Activators News & Outlook

The business case for diversity and inclusion


Awareness of the business case for diversity and inclusion in the workforce is on the rise. Companies are beginning to regard both as a source of competitive advantage, and specifically as a key enabler of growth. Underrepresented groups are showing their unrest on social media and beyond, but most employees at the average tech company are still white and male, as they are in many other industries. Men hold 76 percent of U.S. technical jobs, and 95 percent of the American tech workforce is white.

Culture matters these days in corporate America, and companies are looking to innovate in ways that will attract talent and drive performance. Diversity and inclusion have become even more important as sexual harassment scandals rock the corporate, entertainment and government worlds, and the #MeToo movement pushes for all voices to be heard. Diversity and inclusion are critical elements that every employer should be actively incorporating and building upon in their organizational culture, according to workplace experts.

Employers tend to ignore inclusion, focusing on talent acquisition but failing to develop an internal culture that embraces diversity. The result is expensive, productivity-sucking employee turnover and a culture that develops a reputation for exclusion, further perpetuating the problem. When a company invests time and effort into building a multitalented, multifaceted A-team, they will leave if they don’t feel valued, understood, and comfortable.


  • Annual returns at highly gender-diverse tech companies are5.4 percenthigher on average, according to a 2017 report from Morgan Stanley.
  • A 2018 SurveyMonkey poll of U.S. workers reported 70 percent of white employees felt that their opinions were valued at work. Only 58 percent of black employees felt the same.
  • A study from theAmerican Sociological Review shows that greater gender diversity results in more customers. This, in turn, leads to increased sales revenue and relative profits.
  • In 2017, McKinsey & Company found that companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams are 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability.

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • We tend to pick people we are like. How can we recognize and challenge our unconscious biases when hiring for diversity and inclusion?
  • Given the fact that it directly impacts business outcomes, how important is it for every organization to have a C-suite executive focused on embracing inclusion? Should inclusion advocacy be a separate or HR role, or how could it be incorporated into every leader’s responsibility?
  • Today we have four generations in the same workplace – employees with a diversity of world views and work philosophies that are expected to team up and work together. What can employers do to create a culture that fosters multigenerational collaboration?
Sources: Fast Company, ForbesLinkedinMcKinseyWSJ
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Google building censored search engine for China


Google exited the Chinese market eight years ago in protest of the country’s censorship and online hacking. According to a report by The Intercept, the company is now working on a censored search engine for China that can filter websites and search terms backlisted by the Chinese government such as: human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest. The project is a code named “Dragonfly” and has been underway since the spring of 2017, the news website said.

This is the latest example of how American tech companies are tailoring their products to enter the lucrative Chinese market, even at the risk of suppressing free speech. Other examples include LinkedIn censoring contentin China and Facebook developing software to prevent specific posts from appearing on the social network with the objective of potentially using it in China.

The work on a censored search engine for China is causing widespread outcry among human rights activists. There is concern Google could block a long list of foreign websites including Facebook, Twitter, and the New York Times, as well as Chinese search queries on topics such as the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and information on Chinese leadership.

Earlier this year, Google’s leadership invited scrutiny into how committed they are to their values that are included in the Google Code of Conduct. The controversy over the proposed Chinese search engine comes after many Google employees protested the company’s involvement in a military program, known as Project Maventhat included artificial intelligence work.


  • Google’s main search platform is blocked in China along with its video platform YouTube, and it has been attempting to make new inroads into China.
  • In addition to the search app, Google is reportedly building a second app, focused on news aggregation, for the Chinese market, which would also comply with the country’s censorship laws.
  • Google is building a network of Chinese app developers, manufacturers, and advertisers as it works from within to convince China to allow the censor friendly versions of its now banned web services into the country.
  • When entering a new market, some companies believe they can lead change from within by showing respect for core human values and local traditions and that context matters when deciding what is right and wrong.

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • If Google regains entry to China with its censor-friendly mobile search app, is this a violation of their pledge against the use of technology infringing on human rights?
  • Since complaining to the U.S. government could set off retaliation from China, what recourse do American tech companies have that want access to China’s Internet market of 700 million when pressured for censorship by Beijing?
  • How should companies balance business interests with political issues for new market growth? What criteria should be used?
Sources: Business Insider, China Digital TimesNYTimesReutersThe InterceptWSJ
Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Update – August 16, 2018

Hundreds of Google employees, upset at the company’s decision to secretly build a censored version of its search engine for China, have signed a letter demanding more transparency to understand the ethical consequences of their work. This is the latest example of how Google’s outspoken work force has agitated for changes to strategy.

