Maintain Diversity and Inclusion During Pandemics

May 29, 2020

Contributor: Laurence Goasduff

Business and IT leaders must demonstrate an inclusive-minded culture with their teams to maintain or improve diversity and inclusion during the coronavirus pandemic.

At a large real estate organization, a shelter-in-place mandate led to the entire staff working from home. While this presents technology and management challenges, some employees worry remote work will have a negative impact on how they work and what they do. Will they be talked over during meetings? Will they be included in projects?

“Behaviors that marginalize employees can go even more unnoticed when employees are working remotely. Employees can quickly feel that they are not being heard, are isolated from resources, or unable to do the same quality or amount of work while working from home,” says Stephanie Stoudt-Hansen, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “This time of strict confinement and insecurity shows the importance of enhancing diversity and inclusion among teams.”

A five-step approach can help business and IT leaders support those who feel marginalized and create a more inclusive and humanitarian environment.

Recognize the situation when employees feel isolated during a humanitarian crisis

Identify behaviors that create situations where people feel marginalized, such as racism, ageism and parents with young children. Educate yourself on conscious and unconscious bias to better recognize and reduce both.

Examples include being afraid of older people because they are most impacted by the disease or may have troubles adjusting to at-home technology — or where trade unions highlighted a recent rise in coronavirus-related racial discrimination, especially against people of Chinese heritage. These examples should remind employers to look out for bullying, discrimination or harassment of any kind during the outbreak.

Always ensure that when an employee reports an incident, they feel heard, not judged

Learn behaviors and motivations that lead to people feeling excluded, and communicate your commitment to an inclusive work environment in partnership with your HR department. Be supportive of individuals, team managers and partners as they work to address any behaviors that erode inclusivity. Make time to meet with everyone on your team to ensure they are getting the support that they need, and communicate constantly.

Address inappropriate behaviors publicly

Once you recognize inappropriate behaviors, there is no excuse for allowing them to continue. Make sure you recognize and label the behavior, rectify the situation and then allow the business to proceed.

For example, “Let me jump in here. Elizabeth just stated the same idea, Dave. This makes me wonder if we are all truly listening to each other or having difficulty hearing everyone when we are on a large video call. Thanks, Elizabeth, for putting out a good solution. Let’s move forward with our discussion now.”

This may feel uncomfortable, but that discomfort is something that marginalized employees will experience.

Coach privately

Because you’re not privy to why someone has said something, the first time you can assume that it was unconscious bias, and education will ensure it doesn’t happen again. However, should it occur a second time, address it publicly in the moment and coach the individual privately after the meeting.

For example: “Peter, I’ve noticed that in our virtual meetings lately you have on occasion taken credit for one of Julie’s ideas or dismissed some of her input. I don’t think it’s purposeful, but it’s something I want you to pay closer attention to. I just want to ensure everyone feels valued and included, and I believe you do, too.”

You should also find time to meet with the marginalized individual to assure them that you see what’s happening and are addressing the issue.

Gartner advises a five point approach to confront behaviors that marginalize employees in the workplace.

Affirm commitment to employees who are or feel marginalized

An important aspect of changing behaviors is creating reinforcements that remind employees of what is important. For example, discuss the steps your organization has put in place to create an inclusive environment or share data that demonstrates how inclusive environments deliver business outcomes.

In addition, encourage others in your organization to catch and correct marginalizing behaviors. Acknowledge people who demonstrate inclusive behaviors and create virtual employee resource groups (ERGs). These are groups of individuals in an organization who join together based on shared life experience or a desire to support the group or individuals.

Support privately

Remote workers can feel anxious, isolated and a lack of purpose during this time of strict confinement measures. Conduct virtual weekly one-on-one meetings to allow employees to share their concerns or thoughts to manage any bad feelings they may have.

In cases where employees still come to the office or factory and someone feels excluded by their colleagues, host open office hours when the employee can raise concerns about what they see or hear from their colleagues. Always ensure that when an employee reports an incident, they feel heard, not judged.

“In periods of confinement and social distancing, it is paramount that business and IT leaders are more attentive to individuals’ needs and create a well-intentioned, inclusive-minded environment to foster high-performance teams,” says Stoudt-Hansen.

Read more: Diversity and Inclusion Build High-Performance Teams

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