The livelihood of most professionals is threatened by the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on companies in terms of changing business practices. Unfortunately, aside from layoffs and furloughs, many companies are pausing or canceling diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts. However, incorporating D&I initiatives, even during a time of crisis, can help ensure the long-term success of companies.
Most job seekers desire to work at a diverse company. According to ZipRecruiter’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Survey conducted in 2019, more than 86% of job seekers consider workplace diversity somewhat or very important when looking for a job, with Millennials and Generation X placing higher value in diversity than any other generation.1 Successful employers can leverage diverse teams to communicate and relate to a global customer base and audience. The efforts to forge a diverse and inclusive workforce require implementation from managers and commitment and accountability from and by senior management.
Note: Workplace diversity is not restricted to race but includes ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and other factors.2
During the COVID-19 shutdown, there was a heightened awareness of D&I in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the racial justice protests that followed. Major companies across industries, in turn, offered some form of commitment to increasing racial equity.3 However, although many of them are still working on implementing change, others remain silent and face pressure, especially when job seekers are researching companies’ diversity efforts to hold their upper management accountable.
Advantages of Maintaining Diversity & Inclusion
Alignment With Employee Values
Maintaining D&I aligns with employee values in two ways:
When a company is intentionally diverse and promotes inclusion, employees feel valued.
When companies are promoting employees, especially of different races and ethnicities, those employees are more motivated. Representation matters to employees as well as those job seekers who are researching diverse companies to find those in upper management that look like them.4 5
Every company that is seeking globalization—small or large—must maintain a diverse and inclusive workforce to attract a worldwide audience. The internet allows potential clients to find various business partners and buy products from companies that can relate to their needs.
Increased innovation is the result of fostering inclusivity and different perspectives. According to research from Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall, and Laura Sherbin for the Harvard Business Review, a more diverse environment provides more ample space for “outside the box” ideas, which can lead to innovations. The researchers said, “When minorities form a critical mass and leaders value differences, all employees can find senior people to go to bat for compelling ideas and can persuade those in charge of budgets to deploy resources to develop those ideas.”6
Increased revenue is often the result of increased innovation. Companies hiring racially and ethnically diverse staff demonstrate higher performance. In fact, in a study conducted by Boston Consulting Group, companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported that innovation revenue accounted for 45% of total revenue, which was 19 percentage points higher than the 26% reported by companies with below-average leadership diversity.7
Tips on Maintaining Diversity & Inclusion
Aim for Diverse Hiring
Focus on consistently hiring diverse talent, especially if your company is working remotely. Since conferences and seminars are remote, using social networking tools and referrals will be essential. Employers can incentivize diverse candidates and disrupt any "similar-to-me bias" existing in employees.
Warning: Similar-to-me bias is the idea that people respond more favorably to people who look and think like they do.
Expand Networks and Pipelines
Employers should expand their recruiter networks and pipelines to include racial and ethnic groups. They should also expand their talent pipelines to include disabled groups. For example, Bank of America’s efforts to create space and opportunities for the disabled and differently-abled through its Supports Services division shows how employers can expand their network of talent and foster diversity and inclusion.8
Show you’ll respond to the voices of concern by ensuring inclusivity. With employees working remotely and separated from their teams, it’s easy to feel excluded. If your racially and ethnically diverse employees felt anxiety before COVID-19, they will likely feel excluded now. A special effort must be made for them to feel a sense of belonging.
By formulating diverse leadership, companies can steer through a crisis with different voices and motivate engagement. Tone and representation in the remote work environment matter as feedback and consistent communication is now more important than ever. When employees who are Black, Latinx, Asian, or people of color, for example, see someone “like me” in leadership roles, a level of empathy and understanding can develop and replace any fear of a homogenous leadership not listening.
Initiatives to Implement
COVID-19 has been trying for the well-being of many employees and especially Black people and people of color—and the stress and anxiety was only compounded by racial injustice. Employers who want to show empathy and compassion toward their employees should consider these initiatives to retain current racially and ethnically diverse employees and listen for opportunities to create an inclusive culture.
Listen to Employee Concerns
Allow racially and ethnically diverse employees to voice their concerns. Listen for subtle cries for help. It helps to have therapists and counseling accessible to employees through their health care provider. Research has shown that there are significant disparities in physical and mental health care that are affecting communities of color.9 Employers can support time off for employees to care for their mental health.
Mind (and Close) the Pay Gap
Closing the pay gap and offering pay transparency will give employees a sense of belonging, encourage more ownership of their work, and increase their trust in leadership. Surveys show that a pay gap and opportunity differences exist between women and men, between white men and Black men, and between white women and Black women.10
Tip: By closely analyzing the pay gaps in their companies, employers can take a significant step toward rooting out wage deficiencies and inequalities.
The Bottom Line
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed what business leaders genuinely prioritize. Leaders who have sold their employees an inclusive philosophy haven't always shown that they value a diversified workforce. Even companies that invested in a D&I officer, for instance, are not guaranteed engaging initiatives for change. However, by taking a more diligent, sincere approach to diversifying talent and leadership, and ensuring inclusivity by listening to employees, employers and senior management can drive successful D&I initiatives that can help their companies survive economic crises like a COVID-19-related recession.
Written by: MARK ANTHONY DYSON