Business and Society with Michigan Ross

#104 - How Can Business Shape the Future of DEI?

Episode Summary

Our panel explores how the business community can do better on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and Professor Samantha Keppler discusses her recent research into the impact of small crowdfunding projects in public schools.

Episode Notes

In this episode, professors from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan tackle the question, “How can business shape the future of diversity, equity, and inclusion?” They discuss why business should concern itself with big social change, areas ripe for improvement, and roadblocks that get in the way of true progress. Then, Professor Samantha Keppler describes her eye-opening research into the value of  crowdfunding small projects in schools — and some broader implications of the results.

Contents of this episode:

DEI discussion: 01:00-28:15

Crowdfunding interview: 28:20-38:40

More information about some of the topics discussed on today’s episode:

Course: Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Business and Beyond

Course: Legal Aspects of DEI in the Workplace

Course: Equity Analytics

Paper: "Crowdfunding the Front Lines"

Paper: "Stopping the Revolving Door"

Donors Choose

And to learn more about other work being done by Michigan Ross faculty, visit our website.

Have thoughts about topics we should cover or just want to get in touch? Send us an email at


Business and Society is brought to you by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

Copyright 2022 - University of Michigan

Episode Transcription

Business and Society with Michigan Ross

#104 - How Can Business Shape the Future of DEI?




0:00:09.3 Bob Needham: Hello, and welcome to Business and Society with Michigan Ross. My name is Bob Needham, and we're coming to you from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. On this podcast, we consider some of the ways the business world interacts with our broader society for better and sometimes for worse. Today, our panel with Michigan Ross professors will consider how business can do better on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, and we'll hear about some useful research and crowdfunding in schools. It's a gorgeous fall day in Ann Arbor and we're glad you're here. Before we get started, I'd like to encourage our listeners to subscribe, rate, and review the podcast. It helps other people find us, and we'd love to hear what you think of the show. You can also reach out via email if you have a question or just wanna say hi. Send us a note at, that's




0:01:00.1 BN: On today's episode, we'll consider the question, how can business shape the future of diversity, equity, and inclusion? And we're joined by three Michigan Ross professors who will provide some answers, Tamika Curry Smith, Dana Muir and Chris Rider. All three currently teach courses here at Ross related to DEI issues. I'll ask them to introduce themselves. Tamika, could you go first?


0:01:21.4 Tamika Curry Smith: Sure. Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited for this discussion with all of you. I'm Tamika Curry Smith. I am a diversity, equity, and inclusion executive who has been doing DEI work for over 20 years. I previously led DEI at Deloitte Target Corporation, Mercedes-Benz USA and Nike. I'm currently chief diversity officer at ARM, which is a tech company in the semiconductor space. And as you heard, I am a professor here at Michigan Ross, teaching an undergraduate course on advancing DEI in business and beyond. So excited to be here.


0:02:00.0 BN: Thanks. Dana?


0:02:01.6 Dana Muir: Yes. I'm Dana Muir. I'm a Business Law Professor here at Ross. And I am teaching a class right now, an undergraduate class, it is titled, legal aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. And so, it looks at DEI primarily from a legal perspective.


0:02:20.2 BN: Chris?


0:02:21.8 Chris Rider: Hi. I'm Chris Rider. I'm the Thomas C. Kinnear Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies. At Ross, I teach a course called equity analytics that prepares our students to diagnose gaps, understand why they're there, and ideally design gap closing interventions, this builds on my research. I'm an organizational sociologist who studies societal inequality in entrepreneurship, employment, and even sports.


0:02:43.1 BN: Great. Thank you all for being here. To get us started, is it worth thinking about, is business even the right place to make big social changes like this? Is it expecting too much to think that business can and lead on DEI issues?


0:03:00.0 TS: I can certainly chime in. I would say just the opposite. I think business is the perfect conduit to really advance so many of these issues. Business plays a critical role in society in general, and it's the perfect connection between our education systems and what people do once they finish their education and so, the connections are there. We know that business leaders have a tremendous amount of influence. We know that particularly younger generations now are looking to business to step up, to speak up, to no longer stay quiet on these issues and maintain the status quo. So I think now more than ever, business really has an opportunity to play a critical role in advancing many of the issues that we know are societal issues, but that business has the voice and the means to advance.


