( ENSPIRE Community Spotlight ) Michele Lanza’s New Project Work Wider Seeks to Expand Equity in the Workplace and World
ENSPIRE Contributor: Adam Cetorelli
For her 20-plus years of human resources experience, Michele Lanza saw time and again how systemic inequalities are reproduced in the workplace, witnessing age and race discrimination in hiring and promoting. As she continued to see worthy applicants looked over because of bias, Lanza decided that more needed to be done to address inequality in the workplace. She launched Work Wider in January 2020 to put her human resources expertise to work for creating a more equitable society. The US-based company offers what it calls a “career and recruitment ecosystem for underrepresented communities”—a platform where companies pledge to commit to more equitable hiring practices, recruiters seek out diverse candidates from its (free) members-only pool, and applicants enjoy the ability to highlight their identities as desirable for corporate decision-making.
Work Wider offers jobs at all levels, from internships to freelance work to senior vice president roles, with a large percentage of opportunities at the mid to senior level. But Work Wider knows that offering jobs does not fully address problems of inequality, and the company is committed to reducing the impact of marginalization in hiring by offering webinars to train applicants and strategizing ways to reduce bias with companies that list jobs on the website. For example, in 2016, the US Census released a report that showed that 36.2% of non-Hispanic Whites had a Bachelor’s degree, while only 22.5% of Black Americans had a Bachelor’s degree. Many jobs at higher levels require degrees, which limits access for Black Americans to higher-paying positions, reproducing race-based wealth disparities. In response to exclusionary job requirements, Work Wider coaches partner companies, making suggestions to ensure that their requirements are as unbiased as possible, which in some cases means encouraging companies to drop mandatory degree requirements from their postings.
Strategies like making degree requirements optional for high-level positions fit in with the Work Wider Pledge, in which companies must agree to list positions on the website. The pledge centers on diversity, equity, and inclusion and has five core tenets:
- Create a culture where every employee feels a sense of belonging.
- Increase underrepresented talent (BIPOC, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, neuro differences, veterans, women, and 50+) at all levels of the organization, especially at the executive level.
- Have or are developing diversity, equity, and inclusion plans to realize change.
- Ensure fair, equitable, and consistent pay and opportunities for advancement for underrepresented talent.
- Understand the importance of supplier and vendor diversification.
These requirements are part of an evolving business model that Work Wider deems necessary for addressing issues of inequality—nothing is perfect, and business practices should be flexible to accommodate new issues, correct missteps, and improve user experiences.
Work Wider has grown a lot since January. As she built the platform, Lanza has brought on a diverse and passionate team of her own, including Glenn E. Singleton, creator of Courageous Conversation™, an award-winning program for improving interracial dialogue about racial inequality, particularly for use in education. Lanza also hired advertising agency Goodby Silverstein and Partners to develop Work Wider’s branding.
Although Work Wider has not celebrated its first birthday yet, the platform is already on the path to success. Candidates that apply for positions through Work Wider are attracting the attention of recruiters, and many members have used the website’s free resume support services. Deloitte Consulting even joined Work Wider early on because of the company’s equity-oriented vision and promising business model.
Everything has its critics, and Work Wider is no exception. Some voiced concern that people do not want to be hired just because they are from a marginalized community, but for their abilities. Work Wider does not advocate for people being hired solely based on their identities. The company believes that diversity is beneficial to the workplace and that qualified employees from diverse backgrounds make strong teams. In the same vein, Work Wider does not let just any company join their community. Only companies that demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, who share the belief that diverse teams are necessary for building strong businesses—companies who not only sign but embody the Work Wider pledge—are allowed to join. Work Wider is dedicated to making real change in the workplace and is helping individuals along the way.