Finding it difficult to excel as a Black woman in the workplace early on in her career, Elyse Bush says she often felt excluded. However, she soon realized she wasn’t alone.
“I realized early in my career that not all workplaces are inclusive and that not all workplaces are built for everyone,” says Bush, a Consortium fellow and MBA at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “I talked to colleagues and friends of colleagues and realized this wasn’t a problem that was specific to me. This is something that was disproportionately felt by underrepresented groups in the workplace.”
Following this realization, in 2019, Bush began doing research to see just how prevalent the issue was in order to develop a solution.
“I started doing some anonymous user interviews to see how people felt in their own workplaces — and by people, I mean underrepresented groups in the workplace, like women, people of color, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community,” she says. “I saw that there’s a dire need when it comes to workplace inclusion.”
As a political science major in undergrad, Bush was driven by the desire to uplift marginalized communities — but she also felt the pull toward entrepreneurship. It was in trying to solve the issue of workplace inclusion, however, that Bush found her stride.
“My desire to make things more equitable and accessible for people has been something that’s always been a priority for me. So naturally entrepreneurship and, more specifically, social entrepreneurship, seemed like a really good fit,” Bush says. “I think that, especially within the last four years, it’s evident that politics and business — specifically diversity and inclusion — are interwoven, and so it made sense for me to try to give people agency and fuel equity by delving into the business and marketing space.”
To address the issue of workplace inclusion, why not develop a way to measure inclusion among employees, she thought? After an initial iteration focused on working with companies to measure feelings of belonging among employees, Bush landed on the current version of her company Justus.
An online platform where individuals can write anonymous reviews for current and former employers, Justus serves a dual purpose. It ensures transparency around workplace culture — to help candidates make educated decisions about who to work for — while also holding companies accountable. The hope, Bush says, is that the reviews will motivate companies to improve their workplace culture for individuals from all walks of life.
“In interviews, there’s a constant question that applicants face: ‘How will you be a good cultural fit for our company?’ But I realized that the conversation really needs to be flipped, and candidates need to start asking potential employers how they’re adjusting their own company culture so that their mold doesn’t just fit one person,” Bush says.
Anyone can go to JoinJustus.com, create an account and write a review. The only requirement is that you self-identify (i.e., by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.). This helps reveal trends, such as whether or not a company is welcoming to and inclusive of certain groups of people.
“Using me as an example, you can see that if I write a review, I can not only specify that I identify as a person of color, but that I identify as a Black person — and then I also identify as a woman. I think that’s important because the experience of someone like me, a Black woman in the workplace, might be very different from someone who just identifies as a woman in the workplace,” Bush says. “Representing and amplifying that intersectionality is where Justus really stands out from the other mechanisms that exist right now.”
With the information provided by employee reviews, candidates can make informed decisions about where to apply and who to work for, and employers will have insight into the experiences of underrepresented groups and where they could improve to become more inclusive.
In addition to Justus’ focus on intersectionality, the key to the site’s success — or the “secret sauce,” as Bush says — lies in the anonymity of its users.
“If you leave a company, you can do an exit [interview], but that’s not something that’s necessarily anonymous,” says Bush. “You have companies that will launch surveys every once in a while and might promise anonymity, but for a lot of employees, they don’t trust that that’s truly anonymous — and for good reason. The vast majority of employer complaints come from retaliation from managers. So, there’s a huge and very real fear that anonymity is actually not going to be honored in those exit interviews or in those company surveys.”
Justus, on the other hand, gives underrepresented employees agency by allowing them to voice their grievances without fear, Bush says.
“I wanted to create Justus as an opportunity for underrepresented groups to amplify their own voices because, in many places, I don’t think that there are really good outlets for them to be able to voice their own opinions,” she says. “In my personal experience, many times, I wanted to give my opinion, but for fear of retaliation, I held back from saying how I truly felt.”
Justus, however, is not just about revealing where and which companies are doing poorly. It is also meant to shine a light on those that are doing well. “I think it’s equally important for workplaces that are doing good to be celebrated,” Bush says. “We want to know if this is a place where Black women or people with disabilities feel there is equity at play and that the company is committed to diversity and inclusion.”
Currently, Justus features nearly 100,000 companies — a number that continues to grow. Thus far, Bush says, she’s received a mix of both favorable and unfavorable reviews, and she’s optimistic she’ll continue to see more. One way she is working to spread the word about Justus is through The Consortium — an organization that has not only supported her work but also inspired it.
“For The Consortium, specifically, one of the reasons why I ended up applying is because of their commitment to diversity and inclusion, and leadership in the corporate space in America,” Bush says. “I don’t think that that’s a blanket statement at all; it’s truly a call to action.”