Fostering Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in a Post-COVID Era

Dr. Ryan Giffen

Global crises are far-reaching and disruptive, leaving an impact on society as a whole. But they also affect businesses, workplaces, and personal lives.

In 2020, the world struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic, which the majority finds worse than the 2008 Global Recession. Its aftermaths caused severe problems for the healthcare and financial sector, but they also awoke deep-seated societal issues.

The novel coronavirus disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minorities as they have higher hospitalization rates than non-Hispanic white individuals. Thus, 25 percent of Hispanic and Black employees work in the essential sector yet encounter more obstacles to getting care, such as a lack of health insurance.

The COVID-19 recession also led to more job losses among women than men, and they are also likelier to work in the healthcare and education sphere. Another issue that the pandemic brought back to the forefront is that females disproportionately took the role of a caregiver due to being associated with childcare more strongly than before.

Hence, the death toll due to the surge of coronavirus infections might be the worst aftermath, but it is not the only one. The pandemic also had a substantial impact on diversity efforts that we must not ignore.

THE COVID-19 IMPACT ON DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND EQUITY IN THE WORKPLACES

Even though most companies integrated diversity procedures to ensure inclusive workplaces, nine out of ten executives find it challenging to execute their DE&I strategies during the pandemic. Since the racial and ethnic minorities already struggle with the disproportionate blow of lockdown and pandemic, it is alarming data.

A 2020 research across 11 countries shows that women, LGBTQ+, people of color (POC), and working parents find it more challenging to maintain work-life balance. Although the pandemic doesn’t spare anyone, women, in particular, are concerned about increased household responsibilities.

That indicates that the double shift remains a critical gender question. Females, particularly in emerging economies, still have to endure an unequal burden of childcare or taking care of aging family members.

As a result, women are leaving the U.S. workforce at a greater rate than men due to lack of support, high childcare costs, and gender pay gaps. However, the pandemic affects black and Hispanic females more (nine percent) than their white female coworkers (five percent).

On the other side, employees who identify as LGBTQ+ fear losing their jobs while also feeling a sense of isolation. These individuals also struggle with an overwhelming workload increase and stress over-performance compared to their heterosexual and cisgender coworkers. Moreover, they are also likelier to report mental-health issues and feeling disconnected at the workplace.

POC employees are more worried about workplace health and safety compared to their white peers. Thus, they stress over progressing in their career and taking care of responsibilities at home.

It is no wonder that only one in six diverse employees feel the support from their employers. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has amplified already existing disparities, and workplaces are no exception. Despite the efforts to diversify work environments, employees from minority groups still experience various challenges that hinder their personal and professional lives.

With the global inoculation speeding up, the world is hopeful we are at the end of the tunnel, entering the last weeks or months of the pandemic. Yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the post-COVID era will have a substantially better outlook for the minorities.

POST-COVID ERA AND DIVERSITY

Regardless of their size and industry, most businesses found themselves in a difficult position due to the pandemic. However, each company had a different approach, and not all executives consider DE&I to be among the crucial elements of their company culture. For some, diversity is just another task concerning compliance.

The Post-COVID era will likely show what organizations had stable DE&I initiatives before the pandemic and what struggled with execution or fostering inclusion because they felt they had to. Whatever the scenario, employees will suffer the consequences of perfunctory strategies and unstable programs.

Some companies will still have the hiring freeze in place to recover financially from the coronavirus aftermaths. These businesses will likely focus on internal hiring and upskilling, which doesn’t improve diversity. Instead, it centers around reshuffling the same workers inside the company.

The pandemic also accelerated technology progress, resulting in increased automation. But despite its benefits, automation will disproportionately affect black people, leading to a displacement of over four million persons in this group.

These individuals could lose their jobs and struggle to find another due to being overrepresented in industries where automation will be rampant. Other minority groups that will likely become victims of the labor switching are women and Latino people.

Undoubtedly, automation affects minorities more intensely than others. Yet, these groups of people already struggle with the pandemic and lockdown aftermaths.

Although the shift to automation was inevitable, many companies had to opt for this technology sooner than they initially imagined due to the COVID-19. It is why these shifts were often quick, abrupt, and without thorough planning. Because of that, many executives didn’t even have enough time or resources to implement a more inclusive transition to automation.

The data indicate that the pandemic has exacerbated the existing inequalities and accelerated technologies that will further hinder diversity. It is why DE&I is more significant than ever.

Even though the world is reaching the other side of the pandemic, we will have to mitigate its aftermaths for years to come. Business leaders must strengthen their diversity efforts and implement stable and long-term programs to ensure minority groups are not left behind.

