The Greater goop Awards:
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Unless you’re a massive, successful company, and you can easily hide behind that idiom with few to no consequences. Which is what makes the companies below remarkable: Not only do they blast that certain aspects of their business-as-usual shouldn’t be usual at all; they’re taking significant steps to, well, fix it.
It was 2007. Obama had announced that he would run for president. J.K. Rowling had just finished writing the seventh Harry Potter book. And CVS became the first major drugstore in the country to establish a safety policy in cosmetics—a standard of what it would allow in the beauty products it sold. It wasn’t clean, exactly, but it was transparent. It would no longer carry anything that contained harmful chemicals if there were safer alternatives.
Seven years later, in another first, the company dropped its $2 billion cigarette business and became the only national retail pharmacy chain to do so (Walgreens and Rite Aid still sell them). “The health of our planet is inextricably linked to the health of all people,” says Eileen Boone, the senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy at CVS. Earlier this year, the FDA banned artificial trans fats from food sold in restaurants and grocery stores. As you probably know, CVS is neither. Yet the company had already begun removing trans fats from its own line of food a year and a half earlier.
But we haven’t even gotten to the good part yet.
Last year, CVS announced that it would remove toxins—including parabens, phthalates, and formaldehyde contributors—from CVS-brand beauty products by next year. Over 75 percent of 600 impacted products will be reformulated by the first quarter of 2019; the remainder will be reformulated by the end of the year. “We’ve listened to our customers who’ve voiced a desire for safe products and ingredient transparency,” says Boone.
Does it mean that everything CVS sells is clean and nontoxic? No, but it means that CVS—a company worth $185 billion, a company with nearly 10,000 stores across the country—is leading by example. And we can’t wait to see what it does first—next. .
2018 was undoubtedly the year of the woman. The #metoo movement was a tectonic shift in women’s rights—and voices. We just elected more women to Congress than ever before. And America’s twenty largest companies announced that they would be improving their family leave policies.
Lowe’s was one of them. Amazingly, until a year ago, Lowe’s—a company with nearly 3,000 stores, with over 310,000 employees, and worth $68.6 billion—had no policy whatsoever. If you worked there and you had a baby, you had to use vacation days or take unpaid time off to stay home with your newborn. Under Lowe’s new policy, which went into effect in May 2018, salaried and full-time hourly birth mothers are entitled to ten weeks of maternity leave. (That means that their jobs are guaranteed for ten weeks and they receive full pay during that time; other parents, including fathers, adoptive parents, foster parents, and same-sex parents, are entitled to two weeks off with pay.) According to the US Labor Department, hourly workers, who are much less likely to receive paid time off, make up 59 percent of our country’s workforce. They are also the least likely to be able to afford unpaid time off, so many paid leave policies already in place benefit only the people who probably least need it. Paid family leave is also a big piece of the gender equity puzzle: Research shows that giving women paid time off increases the chances that they’ll return to work. And some have argued that historically, women have had to choose between raising a family and advancing their careers—one reason there’s a disparity between men and women in leadership roles.
If we want our workforce to progress, comprehensive family leave policies, like the one implemented by Lowe’s, are a huge step in the right direction.
The way companies treat their employees is paramount to the health of the company. And paid family leave is a huge part of that. Not only does it benefit the women who just had kids and the new babies they bring home from the hospital—it improves the vitality of a company by lowering turnover rates and boosting morale and productivity.
But what gets a lot less attention: how companies treat the subcontractors they hire. We’re talking about the cleaning crews, the receptionists, the kitchen staff who provide vital work for a company but are not on the payroll—they work for outside, smaller employers.
Microsoft, the biggest software company in the world, is changing that. In 2015, after workers unionized, the company required its contractors to give employers paid vacation and sick days. And last August, Microsoft announced that it will work only with contractors who offer their employees a minimum of twelve weeks of paid parental leave for either birth or adoption. It’s a huge step toward treating all workers with dignity and respect. And it’s a move that helps to close the gap between corporate America and the hourly workers who make up most of the country’s workforce.
In 2018, the United States remains the only industrialized country without a national paid family leave policy. Currently, only one in seven employees in the US gets paid time off after having a baby—that’s 85 percent of workers who are left behind. But companies like Microsoft are taking matters into their own hands in a shift to support more working families, regardless of income level. They’re raising the bar for what the standard should be for all employees.
One of the first things that Mary Barra did when she became the CEO of GM four years ago was promote women. Barra, the first woman to lead any major global auto manufacturer, was set on one thing: radically reshaping an industry long driven by men.
It was not an easy start. Four and a half years before Barra took the job, GM had gone bankrupt and needed a government bailout of $50 billion. A few weeks after she took the job, the company faced its largest recall in its history: Faulty ignition switches led to 124 deaths and forced the company to recall millions of cars, at a cost of over $2 billion.
GM needed to get it together. And Barra, who had been with the company since she was eighteen years old, persisted. She testified in front of Congress. She convinced US senators that the company was on the mend. And once she was in charge, she named Alicia Boler Davis executive vice president of global manufacturing and appointed another woman, Kim Brycz, senior vice president of human resources.
And this year, GM had another industry first: It named thirty-nine-year-old Dhivya Suryadevara CFO, making it the only auto company to have both a female CEO and a female CFO.
That’s a sea change for GM—a company that was struggling to claw itself out of the post–Great Recession rubble less than a decade ago and a company whose board of directors was almost entirely male. “If ever a board of directors needed shuffling, it was GM’s,” wrote Steven Rattner, the lead advisor to the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry in 2009 for the Obama administration.
Today, the twelve-person board is half female. And the company has had some big wins, like unveiling the Chevy Bolt in 2017, the first mass-market electric car. But it hasn’t been easy. GM recently announced it plans to lay off 14,000 North American workers, but that’s part of a larger plan, says Barra, to shift away from building Hummers and Cadillacs and to invest in electric and self-driving cars. GM plans to unveil twenty new electric models by 2023. Ambitious, yes, but after rising from the ashes of bankruptcy and turning the company around with the help of some key leaders like Barra, GM is showing no signs of slowing down.