A Diversity & Inclusion Reporter On What Employees Need During the COVID Crisis

The coronavirus pandemic may be the most unpredictable crisis we’ve ever collectively experienced. While there is no playbook for companies on how to manage amidst such uncertainty, those who let their diversity and inclusion initiatives fall to the wayside may be less likely to survive.

Employees are organizations’ greatest resource. On this episode of Break the Bias, Ruth Umoh, diversity and inclusion editor at Forbes Media, shares how businesses can best support their workers during these unprecedented times, and help retain loyal employees of all backgrounds in order to truly shine. You can listen to the conversation here and read some takeaways below.

CU: Companies in the U.S. spend about $8 billion a year on diversity training. Do you think organizations will decrease or increase their focus on diversity and inclusion efforts in light of this public health crisis?


RUTH: It’s tough to say. It’s very easy to let diversity and inclusion fall by the wayside when you have an issue as catastrophic and global as is, for lack of a better word, a pandemic. It also doesn’t help that company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives are generally the first go when there’s market volatility.

However, now is really the time to jump on diversity and inclusion, because the business case is just so overwhelming. At this juncture, companies need employees who are highly productive, who are engaged, who are representative of the U.S. population—the global population at that. This is needed for the overall company to truly think creatively, innovatively and pivot, which is going to be critical if they want to still be standing at the end of this pandemic.


CU: How companies and leaders respond to the coronavirus crisis and treat their employees says a lot about their true brand values. What trends are you seeing in terms of companies doing it right as far as their response to COVID, and taking care of their employees of all levels and backgrounds?


RUTH: Workers have to balance the full-time responsibilities of both their professional and personal lives. Companies that are approaching this pandemic correctly are offering adjustable work schedules to meet the needs of working parents or those who have to take care of elderly parents. For instance, some companies are giving their teams the option of opting out of morning meetings, because working parents may have to make breakfast for their children. They’re encouraging employees to set up blocks of time where they can’t be reached, so they can spend time with loved ones, or even just to refresh and focus on their mental wellbeing.

It all boils down to leading with empathy, and being more accommodating, because these obviously aren’t normal times. Strong diversity and inclusion initiatives in times of crisis lead to stronger engagement and employee loyalty, which ultimately leads to higher retention rates.


CU: Mental health and wellness has always been an important workplace issue, but one that has also been stigmatized. How are you seeing companies address mental health needs during COVID?


RUTH: I think Starbucks is a solid example for two reasons. One is that they’ve had this really strong focus on mental health for a long time. So the companies who are more likely to coast through this period are those who had proactive strategies rather than those now being more reactive. Starbucks’ latest mental health initiative announced earlier this month is that they’re providing all US-based employees and their family members access to 20 therapy sessions through a mental health provider called Lyra Health. So employees are able to search for mental health professionals confidentially, and immediately book a video or virtual appointment with a therapist or a coach, and it’s completely free.

Companies can really leverage this pandemic and use it as a time to shine, because employees now more than ever want to feel connected, they want to feel supported, and they absolutely will remember how you treated them during such a critical period.


Holly Corbett

As the Director of Content at Consciously Unbiased, Holly Corbett is fueling inclusion through storytelling to build a passionate community and creating experiences inside organizations to transform workplace culture.
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