Equity Anchors – Grounding DEI Principles

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

November 11, 2021

During the recent virtual Future of Work webinar hosted by the Economic and Workforce Development department (EWD) at Pasadena City College (PCC), keynote speaker Dr. Vijay Pendakur discussed how corporate ‘equity anchors’ can embed fundamental diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) principles into every enterprise. The event’s four panelists (Monique EarlNaomi IwasakiJonathon Mayes, and Sylvia Torres-Guillen) and two guest hosts (Dr. Kari Bolen and PCC’s EWD Director Salvatrice Cummo) are certainly ‘equity anchors’ in their organizations and industries. Based on that fascinating discussion, every company can benefit from the values offered by ‘equity anchors’ when they understand how those leaders perceive and can positively impact the fundamental corporate culture.



‘Equity Anchor’ Defined

In essence, an equity anchor acts as a sensor for DEI issues within the organization and can either or both flag leadership to those concerns as well as steer the conversation towards finding solutions to them. When in a leadership position themselves, the anchors can assess overarching corporate cultures and norms to determine where the company can make DEI improvements. As an employee, the anchor can raise concerns in conversations with the HR department and their managers and supervisors. In both cases, the anchor can impact how the enterprise manages the DEI challenges of its workforce and, in the long run, have a significant effect on its productivity and success.


Assessments Through the Anchor’s Perspective

Dr. Pendakur offers five elemental inquiries that every equity anchor should make, both as they get started and as part of an ongoing strategy to ensure the company adheres to critical DEI principles. Their purpose is to ensure that the enterprise addresses everyone’s best interests in its policies and practices:

    1. When a concern arises within a specified system, leaders should inquire about who that system was designed to support and whether inherent inequities were built into it. Using a gender lens to highlight an example: many corporate calendars and schedules are not designed to accommodate the needs of parents. When women shoulder the bulk of the parenting obligation, they must also often navigate around systems that don’t flex to provide them options.
    2. The above-referenced example suggests the next question: do enterprise systems favor (establish as a ‘norm’) certain groups over others? Companies with policies that provide maternal but not paternal leave create a norm that favors a mother’s need to be home with an infant but reduces or eliminates a father’s opportunity to contribute to that care.
    3. Data also plays a part in determining the efficacy of DEI standards, but it can only be helpful if it is properly collected for the purpose. Companies that routinely track, respond to, and measure the outcomes of worker DEI concerns are more likely to be DEI champions as well. Pendakur suggests short (two to three questions) surveys delivered often (monthly? quarterly?) as an effective method of collecting worker satisfaction data. Analysis of that information should reveal both challenges and possible solutions.
    4. Data collection would also reveal who in the organization is not being heard. In some cases, those left out may be individual employees; in other cases, there may be larger sectors of the workforce that are routinely left out of corporate conversations. A fully transparent enterprise will ensure it includes the perspectives of all its constituents in its policy and practice development activities.
    5. And those policies themselves can be the source of the problem. Again, using the example mentioned above, many companies still do not have paternity leave policies in place, and that gap maintains an ongoing unfair practice that discriminates against fathers.

These questions can guide the assessment of an individual concern or the overarching practices and policies of the enterprise as a whole. In addition, they will provide leadership with the information it needs to become more sophisticated in its approach to DEI principles going forward. Most importantly, leaders should heed the data and address the DEI concerns of their workforce. These days, no company can afford to tolerate the use of superficial elements, such as race, sexuality, or gender, to reduce the high value of every employee.



Assessments Guide Solutions

Pendakur was careful to note that solutions to entrenched DEI problems often require tailoring to the needs of the specific employee or class of employees. He explained the difference between ‘equality,’ which provides equal resources to everyone, and ‘equity,’ which offers resources designed to meet the needs of individuals so they can attain an outcome equivalent to that of their colleagues. The distinction between the two is critical for leadership to understand because knowing the ‘inequities’ suggests how to design and deliver appropriate and effective responses. Attempting to remedy inherently biased practices and policies requires more than a ‘one size fits all’ effort.

Dr. Pendakur offered three notable examples of how his company, Zynga, responded to the DEI needs of its employees by determining precisely what their issues were and then introducing benefits packages to remediate those challenges.

One concern was heard across the company, especially after COVID descended. Workers who also had caregiving responsibilities at home were inordinately more challenged in their productivity than their non-caregiving colleagues.

Another common concern was the mental health status of employees who were balancing work, home responsibilities, child and parent care, and other obligations that were made much more difficult by the pandemic.

The social unrest of the past 20 months was also a trigger for a benefits analysis. The company recognized that its LGBTQA+ community might not have been given the support they needed to weather the backlash against increased LGBTQA+ rights.

In all three cases, Zynga adjusted its benefits offerings to meet the specific needs of three very different employee populations. Giving each of those employees the support they needed to succeed in all areas of their lives also enhanced their productivity and value to the organization.


In the next edition of the Pulse, we’ll include our panelists’ thoughts on Dr. Pendakur’s comments and also their own personal impacts on the DEI issues and concerns that arise within their organizations. You won’t want to miss it.



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