As the dual impact of COVID-19 and systemic discrimination continues to be felt by businesses worldwide, concerns are growing that the equity and equality agenda has been set back by years.
It’s now well documented that Black people, People of Color, LGBT people, and women are disproportionally affected by the crises. Not only do people in these demographics tend to work in roles with greater exposure to the COVID risk, they have less of a voice in the workplace, they struggle more to advance their careers and are paid less than their peers.
Forthcoming research from US academics at different universities has looked at historical data and warns that biases tend to re-emerge strongly during economic crises, despite evidence that diversity and inclusion have positive impacts.
What it means to have a diverse and inclusive workforce
The benefits of diversity have been well documented. Teams that were geographically diverse, and included members with different genders and at least one age gap of more than 20 years, have been shown to be most successful – making better business decisions than individuals 87% of the time. But in times of crisis, the concern is that support for diversity will be withdrawn.
However, one thing that has become clear as movements such as Black Lives Matter and MeToo have gathered increased momentum is that addressing these challenges needs new thinking and an acknowledgment that many of the systems, tools, and processes we have come to rely on were built on a flawed understanding. Going forward, the only thing to do is to rebuild them on a foundation of fairness.
Which business processes need to be addressed?
Creating a new, fairer, playbook means looking at every process from the way meetings are held to the way people are hired. As diversity consultant Perrine Farque of Inspired-Human points out, companies still hire based on “culture fit” which means “people like us.” Instead, companies should build a culture that’s looking for “culture add” which means “people adding a new perspective” so that diversity and inclusion become part of your future success.
The importance of allies in moving the needle
The Black Lives Matter movement has demonstrated that systemic discrimination is very much a business problem and is very much everyone’s problem. Encouragement to move the needle has to come from the top down and the bottom up.
Teach your leaders to demonstrate willingness to help employees with more personal challenges. Empathetic leaders recognize that it’s part of their role to lead and support those team members when they need it most.
Grow the grassroots movements by building trust and focusing on communication. Create Slack channels and Employee Resource Groups (ERG) for minorities.
Create an effective speak up culture
To help employees feel confident about being themselves, companies need to get comfortable with uncomfortable discussions. Now is a good time to discuss some uncomfortable issues minorities face on a day-to-day basis and encourage them to discuss these concerns openly, and without fear of retribution.
Promote dialogue about differences such as gender, ethnic background, race, age, disabilities, and sexual orientation and promote curiosity so that employees know they are valued, and that you expect them to value others no matter how divergent their views.
This is no small task. Over the last four months, HR professionals have been on the front lines, not just in handling the response to the pandemic but also in addressing the long-standing problem of inequality in the workforce. But there is now a global momentum around changed to be capitalized on or we risk setting the clock back on an equitable workplace.
Neta Meidav is co-founder and CEO of Vault Platform, the trusttech company disrupting workplace misconduct reporting and resolution. Neta worked as a senior adviser to the UK Government for over ten years and is a knowledgeable resource on solutions to the problem of harassment and bullying in the workplace.