Companies around the world are feeling the disruption created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some are facing devastating revenue losses and serious interruptions in their supply chains. Others are grappling to meet unexpected spikes in demand. The challenges are many and varied, but business leaders in every sector are steeling their resolve as they attempt to navigate the uncharted economic and social waters of a “new normal”.
While companies adapt to meet their most pressing needs, there’s a real risk to efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
Now is the time to take action. Crisis or not, the powerful benefits that result from an inclusive workplace don’t change. If anything, they become even more crucial to resilience and recovery. Companies that are retracting their DEI efforts now are likely to be poorly positioned for growth during recovery from the health crisis. In this article, we’ve asked two DEI experts to share their thoughts on the challenges that COVID-19 crisis is placing on workplace diversity initiatives and what companies can do to ensure that they remain a core facet of their agendas. We are pleased to share the valuable insights of of recognized DEI experts Ms. Jaye Holly, MS, of Jaye Holly Consulting in Albany, New York and Mr. Mauricio Velásquez, MBA, President of the Diversity Training Group (DTG) in Herndon, Virginia.
The COVID-19 crisis has been a revealing “perfect storm” on several levels. “It’s provided a window into our nation’s health disparities affecting communities of color and has disclosed systemic oppression, particularly as it relates to healthcare,” says Ms. Holly. “Throughout history, medical treatment for minorities has been sub-standard. This lack of quality services and inferior health care has led to a deep-rooted mistrust for the medical community. And now that we’re seeing a COVID-19 death rate that’s an astonishing four times higher for minorities, these issues are finally coming to light.” Mr. Velásquez agrees. “People are waking up. Businesses are waking up. They’re seeing that this is the time to be intentional with their DEI efforts, despite the challenges of the pandemic.”
Our experts suggest these five workplace strategies for organizations seeking to enhance their DEI initiatives amid COVID-19:
Rethink the term “essential”. For a disproportionate percentage of people of color, there has been no choice but to be on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19. While many Americans have had the luxury of working remotely, much of the minority population has been duly carrying out their essential jobs as bus drivers, grocery workers, delivery drivers, and other high risk/low pay occupations. “Particularly early on the pandemic, there was little thought of protecting these essential workers even though they were highly exposed to possible infection,” says Ms. Holly. “Business leaders can respond to the situation by recognizing these types of disparities and advocating for racial equality and justice.” One tangible way to support this goal is to consider offering hazard pay to help compensate for the socioeconomic inequities associated with essential work categories.
Take advantage of e-learning opportunities. “COVID-19 has provided ample opportunities for training and education,” says Mr. Velásquez. “There’s a captive audience working from home and they have more available time for training, so it’s the ideal time to invest in e-learning. I’ve been routinely selling out of my session ‘Having Difficult Conversations’ and I believe that’s a sign that companies are taking heed and being purposeful in their DEI actions.”
Focus on social responsibility. During this time of unease, empathy takes on new importance. Consider the personal situations workers may be dealing with and offer as much flexibility as possible. Check in to ask about their experiences and how they are adjusting. “Keep in mind that people of color are experiencing far more COVID-19 losses than other segments of the population, so it’s important to make allowances for this fact,” recommends Ms. Holly. “Offer a safe environment for employees to express their emotions, and remember that grief can manifest itself in many ways.”
Encourage “being your whole self”. Inclusive organizations truly care and listen to their employees. “Listening sessions take on a new level of importance in the current environment,” says Mr. Velásquez. “COVID-19, combined with recent events, has brought emotions to the surface. Now is the time to provide a forum for your employees to share their personal experiences and to be authentic in your efforts to hear what they’re saying.”
Provide your employees with access to the resources they need. Statistically, minorities are on the lower end of the economic hierarchy. If they are able to work from home, the tools needed to successfully perform their work may be out of reach. Seemingly simple things like office supplies and internet access are not feasible for everyone. Employers can alleviate this situation by considering the ancillary support needs of their remote workers and proactively providing these tools.
“As horrific as this health crisis has been and continues to be, I believe there’s a silver lining,” says Ms. Holly. “It has exacerbated our understanding of racial disparities and revealed deeper troubles that must be addressed. It’s something that can no longer be ignored.”
“Big crises can bring about big change,” agrees Mr. Velásquez. “Companies have an unprecedented opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to DEI during this watershed moment. They have a chance to forge a new commitment to equality and fairness that will ensure more prosperity for everyone.”
Is your organization seeking to embrace its DEI practices more fully?
The HR Team is here to offer valuable tools, insights, and access to leading experts that can facilitate your efforts. Please contact our knowledgeable professionals to learn more.
Tune in next month for the next two installments in our three-part series on workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion.
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