Courtney Berry is the managing director at Barbarian, a digital marketing firm. Views are the author's own.
Coronavirus has interrupted virtually every business, forcing many companies to shift priorities and investments. For those of us tasked with overseeing operations, diversity and inclusion, cultural initiatives and client service during this unprecedented time, the task has never been more challenging yet more critical as we look to expand our breadth of offerings.
The presence of diversity and the practice of inclusion allows us to look at problems differently and consider a wider range of solutions. During a time of crisis and constantly moving targets, what could be more valuable than fresh and different perspectives?
This is a time for us to expand our understanding of inclusion from surface-level indicators (i.e. gender, race, age) to larger, more intricate situations. Our industry is still trying to make sense of how the rest of the year will play out, but in the meantime, we need to ensure a continual adherence to the principles of inclusion while we are working under some of the most stressful situations as a nation and an industry including the ones listed below.
1. Inclusion rules apply both IRL and online
Video call (Slack, Zoom, Google Hangout — pick your poison) is to be prioritized above all else and we've encouraged our teams not to fall back on written comms that would normally be a live conversation — and I mean a video call where you turn the video feed on. Even so, it's not easy for everyone to speak up on a video call so it's more important than ever when we can't read body language as easily to create space for people to speak up. When you do need to use written comms, consider installing extensions like Alex or the Hey Guys bot for automated reminders about insensitive, inconsiderate and unconsciously biased writing.
2. Support varying home situations
Set expectations that this pandemic is going to affect employees differently — working parents, those with different abilities, caretakers, people who will now become caretakers, people who live alone, people who are married to or live with health care or other essential workers. Take the time to touch base with your employees about their working from home situations so you can be mindful about any challenges they're facing under an incredibly trying time. Wherever possible, be flexible on "official" office hours and make the goal of getting the work done, not getting the work done on your personal timeline.
The same philosophy holds when we start to think about returning to work, and what that transition will look like for your employees. At the same time, this is an environment that begs for open two-way communication. Which brings us to our next point.
3. Create (virtual) space for everyone to be heard
The pandemic has made all of us feel more vulnerable than ever before. Opening new channels for all-agency dialogue on platforms that all employees have access to encourages open conversation and camaraderie across all levels that can foster a shared purpose and team unity. We've seen companies use open AMAs, weekly happy hours, group meditation sessions, and Town Halls over Zoom to maintain, and sometimes increase, employee engagement. Getting creative with these initiatives is a great way to be all inclusive. Try opening the door to your employees to host or suggest new activities or offer to teach a crash course on a skill for the company to enjoy.
With that said, it's just as important to heavy up on one-on-ones and small group check-ins that are not just about project status, but the status of people's mental well-being. We've taken to not just asking "how are you doing?" but "on a scale of one to five, how are you feeling today?" It forces them to avoid generic answers.
4. Include your community
As businesses across every industry are being impacted by the pandemic, it's important for those faring better than others to look outside their industries for partnerships that could help our community. For example, at Barbarian, we have initiated new weekly online "Wine 101s" with a sommelier from a local restaurant that has closed due to the pandemic via Zoom, and our team tips what they can directly to her Venmo. This isn't something we did pre-pandemic, but we've seen a positive impact and response across the board and we'll be considering how to expand initiatives like this, and integrate them post-pandemic. Being inclusive beyond our company walls, especially when so many are struggling, is critical during this time.
Undoubtedly, COVID-19 will continue to rock our nation for months to come and as we stride through it hand-in-(virtual) hand, let's all commit to finding opportunities that will set us up for a diverse and inclusive in the post-pandemic era. There are large and small tactics we can all incorporate throughout this time to promote D&I.