In a letter, obtained by the New York Times, employees wrote that the project and Google’s apparent willingness to abide by China’s censorship requirements “raise urgent moral and ethical issues.” They added, “Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment.”

“We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building,” the letter said.

The letter also called on Google to allow employees to participate in ethical reviews of the company’s products, to appoint external representatives to ensure transparency and to publish an ethical assessment of controversial projects. The document referred to the situation as a code yellow, a process used in engineering to address critical problems that impact several teams.

The letter is circulating on Google’s internal communication systems and is signed by about 1,400 employees, according to three people familiar with the document, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Google has traditionally been more responsive to employee concerns and more transparent about future projects and inner workings than other major technology companies, inviting questions from workers at its staff meetings and encouraging internal debate.

Source: NYTImes

Advancing women as CEOs and business leaders


In 21st century America, women are still battling sexism to rise to the top of the business world. Many women quit the jobs they love because the sexist culture can be harsh, sometimes making it impossible to advance in her career.

Even though women are earning more college degrees than men and an equal amount of men and women enter the business world, there is a significant difference in who holds a powerful position at major companies. Within just a few years of being hired, men begin earning more than women, and they will start advancing in their career faster. This is not because women are worse than men.

An Oxford University study showed that what men and women do to advance in their career is different. They discovered that men have a wide range of support and advance through networks while women rarely have a mentor, making it harder to develop connections. Women tend not to be respected as business leaders, so they rise to their ranks solely on their own.

The Oxford University also discovered that female CEOs are often appointed to companies in crisis. Meaning that once they break through the glass ceiling, they find themselves still in a perilous situation known to scholars as the glass cliff. In these situations, the woman is set up to look like she failed and is incapable of managing a company.


  • CEO women in Fortune 500 companies have dropped 25% this year leaving only 24 women chiefs. In total, they make up for 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs.
  • Ashley Penrod, an employee of Page One Power, shares her personal experience from attending a sales trade show in N.Y. She said that men were treating her unprofessionally and calling her inappropriate names. In some instances, she was regarded as “having done a good job, for a girl.”
  • Of the 195 independent countries in the world, only 20 are led by women. In 1970, American women were paid 59 cents to every dollar a man made. By 2011, it has gone up 18 cents to now 77 cents to every dollar.
  • According to McKinsey, “Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • What can your company do to support women and lessen sexism (even if it’s unintentional) in the work environment?
  • How can an open dialogue about inclusion and diversity happen within your team?
  • What three actions can you take in your workplace to treat women equally, pay them equally, and provide opportunities equally? (For ideas, explore CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™.)


Sources: CNN, CNN, Fortune, Page one Power, Fast Company, The New Yorker, McKinsey
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

How far does freedom of speech and censorship extend on social media platforms?


Alex Jones is a conspiracy theorist with multiple podcasts and a widespread social media presence. Some of his conspiracy theories entail Sandy Hook, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the September 11 attacks. Recently, several social media platforms have removed him from freedom of speech censorshiptheir platforms. The current bans include:

  • Facebook removed four Jones-related pages for spreading fake news and glorifying violence.
  • YouTube took down Jones content for violating their Terms of Service and Community Guidelines.
  • Apple iTunes dropped five Alex Jones podcasts for violating their hate policy.
  • Others who have dropped Alex Jones content include Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Spotify.
  • Instagram and Twitter do not plan to drop Alex Jones.


  • Some believe these actions will strengthen Alex Jones and his conspiracy theories. Others feel that social media companies are entering a troubling area by deciding who thoughts are acceptable and unacceptable. The point: Censorship does not work.
  • Others believe that this is not a freedom of speech issue. Private companies set guidelines for users to follow, and they can enforce those guidelines.
  • In a court filing, four free-speech law professors urged not to let Alex Jones hide behind the first amendment, stating: “False speech does not serve the public interest the way that true speech does. And indeed, there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact.”
  • The ACLU has an extensive definition of censorship. Two parts are relevant to highlight.
    • “Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are ‘offensive,’ happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups.”
    • “The second principle is that expression may be restricted only if it will clearly cause direct and imminent harm to an important societal interest. The classic example is falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater and causing a stampede. Even then, the speech may be silenced or punished only if there is no other way to avert the harm.”

