Leader speaking to her team in the office

Diversity and inclusion  post-COVID: seize the moment to embed inclusive leadership habits

Now is the perfect time for leaders to learn more about the people who work for them and embrace their various worldviews and lifestyles. In this article, the third in a series on D&I written by guest blogger Maureen Frank, we look at how you can seize this moment to embed inclusive leadership habits.
Maureen Frank headshot.
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.

Recently, 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 post-COVID?

This article is the third 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 two articles in this series:

Inclusive leaders excel at building connections among their virtual teams. Leaders who prioritise inclusivity can engage team members and get people to collaborate effectively in difficult contexts, such as across physical distance and video screens.

Inclusive leadership can also hold together today’s disrupted, virtual workforces. With many companies mandating that employees work from home, our ways of working have been fundamentally changed for the foreseeable future — perhaps forever. 

Thanks to technology, we are often invited into people’s homes and personal lives in unexpected ways (kids in the background, casual clothes, unkempt hair, cats on keyboards). Our research shows that inclusive leaders — those who seek out and value individual perspectives, create a sense of belonging, and build deep alignment on a clear purpose — are the best at creating high-performing teams under normal circumstances. Today, they are also the best at building connections among their virtual teams. 

Inclusive leaders demonstrate compassion, kindness, and curiosity about their teams. Given global circumstances, now is the perfect time for leaders to learn more about the people who work for them and embrace their various worldviews and lifestyles.

Many people who are not in the dominant majority in their workplace have learned to keep their private lives private. As such, they might now feel a bit exposed. The best inclusive leaders will lean in with curiosity and empathy to embrace those people and all others on their teams. Getting people to listen to each other and be more aware of how each person’s perspective adds value to the collective matters a lot in today’s disrupted environment.

How do you maintain company culture during prolonged periods of remote working?

Creating a sense of belonging and community is fundamental to any workplace. A common way of doing this is by creating a culture where colleagues feel that they are part of something bigger. Inclusive leadership is at the centre of this policy. To achieve this, leaders must focus on inclusive remote workplace training to help everyone understand how to maintain an inclusive workplace while working remotely. 

Inclusive remote workplace training is necessary because, in most organisations, there are ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups.’ Those who feel closer to the centre, and others who don’t feel like they have a voice within the business. Shifting that paradigm to a virtual world can exacerbate this divide. People in the ‘in-group’ will still be texting and calling each other, and maintaining constant communication. However, unless colleagues are mindful of the extent of their communication, people in the 'out-group' can easily be forgotten – they are out of sight and, essentially, out of mind.

As a result, it won’t be long until members of the ‘out-group’ feel even less like they belong. It’s down to your leaders to think about how they structure communication and meetings to prioritise inclusivity and ensure everyone feels like they have a voice.

Challenging bias in ourselves and others

Since COVID-19 was first reported in Wuhan, China, the UK has seen a significant increase in discrimination, xenophobia, and violence towards people who appear to be members of East Asian communities. Businesses have suffered, people have avoided areas like Chinatown, and individuals have been verbally and physically assaulted for having an assumed association with the Coronavirus. 

These beliefs are not only unreasonable, they are also inaccurate, unjustified, and fuelled by harmful stereotypes. If we’re not careful, such beliefs can subconsciously influence our worldview, leading to bias against individuals or groups, as well as closed-minded, prejudicial, and unfair thinking. 

This is just one example of the damaging impact unconscious biases can have in society. Bias also exists for perceived age, religion, sexual orientation, gender, upbringing, seniority, ethnicity, education, marital status, physical ability, and any combinations of these factors.

When dealing with bias, one key thing to remember is: you are not responsible for your first thought; you are responsible for your second thought and your first action. So, before you walk past the Chinese supermarket, scroll past the Chinese options on your takeaway app, or reject an application from a candidate with an East Asian name, bring your unconscious thoughts into your consciousness, challenge them, and ask yourself whether your thinking is based on factual information before you take action.

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has made our current reality a little scary. We have to believe it will pass, although we have no idea how long that could take. What we do know is that we have an opportunity to adapt and evolve. We have a chance to reflect, regroup, and reassess. And we face the very real prospect of creating a more equitable and empowered future for all.

Recovery recipe

The qualities of diverse and inclusive companies — notably innovation and resilience — are precisely what will be required during the post-pandemic recovery phase.

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

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