12 May Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts are Still Essential in Times of Crisis
As COVID-19 struck businesses, most of which were completely unprepared for this type of situation, topics as essential as inclusion and diversity in the workplace were pushed to a realm of secondary, non-essential items. As workplaces shut down and employees moved to work from home, the reality and dynamics of the modern workplace in America dramatically shifted to a virtual arena. Meanwhile, some companies are bracing for an oncoming recession, forcing DE&I programs to been shuttered or postponed indefinitely. “We’re down to essential things only,” as it’s become commonplace in the corporate playbook these past 3 months, making the accidental statement that “Diversity work is nice, but not essential.”
We are in two crises right now, an economic crisis and a people crisis, and organizations that acknowledge only one risk exacerbating the other. D&I efforts can be a powerful solution to both challenges — but the nature of diversity work must evolve to meet that charge. We need to broaden our definition of DE&I work to capture the new challenges of working amid a pandemic and develop an approach that focuses on solving real problems, not maintaining appearances. However, responding to COVID-19 Requires DE&I
Too many leaders think of DE&I work narrowly, as a limited set of initiatives aimed at increasing representation through hiring, creating a sense of inclusion through event programming, and pursuing equity through incremental change to processes and policies — all of which is easily downsized during a crisis. But there’s much more under the DE&I umbrella that is essential at moments like this. Leaders need to understand that some of the immediate obstacles they face are also critical DE&I challenges. Here are a few examples.
- Crisis communications. Different segments of customer and employee populations are impacted by the Covid-19 crisis in drastically different ways. Some employees are dealing with inconveniences while others are seeing their families and communities fight to stay alive. Some customers are looking for reassurance that their favorite brands are maintaining business as usual, while others are looking for a signal that businesses are adapting to the crisis. The team of leaders who are on the front lines of communication during and after this crisis needs to demonstrate cultural competence in order to deliver effective, informative, and genuine messages to different groups.
- Middle management. The job of being a middle manager just got a lot harder. More than ever, managers are dealing with the impacts of social inequality magnified by a pandemic, scrambling to support employees dealing with increased racial discrimination, those with mental health challenges made worse by stress and anxiety, and those who risk their lives to make a paycheck they can’t afford to miss, to name a few.
- Remote work. Conflict resolution, employee engagement, and problem-solving hinge on how employees connect to their company culture and their feelings of belonging in the organization. Fostering a universal sense of belonging and connection through messaging apps, teleconferencing, and email is a challenging goal, but those that get it right will see enormous payoffs.
Companies that are unable to meet these challenges have far more to lose than they did three months ago. As it is evident that occupational, emotional, and social wellness collide and have become imperative elements of the corporate wellness universe, companies that aren’t able to solve these people-centric challenges — and thus DE&I challenges — will probably suffer the most.