Keeping diversity and inclusion at the top of the agenda during times of change.

16 November 2020

Our ever-changing economic, political and social landscape continually poses new challenges to businesses, whether they can be forecast or not. Unfortunately, during unexpected times of crises – such as the global pandemic that we’ve faced this year – organizations often neglect their efforts to improve diversity and inclusion.

A recent survey revealed that 27 per cent of diversity and inclusion leaders reported that their organizations have put a majority of their diversity initiatives on hold due to Covid-19. When businesses retreat into survival mode in focusing their energy on stabilising the bottom line, they typically hold back on any activity deemed ‘non-essential’. However, if organizations take their foot off the pedal, they may not only be facing an economic crisis, but a diversity crisis too.

Now is not the time for homogenization. Diversity and inclusion is not an ‘add on’ or a ‘nice to have’ – it’s a vital part of a business’ ability to recover from a crisis. With this in mind, how can businesses ensure that diversity remains a priority at all times?

Draw upon lesser heard voices

When Covid-19 hit, even the most experienced business leaders admitted that they couldn’t guarantee if their chosen path was the best way to move forward. Given the uncertainty, during unprecedented times such as these it’s vital that leaders welcome a diverse range of expertise in order to better inform their own decision-making, as well as spot opportunities for innovation and diversification.

According to research from McKinsey, in the United States there is a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance. For every 10 per cent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent. Evidently, diverse organizations are benefitting from better performance and grasping every opportunity for innovation.

To maximise the potential here, organizations need to encourage those whose voices are less heard to contribute their ideas and visions for the company’s future. A skilfully chaired meeting, for example, should amplify all voices in the room, not just those that are most authoritative.

Invest in your employees

Although many businesses are currently surviving rather than thriving, business leaders mustn’t lose sight of their long-term ambitions. Investing in training, mentoring and software enhancements will boost employee experience and inclusion in the short-term, but will also generate more revenue further down the line. When the dust begins to settle, your workforce will be in a far stronger position and with higher levels of employee satisfaction you’re more likely to retain your top talent too.

Investment doesn’t just have to be monetary – taking the time to truly connect and build empathy with employees is equally as important. Successful leaders now require a greater degree of emotional intelligence and must recognize that their employees will each need differing levels of support to navigate periods of change.

Commit to taking actions and reporting on them

If an organization is to make significant improvements to diversity and inclusion within the workplace, they must hold themselves accountable by reporting on their progress, even throughout challenging times. Goals should be realistic, measurable and flexible enough to withstand unexpected change.

Showing vulnerability and initiating open conversations about diversity is only a starting point. Diversity data must be tracked, measured and addressed with concrete action points for improvement, as well as underrepresented voices elevated at all levels of the business.

Ultimately, it’s clear that diverse organizations are not only more successful, but future-proofed businesses that have built a culture where all individuals can thrive.