction of relatively affordable homes, duplexes, triplexes, quads, and larger multifamily units, on three-quarters of residential land. In the 2020 race, Mr. Biden said he was running to restore the soul of our nation, which has been damaged by President Donald Trump’s embrace of racism. Removing exclusionary barriers that keep millions of Black and Hispanic people out of safe neighborhoods with strong schools is central in the goal of advancing racial justice. So let’s keep an eye on how the removal of exclusionary zoning will take place in the months and years to come, and help us to create a more just society. Let’s return to Martin Whittaker, CEO of JUST Capital, as he continues to talk about what does a just capitalism society look like? And at the end is a very simple comment about this journey, and he says, "Keep the faith." I would love to talk about social activism and the C-suite. There is so much happening, whether it’s racial equity, whether it’s climate … It’s many, many issues, gender equity. What is a CEO to do today, because they’re getting hit up by their employees and their communities and such, so how do they make a decision where to truly be authentic in terms of their commitments?
Martin Whittaker: It begins with an assessment, an honest internal assessment, of sort of what you stand for as a corporation, as a company, what you really believe are your priorities, and what drives value. At the end of the day, back to your earlier question, you have to believe that Procter & Gamble has developed such strong positions on anti-prison labor, or their responses on their apprenticeship program, because they believe that it really creates value for their company. So that, I think, is the most important place to start. You have to have a framework that helps you see the big picture. And then you have to sort of figure out where you are on that journey. And oftentimes, we’ve found that companies don’t really know where they are. They think they know where they are. As always, we tell this good story about PayPal and Dan Schulman doing a company survey on employee economic wellness, because they thought it’d be a good news story. They’re a wealthy company, successful company. And it turns out, they actually had a lot of employees who were experiencing quite acute financial hardship. And that allowed them to actually do something about it. If they didn’t know, they couldn’t really do anything about it. And this is kind of the point when we talk about corporate action on racial equity. You have to engage your Black and brown employees. You have to understand what are your assumptions about where you are, as opposed to where are you, actually. And then, begin to develop a program that creates value for all of your employees, for everybody. You think about, okay, let’s try to pinpoint … The other thing we know, Carol, from our work, because this is what we do, is that not every … and even Microsoft, not every company is perfect on all these issues. They’re good at some, they’re not good at others. And typically companies, especially leadership of companies, are highly competitive people, right? I mean, that’s kind of why you do this or why they’re successful. And they want to be better, continually wanting to improve and make better products and build a better workplace, because you know that’s going to make you successful. That’s a journey that never ends, and you had to understand that. So I think having that framework, asking honest questions, getting data, and then really trying to be unafraid to admit maybe you’re not as good as you thought you were on some things, but here’s what you’re doing to improve. We’re in a world where I would say trust is in short supply in this world right now. You’ve got to let people make up their own minds whether or not you’re good or not. All you can do is sort of … You can’t say, "Trust me, I’m a great company." No. You have to show that-
Carol Cone: [crosstalk 00:43:18] show it. Yep [crosstalk 00:43:19]
Martin Whittaker: … and show me, right?
Carol Cone: Right.
Martin Whittaker: So, that’s putting out the data, even if it doesn’t look great, but having a plan to actually improve. That’s what we see leaders in the top companies doing. They’re always pushing to be better on just issues, even if they’re not great at them at any moment in time.
Carol Cone: Let’s talk about some of these other just issues. We talked about racial equity. What about the journey towards a $15 an hour minimum wage. How are companies doing? We’re going to call this the lightening round. We’re not going to get into it deeply.
Martin Whittaker: I would say we see companies all over the place on that. There are companies that are very fearful to talk about wages. We’ve seen companies like Walmart … just in the last six months, Walmart, Amazon, Costco, all lifted wages. Target lifted wages. We could argue, and many people do, why that is. But the truth is, wages are going up. And I worry this becomes a political football, honestly. And I think it’s not about that. I think it has to be about the dignity of work and trying to provide fair pay for a fair day’s labor. And so, we tend to talk in terms of livable wage, not $15 minimum wage, livable wage. And should companies be able to provide their employees with a living wage? If you’re in the Fortune 500, should you have any employee relying on government support to make ends meet? That’s the real question. [crosstalk 00:44:55] And I would say progress on that is probably not that good. In fact, we know it’s not very good.
Carol Cone: Okay. How about investing in Black-owned businesses? We’re seeing some big declarations in that field.
Martin Whittaker: Yeah, a lot of declarations. Again, this is partly why we stood up the tracker. I would say we’re at the beginning of that journey. I haven’t seen the data on that, and I don’t like to talk about things in general terms. I like to have the data. That’s why I’m CEO of JUST Capital. We try to use the data to tell the story. But I would say knowing what we know … Getting the data, first of all, very, very difficult. We see a lot of interest from the public, certainly in local sourcing. And when we polled Americans overall, and when we over-sampled on Black Americans, sourcing from Black-owned businesses was at or close to the top of the list. So I think it is a big issue, for sure. I think it’s something where I’ve seen a lot of interest, anecdotally. Have I seen, let’s say, systemic change in that regard? No, not yet.
Carol Cone: How about mental health? I mean, obviously, it’s coming to the fore, just [inaudible 00:46:08], unfortunately.
Martin Whittaker: Yeah. I would say we’re early in that. I’m going to give us, I don’t know, three or four out of 10. I think I interviewed the CEO of Humana, Bruce Broussard, not so long ago, or towards the end of the pandemic, it was towards the end of last year. And he talked about internally within their company, what it was like, and externally, obviously they’re an insurance company. They see a lot of data on this. And I think we’re in the early innings of sort of mental health in the workplace, both as a risk and an opportunity. I look at the work of a couple of our board members, Arianna Huffington springs to mind, at Thrive Global. You can’t be heathily if you’re not heathily mentally. And I think we’ve all been through our own private pandemic in the last 12 months or more. And I think it’s taken its toll. And we don’t even know what the future of work looks like, right? I’m not talking about robots coming for my job. I’m talking about are we going back to work, physically? So, we’re not done with this, by any means. So no, I think we’re early on in that.
