Between social justice movements, an unprecedented political climate, the COVID crisis and its ensuing economic fallout, it’s more apparent than ever that DEI is a business essential. Companies must have both dialog and action regarding DEI and workplace culture. Moreover, business leaders must boldly and loudly embrace their firm’s DEI mission while energetically promoting the clear link between DEI and positive business outcomes.
Let’s examine some of the tectonic shifts that have arisen in the 2020 landscape, and more importantly, the role businesses can play in improving diversity, equity and inclusion for all.
Social Justice Movements
The May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers brought to light a firestorm of social justice activism that had been brewing for years. Black Lives Matter protests sprang up across the nation, demanding an end to police violence and an acknowledgment of the pervasive systemic racism that makes that violence possible. More than 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, studies show that three out of five employees have experienced workplace discrimination, and 82 percent of reported incidents lead to no substantive relief for the harassed. Inaction is negligence when it comes to discrimination in any form. Fortunately, businesses are in an opportune place to support social justice and pervasive change through concerted DEI efforts.
Business Leader Action Items:
- Speak out against social injustice and systemic racism in the world and the workplace. Don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations.
- Publicize your company’s DEI efforts, goals, stakeholders and complaint process. More importantly, encourage feedback on how those efforts are or aren’t supporting an equitable and fair workplace.
- Set BIPOC leadership and supplier engagement goals and provide frequent, transparent progress reports.
The COVID-19 Crisis & Economic Fallout
More than 267,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and more than 13.4 million people have contracted the coronavirus. Even for those who recover, the illness can mean job loss, soaring medical costs and a serious disruption in child and eldercare. Meanwhile, the shutdowns intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 have had a devastating impact on business and employment. We know that the pandemic impacts women and people of color, both medically and financially, much harder than other population cohorts. While the realities of pandemic life are harsh, with up to 25 percent of women saying they may downgrade their careers or leave the workforce entirely, there are also abundant opportunities to reinvent culture in terms of flexibility, prioritizing child/elder care needs and opening doors for BIPOC women to succeed.
Business Leader Action Items:
- Acknowledge that COVID-19 has a vastly different impact on households based on race, gender and income disparities.
- Understand the realities of employees’ day-to-day lives, whether they’re in the office or working remotely, in terms of mental health and family care needs. Provide support, flexibility and relief wherever possible.
- Create an environment that acknowledges the holistic lives of employees and know that the support provided now will have a long-lasting and indelible impact on long-term culture and job satisfaction.
A Divisive Political Landscape
There’s no doubt that 2020 has delivered a political environment unlike most of us have seen in our lifetimes, culminating in one of the most contentious presidential elections in U.S. history. Add to that a flurry of executive orders and the changing face of the Supreme Court, and the politicization of workplace issues and federal protections is evident. For example, contrary to its title, the White House’s recent “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping” actually ignores the realities of ongoing disparities in pay and promotion for women and BIPOC. In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in a landmark 6-3 decision that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to gay and transgender employees. The ruling goes a long way in supporting LGBTQ employees who frequently encounter workplace discrimination: 75 percent have reported negative workplace interactions related to their identity, and 47 percent believe that being fully “out” at work could hurt their careers in terms of losing jobs, promotions or assignments. Yet, despite the Supreme Court decision, the ban on transgender individuals in the U.S. military still stands.
Business Leader Action Items:
- Continue to embrace a fact-based approach to all DEI efforts that resists the urge to politicize issues of fairness and justice.
- Ensure current company policies adhere to the Supreme Court’s recent Title VII ruling and swiftly act on any LGBTQ bullying, harassment and discrimination.
- Acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all strategy for DEI can’t work effectively for all issues of gender, race and sexual orientation discrimination.
While 2020 has been a trying time for most people, it’s also opened the door for meaningful change in how we work and do business. Employers must continually strive to know the pain points of vulnerable employees and develop plans for their holistic, emotional well-being and engagement. Communication must be frequent and inclusive with a specific goal of reaching every employee, whether they are working on-site or remotely. Above all, companies both large and small must lead from the top, meaning managers must truly listen to staff and wholeheartedly support the DEI mission, rather than relegating the function to a lone DEI officer or stopping with a single session of unconscious bias training. Now is the time to make DEI a part of the very sinew and DNA of every business environment.
About Jared Pope
Jared is Founder and CEO of Work Shield, the only start-to-finish workplace harassment and discrimination reporting, investigation and resolution solution that protects employees, employers and cultures at the same time. Jared practiced law and ran a practice focused on human resources, ERISA, benefits and employment matters for over 15 years and is a knowledgeable resource on workplace culture and harassment and discrimination issues.
Connect with him on LinkedIn.