Editor’s note: This is the third in a series related to diversity and inclusion around remote employee strategies and priorities for HR leaders.
In light of COVID-19 and the simultaneous growing awareness of racial disparities and injustice, experts believe now might be the perfect time for HR leaders to focus on bolstering their commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“At this moment in time, when we are all united in supporting black colleagues, it is critical to recognize the disproportionate impact of structural racism on African Americans while being inclusive of all colleagues on this D&I journey,” says Tina Shah Paikeday, leader of Russell Reynolds’ global Diversity & Inclusion advisory services and a senior member of the Leadership & Succession team.
D&I, however, hasn’t always been viewed as a “must-have,” says Dane Holmes, the CEO and co-founder of Eskalera, a D&I analytics start-up. Holmes left Goldman Sachs earlier this year to partner with co-founder Tom Chavez in starting Eskalera, which uses data to help companies find and keep diverse workers.
Yet, the challenges of the past few months have highlighted the importance of D&I, he notes.
“The pandemic, which has created both physical separation and significant stress, actually has made creating an inclusive culture that much more valuable,” he says.
But, for many companies, the disruption of the pandemic may have pushed D&I further down the list of HR’s priorities. The key to not leaving aside your D&I policies when things get tough, says Ian Cook, vice president at data analytics company Visier, is to make sure they are embedded into decision-making processes and supported with the availability of data to make it easy to do.
“This, combined with senior leadership setting an example and holding their people accountable, is the best way to ensure D&I policy is not forgotten,” he says. Cook adds that D&I has a powerful, indirect impact on the fortunes of an organization—both in terms of the impact it can have on engagement and their willingness to support the business.
“Employee engagement is important at all times and becomes especially important during a recession or other crisis,” he says. “While it is hard to measure, the benefit of an employee group that is committed to making the organization successful is extremely positive.”
Cook adds that the decisions made during a crisis, and employee perceptions of them, are not just important for the short-time—they will count double as the economy starts to stabilize and recover. He cites an increasing body of evidence that shows that those organizations that worked through the last two recessions maintaining their values and their commitment to people have been the ones that continued to thrive.
“Those organizations that have taken more clinical finance-driven decisions have often failed to recover in the way they expected due to employee and customer responses,” Cook says.
To ensure that organizations do not lose sight of the importance of equality in difficult times, many D&I execs are targeting monthly updates with their top leaders to keep them apprised of changing employee demographics and perceptions, says T.R. Straub, co-leader of the Diversity & Inclusion Practice at Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search firm. Additionally, organizations have been engaging in frequent pulse surveys and/or leveraging employee research groups to get an authentic understanding of employee sentiment and address the root issues people are facing.
“Accountability is key,” Straub says. “Ideally, from the CEO on down, you can rely on self-accountability. However, you should also tap others to keep you honest, ensuring you’re not losing focus on the D&I issues that matter.”