Among the fast-paced changes required of organizations in the face of a global pandemic, we must resist the temptation to problem solve while suspending efforts for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Now is the time to stay dedicated to leading practices and approaches that put people first. We know this can feel overwhelming, so we have developed a summary of three key areas for organizations to manage when responding to the crisis:
At Feminuity, we believe in the power of community, and we understand that difficult times like these require us to strengthen our social bonds and harness the power of our collective imagination. We finish this article by sharing our commitments to addressing DEI during this global crisis.
In order for people to feel safe and included, organizations must understand and mitigate the various forms of discrimination experienced by marginalized groups, both internally and externally.
Global paranoia, fear, and uncertainty can trigger a collective bias and result in increased incidents of racism and discrimination. People who have recently travelled to countries where the COVID-19 outbreak is more severe (e.g. China, Italy, Iran, etc.) may experience ostracization due to fear. In particular, the level of racism against people of Asian ethnicity or descent has rapidly increased in both overt and subtle ways. For example, in San Francisco, a Korean woman described being too afraid to cough when choking on water, due to the public gaze. Stereotypes and prejudice towards Asian communities is high and harmful. (Read more about Anti-Asian/Chinese racism).
Be vigilant about calling in harmful and biased narratives regarding coronavirus. In your messages to your teams reminding them to wash their hands and take care of themselves, also dispel racist misconceptions about the virus.
Get creative with your support! Try buying from Asian-owned businesses, supporting them on social media platforms, or ordering company gift cards from small businesses.
The most widespread recommendation around “flattening the curve,” is to stay at “home.” Folks who are not used to these types of restrictions are responding with complaints about limited mobility and isolation. This, however, is frustrating for many people who already live with limited mobility and social support. For some people with disabilities, taking preventative measures such as isolation and independence can also be increasingly difficult. Requiring in-person support makes isolation difficult for individuals and those who support and care for them.
How we discuss this issue matters. Ableism and ageism is driving the current conversation about pandemic mitigation measures. In an attempt to reassure and calm the panic/fear, there is increasing discourse spreading that states “young” people, able-bodied folks, and/or those without health conditions are at low risk for fatality. Using statements such as “only old and sick people need to worry” or “you’re young and healthy, you’re fine” can have an unintended consequence of further marginalizing those who are most vulnerable.
As an organization, educating your people and the public about the needs of those who are more vulnerable is important. It also helps to follow leading practices in inclusive language by shifting from using the term “old people” to “people of advanced age.” Use “people” first language. Instead of saying “disabled people” try “people living with disabilities.”
Share materials and tools with your employees and customers to help them to speak out against harmful and biased narratives regarding language and awareness.
CW: domestic violence, sexual assault
“Home” is not always a safe space. For some, being confined within the home can be potentially dangerous and/or harmful. Domestic violence is known to increase during times of social isolation and quarantine, as people may be confined with their abusers. It is important to note that domestic violence (including intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, and emotional abuse) disproportionately impacts women, girls, trans and non-binary folks, people of advanced ages, and people living with disabilities.
Regularly check in with members of your teams and keep lines of communication open. Also consider providing resources to employees and customers such as Victim Services High Risk Support Services. The Dandelion Initiative has numerous other suggestions for you to check out.
When adapting to the ways this pandemic and its aftermath affects our lives in personal and professional ways, there are some significant equity issues that arise.
If you are a business who has closed or asked employees to work remotely, it is important to consider more people who are affected and need support. Members of your contingent workforce (such as custodial staff, kitchen staff, catering companies, etc.) are left without work and income, which can exacerbate existing economic and/or health challenges.
If your employees work on commission, it is important to consider that the base salaries employees receive are often not enough to make a liveable wage, especially if they manage chronic health conditions, or have families/dependents.
With cuts to events, social gatherings, and other in-person benefits, reorganize budgets to find ways to retain employees, and level out the gaps for people in your workforce who are impacted financially. If you or your organization's executives earn a disproportionate amount of money in relation to your lowest paid employee, now is the time to dig deep and consider what type of leader you want to be. For example, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz and President Scott Kirby both said that they will forsake their salaries through the end of June due to a decrease in revenue.
Pay people for their efforts, even if you do not require their services.
If you have to cancel speakers for events, consider paying them a cancellation fee, as they may have relied on that income for survival.
While the response to COVID-19 encourages people to be vigilant about washing their hands, there is a lack of acknowledgement that this very act is a privilege. For many Indigenous communities, clean water is inaccessible and deprioritized.
