Will Occupy Wall Street Occupy Your Front Entrance?

They're angry and growing in numbers. What does your organization have to do to not be a target?

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is targeting corporate America. I don’t think it’s a flash in the pan; rather, it’s gaining momentum. That means that getting behind the situation—waiting for the protestors to show up—is an unrecoverable situation that is bound to destroy productivity, market share and investor equity.

It has to be pretty tough on average employees to cross through a crowd that regards them as part of the problem. How about when you’re applying for a job? Nobody wants to answer their child’s question of “Mommy, why is your company’s logo on that piñata?” Management would have to be obtuse to be happy about declaring a record profit when the protestors are right outside; it’s not the best way to appear on CNBC. Further, it’s never a good idea to make investors nervous. In this kind of market, repercussions are swift and strong.

Although OWS organizers seem to be mostly white, diversity is playing a huge part in the movement because the issues that drive Occupy Wall Street disproportionately impact underrepresented groups. My hunch about the lack of OWS diversity is that although this recession has impacted Blacks and Latinos more than white people, white people are seeing the largest tangible drop in lifestyle. It’s a matter of what you expect compared with what’s actually happening—and that’s why I think OWS momentum will continue to build.

Domestically, U6 unemployment (which includes underemployed people), for the past three years, has averaged more than 16 percent—nearly double the percentage of the average of the 10 years before the crash. At the current rate of job growth, it will take at least five more years to recover the jobs lost in this recession (seven years in total). In comparison, it took only nine months for job losses to be recovered in the 1981 recession. What was the working middle class (people who were not in knowledge-worker jobs but were earning what enabled a decent lifestyle) has been permanently damaged economically. Aside from unemployment, here are some basic facts that point to building momentum in this election year as our nation reels from the following:

  • 3 million home foreclosures
  • 10.8 million mortgages under water
  • 22 million people unemployed or underemployed
  • 45 million people on food stamps
  • 50 million people with no health insurance
  • Trillions spent on Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight
  • $850 billion student-loan debt (now larger than credit-card debt)
  • 13 percent Congressional-approval rating

It’s infuriating to many people that nobody has gone to jail for the subprime crisis. We are a country that has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. You would think that this is one area in which we would excel, but we’re far better at imprisoning some groups than others. More than 50 percent of prisoners are Black and Latino. Tellingly, Black and Latino households were two to five times as likely to be sold inappropriate subprime loans. In contrast, look at the representation at the Wall Street banks. Nowhere do you find equity.

Traditionally, the way for governments to quash protests is to eliminate means of organization and communications. After Nat Turner’s uprising, slave states passed laws prohibiting teaching of enslaved people to write. W.E.B. DuBois estimated that only 5 percent of slaves were literate in 1860. Today, with the Arab Spring, we have seen how oppressive governments, who controlled traditional media, were swept away by people with Internet and cell communications that were unavailable just 10 years ago. Please think about the facts presented above—if the “system” has failed you, and you feel that there is no hope for the status quo to change, it’s logical to change the status quo.

How much your company is perceived as being part of a problem is dependent on three factors: values, deeds and communications.

Johnson & Johnson’s Credo is the most clear and concise and the best statement of corporate values that I’ve ever seen. There is a precedence of whom to care for: consumers and the supply chain, employees, communities and stock holders, in that order. The entire value statement fits on one sheet of paper and is written in very human, caring and absolute terms.

Your reputation is dependent on how well you execute your stated values. Most corporate value statements imply equitable treatment for people; some include a statement about valuing diversity, but most companies do not execute equitably. Execution can be measured by outcome, and the closest measure of how well you live up to your values can be found in your human-capital results. For example, do you have equitable promotion by race and gender? Do you make sure the pipeline is what it needs to be to make that happen? How you treat your own people—by outcome—is the critical measurement of your execution of values. It’s impossible for me to believe that a company can treat its customers, suppliers and the community any better than it treats its own people. The corporate practices that hold people accountable for equity in outcome are responsible for sustaining an equitable culture. When an organization has an equitable culture, it is far more likely to not make mistakes that damage people.