0:03:57.8 DM: And I agree from a legal perspective. I think the law has long looked to business to help combat discrimination, to ensure pay equity, and more recently to take a lead in an important role in trying to provide opportunities for people with health issues. So I agree.


0:04:20.7 BN: We've heard a fair amount in recent years about the business case for DEI, that improving the culture can help a business's bottom line. But it seems like knowing that is not always enough to spark real change and it also tends to focus on helping those who hold the power and the privilege be better. Is there a better way to make the case for businesses to improve on DEIs or a better way to think about all this?


0:04:46.8 TS: I'd like to think people who know me know that I use the term yes, and a lot. And I think there are very few issues in life that are mutually exclusive, and DEI is one of them. And I've been doing this work for over 20 years, as you heard. And in the beginning, we didn't have a lot of the business case data. We approach the work from the right thing to do, from a good for society, and good for people perspective. And that resonates with some people, but for others, it just doesn't. And so, one of the things that's been helpful for me is that as time has progressed, as we've had more research done and more data that really shows the business case for DEI is clear, it gives me another tool in my tool belt to have a conversation with people, and you have to meet them where they are and reach them where they are. For some people, it's the right thing to do, will be that resonates with them. For others, it is about the data and the business case to help them understand why and what are the advantages of it. To me, I think both have a role to play, and typically when I talk about DEI, true to my yes, the end statement, I talk about both because I think they're both important.


0:06:03.1 DM: And again, from a legal perspective, there is some research that indicates that the legal case for diversity also can be important for some people. And again, it doesn't resonate with everyone, but for some people, it helps to reinforce the importance of values and attitudes because it helps them think about past discrimination and the importance of combating that. So that may be useful in addition to the business case.


0:06:34.2 CR: So, I would just add, and agreeing with both of those comments, that I think that we've long talked about the business cases for DEI as being something that needs to be done to improve performance, and this has long been challenging because many managers and executives already think that they are maximizing performance. And so any DEI initiative would be presented as something that might compromise that profit maximization. I don't think that's necessarily the case. And I think that's long been recognized, as Dana pointed out, to do business within the normative and the regulatory confines of industry is indeed performance-enhancing, and I think that the more important point perhaps is that our students, investor activists, they expect more from organizations, and so it's not a matter of making a business case for businesses to care about DEI, but rather what are the constraints that we are willing to accept in trying to maximize profits? In other words, it gets to the core of should the business exist in the first place?


0:07:37.3 BN: So what can and should businesses be doing that they are not doing? Or what could they be doing better?


0:07:43.6 DM: Well, we still see way too much classic discrimination and egregious harassment in some businesses. And it is an easy case to make that that needs to stop.


0:08:00.5 TS: I would also say that, from my experience, businesses could be more strategic when it comes to DEI and more proactive. So even now in 2022, and two years past George Floyd and the big movement that we saw for racial justice and a focus on equity really around the world, you're still seeing organizations that are reactive when it comes to this topic. They're waiting for, to Dana's point, a lawsuit to come at them. They're waiting for maybe pressure from their board of directors or maybe employees to step up and advance a grievance. And because of all the data and the research that shows, as Chris mentioned, we have an opportunity to truly optimize and maximize what businesses are here to do. And so if you can think about DEI as an enabler of your business strategy, which means that just as you sit down every year and you do strategic planning for the business overall, just as you have metrics to measure your progress when it comes to your business goal, companies and businesses should be doing the same when it comes to DEI, really integrating it into their business strategy. And most importantly is having metrics and accountability to measure their progress and hold themselves accountable.


0:09:20.7 CR: Absolutely, and just to build on Tamika's point, I think one thing that businesses need to do better on and are being pushed to do better on is not being satisfied with representation as the single metric for achieving DEI. It goes beyond the diversity profile. That's a useful and important report for any company to have because it bookmarks the status quo, and it might even tell us about the past. But really what matters is where the business aspires to go and how people can get to the positions that are represented in that diversity profile. So when we talk about equity, we're largely talking about enabling people to not follow a different path to get to the same place.


0:10:02.9 DM: And can I follow up on one thing Tamika said as well, and that's accountability. I think that businesses can think about accountability in so many different places in their organization. It's important at the top, but it's important in first line managers, it's important in employees. And looking at accountability across the organization is important.


