GSEC Needs More Than “White Guys in Ties”

There’s not one woman or person of color on the executive committee of GSEC, the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, the region’s premiere economic development organization.

That doesn’t make good business sense. It’s not a great way to market the region. And it certainly doesn’t advance the cause of reflective democracy.

Former Mayor Kevin Johnson, an African American, launched the formation of GSEC several years ago, but he no longer serves on the board, having stepped down when he left public office.

According to the GSEC website, the “organization spearheads community-led direction to retain, attract, grow, and scale new businesses….”

Given the “community-led” claim, the composition of the GSEC board – which includes an executive committee and both private and public sector board members – is surprising.

Not only is the GSEC executive committee all-white and all-male, all of the 26 private sector directors profiled on their website are white and only 4 are women (15%).

(GSEC’s public board members aren’t analyzed here, as they hold their positions by virtue of their offices. For example, Darrell Steinberg serves on GSEC because he’s Mayor of Sacramento.)

How did such homogeneity happen in one of the nation’s most diverse regions? Particularly since GSEC’s promotional materials boast that “Greater Sacramento ranks 9th in racial diversity” out of the 25 largest metropolitan areas.

Based on interviews with GSEC staff, it’s clear that the board’s lack of diversity is due to two features of the organization’s business model.

First, GSEC is financed with sizable donations from local companies – and their CEOs are required to serve on the board so that GSEC can benefit from the CEOs’ business acumen.

Because boards that result from this standard recruiting practice typically lack diversity, economic development experts have coined a phrase to describe them: “white guys in ties.”

Second, GSEC staff see their organization as a start-up, with a priority focus on marketing, making payroll, and delivering on agreed-upon “metrics.” Diversity will be a priority – once the results start rolling in.

It’s time for GSEC’s leaders to rethink their business model.

By requiring executive committee and private sector board members to make financial contributions of $50,000 to $100,000 per year, the GSEC board ends up looking nothing like the community it markets throughout the state and nation. And this pay-to-play approach overlooks and underutilizes the skills, perspectives and connections of leaders who don’t have the financial resources to buy a seat at the table.

In fact, there’s something fundamentally disturbing about an organizational strategy that banks on “white guys in ties” to build success.

That’s because it perpetuates stereotypes of women, people of color and LGBTQ as second-tier leaders – good at follow up but a just a tad deficient in that vision thing.

The business model also buys into the notion that financial wealth is the best signifier of success, and thus undervalues leaders whose success is built on knowledge, community-organizing, and nonprofit leadership.

Don’t jump to the wrong conclusion: GSEC’s “white guys in ties” deserve our appreciation for their financial and leadership contributions.

They have something to offer, and indeed are some of “the best we have in Sacramento,” as described by then-Mayor Johnson at GSEC’s inaugural press conference in February 2015.

But other leaders – with different backgrounds and skill sets – are an equally important part of the emerging economic tapestry that makes up Sacramento.

Two recent and well-designed studies – one by high-powered consulting firm McKinsey and Company and the other by the Credit Suisse Research Institute  point to the benefits of diversity. McKinsey found that “boards with diverse executive boards enjoy significantly higher earnings and returns on equity.”

According to Catalyst, an international nonprofit that conducts research and training, “Workplace diversity can lead to increased revenues, reduced costs, greater innovation, and increased employee engagement, productivity, and commitment. But in order to reap these benefits, organizational leaders must clarify the connection between their diversity efforts and their business goals.”

So what should GSEC consider to reconfigure its board to benefit from the diversity of our region’s leaders?

Not all executive committee and private sector board members should be required to make a financial contribution.

Why not add a successful consultant who specializes in economic development, business marketing or public relations?

Or engage the head of a large, membership-based nonprofit who could help reel in a similar organization to be based in California’s center of advocacy.

Or perhaps the region’s ethnic chambers of commerce should have a voting seat at the table, as should a group like National Association of Women Business Owners or some other women’s business group.

Progress may be underway.

In an interview with GSEC staff, they shared that a woman is considering a position on the executive committee, but hasn’t yet made a final decision to join. Plans are also moving along to add a “young professional” position to the board, likely to be filled by an African American leader.

GSEC staff seem well-intentioned — so I’m hoping this is the beginning of real change.

One thing is clear: To effectively represent and market our diverse region, to truly benefit from the “best we have in Sacramento,” GSEC needs more than “white guys in ties.”