Finally, your communications must meet the challenges of the times. Most of the companies I meet with are somewhat reticent to discuss their good deeds. Most are also unfocused in their communications. Trusting a third party to manage communications is a mistake. You must do this yourself because it has to be from the heart. (Ever notice that ad agencies don’t advertise their own services?) In an era where many people tweet their inner dialogue to hundreds of their “friends,” your organization cannot present old-school blow-dried and hair-sprayed “statements” or a robo-Facebook page without creating a target. Your best course of action is to honestly, vigorously and persistently communicate how well you have executed your values. I suggest you put a human face on it by having the CEO communicate with his/her picture on the website. Have you seen Mr. Bill Marriott’s blog? It’s down to earth, just like Mr. Marriott. In a time when distrust and fear are causing people to take to the streets, an absence of good news can be interpreted as something to hide.


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  • Luke: As usual you have hit the nail succinctly on the head–a spot on anaysis of the reason why folks are up in arms and what organizations can do to make sure they aren’t a target. Also, thanks for citing J&J’s credo. I have been examining and thinking about it quite a bit recently as the foundation for ethical business practice within corporate America.

  • Luke,

    Recently several fortune 500 companies have indeed reported their 3rd quarter results and my thougth was “you’ve got to be kidding. You’re advertising record breaking earnings while protesters are literally outside”. Your comment of “Management would have to be obtuse to be happy about declaring a record profit when the protestors are right outside; it’s not the best way to appear on CNBC” was right on target. You consistently hit the mark with your comments. Just curious, do you happen to have a crystal ball on your desk?

  • I for one am glad to see everything brought to light. The evil men do when they can’t be seen. Boy that’s saying a lot. But, it’s time we stop talking about what’s wrong and fix it. It can be done even if it takes getting rid of everyone that won’t allow it to be fixed. Too many fingers in too many pockets other then their own. Why isn’t Huckabee running for President, are all the good men afraid to run. You can’t tell me that the right man can’t get everyone of these problems fixed immediately.

    We can fix it if we really want it fixed.

  • Great article….the statistics are right on target. I think if Congress is not going to act on the jobs plan or do something, that we should freeze their paychecks…..I bet that would get their attention!

    • Michael J Sanchez

      Kathleen, thank you for the suggestion to freeze Congress’ pay. That would surely have those suits sitting up straight!
      I won’t comment, though, on the likelihood of the Legislative Branch freezing its own pay. I prefer living in the moment of hope that you created for me with your submittal.

      Thanks to Luke also for an excellent and informative read. Hopefully those who need to know what you know will find a copy of your article on their desks, anonymously.

  • First thank you for your outstanding articles. I believe the continuous bashing of the poor, middle class, unemployed,and minorities by groups like the Tea Party and some members of the Republican Party is one of the causes of this. These individuals sought to balance the budget off the backs of these groups. Some even went so far as to blame these groups for the current economic situation. They should not have done that. We helped build this country too. Enough is Enough. My question is do you see this movement becoming as powerful and sweeping the country as the Tea Party movement has? Thank you again for your great articles.

    • Luke Visconti

      I think the Occupy Wall Street movement can become much larger than the Tea Party movement because it encompasses the interests of more people. There is no reason a Tea Party person couldn’t participate in an OWS protest – there are several overlapping areas of interest. I don’t think the Koch brothers are happy about this reality – and the OWS people have to realize there will be active subversion of their effort by their agents. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

    • I have a difficult time pinning responsibility (blame) soley on Tea Party or Republicans in Congress. It is time that Democrats stop wheeling and dealing with these parties in order to advance their agenda. Stand up and say, “NO” to policies that favor the few on the backs of the many. If we are not happy with our representatives that we elected to Congress, it is up to us to vote in someone else that will take a stand to defend our rights. Too many people complain about the current situations that our nation faces . . . some of these people are also the one’s that “don’t vote because it doesn’t make a difference . . .”

  • One way to keep them away from your door is to hang up soap. Like you would garlic to ward off vampires. I suppose hanging dictionaries or Economics books would work just as well. What a joke.

    • Luke Visconti

      Dear readers: We had several emails like this – Blayne’s email was temperate in tone (and funny) so I thought I’d post it. I’ll bet similar witticisms were made by cronies to Mubarak, Ben Ali and Gadhafi – and they’re probably (nervously) being tossed around among al-Assad and Saleh’s loyalists. Yep, it’s all fun and games until the windows start to break. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

  • Great article, but in the UK if you write such article the repercussions are swift and strong.