0:10:28.0 BN: And talking about accountability and metrics kind of leads right into the course that Chris teaches on equity analytics. Chris, you've lately been arguing that analytics are critical to improving organizations from a DEI perspective. Can you go into that a little more and explain what your course is all about?


0:10:45.6 CR: Absolutely. So I've started to refer to this as the equity challenge. The reason being that subject to some constraints, we can generally agree on what diversity is. It's who's part of the group, and once we assign people to those groups, we can generate metrics that tell us about who's here. Similar with inclusion, we can measure their level of engagement, their feelings of belonging with surveys. But again, that's the experience of those who are here. When we talk about equity, we're really talking about not just the experience of those who are part of the group, but also those who are not, and why they aren't. And so equity is just challenging because it goes beyond the boundaries of the organization. Generally, we're looking at the past and comparing it to the present, we're looking at the present and looking towards the future. So we have two data points that we have to take into account, and all this is embedded in a moral philosophy that we're still discovering within ourselves.


0:11:39.3 CR: And so I think this is what I refer to as the equity challenge, is trying to find common ground. Where can we agree? And I think the analytics are critical to finding that common ground, because we can just disagree about the whole systemic nature of disparity, but certainly we can find some common ground on certain aspects of that. So for example, if someone doesn't believe that we should be treating everyone the same or rather adjusting to their needs, whereas someone believes that equal treatment for all is the principle to follow, well, we can see what the implications are following those two principles in the data. And we can make perhaps some compromises to find ways in which we can make progress without being entirely opposed to change or entirely opposed to maintaining the status quo. And the analytics is what makes us able to have those agreements.


0:12:31.4 BN: Okay, great. Many of our students have shared that often working in an organization, they have felt isolated or we're not able to create change due to their limited sphere of influence. What can individuals do to improve their workplace culture directly or to foster broader change at a corporate level? Tamika, do you wanna take that?


0:12:51.8 TS: Sure. And this is a topic that I touch on in my course that really looks at the societal organizational and personal issues that are focused on DEI. And there are four things that I say we all can do, we all should be thinking about in a proactive way in terms of how we can advance DEI. The first is, what are we doing for ourselves? How are we educating ourselves about topics related to DEI? How are we really being introspective about our beliefs? Chris touches on one of those, which is, "What is fairness?" To some, fairness is treating everyone the same, so this concept of equity is very difficult for some individuals, but if you can just help people understand, for example, if someone was giving away shoes and they only had one size, well, I wear a size six and women, so I'm probably not going to be the average profile of the shoe that's being given away. So equity is giving everyone what they need to help them be successful. So how do we use everyday topics and examples to help people understand some of these topics, and then really helping people recognize all of the resources available to them to advance their own understanding, because that's all of our responsibilities is to educate ourselves.


0:14:10.2 TS: The second area is in our relationship, in our one-on-one relationship. So there's data that shows regardless of background, we as human beings are hard-wired to like to be around people that are like us across whatever dimension of diversity that you wanna pick on. And so how can we all as individuals try to break that up, get out of our comfort zones and make an intentional effort to meet people and to develop relationships across difference? That's what helps us get an appreciation for a different perspective, someone who has a different upbringing than us, someone who has experienced things that maybe we haven't because my experience is not that of everyone. And so the more that I know people from different backgrounds and have experience with them, it helps me be a more empathetic individual.


0:15:00.5 TS: The third area is in groups or teams that we're on. So that takes kind of that one-on-one relationship to the next level to think about if I'm in a club, at Michigan Ross, or I'm in an employee research group in a company, how can I really be thinking about advancing this topic, understanding what are the issues and how can I be an advocate and an ally for those things? And then finally, the highest level is putting all those things together. Whatever organization or company you're a part of, thinking about the systems, the processes, the structures that exist, and what is your sphere of influence? I tell everyone, if we all think of ourselves as pieces of a puzzle, a puzzle is only complete when all of those pieces come together. They're all different, they're different shapes, sizes, etcetera. But if we all understand what our sphere of influence is, which means what is our piece of the puzzle, and we strive to advance that and to do what we can, when we put those pieces together, we see the collective changes that we need. So those are kind of the four levels that I'd like to talk about and have us all think about so that it's not as overwhelming and we realize that we can make a difference and that change is possible even for us as individuals.


