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Diversity and inclusion in a COVID World: You need to SEIZE the opportunity or wear the cost!


As a global advocate for increasing diversity and inclusion for the last 15 years, I believe that COVID 19 and the rapid shift in the way we work will forever change the approach we have taken to diversity and inclusion. I also believe that Covid 19 has highlighted to us all the urgency of creating 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. We have been reluctant to pivot, because we need to be seen to be doing SOMETHING! Our global crisis has shown us that we can pivot way faster than we think!

Organisations spend about $8 BILLION per year on D&I training with little to show for their efforts. The swamp seems muddier than ever.

FORBES

So, I committed to having 100 VIRTUAL coffees with leaders and diversity and inclusion experts from around the world. I have been having some very interesting conversations. My question is:

What does the pivot in diversity and inclusion start to look like post Covid 19?

This is the first article in a series of thoughts from those conversations, my research and my hands on experience in supporting leaders to be more inclusive during lockdown.

Some may argue that a global pandemic is not the time to discuss workplace diversity and inclusion as an imperative for organizations; 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 this moment is precisely the right time to recognize the importance of diversity.

McKinsey found:

Early signs.... are not encouraging. One pulse survey of I&D leaders, for example, found that 27 percent of them report that their organizations have put all or most I&D initiatives on hold because of the pandemic.

Now is not the time for business to cut its Diversity and Inclusion. Strategically embedded and real INCLUSIVE LEADERSHIP needs to be a significant part of the engine that jumpstarts business recovery, from the unanticipated disruption of COVID-19 to planning for their employee’s “reintegration.”

Business leaders are almost singularly focused on how to limit the impact of the COVID-19 disruption on long-term survival. They are drilling down on everything from cash flow, market valuation, and customer relationships to physically protecting employees.

Is productivity important in your organisation right now?

Employees who’ve worked with an inclusive leader experience an 81% increase in productivity and performance: Opportunity Now and Shapiro Consulting

The impact of failing to create a sense of belonging with our employees not only affects how much they enjoy their work; it has a significant effect on their ability to be productive.

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-actualization - the motive to realize one's fullest potential.

As we live through this extraordinary moment in history, with unexpected levels of uncertainty and risks not seen for generations, it is those companies that are able to draw on a wealth of perspectives in their teams—across genders, generations, cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds—that will ultimately be prepared for our new collective, global reality.

We are seeing the organisations want to shift to ensure that INCLUSION and diversity is more mainstream and is integrated.

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

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

With their high impact on innovation, and their influence on creating cultures of psychological safety, diversity and inclusion will be more important than ever as we move from shock to adaptation and, eventually, emergence from the effects of the pandemic.

I&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.: McKinsey

The days of shareholder primacy and profit delivery as the sole objects of business are under greater scrutiny than ever before. Business leaders are acknowledging they have a more critical role play in terms of the environment and society and governance.

For many, this means reorientating their modus operandi to focus more on purpose and stakeholder capital.

So, where do diversity and inclusion fit into this brave new world?

To identify 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 will need to be resilient to get through the immediate crisis and its long-term effects. And companies with the most inclusive cultures tend to be the most resilient. To create resilience, culture must be authentic—lived by the leaders and made real in the corporate responses to the crisis in areas from employee health and safety to benefits to customer service. All employees need to feel part of, and supported by, the culture.

Companies that have built inclusive cultures are more able to tap into 100% of their talent in a way that creates competitive advantage. Plus, companies that emerge resiliently from the crisis will become the most attractive to talent of all kinds.

Even before the current crisis, leadership teams that did not reflect the demographic realities of today’s markets and talent pools may have been unwittingly creating risk by being out of sync and unable to cope quickly enough with today’s realities and crises. Now the stakes have become unimaginably high. Leaders are facing complex challenges that will require the best thinking to come up with solutions.

We can use this global shockwave to drive positive change profoundly by maintaining positive behaviours, the best 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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