The Covid-19 pandemic has ravaged countries and continents, exposing deep inequalities and destroying lives and livelihoods. It has also exposed dividing lines in our wider society, causing people to retreat to their comfort zones as they seek to create buffers against what is unpredictable and unknown.
Many of these dynamics also play out in the workplace. Last November, a McKinsey report pointed out that various groups – including women, LGBTQ employees, minorities and working parents – are going through particularly difficult times during the crisis, both in the workplace and in balancing work and family life.
Business leadership has an important role to play in countering this. Now is the time for companies to increase their investments in diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs and workplace well-being initiatives, even though they may feel that this is not a priority given the the crisis. The search for the World Economic Forum demonstrated that there is a moral, legal and economic imperative to do so.
In a broader sense, rebuilding the economy will begin with creating diverse and inclusive work environments that can potentially permeate all aspects of society.. The World Health Organization points out that we spend at least a third of our adult life at work or in work-related activities. Thus, the workplace, along with the home, can be seen as the foundation upon which societies are built.
Here are three simple things businesses can do now to make sure D&I and wellness is high right now.
Encourage open and frank discussion of unconscious bias
Honest conversations about unconscious bias could go a long way in raising awareness of all forms of bias and how they affect us.
Celeste Warren, vice president of human resources and global diversity and inclusion at multinational science and technology company Merck, argues that employees should be encouraged to understand their own biases and to discuss them with their co-workers.
“Come to the workplace and discuss it with your peers: bring an item, meet with others and talk about what’s going on, chat with your manager and join an affinity group of employees”, she says.
There are sufficient evidence that people suffer at work if they are unable to speak out about the racial prejudices they suffer outside of the workplace. Leaders can lead head-on and encourage open discussion within the team about biases and how they can be overcome.
Regular checks on such matters should become the norm, and employees need to be reassured that it is safe to share their thoughts and ideas. However, beware of a one-size-fits-all approach. Specific solutions must be developed within each company and possibly even within each team. Invariably, it is through dialogue and deliberate strategic interventions that problems are resolved and relationships are strengthened.
Invest in strategic training and development
Training and development are age-old solutions to many business challenges, and the same is true when it comes to D&I. Targeted management training and development programs can play an important role. They can help ensure team members understand how individuals are affected by unconscious bias or exclusion and how different people and cultures navigate the world differently, or equip managers with the tools and knowledge to create psychologically safe workplaces and dealing with conflicts when they arise.
Of course, training alone cannot change deeply held cultural messages and beliefs, but it can help create a common language within the organization and create awareness. In a globalized workplace, just making sure that employees are sensitive to cultural or religious differences, for example, can cultivate empathy and improve communication and, in turn, foster collaboration between different groups.
Training must, of course, be reinforced by strong policies and procedures. Just as companies regularly inform employees or shareholders of the overall financial health of the business, organizations must constantly communicate or educate employees about the strategies in place to create a diverse and inclusive environment and the penalties for any failure. noncompliance. Such an approach will send a strong message that the company is serious about creating a healthy, prejudice-free work environment.
Mix your teams
It is well known that diverse teams foster innovation and tend to be more robust. Many management classrooms, especially those looking to train managers for the international workplace, set up various project teams for group assignments. Diversity can mean that participants come from different regions, industries or functional areas. By ensuring that each team is made up of people who do not know each other and have different skill sets, but who are working towards a common goal and goal, new levels of understanding and collaboration can be fostered.
It should be remembered here that diversity goes beyond race and gender, it is also about embracing all differences, including different interests, ideologies and backgrounds. When companies truly embrace diversity and inclusion at all levels, employees can become much more creative, think outside the box, and come up with powerful solutions.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, David Rock and Heidi Grant point out that greater diversity can also change the way entire teams digest the information needed to make the best decisions. Enriching your employee pool with representatives of different genders, races and nationalities is essential to boost the common intellectual potential of your company, especially in a globalized world. Rock and Grant argue that creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace “will help control the biases of your team members and get them to question their assumptions.”
Of course, this is all more difficult during the pandemic. Many of us are literally separated from our colleagues by a computer screen. It may seem like an insurmountable barrier, and the scale of the challenges we face may seem too great for us to cope with, but these times require exceptional courage, empathy, and responsibility on the part of each of us. If we are to ‘build back better’ we have to face all the prejudices, recognize and uplift everyone – and it can start right now with the people we work with every day.