Dear corporations: Your DEI commitments did not end with the 2020 presidential election.
During the summer of 2020, we saw an incredible number of individuals and institutions supporting Black Lives Matter and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work. Finally, it was not enough to nominally support racial equity and inclusion. Employees, customers, and constituents brought these topics forward in their institutions and demanded real change. Corporations listened and committed time and money toward racial equity, recognizing it as not just a moral good but as a strong business decision.
Toward the end of the year, we started to see this momentum to work toward racial equity wane. Last summer, it was hard to ignore what was right in front of us – our country was not equipped to meet the needs of two interlocked pandemics, COVID-19 and systemic racism. And our president at the time did not consider either to be a major concern. Now that we have had a transition of power in the White House and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is picking up speed, we have to ensure we don’t step away from our commitment to equity and inclusion. And as more and more organizations express their support of the Asian American Pacific Islander Community, we have to ensure we stay accountable to these public statements of support. As Anouska Bhattacharyya, Ph.D., YW Boston’s Director of InclusionBoston, puts it, “the past four years were the canary in the coal mine,” but “a change in administration doesn’t solve the systemic and deep-rooted manifestations of oppression that continue to burden marginalized populations.”
Organizations have a responsibility to recognize how existing inequities have been exacerbated over the past year. On the one hand, women in the workforce have made great strides over the past few decades; on the other hand, the increased demand for child and elder care, matched with a lack of benefits and flexibility, has meant that nearly three million women in the United States have left the labor force since early 2020. Black, Latinx, and disabled women have been most severely impacted, are experiencing the highest rates of unemployment relative to the overall U.S. population.
Communities of color, who have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic when it comes to economics and healthcare, continue to receive disparate support, as evidenced by the country’s vaccine rollout. Asian Americans have faced an extreme increase in physical and verbal harassment since the beginning of the pandemic. These experiences of trauma are not just felt by the direct victims, but impact how individuals who live with the grief and fear move through their days and show up at work.
While it may feel like we are reaching the end of a particularly dark twelve months, we have to remember that the inequities that made this time difficult still permeate our institutions. We invite you to step up and embrace 2021 as a time to commit to equity and inclusion.
We have the opportunity to take what we’ve learned and become more empathetic leaders.
Last June, at our online webinar “Leading with Empathy,” YW Boston President and CEO Beth Chandler remarked that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly difficult to separate our personal and professional lives. If organizations state that they want their employees to bring their whole selves to work, she asked, “How can we ensure that we account for the stress, pain, and trauma people are experiencing?”
Indeed, this past year helped many leaders come to realize that aspects of their employees’ lives, such as their family’s needs or their racial identity, are not shed when they start work for the day. These lived experiences can impact how secure people feel working at an organization, and leaders should meet any concerns with acknowledgement, empathy, and action. Strong leaders will take much of what they learned this past year forward. They will hold more workplace conversations to acknowledge and understand employee stress and trauma. They will allocate resources to support employees and commit to long-term diversity, equity, and inclusion planning.
Now is the time to create a sustainable diversity, equity, and inclusion plan.
While we saw a burst of energy and enthusiasm for DEI work last summer, now may actually be the best time to get organized. Anouska Bhattacharyya Ph.D., YW Boston’s Director of InclusionBoston, explained that, “There was a real haste last summer that meant folks wanted to show they were anti-racist RIGHT NOW, which meant they were focusing on diversity and inclusion in a really superficial way. Rushed inclusion often leads to exclusion!” There is no one –size-fits-all solution for institutional DEI work, so developing a plan needs to start with getting a clear understanding of an organization’s current work and its needs.
Anouska has found that the organizations that have kept their momentum going since last summer aren’t sprinting. Instead, they are pacing the work with a “greater understanding that sustainable and equitable practices need to be baked into their daily praxis.” This long-term approach to DEI also signals commitment to employees when paired with transparency and strong support from leadership. McKinsey & Company have completed many studies over the past six years that have found that corporations with greater diversity perform better financially. McKinsey’s research has also shown that diversity alone is not enough. Their 2020 report, “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters,” found that, even among diverse companies, employees often did not consider their companies to be inclusive. Senior leaders must ensure that DEI measures are implemented organization-wide and that each department has the capacity and support to move forward in a sustainable and sustaining way.
So, where should corporations go from here?
For organizations looking to bolster their DEI work in 2021, Anouska has good news. Just in recognizing this ongoing need, and not looking for a “flash-in-the-pan quick fix,” as she puts it, you are ahead of many other leaders. Seize this energy to show your employees, Board of Directors, or external stakeholders that your organization’s DEI will continue and grow.
Be sure to integrate time for research and reflection. One of the strengths of our InclusionBoston program is the space it provides for organizational assessment and relationship building. This provides a strong base of trust and understanding on which to build a successful plan. Once it is time for action-planning, we at YW Boston recommend following a SMARTIE plan, to ensure your project is strategic, measurable, ambitious, realistic, time-bound, inclusive, and equitable. Evaluation is crucial – and not just at the end. During InclusionBoston, we collect data throughout the entire process to understand each organization’s baseline and growth.
Remember, Anouska says, that there will be hiccups along the way – decisions may be difficult or capacity may be tight. Instead of getting discouraged, find your growing points: “Hiccups are an opportunity for you to recruit more of your team into the solution. The greater the buy-in across your staff, the greater your successes.” By working through these stuck points, organizations will build the skills necessary to ensure their DEI work continues to deepen and grow.
InclusionBoston advances diversity, equity, and inclusion by partnering with organizations looking for improved results. Using our advanced assessment tool and the latest research on behavioral and organizational change, we partner with organizations to create an action plan and provide them with the resources needed to drive lasting change. Our customized, evidence-based approach builds internal capacity and promotes cultural change while supporting organizations throughout their journey. YW Boston also offers one-day workshops where participants explore frameworks, develop knowledge, and engage in dialogue.
Ready to unlock the power of diversity in the workplace? Click here to learn more about InclusionBoston and request your free consultation.