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • What responsibility do social media companies have in policing content published on their platforms?
  • By removing fake news and conspiracy theorists from social media platforms, does this help or hinder free speech and expression of ideas?
  • What role do you play as a reader? Do you call out harmful speech when discovered? Do you ignore the content or inform others to stay away?
Sources: Daily Mail, LA Times, CNET, USA Today, Polygon, New York Times
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Global warming may be worse than predicted


New research indicates that global warming may be twice as hot as climate models projected. Even if the world meets the 2°C target proposed by the Paris Climate Agreement, sea levels may rise six meters or more, according to an international team of researchers from 17 countries.

The findings, published in Nature Geoscience, are based on observational evidence from three warm periods over the past 3.5 million years when the world was 0.5°C-2°C warmer than the pre-industrial temperatures of the 19th Century. By combining measurements from ice cores, sediment layers, fossil records, dating using atomic isotopes, and many other established paleoclimate methods, the researchers pieced together the impact of those climatic changes.

In their observations, the team saw that there are “amplifying mechanisms,” not well-represented in climate models, which make long-term warming worse than what is forecasted in climate models. Climate models appear to be most trustworthy for small changes, such as for low-emission scenarios over short periods.

“The changes we see today are much faster than anything encountered in Earth’s history. In terms of rate of change, we are in uncharted waters,” said study co-author Katrin Meissner of the University of New South Wales in Australia.


  • The first prediction that the planet would warm as humans released more carbon dioxide was made in 1896.
  • A new study from MIT shows that one of the world’s most densely populated regions, the North China Plain, may be uninhabitable by the end of this century due to deadly heat waves.
  • The rate at which Antarctica is shedding ice has tripled over the past decade, and the West Antarctic ice sheet is so voluminous that it will add more than 10 feet of sea-level rise alone if it catastrophically collapses.

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • How can global warming skeptics dispute the hard evidence, including studies that use radioactivity to distinguish industrial emissions from natural emissions, that proves the extra gas is coming from human activity?
  • A report from the medical journal The Lancet says global warming is already affecting human health, with harms “far worse than previously understood.” Do health professions have a responsibility to alert us to a phenomenon that is central to human well-being?
  • Some experts say that from a technology and economics standpoint, it is still possible to stay under two degrees Celsius. How can we help activate our business and policy leaders to take the actions necessary to protect the planet?
Sources: MIT News, NASA, NYTimes, NYTimesScienceDaily,Tech Times
Photo by Matt Broch on Unsplash

CEO activism gains momentum


For the past several years a growing number of chief executives are speaking out about social, political and environmental issues unrelated to their companies’ bottom lines. Topics include climate change, gender pay equity, same-sex marriage, immigration, gun control and discrimination.

A new poll finds that a majority of consumers expect chief executives to act on social issues, even before lawmakers do. According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, a poll of 33,000 respondents in 28 markets globally, “Sixty-four percent of people say that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.” Further, the poll found that “84 percent expect CEOs to inform conversations and policy debates on one or more issues,” and 56 percent said, “they have no respect for CEOs who remain silent on important issues.”

The Edelman annual poll is often discussed among the executives at gatherings such as the World Economic Forum. This year a finding of note is that “all age groups expect a company’s CEO to be personally visible in sharing its purpose and vision,” (79% for all age groups combined).

Business leaders are addressing many nontraditional issues. For example, large banks such as Citigroup and Bank of America developed policies to address their relationships with gunmakers. Blackrock, the world’s largest money manager, recently told companies that they need to contribute to society or risk losing Blackrock’s support.


  • Political and social upheaval has provoked frustration and outrage, inspiring business leaders like Tim Cook of Apple, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, and Marc Benioff of Salesforce—among many others—to passionately advocate for a range of causes.
  • Marc Benioff told Time, “Today CEOs need to stand up not just for their shareholders, but their employees, their customers, their partners, the community, the environment, schools, everybody.”
  • “Our jobs as CEOs now include driving what we think is right,” Bank of America’s CEO, Brian Moynihan, told the Wall Street Journal “It’s not exactly political activism, but it is action on issues beyond business.”

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • Do calls for companies to take a political stance reflect our extreme political polarization, leaving the public with nowhere else to turn or seek meaningful change?
  • Do you think that CEO activism influences the decisions and actions of government?
  • How important is it for CEOs and corporate boards to make sure their own houses are in order before activating?

Sources: Harvard Business ReviewChief Executive, NYTimes, QuartzWSJ

Communicating values in the workplace


This past month we’ve seen CEOs and business leaders resign or lose their jobs over statements said that don’t align with company cultures and values. Papa John’s founder was asked to resign as chairman and Disney’s James Gunn was fired for old tweets. We’ve also seen the reverse occur when McKinsey and ICE terminated their business relationship after employees reacted negatively to the partnership with a controversial government agency.

