Coronavirus: Can businesses still move the dial on Diversity & Inclusion during the pandemic?

By Orla O'Callaghan

While Covid-19  is certainly ‘novel’ in its medical sense, for many businesses the issue of keeping staff together culturally while apart has been unusual, with the challenges of the traditional workplace appearing in new formats. The matter of diversity and inclusion has long been both a challenge and opportunity and the practical impact of Covid-19 has certainly complicated efforts by D&I managers across the globe to advance equality and diversity in their workplaces. In this new normal, traditional behaviours that marginalise employees have the capacity to go even more unnoticed when employees are working remotely. When employees are isolated from resources or feel unable to do the same amount or quality of work remotely, they can quickly feel unheard.

At ReputationInc, we believe that diverse workforces are good for business, their workplace culture and, consequently, their reputations. Diverse leadership teams ensure better engagement, ask a broader range of critical questions, consider a wider range of options for their organisations and are less likely to succumb to ‘groupthink’. Although businesses and workforces are scattered across various locations, the last few months have taught us that employees are resilient and open to change - which is no easy feat when trying to contend with the unfolding of a global public health crisis. So, how can we capitalise on this open-mindedness for change and keep pushing the dial on diversity and inclusion in business?

Inclusivity for all

Every member of an organisation, from senior executives through to interns, has been working in a new, physically isolated way since remote working was introduced. New ways of communicating through online methods have replaced in-person interaction, and this creates a sharper focus on who is being heard and who isn’t. This new way of communicating will suit some, but others may be uncomfortable and more reserved with this new way of working. It’s imperative for businesses to facilitate inclusion for everyone on calls, so that employees can voice their opinion and feel included. Time should be made for all employees to be heard, and to be sure that they have the required outlet to feel part of the fabric of a dispersed workforce and organisation.

Redefine how we interact

As we’ve moved from face-to-face sitdowns to Zoom and Microsoft Teams, how staff members interact, both formally and informally, has changed dramatically. Quick catch ups in the common area or by the water cooler are no longer par for the course. For employees who may only catch up with other staff through more informal methods, communication and alienation can quickly arise. At ReputationInc, we have implemented a system where those who work on different client teams participate in an informal catch-up once a week to talk all things work, family, pets, Netflix - anything which comes to mind. As we continue to work remotely, finding new ways to innovate and create interaction between staff will keep them connected and aid in developing a sense of belonging – whether it be one-to-one catch ups, informal team events such as quizzes, using remote apps, email, or any other way to come together to broaden participation while behind our laptop screen.

Commitment to staff

During this period of unknown, leaders and senior executives who have a more nuanced skillset that enables them to effectively lead their employees through this crisis, while physically separate, will do better. A mixture of soft and hard skills is needed to be able to address employees and other relevant stakeholders in the business. This may be done through virtual private meetings with staff to allow them to share their thoughts safely and securely, and emotionally connect with an employee’s situation and appreciate the work they are doing for the business during this difficult time.

Improving diversity in business is not just the right thing to do, it is business critical. In the rush to achieve recognition, many businesses have approached inclusivity as a problem to be fixed rather than an opportunity to learn and create lasting change. If the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that we must not be complacent. Businesses must listen to diverse views and find a new language - a new way of working in the new normal.

 

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