0:16:18.6 BN: That's great. And then Dana, what legal issues do businesses need to consider when working to improve their culture? I know it's a huge question asking you to boil it down to two minutes, but.




0:16:30.4 DM: Okay. Well, my first caveat, and I apologize for having to do this, but I can't provide legal advice to our listeners and... So in this podcast, I'm talking about general legal principles.


0:16:44.4 BN: Sure.


0:16:45.9 DM: And it is difficult to boil down to a couple of minutes. The web of state, local, federal laws that touch upon culture and diversity, equity and inclusion issues is increasing constantly and it is complicated. But first, I think most of those align with equity and fairness, and that's especially true as laws have been changing. So we see more states with pay equity laws that increase transparency, that require reporting, and I think the federal government is going to increase requirements on reporting of pay levels and is very interested in pay equity. Another example is harassment. For a long time, the legal standards on harassment were very high. So the conduct that was completely unacceptable to most of us and would be unacceptable to most companies that are serious about DEI would not be illegal. And thankfully, many companies still discouraged or prohibited that conduct, but that law too is changing particularly at the state level. And so I think that it will help businesses to be aware that the law is supporting these efforts. If they're not taking DEI seriously now, it will encourage them to do that. And advice of legal counsel is important because the law does vary and it is changing.


0:18:24.5 BN: You touched on something that I hadn't even thought much about, which is the difference between the state and federal. And I guess I sort of assumed that most of the concerns here would be on a federal level, but you're talking more about the states, is that true? Is there a lot of activity at the state level? And does it vary a lot between states?


0:18:44.1 DM: The difference between states and the federal level has been substantial for many years. So states can impose more requirements on employers, they can require less discrimination, they can require more fairness, and they have. They can't decrease the protections that the federal government gives employees, but just as an example, federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on marital status, based on height, based on weight, Michigan does. So that has been true for a long time, but we have not seen a significant change in the discrimination area in federal law in a number of years. We have seen big changes from the states, and that is true. Again, pay equity and sexual harassment and other kinds of harassment are top of mind for me, but the states have been active in other areas as well.


0:19:45.5 BN: Interesting.


0:19:46.6 TS: I would also add another layer of complexity here is the global space. I've worked for a number of global companies, and you add to that, different countries that have different laws. We're seeing that evolve and the trend increasing of countries that are asking and looking for more around pay equity that are requiring more companies in terms of metrics and reporting. And then there are the complications where you have, depending on the dimension of diversity, some countries even talking about or looking at some of these topics, for example, sexual orientation is illegal, right? And so for organizations who are really committed to DEI, thinking about how to navigate the space and to Dana's point, making sure that you have legal counsel that understands all the global nuances is critically important.


0:20:39.1 DM: I can add an example to that because it's such an important topic. The question came up recently in a discussion, what about employers that want to fly a Pride flag over their organizations, over their headquarters, over their offices during Pride Month? Well, in some countries, homosexual activity is illegal, and so we might be concerned just about the safety of employees and the perspective that people in the country have about employers. In Vietnam, I think it's illegal for companies to make a political statement. And the question comes up is the mere flying of a Pride flag, a political statement? So this is complicated. It also gets to an area Chris probably knows more about than I do. But given data privacy issues in many countries, it's either illegal, close to illegal, or at least really unusual to even ask your employees the kind of demographic information that we, in the US, require employers to keep and consider. It just cannot be done or it's so unusual that many companies are very uncomfortable with that.


0:21:57.0 CR: Absolutely, Dana. I think that the reporting of social identities is critical to us in the kind of analytics that the students are learning in equity analytics in Michigan Ross. However, the power of those analytes is limited as Dana points out. Laws that prohibit even asking people to provide the kind of demographics that we would want to analyze to see if there are indeed disparities that we might address. Beyond that, there's also the movement for self-ID for equity, and just about any database I might use where I want to identify people by race, ethnicity, gender, etcetera, etcetera. I might not have that for 20-30% of the people in my data. And so that makes it very difficult to document and establish disparities, especially when some of the affected groups are already in such small numbers within the organization.


0:22:48.1 DM: That's really true for sexual orientation and gender identity.


0:22:50.5 BN: Absolutely.


0:22:52.7 DM: There's some indication that there're serious pay disparities and we don't have good data on that, we don't know and I don't know how you capture that, Chris.


