Employment and Jobs

Ownership for Equity: Building an Inclusive Economy through Employee Ownership

July 6, 2023  • Economic Opportunities Program & Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing at Rutgers University

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A disproportionate share of women and people of color are employed in the lowest paying jobs in the US, struggling to meet basic needs much less build any wealth, Long-term trends show households of color face a widening wealth gap when compared to white households. Employee ownership offers a potential tool to help address the wealth divide, and improve job quality and agency in the workplace for women and people of color, and in the process help build a more inclusive and fair economy. Join this discussion to hear more about how employee ownership can advance race and gender equity.

This discussion features remarks from Melissa Hoover (Senior Fellow at the Rutgers Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing and Founder and Co-Executive Director, Democracy at Work Institute), Robynn Cox (Assistant professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside), Sean-Tamba Matthew (Shareholder, Stevens & Lee, SES ESOP Strategies / Project Director for the Rutgers-Kellogg Project at the Rutgers Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing)Evan Edwards (CEO and Executive Director, Project Equity), Jeanne Wardford (Program Officer for Family Economic Security, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation) Sarah Keh (Vice President of Inclusive Solutions, Prudential Financial) and moderator  (JJ McCorvey, Business and Innovation Reporter, NBCNews).

This discussion was hosted on June 15, 2023, as part of the Employee Ownership Ideas Forum, which brought together leading policymakers, practitioners, experts, and the media for a robust discussion on how we can grow employee ownership for the shared benefit of American workers and businesses. The Forum was co-hosted by the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program and the Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing at Rutgers University. Learn more:



Video: Hear @RobynnCox, @sarah_keh, @sean_tamba, @jjmccorvey, and guests from @projectequity, @WeAreDAWI, and @WK_Kellogg_Fdn discuss equity and #EmployeeOwnership.




Conversations from the Employee Ownership Ideas Forum





Melissa Hoover

Senior Fellow at the Rutgers Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing, and Founder and Co-Executive Director, Democracy at Work Institute

Melissa is the founder and Co-Executive Director of the Democracy at Work Institute, which expands worker ownership as a strategy for people locked out of good jobs and business ownership. Under Melissa’s leadership, DAWI helped incubate the $58 million Legacy Fund, and partners with A&H Capital to provide organizational development consulting and impact metrics support to employee-owned portfolio companies. Melissa is an Executive Fellow of the Rutgers Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing, and she advises nonprofits, investors, foundations and policymakers on effective interventions to support employee ownership as a tool for racial and social equity. Melissa helped start and grow the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, the national grassroots membership organization for worker-owned businesses; she got her start as a cooperative business developer in the Bay Area, helping launch and grow several successful cooperative businesses. She holds a B.A. in History from Stanford University.


Employee ownership and job quality  - Robynn
Robynn J.A. Cox, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor in the School of Public Policy, University of California-Riverside

Dr. Robynn Cox is an assistant professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside, NBER research economist, senior scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ Opportunity & Inclusive Growth Institute, and faculty affiliate at the Presley Center for Crime & Justice.  Her expertise is centered at the intersection of the criminal legal system (CLS) and inequality. She is concerned with understanding barriers faced by marginalized communities, with an emphasis on those disproportionately faced by the Black community, as well as the systemic/structural/institutional factors that have led to the social exclusion of marginalized groups. Specifically, her research has focused on understanding the social, economic, and health consequences of mass incarceration policies. Her work is centered on an aspect of the Black American experience – interaction with the criminal legal system – that is pervasive and has an impact on almost every facet of life for this community.

An interdisciplinary scholar, Cox’s research and publications include the topics of crime, housing, labor, aging, and health. She has published in various journals. Cox was selected as a Wawa Fellow and Kelso Fellow at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations’ Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing. Cox is a member of the advisory committee for the National Academy of Medicine’s Culture of Health Program (CoHP) and has previously served as an elected board member of the National Economic Association (NEA). Prior to her appointment at UC Riverside, Cox held faculty appointments at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and the Economics Department at Spelman College. She was also a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Economics at Duke University. She earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in economics from Georgia State University, where she was awarded the Andrew Young Fellowship. Cox completed her undergraduate studies at Duke University, where she obtained her AB in economics and Spanish and Latin American studies.


photo of Sean MatthewSean-Tamba Matthew

Shareholder, Stevens & Lee SES ESOP Strategies,
Project Director for the Rutgers-Kellogg Project at the Rutgers Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing 

