I really do have a fear that the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts across many organizations will be set back several years during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. If DEI is truly a strategic initiative for organizations to thrive and grow into the future, why should things stop now?
In January, before all this COVID-19 stuff really started, I wrote a two-part series that were entitled: Part 1: Huge Gaps in Diversity in Business Leadership — A Systemic Issue Needing a Systemic Approach and Part 2: Five Tactics to Address the System Issue of the Lack of Diverse Business Leaders.
In Part 2, the fourth tactic I shared was “never letting up.” I shared that often executives see a little progress (“we now have an African-American in the c-Suite, women in management has gone up from 18 percent to 20 percent”) and then the budget gets cut and work stops. Then things will take their natural course and revert back to the old pattern. Dr. Vida Robertson, professor at the University of Houston, often states, “You cannot take the foot of the gas or the vehicle will stop.” In this case, since it is an uphill battle, the car will go backwards once you take your foot off the gas!
Over the several months, I saw every in-person diversity training initiative I had scheduled between March and June canceled, with little or no effort to reschedule or consider going web-based. In fact, even one four-week webinar training series was canceled since the organizers felt people would have too many other things to worry about instead of diversity.
My largest fear is that as we slowly reopen the country, that many corporate budgets will be slashed to try to turn out a decent annual profit statement, and diversity efforts will be one of the first items severely cut.
And then the ramifications could end up being:
• The predominately white male senior leadership will retain more of the leaders like themselves, impacting employment and promotion opportunities for under-represented minorities. And it wouldn’t be deliberate or mean-spirited, but simply unconscious bias taking its natural course.
• Diversity recruiting efforts may be cut resulting in less hires of qualified, diverse candidates.
• Respectful workplace training would be cut, and some employees may revert back to old habits of forming non-diverse teams and making their diverse co-workers feel unwelcomed.
• Some companies may experience additional revenue drop as they fail to effectively sell and market to diverse customers.
• Philanthropic giving to diverse community organizations may be curtailed.
Interaction with diverse people may be less frequent during these days of social isolation.
Organizations need to realize that in challenging days, an increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion is warranted. Tactics you may want to consider at this time include:
• Offering web-based DEI training to your employees, especially those who may have a decreased workload at this time and capacity to take some online trainings. Options can include general offerings or having your own customized training.
• Doing some strategic work and planning and how you can advance DEI initiatives in a more virtual workplace.
• Encouraging diversity councils and employee resource groups to meet virtually during this time.
• Encouraging one-on-one virtual employee connections or mentoring relationships can be formed with a focus on connecting with dissimilar people.
Embrace diversity even more during these challenging days!
Stan Kimer operates Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer based in Raleigh, N.C.