Michael Gerson’s Three-Point Sermon Needs a PostScript

Conservative Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson writes that “religious conservatives have become a corporate sponsor of Trumpism, like Visa at the Olympics” – which is, without doubt, the best line I’ve read post-election.

Even better, the three points Gerson offers up in his “uninvited sermon” are thoughtful and deserve wide discussion in the evangelical community.

But it’s pretty shocking there wasn’t a fourth point – a sign of a serious blind spot in the roster of conservative priorities and sensibilities.

Let’s turn first to Gerson’s advice, starting with his first point about nativism and immigrants:

First, it is a fact – one of those real facts – that Trump’s brand is associated with nativism, particularly the dehumanization of illegal immigrants (as rapists and murderers) and the otherization of Muslims (as internal and external threats). Evangelicals in the governing coalition need to find a way to demonstrate that this was not the reason they supported Trump – that their hard choice was motivated by other, nobler causes

His second point is about freedom of speech applying to all:

Second, evangelicals must utterly reject the idea that the protections of the First Amendment apply to them but not fully to Muslims.

Finally, Gerson raises a red flag about the danger religions face when they affiliate with a political group:

Third, conservative Christians need to remember that – throughout the cautionary tale of Western history – when religion identified with a political order, it is generally not the political order that suffers most. It is the reputation of the faith.

What’s missing from this provocative, heartfelt troika of advice?

Any mention of Mr. Trump’s sexist language and behavior. Any concern expressed about Trump’s pattern of demeaning and predatory behavior with women.

Who can forget how Trump’s smarminess was so succinctly summarized by Megyn Kelly at the August 2015 Republican debate:

“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals.’ …

Who can forget the tapes from Access Hollywood or the Miss Universe pageant?

It’s particularly perplexing that Mr. Gerson’s column was published in the Post two days following the Women’s March on Washington, a time when millions of Americans were raising up concerns about civility, sexism, and equal access and opportunity.

Mr. Gerson’s three-point sermon is a thoughtful homily that deserves consideration for many Sundays to come.

But the sermon needs a postscript: Conservative Christians must also demonstrate that their political support of Mr. Trump doesn’t indicate an endorsement of secondary status for women and girls – or in any way communicate that respectful treatment of women and girls is negotiable.

New Leadership for CA Women’s Caucus in 2017

2017 launches with new leadership at the California Legislative Women’s Caucus.

Assembly Member Cristina Garcia steps in as Chair; and Senator Connie M. Leyva is Vice Chair.

Garcia, elected to a two-year term, also serves as First Vice Chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. Known as a strong advocate for women’s issues and a champion of electing more women to public office, Gacia went to the mat this past year for AB 1561, her “No Tax on Tampons” bill. The legislation received majority support in the Senate and Assembly, but was vetoed by the Governor.

Garcia is now working with Caucus members to set their policy priorities for the new year.

Without doubt, 2016 was one of the Caucus’ most successful years ever – and a tip of the hat goes to the Immediate Past Chair, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, for her leadership and tenacity.

Working with the Stronger California Advocates Network, the Caucus championed a proactive policy agenda on economic security and secured a multi-year budget commitment of over $500 million for subsidized child care.

While not a complete list, two other major successes are worth noting:

  • Culminating a years-long battle, Senator Holly J. Mitchell succeeded in repealing the Maximum Family Grant, a provision in the state welfare program that had denied aid for infants born into poverty.
  • Senator Leyva also had a big win, securing passage of the 2016 Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (SB 1015), which establishes permanent overtime protection for California’s 300,000 domestic workers.

The bad news for the Women’s Caucus is that their numbers in 2017 are diminished. Twenty-six women now serve in the State Senate and Assembly – down from 30 the previous year.


Wonk Note #1: Implementing the Repeal of MFG

After a four-year battle to repeal a provision in the state’s welfare program that prohibited payments for children born while their mother’s were receiving CalWORKs, counties throughout the state have moved forward to notify eligible parents they will be receiving additional benefits.

Senator Holly J. Mitchell campaigned tirelessly to repeal what is known as the Maximum Family Grant (MFG), succeeding last year with a budget provision that removed the restriction. Senator Mitchell worked with a coalition of over 100 organizations, led by the Western Center on Law and Poverty (WCLP) and California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ).

Earlier this week, Jessica Bartholow from WCLP appealed to coalition members to work with California’s 58 counties to ensure full implementation of the MFG repeal and provided this fact sheet in both English and Spanish.