Support Diverse Employees Through and After the Pandemic

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On her podcast, 2050 TrailBlazers, Rianka Dorsainvil, CFP®, noted that diversity and inclusion are bull market phenomena, meaning we only pay attention to it when markets are good.

The bull market is gone. A pandemic of epic proportions with no end in sight is here. COVID-19 has disproportionately hit communities of color—specifically the Black and Latino communities—when it comes to rates of infection, mortality, and job loss. The virus’s impact includes increased racial violence against Asian Americans.

How are your diverse employees doing…really?

“From a health perspective, it’s clear that Black and brown workers and their families are suffering unequally,” writes Laura Morgan Roberts, Courtney L. McCluney, Erin L. Thomas, and Michelle Kim in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “How U.S. Companies Can Support Employees of Color Through the Pandemic.”

Leaders can play an important role in engaging and supporting employees from marginalized communities, the HBR article authors say. In the planning profession, this can be done at two levels: team and organizational.

Team-level support. Authentically engage them in conversation and give them the space to open up and tell you what’s going on. It’s a stressful time right now for you and your business, but it could go a long way to encourage them to take time off for a few days to rest. They’re probably terrified to ask for time off due to the unstable nature of employment right now, but chances are they’re worried, not engaged, and they need time. 

“They need leaders to give them explicit permission to take time to care for themselves and their loved ones and find ways to cope with direct and vicarious trauma,” the HBR article authors write.  

Organizational-level support. We’re, in fact, not all in this together. Saying things like this is tone-deaf and could disengage diverse employees. Create opportunities for them to connect with one another and process the added struggles their communities are facing.

Also, examine the implications of pay cut, layoff, and furlough decisions. Were you already paying your qualified female or diverse employees less than you should be? And then you gave them the same pay cut or furlough days as higher-earning employees? Examine your reasoning for doing these things and explore the implications for your employees and their communities. Acknowledge that these practices have implications for retention of diverse employees and explore how you can change them moving forward.

“The experiences of employees of color are not special interests or adjacent details to the story of how organizations respond to this moment in history,” write the HBR authors. “Rather, centering and uplifting employees and communities of color can define our organizational footprints for generations to come.”