Carol Cone: And what about voter suppression? There was that huge advertisement last week about democracy that was interestingly signed … some companies that did sign, a lot of individuals that signed. What did you think of that?
Martin Whittaker: We found that most Americans want companies to speak up on social issues. They feel like they have a duty, as sort of leaders in society, to speak up. Now, when those issues become highly political in nature, there’s more risk. And I think that’s what you’re seeing. I think that’s why you’re seeing sort of some of the complexity that you just alluded to come through. We see companies absolutely want to commit to being leaders on a more equitable society in America. And you can’t really do that when you’ve got a voting system where people are excluded or it’s somehow harder for them to vote. So we know politically, again, this is just such a hot potato. And I think right now, we are trying to work through it internally to figure out, "Okay" … In fact, we have a poll that I’ve just been editing this morning to really try and get to the heart of this, is what do most people really think companies should do, CEOs should do? Is it possible to be outspoken on issues surrounding voter suppression and voting rights and for it not to be political? Is it just something that now you have to accept? I, as a CEO of a company, are going to say I am opposed to this, and if you believe this is the right thing to do, then you don’t want to shop at my company or work at my company, then fine. That’s it. That’s the price you pay. So I think we’re going in that direction. It was interesting, when you saw companies like Coca-Cola and Delta, who had already made their positions clear, did not sign, I look at that and I think, "Boy, this is going to be something that is just incredibly complex for companies to navigate." But, and again, you’ve got to back up and say, "Bottom line, in order to have a just society and a just mission, you cannot do that if it only works for some people. You can’t have a just economy without a just society. You can’t have an economy or a society where it works for some people, maybe it even works for most people. No. It’s got to work for everybody. It’s got to work for everybody. That’s the bottom line." And so, that’s where I fear, with something like this, which is a basic human right, becomes a political football, it sort of undermines the whole ideal of a society where everybody feels valued and everybody feels like they have a part to play.
Carol Cone: On all of these issues, mental health, voter suppression, livable wage, how important is it for companies to act versus talk? There’s a lot of talk, but I think that there is a gap between the actions taken.
Martin Whittaker: There is. Sometimes, again, when I’m in my more sort of philosophical modes, I understand you don’t want to act indiscriminately, meaning you don’t want to be acting unintentionally or thoughtlessly. And people are so quick to judge these days and so unwilling to forgive mistakes. And I think if companies act without real thought and intention about why they’re acting and what are they doing, the risk of blowback, risk of backfiring, is high. And so, I understand why some degree of caution is necessary. But I go back to the point I made earlier, it’s not enough to just say the words. You’ve got to walk the talk. At some point, you have to turn words into deeds, and you have to show that that’s what you’re doing. So, it’s a balance. And I’m not someone who thinks that companies should be acting all the time on everything and fully transparent about everything. I sort of feel as though it’s a journey. Companies should be ultimately putting their money where their mouth is, show us what you do. You say you’re a just employer. You have an anti-discrimination policy, let’s say. Okay, great. That’s a great start. What exactly are you doing to show that it’s working? Can you show the world what your mistakes have been? I mean, having some humility about that actually is a sign of strength: "We tried this and it didn’t work." And we’ve seen this with supply chains and human rights issues in the past. Companies that were the most transparent often were the ones that came in for the most amount of criticism, because the story wasn’t always a good one. So, that’s the balancing act. And I understand it, but I’m afraid today, we live in a world where access to information, access to data is only going one way. And you’ve got to be out in front of it as a company, and you’ve got to really sort of understand, okay, what do we need to put out there, how does this fit with our overall strategy, and how do we do this in a way that helps us make progress, doesn’t sort of undermine or undercut the progress we have made or the intentions that we have?
Carol Cone: That’s fantastic. And unfortunately, we’re at the top of the hour. So you’re a great interview, love it. So we’re going to have you back in six months or a year to continue to see how JUST Capital is moving along and how CEOs and how their actions are really having an impact. So, I always give you the last word. So, what would you like to share with our listeners after having an amazing year that you’ve done, and what companies really need to continue on their journey to be just?
Martin Whittaker: Keep the faith. Keep the faith. You look back over history … I’m not talking over the last few years. I’m talking about hundreds of years if not thousands of years of history. We are in a moment of great change. And I think people have a lot more in common than otherwise. A lot more unites us than divides us. And I really believe that, Carol. I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve met a lot of people in my life. And I think the vast majority of people are good people and want similar things, to be honest with you. We want similar things. We want to look after our families. We want to look after our communities. We want a better future. Those are the basics. And we might not get it right. And it’s messy, and it’s hard, and it’s emotional and it’s tiring, but it’s also rewarding. And ultimately, you have to have that positivity. So, that’s sort of how I feel right now, at this moment in time.
Carol Cone: Thank you, Martin. It’s always a pleasure-
Martin Whittaker: Thank you.
Carol Cone: … to chat with you. You are sitting at such an important place in terms of helping to illuminate and to report on what companies are doing to be more just, and how they’re closing the gap with what Americans want. So, we will have you back, of course, if you’ll come back. And again, thank you very much.
Martin Whittaker: Thanks, Carol. My pleasure. I’ll come back any time you ask me to.
Carol Cone: Well, look out, because you will. You make my job very, very easy. So thank you, Martin, and stay well.
Martin Whittaker: All the best. You, too.
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