When making sure members of our community have the resources and support they need to treat the outbreak, expand the reach to Indigenous members of our communities and their loved ones. Write to members of government to continue to advocate for Indigenous folks during this time.
Inclusive working must include front-line employees and accessible virtual tools.
Much of the emphasis has been on how organizations can shift to remote working, but far less of the conversation has focused on those whose jobs do not lend themselves to remote-working models.
For example, organizations such as Canadian Blood Services employs thousands of front-line staff, the people who *literally* keep Canadians alive. In times of crisis, front line workers are needed more than ever, and expose themselves to illness, stress, burn-out, and much more.
Now is the time to slash holiday budgets, and any “nice to haves.” For example, cut back alcohol at your next holiday party. Ask front-line employees what they need, and do everything within your power to support them. Can you provide taxi and Lyft credits to minimize their exposure to public transit? Can you provide on-site meals, and meals for people to take home? Can you provide unlimited access to mental health practitioners, whether onsite or through virtual platforms? (Bonus: Keep donating blood! In times of crisis, your donation is especially needed.)
Where possible, numerous organizations have transitioned to remote-working models. While guides to better remote working processes are now ubiquitous, few consider accessibility or inclusion. Organizations must consider employees’ varied and unique needs and determine how to ensure that remote working processes are both accessible and inclusive. Try Google Meet, which provides live captions, screen readers and magnifiers, keyboard shortcuts, and other accessibility features.
When asking employees to move to remote work, it is important to adjust our expectations of productivity and efficiency. This does not mean you should not expect work to be done, but as leaders, we must consider the mental health and other social issues people may be experiencing during this time. After all, we’re people, not robots.
To help make sure remote working practices are accessible to more people, test existing remote working tools and other collaborating working models regularly and ask for continual feedback.
Not everyone is equipped with the necessary materials to work from “home,” such as the internet. Provide them with the tools they need. For example, Shopify has provided employees with $1000 to set up a home office.
Working remotely can also be isolating and lonely. Proactively check in with your employees to ensure they feel physically and psychologically safe. Or consider creating online hangouts such as virtual lunch breaks or “watercooler” chats to keep connected. Share the Wellbeing Playbook with your people.
Arrange webinars, virtual conversations, allyship workshops, and discussion groups to disseminate important education to your teams and friends. For example, set up a Slack channel for COVID-19 related topics.
Manage your expectations about employee productivity. People are understandably stressed, anxious, and distracted during these unprecedented and turbulent times.
For many employees with caregiving roles, their responsibilities are likely increased with more time at “home.” As a result, women often carry more unpaid housework and caregiving responsibilities and have numerous unpaid tasks and duties. As women absorb more of these unpaid care responsibilities, they may have to sacrifice their incomes, exacerbating pay gaps and gendered poverty dynamics.
Ask your people what they need. Determine if employees need windows of time to focus on caregiving and other responsibilities and create a process for your team to accommodate it. At a time like this, it is important to normalize expectations around caregiving for everyone. Family, friends, pets, and more will show up and inevitably interrupt team calls, and that’s okay.
Now more than ever is the time to be intentional about DEI. We must manage this pandemic and its inevitable aftermath collectively. Whether you take a moral or business perspective, the onus is on us as leaders and community members. It doesn’t need to be money, but if you are an organization that is financially stable or with deep pockets, now is the time to step up. Tech, we’re looking at you. Can you offer in-kind services or waive subscription fees to your products or platform? Do you have office supplies, stockpiles of snacks, or used technology that you can share? If you are like many small organizations or businesses and find yourself in a precarious position, it’s time to get creative.
Here at Feminuity, we are a small organization, and we are finding ways to get creative and barter (trade) services with other organizations and share and give what we can.
If you need more information about your employees’ needs during COVID-19 to learn how to best support them and communicate with them, we have a short 5-minute COVID-19 specific DEI. survey and a surveying platform to get you the data you need.
If your people could benefit from resources that address the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in general or when responding to COVID-19, tips to recognize and manage bias in work-specific contexts, and/or help for leaders to build skills to foster a more inclusive workplace, we’re happy to share.
If you are an organization that wants to make your remote working processes more accessible and inclusive, we’re happy to set up a 30-minute inclusive design session to help you build processes that put your people first.
As organizations, we can help us all collectively weather this storm, and to an extent, we can also work to mitigate some of its effects by how we show up today. Unfortunately, a pandemic like this will exacerbate existing inequities, so let’s figure out what we can barter, share, and give.