0:23:04.1 BN: Okay. We just touched on a couple, but what are some other roadblocks that are preventing business from doing better on DEI and what can be done to remove those roadblocks?


0:23:16.4 TS: Well, we heard about data, we heard about data privacy, we heard about the legal implications. I would say some of the other roadblocks are... It's hard, it's just hard, right? It's not like this is an assembly line where we're putting Cogs into a machine and we can just figure out where the gap is and then fix that part of the assembly line. We're talking about human beings. We all... We know we're imperfect. We may have good intentions, but our behavior doesn't always line up with what we say and what our intentions are. And we know that there are systems, policies, processes that we have gotten used to following over the course of our personal lives, over the course of our professional careers. And so to kind of dismantle and re-build systems in the midst of turnover and the people changing, the leadership changing, the culture changing, it's difficult and it doesn't happen overnight. And so I think sometimes it can feel overwhelming and it can feel like it's such a task that's partially why some organizations may put it off or kind of kick the can down the road. But we also know that for those who are really putting a steadfast focus on this and have made progress, it is doable.


0:24:46.6 TS: And so I would say just like with any other tough initiative, anything that's difficult, it's still worth it. And organizations have to kind of get past what looks to be the impossibility of it all and focus on the change that it's possible.


0:25:05.0 CR: So Tamika used the word systemic or referred to systems, that's one I'm rather fond of using as well. As a sociologist, I see these disparities, these gaps as systemic in nature, and that presents a challenge because it's hard to understand entire systems. They're so complex, there's so many parts and they're changing so often that it's almost too much. On the other hand, it also means that we can make progress through a whole variety of ways by understanding the system, and the more we understand the system, the more opportunities we can see to intervene, to maybe not close the gap, but to start to diminish the magnitude of that gap. And so I think the big challenge is understanding that, yes, the world is systemic, disparity is systemic. We can still make progress one bit at a time, one step at a time. But it's gonna take a while and we shouldn't be discouraged if one initiative doesn't close that gap because it's probably gonna take more than one.


0:26:01.5 BN: That kind of wraps up our questions, did anybody have any final points they wanted to make? Any parting thoughts?


0:26:10.0 TS: I would like to say this, I have a saying that I use about DEI work is about the three I's. And the I's are intention, integration, and investment. And that will be my parting thought, is that we have to be intentional about this work. It doesn't happen on its own. As we heard, there're systems, processes, policies and human behavior that have the momentum perhaps to keep the status quo, so we have to be intentional about changing that. The second is integration. So the best way to really weave DEI into how you operate and make it so that it really lives and breathes beyond the individuals at any one given point is just integrate it into how you do. That's that systemic approach that Chris was talking about. If you change the system, it's less about who's there, because then everybody knows, "Well, this is how it works. This is how we operate." So taking a systems and integrative approach to this work is critical, and then the last is investment. It's going to take an investment of time, oftentime of money and really that blood, sweat, and tears to really make this come to fruition. Because as we said before, you will hit adversity, you will encounter challenges, and so you have to be willing to persevere beyond that and continue to invest. And as Chris said, not give up at the first sign of failure.


0:27:36.9 BN: Anything else?


0:27:39.2 DM: I don't have an inspired closing thought like that. I wish I did.


0:27:42.5 BN: That's fine. [chuckle] That's fine.


0:27:43.6 CR: So I'll just add that if you're listening, whether or not you are a student just beginning your education or an executive looking to engage in lifelong learning, come on over to Michigan Ross. We have all sorts of programs on courses on DEI, and you can come on over and Tamika, Dana, and I would be happy to welcome you here.


0:28:04.6 BN: Nice. All right. Well, thank you all for a really interesting discussion, we really appreciate your time.


0:28:10.6 TS: Thanks for having us.


0:28:10.8 CR: Yeah. You're excellent.


0:28:11.1 DM: Yeah, thanks for the opportunity.




0:28:19.3 BN: In today's interview segment, we'll talk with professor Samantha Keppler about research she has done into crowdfunding in schools, which could also have broader implications. Samantha, thank you for being here. Could you introduce yourself?


0:28:29.2 Samantha Keppler: Thank you. I'm an assistant professor of Technology and Operations here at Ross.


