What diversity, equity, and inclusion lessons has the coronavirus pandemic taught us?
Board Director @UN Women SF Chapter
VAW Expert @European Women’s Lobby
The coronavirus pandemic has been impacting our lives tremendously. Apart from being a major public health crisis, its widespread effects have been transforming our economic status, jobs, social relationships, and day to day lives substantially. There is growing evidence that the coronavirus pandemic disproportionately affects women and people of color, posing higher health and safety risks to these particular groups. From a diversity, equity, and inclusion standpoint, it could easily be said that the pandemic adds up to pre-existing inequalities in society, and it creates deeper economic, social, and political vulnerabilities for historically underrepresented groups. In other words, the pandemic can act like an anti-diversity/equity/inclusion force in the form of lack of access to decision making, increased family & child care burdens, loss of jobs, salary adjustments, furloughs, layoffs, or budget cuts on equity & inclusion programs. While it is evident that we need to take specific measures to mitigate these adverse impacts, I am wondering whether and how we can learn from these challenges and further strategize on ways to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in our workforce.
So, what are the lessons that the coronavirus pandemic taught us?
We desperately need more diversity in decision making and leadership roles!
It was beyond shocking and quite annoying when we saw a photo taken during the US Coronavirus Taskforce meeting showcasing a room full of men, without a single woman. Despite years-long efforts in improving diversity and inclusion in leadership roles across politics and the business world, in times of crisis, leadership turns out to be still white-male dominated.
Making strategic decisions during such an urgent public health crisis requires experts from diverse backgrounds to bring their innovative perspectives to the decision-making process. When we leave half the talent pool behind, we are narrowing down our capacity to make better, more holistic, and innovative choices.
Now is the time to be more hopeful! Women across the globe once more showcased brilliant political leadership with their national coronavirus responses and left their male colleagues behind with timely, compassionate, honest, and innovative leadership styles. From the brilliant words of Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, from Germany to New Zealand, from Iceland to Taiwan, women gifted us with a beautiful alternative way of wielding power. They have taught us many leadership lessons concerning diversity and inclusion: open communication, commitment to change, using technology, evaluating the human aspect of every policy, and leading from the heart with compassion. The world will remember these women with their leadership, and now we have to tell more of these success stories, while we demand and elect more women.
It is time to introduce 3C’s - Care, Compassion, Community- in our way of doing business!
The coronavirus pandemic has taught us that we can't be well enough without genuinely caring for others. It reminded us of our dependence on other human beings. The pandemic almost acted like a wakeup call to our somewhat isolated, fast-paced, work overloaded lives where our biggest concerns were either the delay in our shared ride or hitting the gym during rush hour. We have exchanged competition with compassion and productivity with wellbeing long ago, and we thought there is no way back from our global capitalist code of conduct. The pandemic showed us the way out! As we have experienced the healing power of community and care, as opposed to brutal competition, the coronavirus gave us the chance to start transforming our work cultures in light of 3C’s; care, compassion, and community. So, where to start?
To guide this transformation, we can quickly revisit the feminist leadership narrative as it provides a success-proven example in redefining inclusive and creative leadership. In a few simple, yet essential steps, it is possible to shift our way of doing business with a more collaborative, relational, and consensus-building approach. First of all, we can start by making the power dynamics more visible. For example, we can try to recognize and expose how power is projected and distributed in our zoom meetings. There is growing criticism that remote meetings mirror the inequities of in-person meetings as it is much harder for women to be heard in online web conferences. If you are experiencing a similar pattern, first, you can notice this, and if you feel comfortable, you can confront it in ways that feel right for you. Asking questions without being apologetic, or merely redirecting to your female peers in the meeting to reinforce your point are effective strategies to combat mansplaining while elevating other women. Breaking the silence empowers not only us but also other colleagues who have been cut off or interrupted.
We can also focus on growing our existing communities or building new ones to empower, enable, and encourage each other. I know that you might have already developed "remote meeting fatigue." But, how about sparing a 10-minute wellbeing check-in daily or weekly with your team where you only talk about: how you are coping with the shelter in place, how do you take care of yourself, what do you need from others, and what can you offer as support to your team. You can also consider -if you have not done already- joining your company's existing ERG's, as with the pandemic, we need the community work of ERG's more than ever. Exploring the community organizations having a cause you feel aligned with, and volunteering are the other great ways to feel connected. Community building is power because community creates change. And, now we need change more than ever.
How can we translate remote working into fewer boundaries/more diversity?
The need to integrate remote work into mainstream diversity and inclusion strategies has been voiced for a while. However, "location" has not become a core element of diversity across industries yet. Now is a great time to change this!
One of the most significant impacts of the pandemic in our work life has been the super-rapid shift to remote work. According to the results of a recent survey with HR leaders across the United States, 70% of the companies shifted to fully remote work while this rate was only 5% before the pandemic. The nature of this health crisis forced companies into a rapid organizational change where they have quickly -and more or less successfully- adapted to running their businesses with remote workforces. And many companies saw that it works!
Remote work came with its many benefits on the improved diversity and inclusion. It gives the companies the chance to open up to a diverse workforce geographically, hence eliminating the location bias. Moreover, it also allows employers to get out of the ableism trap, increasing access to employment for persons with disabilities in substantial ways. Currently in the USA, across all age groups, persons with a disability were much less likely to be employed than those with no disability, as the employment rates for persons with disabilities is 19% compared to 66% for persons with no disability. Growing the remote work opportunities can significantly help to close this gap. Working from home also translates into a crucial work-life balance tool for employees with care responsibilities, who are mostly women. We know that the care burden limits the economic opportunities of women considerably, as globally, women carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men. There is also a growing trend among American parents to be stay-at-home moms/dads. According to Pew Research, stay-at-home parents account for about one-in-five US parents, and this trend seems to continue. Remote work can help companies to tap into this large group of talent pool while creating opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds and walks of life to succeed.
We are globally going through a massive transformation where uncertainty is the new normal. As we grapple with the big changes in our personal and professional lives, I invite you to explore the areas where we still fall behind our diversity and inclusion goals, while noticing the reproduction of new inequalities. As we accept our challenges, let’s act to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion via sustaining representation in decision-making, mainstreaming remote work, or embracing care-compassion-community as the new business etiquette.
 Paradigm, 2020, White Paper: Inclusion in the time of coronavirus.
 BLS Labor Force Characteristics, 2019, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/disabl.pdf
 UNWOMEN, https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/csw61/redistribute-unpaid-work