Diversity and Inclusion: Sustaining Progress During a Pandemic

Kerr Russell
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Many businesses are aware of the positive impacts associated with diversity and inclusion (“D&I”) in the workplace, including increased revenues, improvements in employee engagement and innovation, and broadened capacity to address customer needs.

Unfortunately though, due to the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, businesses may feel forced to shift focus from sustaining D&I to more time-sensitive concerns, such as adapting to changes in customer demands, easing employee transition to remote working, and ensuring that timely production and development continue. However, keeping D&I at the forefront will likely help businesses address and adapt to these required changes.

How Will D&I Help in a Pandemic?

Not only are the benefits of D&I helpful to businesses attempting to combat the negative impacts of COVID-19, but they may also become essential factors in determining whether and how effectively the business is able to return to its pre-pandemic capabilities.

Effect on Discrimination Charges

As COVID-19 has spread, employment attorneys have witnessed an increase in discrimination charges filed against employers. Ensuring that a workforce has appropriate D&I training, including instructing employees (particularly managers and supervisors) to interact with others in a respectful and positive manner, is likely to reduce discrimination within the workplace.

However, employers must exercise caution when choosing the individual or firm to conduct D&I training, as inadequate trainings may result in misunderstanding and be ultimately ineffective. Although there are ample choices, employers should ensure that the training is tailored with the specific business in mind, paying particular attention as to how the leadership of the business may benefit from such training.

In addition, implementing a D&I training will provide employers with an opportunity to revisit and improve existing anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and anti-retaliation policies and to ensure the business is enforcing and abiding by such policies.

Easing the Telework Transition Through Heightened Inclusion Efforts

However important diversity in the workplace is, businesses must also ensure that all employees feel included within the workplace and are provided with equal access to resources and opportunities. Increasing and maintaining inclusion within a workplace can have immense effects with respect to enforcing a policy of anti-discrimination in a company.

Even businesses that have made substantial improvements in terms of creating inclusivity in the workplace may struggle with maintaining that inclusion when transitioning to a remote workforce in which all or a majority of the employees are teleworking. Accordingly, employers with remote employees, (which have skyrocketed in the wake of COVID-19) must consider new ways to ensure employees are included in the workplace, even when they are not physically present.

These may include implementing teleworking policies which establish remote work expectations and create avenues for employees to discuss issues as they arise; ensuring that meetings are accessible for all remotely working employees, including consideration of those with children at home; and confirming that the business has established guidelines for communicating information to all employees equally.

During the difficult transition from working at the office to working from home, it is common for employees to become frustrated with the process and to express discontent with the employers they work for. With tensions already running high due to drastic changes in the work environment, it is essential that employees are provided with proper training and avenues to address their concerns and complaints before elevating them through a legal grievance mechanism.

Unprecedented Opportunities in Hiring

Regrettably, due to COVID-19, some businesses have temporarily ceased operations, forcing hiring to a grinding stop. However, as the economic conditions improve and businesses begin to resume full-capacity operations, they will need to resume hiring and filling open job positions.

During this period, businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to evaluate the overall workforce and to consider whether they are achieving diversity which is representative of the community in which they operate.

A Final Note

Going forward, employers may wish to consider implementing a D&I training to address the ongoing efforts during these times of transition and to create avenues by which employees may address concerns prior to turning to legal mechanisms for resolution.

Employers may also benefit from revisiting their anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and anti-retaliation policies to ensure that they are continuing to abide by all such policies and are actively contributing to a workplace environment which encompasses the mandates of such policies.

 

Originally published by Corp! Magazine in December 2020 and reprinted here with permission.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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