The Center for Ethics, Diversity and Workplace Culture (CEDWC) is the brainchild of Leora Eisenstadt, associate professor in the Department of Legal Studies at the Fox School of Business at Temple University. The center, which soft-launched in Spring 2020, will be a hub for research, dialogue and innovation.
To get a sense of the past, present and future of the center, the Fox Editorial Team caught up with Eisenstadt.
What was the inspiration behind developing CEDWC?
Prior to the Black Lives Matter movement and in the wake of the #MeToo movement, I was looking around and really seeing companies ignoring workplace culture issues, especially in the gender context. All of a sudden, this indifference or lack of attention began to result in brand reputation issues. People were leaving companies in very public ways and writing about their experiences online.
In today’s social media and the internet-connected world, you don’t have to be famous to get airtime. Someone can leave a company and write a blog post, or go on Twitter to talk about his or her experiences and suddenly huge numbers of people are paying attention to company dynamics that used to be internal—especially in the area of sexual harassment.
I began thinking about this beyond the realm of sexual harassment. We have left a lot of the harassment, implicit bias, overt discrimination, reatliation and workplace culture issues in general to lawyers and law schools. That’s how I come to it, too, as my background is Employment Law. But business students, who eventually become managers, are the ones who are going to have to deal with these issues on a daily basis. So we need to be educating them—now—about the importance of workplace culture issues.
And today, the Black Lives Matter movement has both demonstrated the urgency of these issues and expanded the breadth of what we need to talk about. Students need to learn about diversity and workplace culture issues in school, they need to practice having difficult conversations because they will surely have them when they enter the workplace. So while sexual harassment and workplace culture issues were my origination point, our endpoint is a center that looks at race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability and more. The center will consider diversity from all of these perspectives.
Can you briefly describe your experience with researching topics such as ethics, diversity and workplace culture?
My focus is on employment discrimination in all its forms. I have written about fluid identity (multiracial and transgender) discrimination, about the intersection of racism and language in the workplace, about suppressed anger and the laws on workplace retaliation. I’ve also written about implicit bias and proposed including implicit bias in the legal structure with an eye to incentivizing businesses to take implicit bias more seriously.
Most employment law scholars focus on workers and workers’ rights. And that is initially the angle that I came to this from. But being at a business school has pushed me to look at it from both sides of the relationship. So often in my research, I am advocating a position that is helpful to both employees and employers. I show areas where there’s an alignment of interests and how these ideas can actually benefit a business’s bottom line.
What will the center do differently than similar centers at other universities?
To my knowledge, this center will be the first of its kind at an American business school. There are a number of ethics centers and centers on leadership around the country, but our focus on diversity and workplace culture is frankly unique.
In terms of our plans, we have an ambitious plan. We’re going to sponsor research and host academic conferences to bring together academics, industry professionals and government officials who are focused on these areas and can make a difference. We want to host a major speaker series, so whistleblowers and other change-makers can speak directly to our students. We want to host Black Lives Matter organizers who are talking to companies about what meaningful diversity and inclusion means. We want to invite chief diversity officers to come and speak to our students. We also have plans to train professionals. For example, we have begun talking with chief diversity officers about having workshops for them, where we bring these executives into our school both to educate our students but also to hear from our faculty who are experts in topics like artificial intelligence and implicit bias, anger in the workplace, organizational climate, and other relevant areas.
The center will also take an internal look at the Fox School. We’re going to evaluate our curriculum to ensure that these topics are covered across all of the disciplines we teach. We will also be reviewing our recruiting of students, our faculty hiring and our staff hiring. This center will be dual-pronged, with external and internal focuses, which will really set us apart.
What does success look like to you?
I envision six to eight major events a year, ongoing research that is sponsored by the center and shared with the Fox School and STHM, and a general sense of engagement across all departments. This is not a center that is housed in one department or specific to one area of business. This is a center that can provide resources throughout the school.
In fact, one of the goals is to review the curriculum and make sure that we are educating students on workplace culture issues, no matter what their primary focus is. We want every student to come out with an understanding of discrimination and harassment, the benefits of a diverse workforce, and the essential nature of inclusion efforts. No matter whether a student majors in finance, statistics, marketing or MIS, diversity and workplace culture issues should be part of that student’s education—that type of broad reach throughout the school would look like success to me.
How do you envision working with other departments? How interdisciplinary is the center’s mission and work?
There are some departments that are obvious partners for the center, like Legal Studies and Human Resource Management. But partnering with departments such as Management Information Systems, Finance, Risk, Insurance, and Healthcare Management, and Statistical Science (to name just a few) is also critical. Truthfully, these issues are relevant in some way to the work of every department at Fox and STHM.
How will this center strive to be as inclusive as possible?
Once we’re fully “open for business,” we’ll be doing a number of things.
First, we’ll have a group of faculty fellows. Any faculty member who is interested in making an impact around these issues will be invited to be a fellow in their area of expertise. Members will help frame and drive agendas where we identify opportunities to effect change.
We also anticipate convening a recent alumni board that will help us engage the next generation of business leaders. We can’t do this without input from current and recent students. And we will host symposia or workshops where students can come and network with businesses that are interested in workplace culture issues. This is an opportunity to engage employers who tend to hire our students and who are anxious to diversify their workforces.
Have you identified the board members yet?
We’re working on two boards simultaneously. The first is the primary advisory board that will be made up of senior-level executives, employment lawyers, government officials and nonprofit leaders, so that we have a core group of diverse industry professionals to advise us. The second is a recent alumni board.
We’re having ongoing conversations with executives, students and recent alumni and will continue to add members to our boards. I also think there are a number of companies that are really interested in giving, both in funding and idea generation, in this area. We’re hoping to tap into that as well. This is an exciting time to be creating a Center for Ethics, Diversity, and Workplace Culture, and the Fox School and STHM are the perfect place to do it.