0:28:35.1 BN: Welcome. So you've authored two papers recently, along with your Michigan Ross colleagues, Jun Li and Andrew Wu that look into the effects of small crowdfunding projects in US schools. The first one found that crowdfunding projects like this can in fact have a very real positive effect on student achievement, especially in low income schools. Can you explain a bit more about the types of projects you studied and where they were most effective?


0:29:01.5 SK: So the results of this paper were actually really surprising to us. Teacher crowdfunding platforms, which are online platforms where K-12 public school teachers across the United States can post projects where they request resources that they need in their classroom, and citizens like you and I can donate. They're increasingly popular, about 87% of US public schools have had a teacher post at least one project on the site. And at the online crowdfunding platform that we work with DonorsChoose, they've channeled about $1.25 billion into the public school system since they started. But no one expected that these projects would have a difference when it comes to student test scores. And that's because the general belief is that when they crowdfund for requests, they're asking for basics like pencils, papers, calculators, science lab equipment. And I believe, in fact, my own belief was that some of these basics could not really matter as much as some of the big important things in education like curriculum, class size or principal leadership, these things matter, not the basics.


0:30:06.5 BN: So what made them so effective?


0:30:09.1 SK: So what we find is that it's the frontline worker effect. And so this frontline worker effect is not something that we came up with, it actually comes from Toyota manufacturing. It's the idea that frontline workers, the people that are on the assembly lines and manufacturing, putting together the parts for automotive or Toyota cars are the ones that are most intimately familiar with the obstacles like where the system fails? Where it's inefficient? And so if you want to improve the system, you can empower your frontline workers, listen to their ideas, help encourage them and give them the resources to implement solutions on the frontlines, and then the whole system improves. And so what we find in education with the crowdfunding studies that we've done is that the frontline worker effect is essentially present in education. Teachers know very intimately the obstacles their students face and the resources that they need to overcome those obstacles. And when you say it that way, it's perhaps not surprising that when we listen to teachers and we give them these small resource requests that they need, we see an effect on student learning. So I learned a lot through this project.


0:31:17.9 BN: And what did you find in your studies?


0:31:21.1 SK: So for the student learning study, we found... So we took data from the State of Pennsylvania, which has an amazing open data portal, and we connected it to DonorsChoose teacher crowdfunding data. And what we find when we do that is that the schools in our study, when they have projects funded on the teacher crowdfunding platform, have a significantly higher student performance than schools that do not have their project funded. And we find this even after controlling for the fact that some of these schools that post projects might be somehow systematically different than the ones that don't. Because the DonorsChoose platform that we work with has these flash funding events where all projects are funded regardless of what school they come from. So this natural experiment helps us identify the effects we observe. And specifically what we find is we find a positive effect of teacher crowdfunding platforms on student learning outcomes for the high school exams in Pennsylvania, which are in science, math and ELA, or English Language Arts. And at the elementary school level, we find the effect in Science and English as well. So at all levels, in almost all tested subjects, we observe this effect from 2015-2019, this is pre-COVID.


0:32:33.8 BN: So you have a second paper in the works, examining the potential effective crowdfunding and reducing teacher turnover. For starters, how big of a problem is turn over in public schools?


0:32:44.3 SK: Turnover has long been a problem in public schools in the United States, particularly for young teachers, new teachers in the system. So historically, it's been that about 30%-50% of new teachers leave the profession entirely, they choose to go to different careers. And in the COVID era, this problem has really come to a head, a lot of people are leaving their professions. Leaving professions more broadly. And we're seeing this in education as well. Teachers are saying that they're gonna leave or retire earlier at much higher rates than the past, and perhaps more critically, a few new teachers are entering the system. And so we don't have a lot of young people that are choosing the teaching profession. And so we're having these shortages or gaps between the teachers that are leaving the system and then the teachers who are entering the system. And so one of the solutions that's on the table is to try to keep as many teachers in the classroom as we can, especially the good ones.


0:33:37.5 BN: And then what did you find in this turnover research?


0:33:40.8 SK: So in this project, we are able to look at the teacher level. So for every individual teacher, we're able to see their turnover decision, whether they leave their school or they leave the public education system entirely. And whether or not the getting of crowdfunded project changes the likelihood that they would leave their school or public education. And what we find is that teachers whose projects are successfully funded are significantly less likely to leave the public education system, even after accounting for the fact that teachers who post these projects might be somehow more dedicated to their teaching profession before they even get a crowdfunding project. So even controlling for that, we find crowdfunding has a positive effect.


