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The Difference of Different: Time to Double Down on D&I, Workplace Equity


We may have planned for various contingencies in 2020, but few of us pictured a pandemic that would physically and emotionally paralyze the world. It seems just moments ago we were wrapping up our plans for the New Year and ringing it in with a sense of renewal and optimism.

Perhaps too bright-eyed we breezed through the first quarter of the year oblivious to what March and April 2020 would bring. By many standards and indexes, the year should have trended upward. Growth and productivity seemed assured, even obvious, until it wasn’t.

We’re in Q2 now with a much different perspective. Worry has replaced optimism and COVID-19 has stolen our hopes for the New Year. Most of our routines have changed, not by choice, but from the fallout of the viral outbreak. Organizational rhythms like performance reviews and merit increases are disrupted. Most surely, on every level possible, 2020 so far has been universally scored a “does not meet expectations.”

Understanding What Is Vital to Recovery

At the end of 2019, many organizations were excited to be in the center of the conversation for diversity, inclusion and equal pay. WorldatWork proclaimed October as Pay Equity Month and hosted a successful symposium with many thought leaders from different industries. Soccer star Megan Rapinoe keynoted our event and in a “fireside chat” shared the story of her team’s fight for equality on and off the field.

So, do issues like diversity, inclusion and workplace equity still matter amid a global pandemic and economic downturn? They matter, of course, but when budgets get cut, we know that programming efforts on diversity, inclusion, and, yes, equity, often take a backseat in organizational funding and are the first to go. That seems ill-advised and a bit ironic since divergent thinking is what we most need right now to help us effectively navigate this crisis.

In previous articles, I’ve discussed the importance of prioritizing people in COVID-19 plans and pulling together to #KeepTheWorldatWork. A key element in keeping people must include engaging in meaningful and productive conversations around diversity, inclusion and workplace equity. These issues are even more important to your business than they were in Q1.

In times of crisis, the issues that were important to our business before the change are also critical during and after it. What do you think will happen when we get to Q3 and we assess our decision-making in Q2 from a legal, ethical and corporate values perspective? Even if you cleared any potential legal concerns, did you choose to do the right thing?

"These are times when creativity and innovation will help increase margins and it is no secret that more diverse teams can better serve a broader audience and that means a faster recovery." – Scott Cawood, president and CEO of WorldatWork

We already know there is an imbalance in the economic decline impact. In industries most affected by the pandemic, women suffer in greater numbers than men. A National Bureau of Economic Research study points out that in contrast to the Great Recession where occupations held predominantly by men were affected, this time, it is women who are seeing an increase in the effects. For instance, many service industries — hospitality, education, retail and leisure — employ more women than men, and these sectors have experienced most of the layoffs and furloughs. Furthermore, stay-at-home orders and school closures have placed an additional challenge related to childcare and homeschooling.

A 2019 World Economic Forum study of gender equality in workplace found that if we kept going at our pace, it would take 208 years to reach gender equity in the United States and 202 years globally. Statistics from the 2020 study were more encouraging, but if we place progression of these topics on hold, the numbers will only get worse. A recent Payscale report indicates that women returning to work after a COVID-19 leave are expected to receive 7% less pay for the same position.   

Course Correction Time Is Now

Unfortunately, in times of crisis, as companies struggle to meet their day-to-day needs and continue looking for solutions to remain viable, expense reductions often include areas such as diversity, inclusion and equity. Nevertheless, these are times when creativity and innovation will help increase margins and it is no secret that more diverse teams can better serve a broader audience and that means a faster recovery.

While these important topics were at the center of the conversation before, we must make a conscious effort to keep them in the spotlight as they continue to be relevant topics in the future of work. Below are three tips that can help maintain the momentum.

  1. Prioritize workplace equity in your post COVID-19 strategy. Don’t just wait for a return to normal; step up and take the lead in creating the new normal. As we reevaluate our pre-coronavirus strategies, we should prioritize and infuse the right perspectives and decisions around the future you want to lead in — not just the inherited mess left after the pandemic. We are beginning to move away from business continuity strategies into a resilience and post-COVID19 planning stage — this is an incredibly important time to reset and create. It will be fundamental to prioritize the issues that will get our organizations ready for success, among them a distinct focus on inclusion and equity. The fact is COVID-19 will pass and as people return to work, equity in the workplace will be examined with even more scrutiny. Whether it is through continuing the efforts to close the pay gap, or by giving access to new benefits that provide accommodation to those impacted by the pandemic, a strategy that prioritizes equity is an important part of your recovery. 
  1. Increase relevance by engaging in conversations. We must continue to have conversations to influence change and foster equal pay, as well as diversity and inclusion practices within our organizations. Pausing the discussions while we address the COVID-19 crisis will not place a hold on these issues and will likely widen gaps. Our workforces will continue to be people long after the pandemic and leaders have a unique, but limited window to turn their attention to creating an inclusive organizational culture. We can use this time to increase progress and take advantage of the diversity of thought and experience that will be needed in our resiliency plans. Engaging and fostering dialogue that keeps us moving toward a solution is even more important now because it sends a message that diversity isn’t just an add-on program, but a strategic way to do business.
  1. Double down on incorporating diversity, inclusion, and workplace equity into your organization. Our return to the office will require adjusting our expectations. But we will still need to figure out how to bring our full selves back to work if we are going to help our coworkers, organizations, communities and industries make it. We will face a necessary adjustment period regardless, but having leaders, programs and policies that keep a clear focus on diversity and inclusion sends a message of hope, transparency, and, quite frankly, good leadership. Organizational purpose and inclusive policies along with extended flexibility that provides a solution to disrupted schedules and childcare hours is an example of a necessary policy adjustment. Being mindful and inclusive of everyone’s reality can become a key differentiator between being a good place to work and an exceptional one post COVID-19.

As you evaluate your own strategies, keep in mind those who are most impacted by the pandemic and economic crisis. COVID-19 may not have discriminated against personal attributes like gender, race, or sexual orientation, but the outcomes from it undoubtedly have. We still have time to course correct. Let’s not delay.

About the Author

Scott Cawood Bio Image

Scott Cawood, Ed.D, CCP, CBP, GRP, CSCP, WLCP is the president and CEO of WorldatWork.

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