Here are the strategies to help you foster DE&I in your company in the post-COVID era.

1. MAINTAIN REGULAR COMMUNICATION

The pandemic and lockdowns caused a global shift to work from home and virtual meetings. Although many employees enjoy the opportunity of turning their rooms into offices, many diverse hires report feeling isolated or overwhelmed with work.

It is why you should ensure regular communication across the departments and hierarchy. All workers should receive continuous updates and feedback.

Moreover, reach out to your diverse employees and ask them how you can increase their sense of belonging. Show your care and interest, and let them know that they are not alone. Ensure that the minority groups participate equally in all tasks, meetings, and (virtual) gatherings.

Show empathy in communication and pay attention to what employees are not saying. They might show their discomfort, anxiety, or grief by avoiding talking or being late with their projects. It is why it’s recommendable to introduce surveys to collect feedback and use them to tweak your DE&I strategies.

2. EMPHASIZE ON EMPLOYEE WELL-BEING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Even though this is not necessarily related to diverse employees, ensure that you have efficient well-being programs and mental health support initiatives. These procedures should provide equal access to all workers, regardless of their background, race, or ethnicity.

Consider personalizing these programs and tailoring them to each employee. That way, you could implement customized support for those with preexisting conditions.

However, you should also help employees navigate the new realm, remote work, and societal upheavals. Perhaps the hires need support as the world slowly transits to the post-COVID era. Or, maybe they need accurate information concerning vaccination and whether the company could help them get a shot.

3. IMPLEMENT FLEXIBLE SCHEDULES

Flexible work hours are a must in the post-COVID world, especially for the working parents, people who take care of their parents or siblings, and have other responsibilities that disrupt their work-life balance.

Evaluate whether there are particular groups of people who are overwhelmed with a demanding workload. Ensure that everyone works equally but that each employee has enough time for their personal lives and responsibilities.

4. EMPLOYEE SUPPORT BUDGET

Depending on the company’s size, profit, and capabilities, consider introducing an employee support budget. That could allow you to help disadvantaged workers who struggle economically or socially.

It is also stellar support for diverse employees and those that are the principal caregivers at home. However, you could also integrate this budget with free health insurance, telehealth, or services that help working parents find reliable babysitters.

5. MAKE REMOTE WORK SEAMLESS

Although remote work wasn’t a choice for most companies, not every employee has internet access and the necessary technology for telework. Some might not be able to afford these tools or live in rural areas without an internet connection.

However, it’s also possible that not every hire knows how to use the platforms and tech needed for work from home.

It is why you must consider how to help employees with limited finances, no internet access, or lack of tech knowledge. Perhaps you could give them a stipend or reach out to organizations that can donate the tech. Thus, ensure that the employees get the necessary training for remote work.

6. FOSTER A SENSE OF BELONGING AND CONNECTION

The pandemic caused anxiety, loneliness, and isolation for many individuals. But it also exacerbated these feelings in those groups of people that already felt disconnected and unwanted before the COVID-19.

Organize regular meet-ups, gatherings, and events to emphasize a sense of belonging and connection among the team members. Even if the workplace is remote, consider inviting the employees to have a lunch break together over a screen.

Whatever you choose to implement to nurture feelings of community among the staff, ensure that no one is left out and that each employee feels welcome.

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The COVID-19 aggravated the existing inequalities, putting the minority groups in a more vulnerable position than before we coexisted with a virus. That makes diversity, inclusion, and equity more significant than ever.

But each individual has the power to help people around them feel more comfortable, accepted, and equal to everyone else. However, workplaces are an environment that makes a big difference concerning DE&I.

As a result, business leaders and HR professionals have the quintessential power and responsibility to foster diverse values and implement programs that help equity thrive in the post-COVID era.

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About Dr. Ryan Giffen

With over 20 years of experience, Dr. Ryan Giffen is an expert in human relations and business culture. His career began in hospitality, leading operations and human resource departments for Fortune 500 companies and the like. Not long after, Ryan found his passion for teaching and consulting. He earned a Ph.D. in Hospitality Management with a Human Resources focus from Iowa State University and now works as an assistant professor at California State University, Long Beach. For over a decade, he continues to research and speak on organizational culture, relationship intelligence, and leadership effectiveness. Ryan is also the founder of Inospire, a company helping bosses and employees build stronger relationships with one another.  Lastly, Dr. Giffen is producer and host of the Corporate Shadow Podcast. a show helping everyday employees overcome workplace nonsense.