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  • Doug Chia

A Seat at the Table: Worker Voice and the New Corporate Boardroom

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in The Aspen Institute Business & Society Program’s Idea Lab on Worker Voice in Corporate Governance. BSP just published a series of six essays that present fresh perspectives on "worker voice" in the boardroom. These essays are meant to challenge old assumptions and mindsets and open important new conversations. I've listed the essays and authors below with excerpts that are sure to provoke discussion on how boards can hear the real voices of their companies' workforces. You can read and download the entire series here.

Expanding Diversity in the Boardroom by Adding Worker Voice

By David Berger (Partner, Wilson Sonsini)

How times have changed. Now that cracks are appearing in the ideology of shareholder primacy, it is time to reconsider the potential benefits from having some directors chosen by employees. Several studies have shown that employee representation on board provides for better performance on a variety of ESG measures, including climate policy, community support and job security (but interestingly not necessarily higher wages). Simply put, the empirical evidence does not support the grave concerns raised about having employees represented on boards, while the most current studies show that adding employees to the board furthers many of the ESG goals that are broadly supported today, including by such organizations as the Business Roundtable.

Director Perspectives: The Value of Worker Voice

By Michelle Greene (President Emeritus and Board Member, Long-Term Stock Exchange)

Workers have valuable perspectives to inform decision-making, reduce risk, and identify untapped opportunity. This perspective is particularly valuable to U.S. boards, which often lack consistent ways of hearing it. As societal and worker expectations evolve, U.S. companies must ensure that the worker voice is heard loud and clear as part of the boardroom conversation, including potentially by making worker-representatives members of the board.

Reimagining Board Committees to Accommodate Worker Voice

By Doug Chia

Demands for worker voice are on the rise, and if trends continue, boards could soon be challenged to accommodate worker voice more formally in corporate governance. Rather than being caught flat-footed, boards can start reimagining now. Looking at their own committees would be a good place for boards to start.

Those Who Work are Labor Investors: Recognizing the Two Core Constituencies of Capitalist Firms

By Isabelle Ferreras (Senior Tenured Fellow, Belgium National Fund for Scientific Research)

Firms are political entities with key economic dimensions, whose very existence is made possible by the joint investment of labor and capital. But despite the fact they would not operate without the former, firms currently only recognize the rights of the latter, those who contribute financial capital, via the structuring of capital investment in the corporate structure which is given a monopoly of the – political – rights to govern the firm. Labor investors should be recognized as the forgotten constituency of the firm, and as such, should be afforded the same rights in its government. Corporate law should require that labor investors, as capital investors, benefit from at least the same rights as those enjoyed by capital investors, and have thus a defining role in strategic corporate decisions.

Why (and How) Workers Should Be Represented on U.S. Corporate Boards

By Lenore Palladino (Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Policy, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Fellow at Roosevelt Institute)

Workers are crucial stakeholders for the success of large corporations, the drivers of the U.S. economy. The economic model of shareholder primacy, in which shareholders (through financial intermediaries) solely elect directors to corporate boards, does not reflect the institutional factors that contribute to innovative enterprises and does not accurately reflect the role of shareholders in 21st century corporations. There is growing consensus that shareholder primacy should be replaced with a stakeholder theory of the corporation; one key element is to include worker representatives on U.S. corporate boards. Though such a policy reform will only be effective if it is enacted along with other reforms to U.S. industrial relations, and certainly faces political headwinds, worker representation on corporate boards is a key policy that can encourage innovation and sustainable prosperity in the 21st century.

From Shareholder Primacy to a Dual Majority Board

By Julie Battilana (Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School) & Isabelle Ferreras (Senior Tenured Fellow, Belgium National Fund for Scientific Research)

Measured either normatively or through contribution to productive processes, labor investors are not the “junior partner” of capital. They are an equal constituency of the firm, in need of enfranchisement and a coequal role in making its main decisions, including the selection of the CEO and strategic choices that will affect labor as much as capital investors and their respective returns on investment. Labor investors ought to have “the collective right to validate or veto these decisions.” All workers should not only be able to vote for union representation to bargain over wages and working conditions that concern the entire industry, but also should be able to choose their representatives at the firm level so that they can participate in decision making about the life of the firm such as the choice of the CEO, what product and market strategies it should pursue, what to prioritize in times of crisis, and how profits are shared.



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