Complex Made Simple

Diversity & Inclusion at the workplace: A critical need for businesses during COVID-19

The global pandemic COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has thrust us into a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous). Our lives have changed, and we are living through an unprecedented time, the disruption is daunting and dealing with the coronavirus crisis is testing us all.

from existential dread and fear one minute to laughing hysterically over great memes the next, coping is a challenge to say the least One must wonder, what do the leaders and managers need the most in addition to the Business Continuity Planning, employee wellness initiatives, capacity planning activities as they navigate their best towards the ‘new normal’? Give this a thought and you will realize that Diversity and Inclusion comes at the center of all such discourse.

By Shiva Sharma, Head – Human Resources, Pearson Middle East, North Africa & Turkey

The global pandemic COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has thrust us into a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous). Our lives have changed, and we are living through an unprecedented time, the disruption is daunting and dealing with the coronavirus crisis is testing us all; from existential dread and fear one minute to laughing hysterically over great memes the next, coping is a challenge to say the least. One must wonder, what do the leaders and managers need the most in addition to the Business Continuity Planning, employee wellness initiatives, capacity planning activities as they navigate their best towards the ‘new normal’?  Give this a thought and you will realize that Diversity and Inclusion comes at the center of all such discourse.

Diversity and Inclusion at the workplace means: choosing a diverse team of people which reflects the society in which a company exists and operates and creating a collaborative, empowering and respectful environment that increases the participation and contribution of all employees.

Why have Diversity and Inclusion become so important for businesses today?

The humanitarian toll taken by COVID-19 has undoubtedly created an atmosphere of fear & panic amongst employees and other stakeholders. The massive scale of the outbreak and its sheer unpredictability make it challenging for executives to respond and how leaders act today will have a profound impact on how they are seen and judged post the crisis.

Most people are facing anxiety, stress and fear while adapting to the new ways of remote working and looking after their families at the same time. Against the backdrop of this new normal, highly engaged employees and a productive workforce is a critical need of the moment, which is why the concept of D&I today has become paramount for every company’s success and the crisis has made it even clearer why D&I should be a part of business decisions, and the responsibility is for organizations and their leaders to think of and speak to all groups.

Right now, leaders are making decisions like never before─ decisions that involve proactive thinking, bold actions and faster implementation. Naturally, they need to realize that this is not the time to make decisions alone. The evidence suggests that diverse and inclusive teams have more creative ideas, solutions, fresh perspectives and make better decisions that lead to innovation, growth and better outcomes. In fact, studies show that diverse & inclusive management teams:

  • are 33% more likely to generate better-than-average profits

  • are 70% more likely to capture new & profitable markets and,

  • generate 19% more revenue from innovation than companies with below-average D&I practices.

The primary reason for these success metrics lies in the fact that people and talent are the lifeblood for any organization and hence, having diverse teams and ensuring their active participation with everyone’s unique set of skills and capabilities is what leads to a more productive and high-energy work environment.

 A study by Glassdoor found that 57% of employees and 67% of job seekers consider diversity and inclusive work culture a critical element for assessing their choice of workplace, which affects the overall recruitment and retention. However, despite these perceived benefits, research states that 65% of senior executives, globally, believe that it’s HR’s responsibility to implement diversity & inclusion programs rather than making it a part of business strategy, indicating a clear lack of prioritization by the top leadership levels.

Read: Covid-19 Will Have A Lasting Effect On Workplace Practices And Behaviours

How companies can build resilience in present times through Diversity & Inclusion

In order to drive better business performance, the need of the hour is to think of D&I as no longer just a matter of regulatory compliance or a tick-box HR Activity, but rather recognizing it as an imperative step for attracting new ideas, vision and energy into the organization. This will mean formulating a top-down approach and leveraging the D&I practices at three critical levels i.e., 

→ at the Leadership Level, which includes-

  • Building a flexible work environment by fostering inclusive mindsets, taking a fresh look at current organizational policies, and having a more decentralized approach.

  • Challenging biases by raising awareness amongst employees about the challenges that many people & communities are experiencing inside or outside work and sensitizing them on the importance of interdependencies & standing together in a crisis which can hold any specific segment of the society responsible on the basis of sheer ignorance and irrationality.

→ Enabling structural inclusion through,

  • Taking a fresh look at current organizational policies and updating guidelines around flexibility in working hours, voluntary paid leaves, gender equality, healthy work-life balance etc.

  • Creating multi-disciplinary and diverse teams of people who are adaptable, creative and can make decisions quickly enough to respond effectively. 

→ Enabling behavioral inclusion by,

  • Practicing physical distancing instead of social by making people aware about the importance of human relationships and mental support during a time like this and having an empathetic approach towards them, engaging on a regular basis, paying careful attention to their well-being and encouraging them to voice out their concerns while taking corresponding measures to support them.

Focusing on these key areas can help companies build efficient teams, enable innovative problem-solving, increase employee engagement, optimize business performance and drive better financial performance to enhance their competitive advantage.

The present crisis is a global health, humanitarian and economic issue that is affecting all our communities in different ways. Great conviction is required from talent leaders, and the need of the hour is for top level executives to actually take a hard look at their business and devise ways in which they can effectively translate their Business strategy into a powerful People strategy by encouraging the diversity of thought, skills & expertise. The companies that get this right will build longer-term reputational strength, competitive advantage and emerge as more magnetic “employers of choice”.

Read: Recovery from COVID-19 will require resilience as companies advance, retreat, adapt—and repeat as necessary