This underscores the importance of aligning values between employers and employees. From the employee perspective, what’s considered a meaningful job varies from person to person, depending on what each of us values most. From the employer perspective, companies need to effectively communicate their values in a meaningful way to provide a moral compass for their employees to follow – and let the world know what they stand for.

James Gunn was held accountable for offensive tweets about rape and pedophilia from 2008 and 2009, before he was directing the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise from which he was fired. Disney and Marvel stated they made this decision because Gunn does not reflect their moral values, even though he claims to have changed over the past 10 years.

Papa John’s founder, CEO John Schnatter’s, image was removed from marketing materials and he was evicted from office space at the corporate headquarters. He was also asked to stop speaking publicly about the business when it was revealed he used the N-word on a conference call. The company and employees refuse to stand behind a leader they believe to have racist qualities.

McKinsey & Company, the prestigious management consultancy, recently ended their contract with ICE, the federal agency overseeing detention centers across the country, due to vocal employee disapproval. Even though the company stated their work for the agency did not involve the operations implementing the controversial immigration policy. The firm’s new managing partner, Kevin Sneader said that since ICE is at odds with McKinsey & Company values there will be no business interaction between the two organizations anywhere in the world.


  • Every company has human resource policies reflecting their standards of acceptable behavior and consequences for violation. Marvel and Disney simply state they have a “no tolerance” policy. Rian Johnson, director of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” deleted 20,000 old tweets after Gunn was fired. He said he didn’t believe any of his deleted tweets were reasons to be fired but didn’t want to leave potential ammunition for trolls.
  • Fully removing Schnatter will be difficult, as he and his associates own 30% of the company’s stock, and he remains on the board. Schnatter claims he was removed from his office position under false pretense and wants his position back. He is now suing his own former company.
  • Other companies have also advised ICE, such as Deloitte Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Booz Allen Hamilton. When the companies were questioned on their involvement in the controversial policy separating children from parents only Booz Allen responded, saying their interaction with ICE involved information systems, analytics and data integration.

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • If a company clearly communicates its values internally and an employee chooses to repeatedly transgress these values, should they be fired, regardless of how much revenue they generate?
  • Can and should a company fire an employee over their controversial views expressed publicly?
  • People are increasingly aware of CEO activism and more than a third view it favorably. What are the top issues people want CEOs to address?


Sources: CNN, Variety, CNN, LinkedIn, Hollywood Reporter, Quartz
Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Telehealth and artificial intelligence – improved diagnoses, reduced costs


Telehealth involves the use of telecommunications and virtual technology to deliver health care outside of traditional health-care facilities. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an array of technologies – from machine learning to natural language processing – that allows machines to sense, comprehend, act and learn. Clinical AI applications in telehealth can potentially save countless lives and tens of billions in annual savings for the U.S. healthcare economy.

Previously, telehealth meant treating patients located in remote areas, far away from healthcare facilities, or in locations with a shortage of medical professionals. However, in today’s interconnected world, telehealth is now a suite of tools and technologies for fast and efficient healthcare with AI prominent among them.

AI is essentially shorthand for any task a computer can perform better than humans. Most of the computer-generated solutions now emerging in healthcare do not rely on independent computer intelligence. Instead, they use human-created algorithms as the basis for analyzing data and recommending treatments.

By contrast, “machine learning” relies on neural networks (modeled on the human brain). Such applications involve multilevel probabilistic analysis, allowing computers to simulate and even expand on the way the human mind processes data.

“Deep learning,” is an AI variant that learns to recognize patterns in distinct layers. In healthcare, this mechanism is becoming increasingly useful. These newer visual tools promise to transform diagnostic medicine and can even search for cancer at the individual cell level.

In healthcare today, the most commonly used AI applications are algorithmic: evidence-based approaches programmed by researchers and clinicians.


  • Hospitals in India are testing software that checks images of a person’s retina for signs of diabetic retinopathy, a condition frequently diagnosed too late to prevent vision loss.
  • In orthopedic surgery, a form of AI-assisted robotics can analyze data from pre-op medical records to physically guide the surgeon’s instrument in real-time during a procedure.
  • In a study with Stanford Medicine, the Apple Watch detects cardiac Issues and prompts a telehealth doctor to show up on the patient’s phone to initiate a medical intervention within minutes.

