Pandemic control measures aren’t going away any time soon. Whatever the new (or perhaps ‘interim’) normal looks like, D&I professionals need to adapt – and help their organisations maintain their inclusion efforts even when they’re under pressure.
Sharing ideas about why that’s important, what we can all do about it – and how we feel – can make all the difference. We’ve been in discussion with those in the field about what they are experiencing, the challenges they are facing and what has struck them most about the current situation. Here’s what we are hearing and the questions that people are asking.
Develop a D&I response to new ways of working
A preoccupation of D&I professionals is how to keep inclusion on the agenda in a meaningful way when their leaders and organisations are having to address survival challenges.
D&I teams can ensure their efforts are not put on the back burner by providing advice on how managers can direct and motivate their teams remotely in an inclusive way. Network Groups can pivot from a focus on panel events to providing guidance to their organisations on, for example, preventing domestic violence, supporting employees with enhanced care commitments or signposting their members to support that is available.
How can D&I teams navigate the specific and current problems raised by different ways of working – not just build a more inclusive future?
Guard against bias in remote working
More broadly, we’re seeing new remote working platform etiquette bedding in – this is likely to endure even as some people return to the office. As people get more familiar with the technology and their own connectivity issues at home, they’re learning all the tricks – when to mute, how to set virtual backgrounds (a huge plus for people with no dedicated work space at home) or have a good old phone call instead of using video.
But even as our facility with the tech is growing, we’re hearing about the need to work hard to ensure new platforms are used inclusively. Video conferencing invites people into our homes like never before, with the potential to blur the line between work and home. Some people are more comfortable with this than others.
It’s not just the tech haves and have-nots, either. (Have you tried interrupting someone when your broadband is a lot weaker than theirs?) We’re hearing that the privilege afforded to an organisation’s ‘in-group’ (those who have additional access to key areas such as career progression and promotion) continues to thrive. This manifests in enhanced visibility with senior leaders, comms being passed on more swiftly and access to key clients and work.
How can D&I professionals help managers include everyone in their remote teams and to consider all when allocating work?
Find ways to stay (appropriately) present
Isolation is another emerging theme from our conversations. If some form of lockdown continues for many months, we need to think hard how both individuals and functions remain ‘present’ to both leaders and frontline employees and the impact on their wellbeing.
People are also missing the spontaneous connections that come with working in an office – whether it’s receiving feedback, cross-fertilising and testing ideas, or creating opportunities to have face time with key stakeholders. We know that this kind of face-time is crucial for career development and advancement, as well as for getting things done.
How do we create these moments remotely? And is there an adverse impact on different groups – such as women, part-timers, people with disabilities or the BAME community – who for a variety of reasons might see their influence further eroded by that lack of in-person presence or additional commitments such as home-schooling, caring or volunteering?
And there’s a downside to remote working: for some, the line between work and home is eroding as they feel a need to be accessible 24/7. D&I can help guide managers through appropriate levels of contact and all employees (especially in-groups) to understand the importance of safeguarding personal time.
How can D&I professionals stay in leaders’ line of sight in ways that are relevant – and ensure all groups remain visible, too?
Wellbeing is not going back in the closet
The virus and the consequent strain on health services is an obvious physical toll for those afflicted. The stress of the pandemic and the constraints of the lockdown have made everyone acutely aware of a fact D&I professionals have long championed: wellbeing and mental health are far from being ‘nice to haves’ for organisations.
Even the most cynical CEO is seeing how quickly their own reserves are depleted by stress, uncertainty or a lack of control. We expect – and hope – this will remain a priority for the foreseeable future. People will need help to dig deeper to maintain their wellbeing – and support in designing approaches to ensure remote employees are not suffering out of sight. It’s hard to imagine even the least sensitive senior leader retreating completely on this one.
This is a moment of clarity and personal revelation for many decision-makers – how do D&I professionals sustain this newfound consciousness so that wellbeing becomes business-as-usual?
Data has got more important, not less
Diversity data is emerging as a theme – it’s crucial that firms capture data during this period. As expertly reported elsewhere, Covid-19 is not an equaliser – we’re not all in this together. Furloughing and redundancy decisions are affecting those from the BAME community, women and part-timers more than other groups. It’s important that firms are reviewing diversity data in real time as they make decisions. We heard that one firm has added diversity data to its C-19 dashboard – a great way to keep this issue front of mind. Others are collecting new data points such as caring responsibilities and underlying conditions.
D&I professionals are stepping into the space of being the conscience of the organisation – backed by both anecdote and, crucially, this kind of data. People are talking truth to power, whether that be about how their organisation operates or what the long-term view is.
There is risk to assuming this role (scapegoating, shooting the messenger) – so it’s important to address what level of air cover are leaders providing for their D&I professionals. It’s crucial that leaders do not abdicate responsibility for upholding the values of an organisation to others. D&I can inform, support and identify gaps, but it’s up to leaders to promote and live the values of the firms they are leading. (Look out for a future blog that explores this in more detail.)
Data is the evidence that reveals systemic bias – and when we come to build for the future, what is the role of the D&I professional in using data to make a compelling case for change?
Ensure D&I is rooted in the practical
Our efforts are having to pivot away from traditional D&I programme fare such as organising panel discussions, face-to-face learning and development, to injecting D&I principles into systemic issues. We need it to be evident in new forms of performance management, procedures for remote work, how pay and bonuses are allocated while the usual cues are less visible.
We know that bias is hidden within the systems and processes used by organisations so there is much to gain from this change in focus. That said, tone from the top remains key to keeping D&I on the agenda. So, as well as ensuring we’re offering practical support around those processes, now is the time for leaders to reinforce their commitment to the agenda.
Times of stress will reveal who sees D&I as ‘window dressing’ or woke PR. D&I professionals know how their work adds value, short-term and long. How best can they build inclusion into day-to-day decisions to create sustainable workplaces for the future?
It will be fascinating to see how these themes evolve as we move into different stages of the C-19 response. Watch this space for future reflections or get in touch to join the conversation in one of our Virtual Inclusion Exchanges. Virtual Inclusion Exchanges are designed to bring together small groups of Leaders or Senior D&I Professionals for candid, confidential discussions about what people are experiencing, their live issues and to share examples of what is working well for them.
AUTHOR: Jenny Barrow
Image credit: Michal Dzierza