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Diversity and inclusion post-COVID: seize the opportunity or wear the cost

Some people may argue that a global pandemic is not the time to prioritise workplace diversity and inclusion. However, if you look at what organisations need most right now, perhaps you would realise that now is precisely the time to recognise the importance of diversity and inclusion. This article is the fourth in a series on D&I, written by guest blogger Maureen Frank.
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Maureen Frank - Guest Contributor

Written by guest blogger Maureen Frank, Chief Disruption Officer at Emberin, and Diversity & Inclusion thought leader. Maureen challenges leaders and organisations to get real about diversity and inclusion. She has mentored over 35,000 people worldwide and has a passion for women in leadership and inclusive career development. Her approach to diversity and inclusion is challenging and unique yet simplifies a complex discussion.

As a global advocate for diversity and inclusion for the last 15 years, I believe that COVID-19 — and the subsequent shift in the way we work — will forever change our approach to diversity and inclusion. I also think that COVID-19 has highlighted the need to create a sense of belonging for each individual. How do we create a ‘club’ in an organisation? What does the ‘belonging club’ look like?

We know that traditional approaches to diversity and inclusion have not worked. However, we have been reluctant to pivot because we must be seen to be doing something. Our global crisis has shown that we can pivot much faster than we thought.

According to Forbes, organisations spend $8 billion per year on D&I training with little to show for their efforts. The swamp seems muddier than ever. So, I committed to having one hundred virtual coffees with leaders and diversity and inclusion experts from around the world. As a result, I have been having some interesting conversations. My main question is:

What will the pivot in diversity and inclusion look like in a post-COVID world?

This article is the fourth in a series of thoughts, drawing from these conversations, my research, and hands-on experiences supporting leaders to be more inclusive during the lockdown.

If you haven’t already, be sure to read the first three articles in this series:

Some people may argue that a global pandemic is not the time to prioritise workplace diversity and inclusion as an imperative for organisations. These people say that there are more pressing issues facing our world. However, if you look at what organisations need most right now, perhaps you would change your view and realise that now is precisely the time to recognise the importance of diversity and inclusion.

A recent survey by McKinsey found that 27% of L&D leaders have put all or most of their L&D initiatives on hold because of the pandemic. I believe that now is not the time for businesses to cut their diversity and inclusion output. Inclusive, strategically embedded leadership needs to be a significant part of the engine that jumpstarts business recovery. This process ranges from the unanticipated disruption of COVID-19 to planning for employee reintegration.

Instead, business leaders seem to have focused solely on limiting COVID-19’s impact on long-term survival. They are drilling down on everything from cash flow, market valuation, and customer relationships to physically protect employees.

Is productivity important to your organisation right now?

According to Opportunity Now and Shapiro Consulting, employees who have worked with an inclusive leader experience an 81% increase in productivity and performance.

Failing to create a sense of belonging with employees affects how much they enjoy their work while also impacting their productivity. According to Abraham Maslow, satisfying the need to belong is a prerequisite to developing self-esteem and confidence, which in turn is a prerequisite for self-actualisation — the motive to realise one's fullest potential.

As we live through this extraordinary moment in history, the companies that can draw on a wealth of perspectives in their teams — across genders, generations, cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds — will ultimately be the ones that are most prepared for our new collective global reality.

The diversity and inclusion agenda

The diversity and inclusivity agenda isn’t new. However, for a long time, it has existed on the edges of plans and strategies. It is always present but seldom fully embraced.

Now, as societies and economies prepare for the unknowable post-COVID world, organisations are re-evaluating what it means to be a sustainable business. Recent months have reminded us that agile, innovative approaches to work are vital to surviving a crisis. Collaboration, trust, and mutual support are also critical to team and organisational endurance.

Due to its high impact on innovation and influence on creating cultures of psychological safety, diversity and inclusion efforts will be more important than ever as we move from shock to adaptation and eventually emerge from the pandemic.

As McKinsey points out, “L&D is a powerful enabler of business performance. Companies whose leaders welcome diverse talents and include multiple perspectives are likely to emerge from the crisis stronger. In short: diversity wins, now more than ever.”

The days of shareholder primacy and profit delivery as the sole objects of business are under scrutiny. These days, business leaders also have a critical role to play in terms of the environment, society, and governance. For many, this means reorientating their modus operandi to focus more on purpose and stakeholder capital.

Where does diversity and inclusion fit in this brave new world?

Identifying an organisation’s purpose means engaging with its broader ecosystem — one that includes multiple stakeholders, but most importantly, employees.

An inclusive culture is a powerful driver of resilience. Companies must be resilient to get through the immediate crisis and its long-term effects. Unsurprisingly, companies with the most inclusive cultures tend to be the most resilient. 

To create resilience, workplace culture must be authentic — lived by the leaders and made real in the corporate responses to the crisis. All employees need to feel supported by the culture, in areas such as employee health and safety, benefits, and customer service

Companies that have built inclusive cultures are more likely to tap into their full range of talents in a way that creates a competitive advantage. Plus, companies that emerge resiliently from the crisis will be the most attractive to talented, driven employees.  

Even before the current crisis, leadership teams that did not reflect the demographic realities of today’s markets and talent pools have been creating risk by being out of sync with modern realities and values. Now, the stakes have become unimaginably high. 

We can use this global shockwave to drive positive change. To do this, we must maintain positive behaviours, agile work patterns, and new perspectives on what is possible. Let’s make the best of our new habits. Our new normal!

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