COVID-19 Blog 4: Will corporate diversity initiatives go down the tubes during and after the pandemic?

Are your diversity initiatives going downhill during these trying times?

I really do have a fear that the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts across many organizations will be set back several years during this time of the Coronavirus pandemic. If DEI is truly a strategic initiative for organizations to thrive and grow into the future, why should things stop now?

In January, before all this COVID-19 stuff really started, I wrote a two part blog series:
Part 1 (Link): Huge Gaps in Diversity in Business Leadership – A Systemic Issue Needing a Systemic Approach
Part 2 (Link): Five Tactics to Address the System Issue of the Lack of Diverse Business Leaders

In Part 2, the 4th tactic I shared was “never letting up”. I shared that often executives see a little progress (“we now have an African-American in the c-Suite, women in management has gone up from 18% to 20%”) and then the budget gets cut and work stops. Then things will take their natural course and revert back to the old pattern. Dr. Vida Robertson, professor at the University of Houston, often states “you cannot take the foot of the gas or the vehicle will stop.” In this case, since it is an uphill battle, the car will go backwards once you take your foot off the gas!

Over the past 3 months, I have seen every in-person diversity training initiative I had scheduled between March and June cancelled, with little or no effort to reschedule or consider going web-based. In fact, even one 4-week webinar training series was cancelled since the organizers felt people would have too many other things to worry about instead of diversity.

My largest fear is that when we slowly reopen the country, that many corporate budgets will be slashed to try to turn out a decent annual profit statement, and diversity efforts will be one of the first items severely cut.

And then the ramifications could end up being:
• The predominately white male senior leadership will retain more of the leaders like themselves, impacting employment and promotion opportunities for under-represented minorities. And it wouldn’t be deliberate or mean-spirited, but simply unconscious bias taking its natural course.
• Diversity recruiting efforts may be cut resulting in less hires of qualified diverse candidates.
• Respectful workplace training would be cut, and some employees may revert back to old habits of forming non-diverse teams and making their diverse co-workers feel unwelcomed.
• Some companies may experience additional revenue drop as they fail to effectively sell and market to diverse customers.
• Philanthropic giving to diverse community organizations may be curtailed.

Interaction with diverse people may be less frequent during these days of social isolation.

Organizations need to realize that in challenging days, an increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion is warranted. Tactics you may want to consider at this time include:

• Offering web-based DEI training to your employees, especially those who may have a decreased workload at this time and capacity to take some online trainings. In fact here is one being offered on June 9th: Introduction to LGBTQ+ Workplace Equity.  Options can include general offerings or having your own customized training.
• Doing some strategic work and planning and how you can advance DEI initiatives in a more virtual workplace.
• Encouraging diversity councils and employee resource groups to meet virtually during this time.
• Encouraging one-on-one virtual employee connections or mentoring relationships be formed with a focus on connecting with dissimilar people.

Embrace diversity even more during these challenging days!

Unconscious Bias – It can be organizational as well as personal

A year ago, I provided a two part series on Unconscious Bias, which defined this phenomena and how to address it at the personal level. Since that time, I have developed an in depth workshop that is now being offered as part of the National Diversity Council’s training program. In addition, I am available to provide consulting and customized training on unconscious bias for clients.

But … want to know something very important? Unconscious bias, defined as “the attitudes of stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner… in ways we may not even be aware of ….” is not only personal. Organizations themselves can also have a culture of embedded unconscious bias. Often the unconscious bias of the majority in leadership or in power can then become the norm for the entire organization.

Here are some ways unconscious bias can manifest itself in an organization:

Recruiting and Hiring – it is so easy to gravitate toward people who have more common in ourselves or our organizational culture rather than skills. One example in the hiring area is bringing in engineers or lawyers overwhelmingly from one particular university.

Work Assignments – leaders can tend to give the plum assignments to people most like themselves, or could give assignment out based on stereotypical views; e.g. the single person with no children will be more dedicated to this tough project than an employee with small children.

Very often organizational unconscious bias can impact effective team work.

Team work – we may gravitate to working more closely with people like ourselves and unintentionally not draw in or listen to people who are different.

Promotions and Talent Development – we see organization unconscious bias in the way the white male senior corporate leadership seems to perpetuate boards and c-Suites that have very few women and people of color. Are diverse people given the chance to be mentored and developed in leadership? See my recent guest blog on the Importance of Minority Coaching.

Treatment and Interaction with clients – we can see this often in retail environments where people in the majority population or who are older or dressed more conservatively are given preferential treatment.

An establishment needs to handle organizational unconscious bias in the same that personal unconscious bias is handled:
1. Take the time admit that unconscious bias does exist in your organization and start to identify the ways it is manifested.
2. Put together an action plan with specifics in how to address those manifestations of organizational unconscious bias.
3. Take action, establish metrics, measure the progress, and hold leaders accountable.

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Contact me to discuss the customized unconscious bias training I can provide for your organization!  [email protected] or call me at 919-787-7315