‘Propelling Change Forward’: School of Business’ Equity Series Tackles Compelling Workplace Topics

This year’s Equity Now series will focus on racial and gender equity, voter disenfranchisement, and workplace privacy violations

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and other calls for social change, there’s a tremendous appetite for knowledge and guidance among business professionals, students, and alumni in a vast variety of industries.

“In the midst of this social revolution I thought, ‘How can we at the School of Business make a difference and bring these issues to a wide audience?” says business law professor Robert Bird, who has organized a four-part speaker series on diversity and equity topics.

“BLM, the murder of George Floyd, and other events increased awareness that discussions of diversity, equity, and inclusion should be front and center,” he says. “This year’s Equity Now speaker series gives people the tools to identify when diversity challenges exist and what can be done to address them.”

Now in its second year, the Equity Now series has attracted top legal experts from across the nation and hundreds of attendees. This year’s presentations will focus on racial and gender equity, voter disenfranchisement, and workplace privacy violations.

Bird, who is the Eversource Energy Chair in Business Ethics and a recent past president of the Academy of Legal Studies in Business, says the speakers are among the best in the nation. All are legal scholars who are at the forefront of their disciplines and are eager to share informative and practical knowledge.

“The greatest leaps in justice, diversity, and equity have come from legal mandates,” Bird says. “Statutes and court decisions are powerful mechanisms that propel forward social change.”

“This is a defining initiative for UConn,” Bird says. “So much more can be done to promote equity in a diverse environment. The first step is learning more about diversity, equity, and legal mandates and how they are deeply intertwined.”

Pre-registration for the 2021 Equity Now speaker series is required and can be done by visiting the Equity Now homepage. Each presentation will be approximately one hour.

The speaker series presentations are as follows:

  • Tuesday, Oct. 12: Biden’s Push for Racial Equity in a Colorblind World. On his first day in office, President Biden issued an executive order to advance racial equity. As part of these efforts, the American Rescue Plan directed the Department of Agriculture to implement a loan-forgiveness program for farmers who had been harmed by decades of system discrimination. Justice advocates applauded the move, but the federal courts put a stop to the program. Despite the intent of the legislative and executive branches, courts have signaled that any race-conscious efforts to remedy past injustices are on shaky ground. Can racial equity be achieved with these limitations in place?

Presented by professor Goldburn P. Maynard Jr. of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. His research focuses on issues of wealth distribution and inequality. The presentation begins at 6 p.m.

  • Monday, Nov. 8: #MeToo and Beyond: Sexual Harassment and the Future of American Workplace Culture. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court defined sexual harassment in a case called Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, which involved allegations of coerced sexual intercourse. In 2017, the #MeToo Movement again focused attention on the role sexual harassment plays in the workplace and society. Now, almost five years later, experts can begin to reflect on the ways in which this movement altered, or left intact, workplace norms, and the role of the law in making progress or hindering it. The discussion will review the legal history and theory of sexual harassment, explore the implications of the #MeToo Movement, discuss recent efforts to use technology to detect and prevent harassment, and highlight ways to create healthy workplace cultures.

Presented by professor Leora Eisenstadt, the Murray Shusterman Research Fellow at Temple University. She is the academic director of the newly founded Center for Ethics, Diversity and Workplace Culture at Temple’s Fox School of Business and a scholar focused on discrimination, employment law, sexual harassment retaliation, and whistleblowing.

  • Monday, Feb. 21: Digitizing Voter Disenfranchisement. Over the past decade, many digitized methods have been used to remove voters from voter rolls. Litigants claim that these digitized tools result in a disproportionate impact based on race, ethnicity, national origin socioeconomic class and more. Focusing on Georgia’s database-matching protocols, the presenter will discuss how this represents a national trend that permits the digitization of voter disenfranchisement. This threat to voting rights requires a better understanding about the purging practices related to voter registration and other contemporary forms of voter suppression.

Presented by professor Margaret Hu, associate dean for Non-JD Programs and professor of law and international affairs at Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests include the intersection of immigration policy, national security, cybersurveillance and civil rights. Previously, she served as a senior policy adviser for the White House and the U.S. Department of Justice.

  • April 4, 2022: The Femtech Paradox: How Workplace Monitoring Threatens Women’s Equity. Monitoring of heart rate, fingerprints, DNA and other forms of biometric monitoring are more common than ever in employer wellness programs. Biometric monitoring can provide useful information, but will women suffer disproportionality from the collection and use of data? State and federal laws, as well as courts, have only begun to address the implications of biometric monitoring at work. This presentation will show how computer-based algorithms are already subject to biased assumptions about women in the workplace. The expansion of “femtech,” software that focuses on women’s health, in particular creates a gender-imbalanced data source that may feed into existing workplace biases against women, unless more effective safeguards are put in place. Women in particular are at a significant risk of losing reasonable expectations of privacy at work, due to gender biases in data collection, interpretation and use. The presentation will highlight how companies should rethink how they collect and analyze women’s health data, and what everyone can do to protect themselves from unwarranted employer intrusions.

Presented by professor Liz Brown of Bentley University. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, her award-winning research explores the intersection of employment law, technology, and equity. She is also the president of the Employment Law section of the Academy of Legal Studies in Business and formerly represented Fortune 100 companies as a litigator. Brown is also the former executive director of an angel investor network focused on women entrepreneurs.

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