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Connect at the Intersection: Inclusivity During a Global Pandemic

April 23, 2020
By Bia Assevero

COVID-19 is affecting us all – but not equally. Our experience of this pandemic depends in part on where we are in the world, what type of job we have, what our housing situation is and even how big our families are. The resilience of our healthcare systems and our ability to access care are also a determining factor as are the actions of our leaders as they work to address the public health and economic crises unfolding in tandem.

It’s often said that crisis reveals character and I find that this is as true of countries and cultures as it is of individuals. Here in the United States, it is difficult to deny that the pandemic has shone a harsh light on some of the inequalities and vulnerabilities that exist in our society.

Millions of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic hit to the point that, according to a study, only 29% of American households claimed to be financially healthy. We’ve seen disparities in broadband internet access impact students across the country, Asian-Americans experience greater discrimination and African-Americans die at disproportionate rates. The UN has warned that lockdown measures designed to combat the spread of the virus are also resulting in a surge of domestic violence.

None of these realities exist in a vacuum. In many ways they are the result of systemic challenges that have too often and easily been overlooked. Now that they are front and center for all to see, there is an opportunity for companies to lean into inclusivity and allow it to inform the compassionate leadership that many important stakeholders are looking for in these uncertain times.

Research from our TRUE Global Intelligence practice underscores the indelible importance of the actions taken by organizations now as well as the heightened expectations from employees and consumers that are likely to carry through once the pandemic recedes and businesses focus on recovery and resurgence.

In the global study, employers and major corporations scored at the bottom in terms of institutional response to the pandemic and 52% of those surveyed said employers taking better care of their employees is “very important” right now. A further 32% said they intend to buy from companies that took care of their employees during the crisis.

Placing diversity and inclusion at the center of strategic thinking can help meet and exceed these expectations, ensuring that organizations acknowledge the pain and challenges that might be specific to certain stakeholder groups.

Here are five ways to incorporate inclusive thinking and actions into your company’s COVID-19 recovery and resurgence efforts.

  • Prioritize Intersectionality — We all identify in different ways with gender, race, religion and sexual orientation being but a few. It’s the intersection of these identities that informs how we approach the world and are affected by it. A working mom may face different challenges than a stay-at-home dad; a multi-generational white family may have different concerns than a multi-generational Latino family. The key is to acknowledge the reality of these intersections while connecting back to shared experiences and common values.
  • Know What You Don’t Know — Don’t assume you know the full scope of your employees’ concerns without asking them for their input. If you have employee resource groups (ERGs) now is a crucial time to engage them so that employees can tell you in their own words what is top of mind and how you can be most effective in supporting them.
  • Act With Intent — Inclusivity requires intent; a dedicated effort to ensuring that you’ve considered all points of view. Think about the diversity of experiences across your company – for example, there may be more instances of personal loss among employees of color – and then make or tailor your decisions to be sensitive and responsive to what all of your people are going through.
  • Lead With Your Values — Consumers and employees are paying even more attention to the alignment between a company’s stated purpose and values and their actions. Now is the time to strengthen your commitment and show in meaningful ways that when you said diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are important, you meant it.
  • Be Honest and Authentic — In this period of heightened uncertainty, no one has all the answers and it’s okay to say so. As much as possible, be honest about where you are in your DEI journey and how the current circumstances are impacting your priorities. If you keep it authentic, the occasional imperfection will be forgiven.