Guest Column | By Alfred Ramirez, Sarika Bhakta, Anthony Arrington, Nicholas Ford and Joe Coffey
What are you choosing to give up and/or accept as your company adopts a “new now” during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The decisions being made right now reveal everything about the values that matter – your personal values, your organization’s values and the values of your community. Many businesses proclaim that their biggest asset is their workforce. Is that value holding up right now, or have recent decisions protected profit over people?
Remember, the compromises being made in the name of staying in business are not beyond reproach. Compromises come with options. The options in this realm impact people and profit differently. The values an organization promotes as part of its core identity should be the same values it prioritizes during trying times.
Disasters and disruptions are not an excuse to ignore, postpone, reduce or eliminate workplace cultural efforts that are embedded in equity, diversity, inclusion and engagement (EDI&E).
Which organizations do a better job weathering massive disruption? According to research, it’s the agile organizations that can prioritize an equitable, inclusive and engaging workplace culture. They leverage their diversity to drive the innovation needed to adapt.
For your consideration – now
An honest and transparent assessment of your EDI&E is vital during this time of disruption. EDI&E is an ongoing journey. An inventory of your strategies can tell you a lot about your value systems and how they’re serving as a guiding light or being ignored.
A few items to consider right now:
Sector inequities: Equity gaps are extremely problematic across all industry sectors right now. These equity gaps are expanding for companies that were already experiencing inequities prior to COVID-19.
Example: Consider the number of immigrants who work in meatpacking plants. They are now deemed “essential” and continue to work despite apparent instances of workplace-related transmission of COVID-19. Are they being afforded the necessary safety precautions, health care and paid sick leave they deserve? Remember, communities of color were already disproportionately impacted by systemic inequities in the U.S. health care system. Now COVID-19 data is revealing a nationwide trend in which infection and mortality rates for African Americans and Latinos are alarmingly disproportionate to their numbers within the general population.
These disparities must be addressed head-on. Ignoring or administering Band-Aid solutions will only compound disparities while new ones emerge. A shift in perspective is happening now as different parts of the population are experiencing inequities for the first time. Transformational impact and equal outcomes can only happen if there are empathetic approaches based on a growth mindset with an asset/abundance perspective (not a deficit/scarcity perspective).
Communication, relationships, bias: The deluge of concerns and information is testing our humanity, empathy, patience, and understanding of others. We are witnessing everyday acts of heroism and compassion, but biases and microaggressions are at an all-time high as various survival mechanisms kick-in.
Employee resource groups and affinity groups should become key conduits of communication during times of uncertainty. For example, due to COVID-19’s origin in China, there has been an increase in biases and hateful incidents against Asians, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. Memes, jokes and assaults against Asians have even included incidents of mistaken identity due to “they’re all the same” thinking. Employee resource groups and affinity groups can help foster a safe environment to combat such thinking.
Technology and accessibility: The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the existing inequities and disengagement of remote workers. It involves focus and productivity issues related to initiatives and leadership being out-of-sight/out-of-mind, and challenges leadership methods and teamwork. It is affecting stretch assignments and opportunities for promotion. Now is the time to recognize opportunities to increase accessibility, create more efficiency, and basically get everyone involved via strategies aimed at inclusion and engagement.
Consider the skillsets of underrepresented populations – people with disabilities can be quite skilled with remote technologies due to their everyday needs. Their insights and experience are ahead of the curve. Broaden your candidate sourcing pool to attract and recruit more diverse talent – technology allows you to hire outside your own backyard.
Employee wages: Federal stimulus checks of up to $1,200 for adults and $2,400 for married couples (and $500 per child) do not appear to be an ongoing solution for many. In a recent survey, less than two-thirds (64%) said it would cover their expenses for up to three months. Less than 40% surveyed said they were able to save $1,000 for an emergency expense.
As your business rebounds, reconsider your employee wages and benefits. Your organization may have experienced a deep cash crunch just now. As you map out a recovery plan, remember that many of your lower-wage employees might feel such a crunch on a regular basis.
Supplier diversity: COVID-19 has exposed the fact that many businesses have cash flow problems. A recent Goldman Sachs study found that most small business owners can only last three months being closed before their financial resources are depleted. These owners are now relying on limited government resources to stay operational. It’s a good time to examine your organization’s commitment toward a supplier diversity program and what else can be done to truly partner with small and minority-owned businesses.
As you contemplate the current and future state of your organization we implore you to take the opportunity to reflect on and assess your EDI&E journey and how you can proactively right some of these gross inequities. Not only will you impact your organization, you will impact the sustainability of our local and global economy.
COVID-19 is one of many social, economic and catastrophic challenges that changed the way people live. Think of the Civil War, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, two World Wars, 9/11, the Great Recession – those events led to difficult times for many, but especially difficult times for people who were already facing challenges. We tend to have more empathy when such inequities negatively affect our own lives, businesses and communities.
If you truly believe we’re all in this together, your value systems must uphold the principles of EDI&E. Not only will they help you with the “new now” they will help you with the “new normal.” •
Alfred Ramirez is president of Diverse Strategies Now.
Anthony Arrington is a managing partner of Top RANK Professional and Executive Search and Consulting, and co-host of the CBJ podcast, “Diversity Straight Up.”
Nicholas Ford is a managing partner of Top RANK Professional and Executive Search and Consulting.
Joe Coffey is the owner of Coffey Grande Studios and producer of the CBJ podcast, “Diversity Straight Up.”