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • More powerful AI can unexpectedly perpetuate historical biases and stereotypes against women or black people learned from humans. Can business leaders solve this through policy guidance for governments?
  • Instead of adversarial to humans, would it be more helpful and accurate to think about AI machines augmenting our collective intelligence and society?
  • Should AI technology be guided by pursuit of profit and power alone? Is it important to have guidelines and act ethically for the benefit of society?
Sources:  ForbesForbesHarvard Business Review, Healthcare IT News,  Health IT Analytics, Wired
Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

Social media, machine learning and mental health


Telehealth is the use of digital technologies to deliver medical care, health education and public health services by connecting multiple users in separate locations. Telehealth encompasses a broad definition of technology-enabled health care services.

Telemental health—or mental health services provided from a distance—is one of the fastest growing sectors within the telehealth space. The National Business Group on Health reports that 56% of employers plan to offer telemental health services to their employees in 2018, which is double the number in 2017.

An important development in this area is the combination of machine learning algorithms that diagnose mental illness with user-data gathered from social media websites. For years, psychologists used pattern recognition models with little success to determine whether a patient is at risk of developing a mental illness or committing suicide.

Machine learning algorithms are effective because they can process large amounts of data and distill that data down into usable formulas to meet the desired purpose. Machine learning algorithms can extract insight, discover anomalies, recognize patterns and make predictions. Among these uses, pattern recognition and predictions are important in diagnosing mental illness or predicting suicide risk. The inherent advantage of machine learning algorithms is the use of artificial intelligence to automatically learn and improve based on experience.

A recent study which used machine learning algorithms to predict the risk of patient suicide found that the algorithm’s prediction accuracy was sixty to eighty percent and could predict potential suicide attempts as far as 720 days out.


  • Mental health is the fifth greatest contributor to the global burden of disease, with an economic cost estimated to be $2.5 trillion in 2010 and expected to double by 2030.
  • Accurate suicide prediction requires analysis of hundreds of factors, including race, gender, age, socio-economic status, physical and mental medical history, and other relevant information.
  • The use of social media and big data for health applications is a rapidly growing area of research variously referred to asinfoveillance, digital epidemiology, and digital disease detection.

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • With 800,000 suicide deaths worldwide every year – isn’t this a public health issue that cannot be ignored?
  • There is always a possibility that patients could be misdiagnosed by a phone app or social media study and experience harm. Who is responsible in that situation?
  • There are major privacy issues for social media users who are being monitored without their knowledge. How can privacy and mental health concerns both be addressed in these research efforts?
Sources: ForbesGeorgetown Law Technology Review, Healthcare IT News, QuartzWired
Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Startup Milk Mantra modernizes Indian dairy industry


Srikumar Misra, a former executive with Tata Group, returned to his home state of Odisha in 2010 to start a dairy company called Milk Mantra. He saw this as an opportunity to improve the industry and the quality of life for Indians living in rural areas. It took two years to raise $5 million to set up the supply chain to begin operations.

Using smartphone apps, big-data analytics and social media, Misra’s dairy business is among hundreds of startup companies leveraging the arrival of the internet in many rural areas in India.

India has the world’s largest dairy herd—on the order of 300 million buffalo and cows that produce 165 million metric tons of milk annually. Middlemen in India often sneak water, sugar or powdered milk into raw milk, adding volume and lowering the quality. The milk that independent middlemen gather from farmers and deliver to towns and villages is often unpasteurized and improperly refrigerated.

That is why almost all Indians boil their milk—and Mr. Misra viewed this as a way to differentiate his product. There was a huge problem with food products that people could trust. The opportunity was addressing this trust deficit through an ethical sourcing business model.

Milk Mantra pays farmers more than the competition and records the quantity and quality of milk after their twice-daily milk collection is tested for milk fat levels and contaminants at village collection points. This helps farmers understand the value of their milk. Milk Mantra uses an app to upload all of the farmers’ test results into a cloud database and plans to provide real-time feedback and analysis to farmers via their phones.


  • The founder and his wife believed that India’s emerging middle class would spend more on a high-quality, heathy product.
  • Together they created the company’s slogan defining a premium product: Milky Moo. Motto: “No Need to Boil.”
  • The company educates dairy farmers on healthy dairy farming practices, provides veterinary support and nutritional information about feeding their animals.

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • How important was the combination of new Internet access, social media and young parents focused on health and nutrition in building the new milk brand?
  • Can government and business training programs use Milk Mantra’s model to help dairy farmers in other impoverished areas of the country?
  • Is the ethical sourcing model transferable to other sectors of the Indian economy with entrenched business practices?
Sources: Forbes India, The Economic Times, The Economic Times, WSJ
Photo by Tadeu Jnr on Unsplash