Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is an increasingly popular topic, impacting the rise of new laws such as Washington’s boardroom diversity requirements. However, aside from legal compliance, research makes a consistent and strong business case for diversity. A 2020 McKinsey study finds that the most diverse companies are 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability than less diverse companies. Moreover, companies in the top quartile of gender diversity are 48 percent more likely to outperform their peers in the bottom quartile. We have also seen that diversity drives innovation by encouraging discussion between a variety of perspectives. When it comes to employee recruitment, a Glassdoor study finds that 76% of job-seekers say that a diverse workforce is important when evaluating companies. In other words, companies that don’t prioritize DEI will miss out on a potentially diverse talent pool. As businesses struggle to recover from COVID-19 impacts, diverse companies will be in a better position to adapt and seize new opportunities.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Workplace Diversity
Unfortunately, the reality is that progress on workplace diversity initiatives has stalled due to COVID-19. As pressures from the pandemic build, many organizations are putting DEI initiatives on hold at a time when they should accelerate. One challenge is that shifting to remote work has disproportionately affected the safety & wellness of minority employees. According to another McKinsey report, minority employees report higher rates of acute challenges relating to mental health and household responsibilities. As a result, only one in six diverse employees feel more supported by employers now than before COVID-19.
A second but related challenge is the health of minority-owned businesses. While minority-owned small businesses already dealt with greater rates of financial difficulty before COVID-19, they also faced structural challenges. They tended to be located in industries that made them uniquely susceptible to disruption from the pandemic. Yet, these businesses were also more likely to add services to support their communities and employees during times of crisis. Leaders should keep both challenges in mind when approaching diversity in a post-COVID-19 world.
On a more positive side, the remote-work boom resulting from the pandemic encouraged employers to expand their recruitment search. Instead of hiring in a solely localized area, employers could expand their hiring reach, hiring out-of-area and even out-of-state employees. Widening the hiring pool allowed employers to recruit in more locations, further enhancing DEI efforts in their businesses.
Addressing Workplace Diversity Challenges
The first step in supporting diverse employees during COVID-19 is to be aware of new challenges stemming from remote work. Not everyone may have access to up-to-date technology required for virtual meetings. Employees with hearing difficulties or a weak internet connection could face challenges in communicating during meetings. To foster inclusivity, businesses should ensure that all employees have access to a strong internet connection, devices, and any other necessary software and hardware. Leaders can further increase inclusion by providing closed captioning, sending documents beforehand, and collecting input in advance to ensure that all employees have an opportunity to contribute.
It is also important to recognize that the pandemic may affect diverse employees in different ways. For example, given the rise in anti-Asian racism during the pandemic, leaders should remind employees of their organization’s anti-discrimination policies and the protocols for reporting discrimination at work. This could take the form of anti-discrimination or cultural sensitivity trainings covering your organization’s equal opportunity policy.
Additionally, to support employees with physical or mental health challenges, organizations should expand mental health and wellbeing resources for employees and proactively share these resources so that all employees are aware of them. Above all, leaders must show compassion for employees by accommodating workers who may need extra time or resources to deal with new challenges.
Leveraging Opportunities for DEI Moving Forward
The remote work shift during the pandemic has also brought new opportunities for DEI efforts. Many employers have already begun offering more flexible working arrangements to prioritize their staff’s work-life balance. Different employees may need different ways of working as they adjust to remote work. Business leaders should empower employees to take time off during the day to care for family members and children, which could ease the mental health strain put on by additional household responsibilities. This pandemic has shown us that colleagues can still work together remotely while being flexible and accommodating others’ needs.
Similarly, organizations should leverage the flexibility from remote work to reexamine diversity in their hiring practices. While companies previously built large campuses and amenities to attract diverse talent, location will become less critical for job-seekers in the future. Companies should instead focus on other important variables, such as flexible working hours and mental health resources, which are some of the most appreciated resources by women and LGBTQ+ employees. By offering remote work opportunities, companies which previously struggled to improve their employee diversity may now be able to tap into a broader base of talent.
Increasing Supplier Diversity
Workplace diversity efforts should also focus on broader community impacts involving initiatives such as supplier diversity. A diverse supplier is a business operated by an individual or group that is part of a traditionally underrepresented group. Small-business enterprises, minority-owned enterprises, and women-owned enterprises are examples of common classifications of diverse suppliers. While supplier diversity is already a legal requirement for some industries, investing in diverse suppliers is independently valuable. Companies with diverse suppliers see accelerated innovation and increased market share compared to peer companies.
To start a supplier diversity program, organizations can examine current supply chain vendors and set diversity targets, creating a company-wide policy to achieve those targets. Companies should increase supply chain transparency by sharing details of their needs to help diverse suppliers find and engage them. Increasing supply chain transparency has the additional benefit of allowing companies to understand more comprehensively their current level of diversity among suppliers.
Businesses must also proactively evaluate and seek out diverse suppliers to ensure success and overcome obstacles such as affinity bias. Companies can work with specialized entities, including the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council or the National Minority Supplier Development Council to find and partner with certified diverse suppliers. These organizations hold conferences, networking events, and outreach opportunities to connect companies with minority-owned businesses.
Finally, leaders must engrain supplier diversity efforts in their organizations in a day-to-day capacity. To that end, digitizing and automating the procurement process is valuable for placing orders and tracking data. These tools can not only aid with managing supplier diversity targets and analyzing progress, but they can also improve the robustness of the procurement function overall. Overall, investing in supplier diversity will strengthen your supply chain and fuel economic growth by benefiting small businesses.
You are not alone—speak with an attorney to discuss workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, equal opportunity policy, anti-discrimination training, employment law, and more. Whatever your situation, Equinox’s corporate counsel is here to support you and your business. Contact us at 425-250-0205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general information. Do not view this article as legal advice. Talk with counsel familiar with your unique business needs before taking or refraining from any action.