  • Brad Gaskill

    “Tellingly, Black and Latino households were two to five times as likely to be sold inappropriate subprime loans.”

    I’m curious and haven’t seen the stats. Is the above statement true because more Black and Latino households applied for these loans?


    • Luke Visconti

      Like the president’s birth certificate, many people will not accept the reality that Black-, Latino- and women-headed households were purposefully steered into inappropriate subprime loans (when they qualified for prime loans). There is an August 2009 HUD report on the matter, and fines (Wells Fargo, for example) have been assessed for fraudulent sales. Why were those three groups steered into inappropriate subprime loans? They were the last three groups who were able to get access to mortgage credit and therefore were not as sophisticated (not as financially literate), in general, as white households that have had access to mortgage credit for decades before overt racial discrimination in the credit/capital market was addressed in the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. I have noted that there is an attempt among certain groups to assess blame on the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 for the mess we’re in, but in my opinion, it is primarily bigots who feel that way. I have yet to hear a good theory on how lower middle-class Black and Latino families were able to bamboozle the billionaires at Wall Street investment banks.

      I note that it is my personal experience that I know how to get a better deal on a mortgage now, after buying four homes and as a business owner, than I had when I was wet behind the ears. Why people find this hard to accept when it comes to Black and Latino people can only be ascribed to bigotry, in my opinion. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

  • Luke,

    1st, I love you Man!, and I mean that without any implied suggestions or hidden innuendos. Thank you for not just having the ability to see the invisible masses but for having the integrity to stand up for them. For never calling anyone’s side an enemy but instead shining a light in a direction that all will benefit from. Thank you.

    In regards to a corporation’s integrity being visible to it’s people; in as much as there are large masses of disenfranchised people on the outside of major corporations, there is a large mass of disenfranchised workers on the inside of major global corporations who I I think would argue that claim of visibility.

    From my view, I see the manufacturing sector and in particular the bold line between “Management” and “Technicians”. It’s the place where Organizational Theory stops and Resource Management begins, where workers who make a salary reign and rule over their co-workers who are paid by the hour from the same company. Coworkers who walk past the same signs hung to reinforce the corporations core values and principles.

    40 years ago, this group would have been prime targets for a union, but not today, Having to pay for protection services is ludicrous to this group in the same way it was ludicrous for Fredrick Douglass to have to have his freedom purchased for him.

    For the last 20 years, the hypocrisy of High Performance Organizations has tainted and tired many but all have not given up hope that the the espoused values and principles might one day become the actual ones. Ironic or not, HPO’s have not killed the Theory Y worker. They are the bulk this group I’m speaking about, a group I call the Technation,

    I wonder what affect it would have on the “occupy” movement and to the corporate world in it’s entirety if the Technation who are already “occupied within” decided it was time for their voice to be heard as well?


    • Luke Visconti

      Thank you for your kind words.

      I like your concept of “Technation” and I think you’re on to something because the Technation are the ones who have taken it on the chin while being a category in sharply short supply. The dirty little secret of our
      unemployment rate is that most of the unemployed are not prepared for the jobs that need to be filled. There is an expense to offshoring those jobs – but companies are finding it more expedient to offshore them than to train people who didn’t receive a decent public school education (and/or have issues with drugs, the legal system, poor health, etc.). The military finds that almost 75% of age-eligible Americans do not meet its minimum requirements.

      That leaves the Technation in the unenviable spot of being both vitally needed – and competing with hourly workers in countries all over the globe. Add to that pressure with my hunch that Generation X Technation
      people were disproportionately screwed over by the sub-prime crisis in a way that is different from the lower middle-class Blacks and Latinos. They were the ones spending bogus home equity at P.F. Changs and the Macaroni Grill during the last decade. Now they’re upside down in their mortgage and taking a squeeze on pay and benefits.

      Right now, we’re seeing this funk show up in the less than 20% approval rating for Congress. What happens when more of the health insurance falls on their shoulders (cutting actual take-home pay)? Not good. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

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