Diversity matters, so make it a matter of business when going remote
By Saray Lopez, director of student diversity, equity and inclusion, University of Phoenix
The month of April is dedicated to celebrating diversity and is a great time to recognize diversity within your organization.
I recently read a quote from diversity and inclusion speaker Jennifer Brown that perfectly captured the challenges organizations face as they attempt to maintain diversity and inclusion in these turbulent times.
She said, “The coronavirus pandemic has uprooted everything familiar, and it feels impossible to resume business as usual when we know that this crisis will most negatively impact the most vulnerable and marginalized among us.”
As business leaders, many of you can probably relate to Jennifer. COVID-19 has forced us into an unprecedented period of discomfort and unknown. During times like this, we need to speak about the grace that has been given to all employees to adjust to a new work environment shifting by day. To some employees. its completely new, and being able to show compassion and empathy from leaders is essential.
This should be a focus throughout the year, but it is especially important now. April is Celebrate Diversity Month, a time dedicated to honoring our differences and celebrating a deeper understanding of one another. As organizational leaders, we understand the business impact of diversity, equity and inclusion, but too often we focus on how to build diversity, not celebrate it.
As COVID-19 forces the business world to shift to embrace virtual interaction with customers and a more robust remote workforce, there has been an accompanying shift in the recognition of the importance of diversity within an organization. The following are things to be mindful of as you nurture and celebrate diversity in a remote workforce.
Open and transparent communication should come from the top.
During times of uncertainty, leadership vulnerability is crucial to demonstrate authenticity and build trust with employees. It is important for leaders to empathize with the uncertainty and emotions that is impacting employees. The Neuroleadership Institute emphasizes the importance of leaders communicating often and despite the unknowns, providing different scenarios and steps the organization will take. This can help bring certainty to the uncertain.
Not all employees may have access to a comfortable workplace at home.
In the office, there is a standardization to workplace accommodations provided. Everyone has access to a desk, office chair, computer with reliable internet bandwidth and a dedicated workspace. This may not be the case for many employees working from home. Leaders must be mindful of the digital divide that their employees could face and ensure that all employees have the essentials in place to continue performing successfully in their job. . This may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of inclusion, but the end goal is making every employee feel valued and accounted for. Empathy is critical, keep in mind that some employees may also have to balance caregiving while working, homeschool teaching and other responsibilities. Parenting, caregiving, educating and professional work are now all in one place, and it can be challenging to quickly adapt to various disruptions.
Employees need time to adjust to an unfamiliar workplace.
Many of us develop an identity associated with the place we work. Who we are in the office or around colleagues may differ from who we are at home. The intersectionality of individual identities can collide for individuals working remotely for the first time. Engagement on social media channels has increased, with employees sharing aspects of their identity they may not typically feel comfortable sharing in the office, such as pets, background pictures and their family. Instead of viewing this as unprofessional, it should be embraced and encouraged as an integral part of making employees comfortable in an unfamiliar work environment.
Unconscious bias can fester if the transition is not properly managed.
Because our current environment is at the highest level of threat, this can lead to a heightened sense of alertness, potentially creating space where unconscious bias is more likely to occur. Research shows that microaggressions are prevalent in conditions with high stress, incomplete information or when time is limited, such as current social distancing requirements with a fluid timeframe. . Be particularly aware of this as the pandemic continues to impact us all in very different ways and develop methods and policies to manage it appropriately.
I think we can all agree that diversity and inclusion are essential to success and the continued growth of a company, especially in our new norm. What we have found is that when you take an overall direct approach to inclusivity, diversity begins to flow more effortlessly and continuously, and it is cohesive when we are intentional to embed this approach within a company’s culture, policies and procedures.
Investing in purposeful strategies to understand who you serve internally and externally is essential to building a diverse workforce. Maintaining it requires allocating resources and committing to it as an ongoing initiative. This type of strategic integration allows for a workplace to grow, flourish and embrace the diversity that connects us all.
Saray Lopez is the director of student diversity and inclusion at University of Phoenix with over ten years of experience in higher education. Saray is a first-generation Ph.D. student pursuing a Doctorate in Leadership and Change.