0:34:21.9 SK: And what we find also is that really that this reveals that there's a critical resource gap in the education system that we haven't really thought about, and the districts and schools... Like, why do these resources matter for teachers? Yes, it's good for teachers to get these small things that help them, but it's not necessarily you'd expect that they would change their career decisions entirely because of a crowdfunded project. And so what we see when we conduct some textual analysis of what the teachers are writing about their projects and how they're using the resources, what we find is that the school district provides teachers resources, of course, but these resources are very standard, they're the same across all teachers. But what teachers want to feel successful and to feel like their teaching style matches the resources that they have, they want unique resources. They want stuff that they want, maybe that the teacher down the hall doesn't want and DonorsChoose gives them an outlet for doing that.


0:35:19.5 SK: And just to give an example, one of the things that we find is really impactful for teacher retention is projects like furniture, which on one hand again, sort of at the beginning, you're like, "Why would furniture have that effect?" But when we look closer, what we see is that districts provide a lot of basic furniture. You know, the desks that we probably all sat in that are all the same kind of cream-colored. But what teachers are requesting on DonorsChoose are bean bag chairs and flexible seating and colorful rugs and dynamic things that make their classroom feel warm, a loving place to learn, and this matches with the type of teacher they want to be. And that connection between the physical environment in which they teach, and the idea they have of what they wanna be as a teacher in their head seems to be the thing that helps them stay in teaching.


0:36:07.3 BN: Wow. So what does your research suggest for education professionals and policy makers even?


0:36:14.5 SK: So I can tell you first what has happened so far as a result of these studies. So as a result of our two studies with DonorsChoose, six states in the US have sent over 45 million dollars of their COVID relief funds to DonorsChoose.


0:36:29.3 BN: Oh, wow.


0:36:30.5 SK: In hopes of boosting teacher retention and helping students overcome the COVID learning losses that have been documented, especially recently, and more states are planning to do so. But what I can say more generally is that our research suggests that first of all, to believe that there is this frontline worker effect in education, teachers are not part of the problem, they're part of the solution. And specifically when it comes to retention, providing teachers the unique resources that they want, not only the standard resources that are given to all of them can improve retention.


0:37:04.0 BN: And what can your research tell us about the frontline worker effect in other industries beyond education?


0:37:10.7 SK: So the frontline worker effect has been studied in many industries, from manufacturing to healthcare to retail. But in those other settings, there's been data limitations to our understanding of the frontline worker effect because there is no large database of all the frontline workers ideas and there's no randomness in terms of whether they've been implemented or not. Sometimes there's a process, even if there is a database. So what we have in education is this really unique opportunity to measure the frontline worker effect, because through the DonorsChoose crowdfunding platform is essentially a database of frontline worker ideas. And so our studies are really suggesting that there is a much bigger effect of frontline worker ideas than maybe any of us thought, because we're documenting such an important effect of teacher ideas on education systems.


0:38:00.3 SK: And in general, it seems that because we've kind of underestimated the frontline worker ideas and opportunities for improvements, too many companies do not really listen to their frontline workers or have opportunities for frontline workers to suggest ways to improve the process or system, or service that they are working on. And even if there are opportunities for frontline workers to speak up, there's not necessarily resources or ways for workers to actually implement solutions on the frontlines to the everyday problems that they experience. And what our study suggest is that they're leaving money on the table by not listening.


0:38:35.1 BN: Wow. Very interesting. Well, thanks very much for being here, Samantha.


0:38:37.7 SK: Thank you.


0:38:41.7 BN: That wraps up our fourth episode of Business and Society with Michigan Ross. If you'd like to know more about the subjects we discussed today, look for the links in the episode notes. And for more news about our faculty’s work, check out the news section of our website, Thanks for listening and we hope you'll come back next time when we'll talk about thriving in the changing workplace. Business and Society is brought to you by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Thanks again to our guests today, Tamika Curry Smith, Dana Muir, Chris Rider, and Samantha Keppler. Our audio engineer and editor is Jonah Brockmann, executive producer and today's host is me, Bob Needham. Until next time, this is Business and Society.