Sean-Tamba Matthew is a shareholder of the law firm Stevens & Lee and also works with its affiliated business, SES ESOP Strategies. He advises companies, business owners, boards of directors, and employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) trustees on transactional, corporate governance, and formation matters related to the design and implementation of ESOPs. Sean is a frequent guest speaker on a range of ESOP-related issues. Sean is also a Kellogg Fellow at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. There he coordinates the Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing’s W.K. Kellogg Foundation program, which helps minority and female business owners and their advisors learn about employee ownership transitions. In addition, Sean is a member of the board of directors of Empowered Ventures, an ESOP-owned holding company headquartered in Indiana, an advisory board member of Talley Management Group, an employee-owned company based in New Jersey, and a member of the executive committee of The ESOP Association’s Public Policy Council. Sean was named among the 2021 Greater Philadelphia Region’s “40 Under 40” honorees by the Philadelphia Business Journal. He received his J.D. from Temple University Beasley School of Law and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania.



Evan Edwards

CEO, Project Equity

Evan began his career as the International Business Manager at an early leading technology start-up, Quarterdeck Corporation. Bitten by the start-up bug, he spent following years in leadership and consulting roles at a variety of early stage enterprise including Bid.com (Northcore Technologies), Mediaseek Technology and Planesia Corp. Guided by a shift in personal and professional priorities, Evan moved into the non-profit sector as Executive Director at YMCA Corporation of Los Angeles, leading the turnaround of an under-performing business unit. Driven by the value of social enterprises and the vision of a generative economy, Evan’s work with Project Equity creates strong collaborative partnerships across sectors. Evan is a graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL (a proud supporter of Wildcat football!), and has certification from Stelter in Professional Fundraising Management. When not working he’s playing sports, walking his dogs or cooking a great meal from scratch.



photo of Jeanne Wardford

Jeanne K. Wardford

Program Officer, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Jeanne Wardford is a program officer for Family Economic Security at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan. In this role as a member of the Family Economic Security team, Wardford is responsible for advancing employment equity and business enterprise development focused policies, practices, strategies, and opportunities for effecting positive systemic change within communities aimed at creating conditions in which children can develop, learn, and grow. She works closely with staff to ensure integration and coordination of efforts. Jeanne has dedicated her life to working for the betterment of individuals both in the public and private sector. Over the last two decades, she has held several positions of progressive leadership in both the public and private sector. Her interest has always been working to develop young people and the communities in which they live. Throughout her career, she has been recognized for her ability to get to the root of the problem and recommend fair, equitable, and oftentimes innovative solutions to age-old problems. She is known for her vigorous policy work and advocacy for children and families.

Prior to joining the foundation in 2015, Jeanne was director for national partnerships at NeighborWorks America in Washington DC. In this role, she built strategic collaborations with public and private investors and secured resources for the implementation of a national asset development program, which included financial education, literacy, coaching, and community development strategy. She has also worked in community development, fund development, and evaluation consulting for TaylarMade Consulting, Inc., where she worked with public, private, and academic sectors and their funding partners. Jeanne’s leadership in support of education, racial equity, and economic development is reflected not only in her day-to-day activities, but also in her membership on a variety of boards, including the Detroit Public Library Foundation; the Center for Community Progress; Warrior Women, a project of the Michigan Women’s Foundation; the National Women’s Business Council; Bowie State University Dean’s Advisory Council; and FAMU School of Allied Health Advisory Board.



photo of Sarah Keh
Sarah Keh

Vice President, Inclusive Solutions, Prudential Financial

Sarah S. Keh is a vice president of Inclusive Solutions at Prudential Financial. In her current role, she leads strategic philanthropy and partnerships to help advance the company’s purpose and commitment to inclusive economic growth. She oversees philanthropic grants, business integration partnerships, and employee community engagement programs to expand work and wealth opportunities for financially vulnerable populations, build inclusive and equitable communities, advance racial equity and justice, and support disaster response and recovery efforts. Sarah currently serves on the board of JerseyCAN, the Devils Youth Foundation, and on the investment committee of PGIM Real Estate’s Impact Value Partners. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wellesley College and a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.



photo of JJ McCorveyJ.J. McCorvey (Moderator)

Business and Innovation Reporter, NBC News

J.J. is a business and innovation reporter at NBC News where he focuses on socio-economic disparities and the ways in which business and money affect the day-to-day lives of Americans. Prior to joining NBC, he was a personal finance reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he reported on inflation and was a writer for the Young Money column. A graduate of Tuskegee University, J.J. previously covered topics including business, tech and marginalized communities for Inc., Fast Company and Entrepreneur as part of multiple ASME-award winning teams. He is a 2019 Best in Business honoree for the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing.