One of the less visible consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the global response to it, is the impact on traditionally marginalized employees. It’s a sad reality of the world we’re now living in. With employees physically separated from each other and their managers, everyone is less visible. This can hurt company efforts to inclusion and diversity if the organization is not careful to be on guard against such negative impacts.
“Behaviors that marginalize employees can go even more unnoticed when employees are working remotely. Employees can quickly feel that they are not being heard, are isolated from resources, or unable to do the same quality or amount of work while working from home,” says Stephanie Stoudt-Hansen, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “This time of strict confinement and insecurity shows the importance of enhancing diversity and inclusion among teams.”
Gartner suggests a five-step approach to help business leaders support those who may feel marginalized and to help foster an environment of inclusion and diversity even during the midst of a pandemic forcing unprecedented numbers of American workers to log in remotely.
Recognize Toxic Behaviors
Being aware of toxic behaviors is the first step in addressing them. This can include any comments or behavior that serve to marginalize others. Of course, as we’ve frequently discussed, often these behaviors are unconscious, making it that much more important to stay on guard. It can help to team up with colleagues to partner in an effort to spot, and eliminate, these behaviors.
Addressing harmful behaviors should be done publicly in order to ensure a clear message is set that such behavior is not to be tolerated. Again, working with colleagues you can agree to share examples of your own behaviors and how they might serve to marginalize others. That sends a strong message to staff and helps to reinforce the desire for an inclusive culture and inclusive behaviors from all.
In addition to publicly addressing these behaviors, managers can do more intimate coaching with individuals in a private setting. Gartner recommends giving employees the benefit of the doubt initially and helping them to recognize and address what may be unconscious bias. It’s important, of course, to do this in a blame-free environment. “I’m sure you’re not aware of the impact your behavior might have. But think about…What could you do in the future to avoid this?”
Affirm Commitment Publicly
On a more institutional level, Gartner recommends publicly affirming the company’s commitment to inclusion and diversity by, for example, pointing out efforts the company has made. Share examples of both positive inclusive behaviors and actions, and times where behaviors or actions served to exclude or diminish others, however unintentionally.
While affirming the commitment to inclusion and diversity generally can be done publicly, support for individual staff is more properly handled on an individual level. This can be done in regular one-on-one meetings or by hosting virtual open office hours, when staff can virtually “stop by” to raise any concerns they may have with their manager.
One of the biggest supporting factors in the quest for greater inclusion and diversity is simply employing diverse employees in visible and meaningful roles. But with employees working remotely, that visibility is sharply decreased. Now, during these socially distanced times, and moving forward, it’s more important than ever that managers consciously promote inclusion and inclusion.
Avoiding the "Stuck State"
Organizations and their leaders are well-intentioned, yet many are still languishing in a stuck state. The key is for businesses to understand that leveraging diversity and inclusion to nurture a strong bottom line are long-term goals that require long-term efforts and cannot be solved through short-term initiatives. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
Our recent white paper, Overcoming the Stuck State, offers some insights into the steps that need to be taken to get unstuck. These are trying times, but these are not the times to back away from the business imperative of building an inclusive culture. Inclusion matters! Download a free copy of our most recent white paper here.