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5 Ways to Help All Employees Thrive During the Pandemic

During this pandemic, every organization is grappling with unique challenges across multiple arenas – such as employee health and safety, and economic endurance.

Even in the midst of new hurdles, familiar problems still persist around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). We’ve found that many of our clients are adapting their DEI work – and keeping it rolling.

How are organizations of all sizes addressing DEI?

One client, a global technology company, is adapting their planned approach while making it even more relevant for today’s world.

Instead of having live Interactive Theater as scheduled, they will now have prerecorded video-based scenarios that are shared with all employees and followed by live online conversations. Between customized scenes that dig into familiar DEI issues and the real-time Q&A sessions with the actors to dig into the scenarios, participants will have an impactful experience that leads them to the “ah-ha” lightbulb moments needed for individuals to enact change.

The best part?

The new scenarios reflect our current reality. They feature remote meetings and highlight DEI issues encountered by employees in the here and now.

IBIS Senior Consultant Alex Suggs adds, “We are also creating coinciding e-learning modules to pair with each IT session that contains identical content. This not only helps us through this pandemic but also helps us with future scalability, allowing learners to opt-into the path that makes most sense for them.”

What are other IBIS clients doing?

A multinational insurance company in the Fortune 500 is keeping DEI trainings for their Diversity Council on as planned…but they’ll be remotely facilitated and attended. This company will be launching new ERGs on schedule and staying focused on DEI through virtual training instead of in-person training.

A Fortune 500 retail chain is continuing their commitment around DEI as they partner with IBIS to shift each in-person Unconscious Bias training to a virtual setting. Their focused and flexible leadership remains committed to building a culture that strongly supports DEI.

A professional services company is continuing with strategic planning on DEI, but they are making all meetings virtual. They are also exploring infographics that help build the business case for DEI in alignment with the four core priority areas of their strategic plan, potential video storytelling with staff and leaders, and a possible all-staff webinar on unconscious bias. They plan to roll out a comprehensive communications plan for DEI, including an upcoming virtual conference where people can attend sessions aligned with each priority area to learn more and get involved.

What are some reasons an organization might want to invest in DEI?

This is a unique opportunity to build resilience within company culture. A focus on DEI is a focus on strategies to help all employees thrive. Resilience is needed to survive this time in history, which means that DEI can support organizational growth and success like never before.

Employees continue to face DEI challenges – and in some cases those challenges are increased during the pandemic, as when employees face discrimination.

Some organizations have already set aside the budget dollars and don’t want to lose the opportunity to make use of that resource. In other cases, the organizational strategy includes DEI as work tasked to a particular department, and needs to be executed to be successful.

What are the top 5 ways organizations can invest in DEI right now?

Strategy #1: Make sure DEI is part of everyday communication

Incorporate DEI in a wide range of regular communications, from discussions about the pandemic to company-wide emails about goals and areas of focus during this period.

Some important things to mention:

  • Remind participants not to stigmatize people or places when discussing the pandemic.
  • Acknowledge that certain groups may have to work harder right now to achieve goals, either because they are affected by health or financial circumstances or because they are caregivers at the same time as being employees. Part of being equitable is being open about the fact that different people need different support structures.
  • When opening a remote meeting, take a few moments to ask questions like, “How is everyone doing? How much stress is everyone under today?” and listen to the answers.
  • Part of inclusion is creating a sense of belonging – for everyone, no matter their circumstances. Make as many authentic team connections as possible.
  • Small actions can go a long way in building a connected and engaged team.

Strategy #2: Use technology to continue DEI learning

We all depend on technology right now, whether for connecting to our friends and family or running entire organizations. By using it strategically, it can support DEI goals.

First, know that we offer virtually facilitated dialogues, like webinars on DEI topics – from performance management and giving feedback across diversity dimensions to recruiting and hiring for DEI – even remotely.

This is an opportunity to roll out DEI E-learning to all employees – it’s a time to learn, focus and take advantage of the wealth of virtual education that is readily available.

Even regular modalities are being adapted for current needs. We still offer Interactive Theater, and clients are using it without losing any impact.

We also conduct online assessments to provide a fuller picture of how your employees are feeling. Our DEI assessments are designed to investigate how the employee experience is different for various demographic groups.

Strategy #3: Incorporate DEI into overall strategy

Your organizational strategy is evolving right now, and that means there is an opportunity for you to start thinking about how your DEI strategy can evolve, too. If you don’t have a DEI strategy, now is a good time to start thinking about what DEI concepts matter most to your employees.

Use this time to build mission and vision statements for DEI in your organization. This unusual time can be a valuable opportunity to brainstorm and think about the big picture, to build a positive vision for the years to come that can engage and uplift current and future employees, leaders and customers. Support leaders and members of your organization in listening to others, defining what’s important to them, and then taking the action to synthesize and combine that input into action-based statements that will guide your organization years into the future.

Strategy #4: Employee Resource Groups = A Strategic Resource

This unusual time offers a huge opportunity for Employee or Business Resource Groups, known as ERGs and BRGs, to get engaged, to take action, and to help drive organizations to the next level. We think of them as resources for employees, and they are, but they are also valuable resources for the organization as a whole.

What can these groups do to keep employees engaged?

They might use this time to connect with their members about the impact of COVID-19 on individual work experiences. They might reach out to existing members, recruit new members, check in on employees and hold virtual meetings.

If your organization doesn’t have BRGs, take inspiration from one of our clients, a multinational insurance company in the Fortune 500, which is not only empowering existing BRGs but launching new ones on schedule. They are, of course, using remote means to connect – with meaning.

Strategy #5: Know and communicate best practices for remote work

For years, we inclusion specialists have championed the inclusion of remote workers. Now—for some organizations—we’re all remote workers. And let me tell you, the best practices around engaging and including employees remotely have never been more useful – or more needed – and…in some cases, more neglected.

There are the basics, of course: Has the agenda been sent before the meeting? Is there a designated facilitator? Do people have an opportunity to chime in either before or after the meeting about how it went? Are there methods for people to participate without having to interrupt anyone else?

But there are many more ways to build collaboration, skill development, team brainstorming and great meeting outcomes for people working remotely.

Building these skills now, along with a whole range of tools for addressing DEI, is a valuable practice for the whole organization, pandemic or (it will be true someday!) no pandemic.

Shilpa Pherwani, the Principal of IBIS and a leading expert in diversity and inclusion, has been guiding global organizations for over 16 years on leveraging diversity as a business advantage. An organizational psychologist by training, she partners with organizations to effect sustainable organizational change by conducting cultural assessments, developing comprehensive strategic diversity action plans, and designing compelling and interactive classroom-based and online training.

Cedar Pruitt is a Senior Consultant at IBIS specializing in leadership and culture that allows everyone to thrive, whether it’s at a competitive university, mid-size financial firm, an innovative start-up, or something completely different.