These are unprecedented times, and alongside health concerns and uncertainties about the future another issue has arisen: the scaling back of diversity and inclusion initiatives.
The scope of COVID-19’s impact on business is hard to fathom. From disruptions in everything from revenue to operations to distribution and supply chains, no corner of any industry has gone untouched. And this is only the short term. As we adapt to a new normal in our lives and work, more changes will come. Unfortunately, past crises have proven that inclusion and diversity are at risk of no longer being a priority for some.
In fact, for some businesses, the fallout is already happening. According to a survey of D&I leaders, 27% reported that their organizations had put their initiatives on hold. And as author and diversity, equity, and inclusivity consultant Lily Zheng wrote for Harvard Business Review, she and her colleagues have “shared stories about lunch and learns, speaker panels, workshops, and other DE&I programming haphazardly moved to virtual, postponed indefinitely, or simply cancelled.”
Thanks to these complications and the disproportionate effect the pandemic is already having on many minority communities, now is not the time for companies to press pause on their diversity and inclusion efforts. Instead, we must find ways to champion inclusivity and progress through this moment of change.
Why D&I efforts matter now more than ever
Crisis makes jobs vulnerable. As companies face difficulties simply doing business and increasing concerns about the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic create uncertainty, shrinking budgets mean lost positions. And, regrettably, diverse talent seems to be even more at risk. Not only is this bad for the workforce, it’s bad for business.
We know that diverse teams and inclusive work environments lead to thriving businesses. In fact, over the last few years the likelihood that diverse companies will out-earn their peers has continued to grow. Reports have shown that there are strong correlations between gender diversity and positive behavior which in turn leads to better overall organizational health. And it is that exact sense of wellness that can help see your business through this time of change.
What we can do
Especially during times of upheaval, it’s essential to remember that change can be an opportunity. Don’t deprioritize diversity and inclusion, rather use this time to evolve. Here’s how:
Use your D&I across the board
Too often, diversity and inclusivity practices are seen as a narrow solution for a specific problem. But this simply isn’t true. The tenets of D&I initiatives can be used to benefit an organization as a whole.
Open communication is more important than ever. Facilitating open dialogues between leaders and team members and between peers is essential for recognizing and solving small issues before they become larger. It’s also vital for utilizing the skills of your team! Diversity and inclusivity are one of the great drivers of ingenuity in the workplace. Don’t forget to take advantage of that.
Remember middle management
The pandemic has magnified social inequalities, and mid-level managers are dealing with unprecedented difficulties. People in these positions need help handling the increased consequences of racial discrimination and the mental health challenges caused by new stresses.
Focus on connection
With so many of us now working remotely, some for the first time, facilitating a sense of connection among team members and with the company itself is essential. Utilize teleconferencing, messaging apps, and email to build that sense of connection and belonging.
Thinking strategically in uncertain times
Now may not be the time for expensive all-day, in-person seminars, but that doesn’t mean diversity and inclusivity initiatives need to grind to a halt. Instead, try an adaptable and cost-effective model that prioritizes the following:
Similar to prioritizing open communication, gathering information, even anonymously, is important during times of change. The truth is that this crisis isn’t affecting all of us equally, and broaching topics specific to diversity and inclusion can be a delicate process. Learn where your company needs to improve by asking the necessary questions and seeking out answers.
Make learning inclusive
D&I efforts that fail to reach everyone will, well, fail. Your entire organization needs (and deserves) to be a part of the journey. Utilize virtual learning modalities such as webcasts, elearning content, and online discussion guides to spark company-wide conversations and engagement.
Address specific problems
Rarely are D&I issues “one size fits all” and that’s likely even more true during this disruptive time. Once you learn about specific issues, utilize specific approaches to solve them.
Prize workplace empathy
When things are good, empathy is a bit easier to come by, but it’s even more important during times of crisis. No one is unaffected by these new challenges, but it’s essential that we don’t set our empathy for others aside even as we deal with our own stresses. Leaders should set strong examples and encourage their teams to practice empathy freely. A little patience and compassion will go a long way.
While challenging times necessitate difficult decisions, one thing companies shouldn’t do is let progress fall by the wayside. Instead, use this time as an opportunity to double-down on the diversity and inclusivity initiatives that were working before this crisis and seek out new ways to create an environment in which diversity thrives.