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“Diversity” and Coronavirus– Why Coronavirus is challenging how we think about the Workforce

They say there is a silver lining in everything.   Could it be this rapidly spreading disease across the globe, is forcing business decisions to rid corporate America of it’s disease that’s impeding diversity progress.   Let’s examine this and how these decisions can impact diversity progress.


Working from Home

Throughout my career, many folks would notoriously request telecommuting options just to have those requests denied because of “business necessity” to have them onsite.  Administrative workers and entry level roles are often where women and people of color reside in an organization.  And these are the roles that are often denied the privileges that are otherwise granted to higher level (mid-tier to executive level ranks). When working-from-home is granted to these higher-level professionals, they’re backed with the argument “you can’t truly “measure” their performance, they are the leaders”.


But here we are, where all employees must work from home and perform their jobs. And we are now in a place where revenues are potentially compromised.  What this typically means is that layoffs are lurking.  And the positions that are most often gone after first are the roles that occupy diverse people.   So my speculation – as a 30-year Human Resources professional – are that these folks will work exceptionally hard to hold onto their jobs by being productive and visible via all of the modern technologies afforded.   And put into question where it makes sense to cut.


Shareholders

Secondly, if I am a shareholder – and productivity spikes during these conditions, I would question the overhead associated with big buildings and spheres for business and lunch. I can see managers not liking the idea of continued telecommuting.  Let’s face it, many managers – and particularly those who are impeding diversity progress whether it is visible to leadership or not – will no longer be able to “control” and “diminish” people when they are not physically in the office. They won’t be able to argue with the results and proven performance.


I would argue that this type of arrangement, can and should eliminate many of the middle management roles and a consolation of sorts can take place with the right measurements in place.  I will argue that more will be done with less when people feel good about themselves and their contributions without being sabotaged on the daily.  It will become clear, those managers that hold onto power, as their drug of choice, will begin to become more visible.  When they no longer see people daily and their micro-aggressions and micromanagement (abusing) are minimized to people of color every day, leaders will begin to see their abuse is the single toxic behavior contributing to lack of diversity.  Managing up has been their strength, and so the visibility of performance improvement of teams, when the toxicity is removed, becomes apparent.  Removing these type of managers improves the culture and people progress.  My plea to organizations at this juncture is to be brave enough to allow this to unfold, to do some unconventional things right now to “test” your views about diversity progress and the people you may be holding in high regard right now.


Mental Health

The mental health and wellness of people matters and is increasing tremendously in a national political environment where race and gender are at the forefront of everything!  It’s not that it wasn’t there before, it’s been revealed and the boldness of people has multiplied.  An organization would be foolish to not believe the MAGA types are in the workplace!  In Washington State with the improved, paid twelve week Family and Medical Leave Act effected January 1, 2020, the data will be interesting to look at to see who is using it, and the departure rates of folks, once they experience some “peace” and separation from toxic managers.  It will also be interesting to look at health care costs whether increasing or decreasing and the factors contributing to those.


Telecommuting offers so much more than intended!


Technology is so progressed, there is truly little to no reason why telecommuting options are not more prevalent, except there is a hidden “trust” issue with managers and people.  These “trust” issues are often rooted in their own bias of others and they project their own behaviors onto others.  I advocate that there is inherent good in everyone, and that if we learn how to fully empower and trust others, treat them as the valuable, worthy people that they are, they will perform at exceptional levels.  Everyone wants to be valued.  Everyone wants a strong earning power.  Diverse people, in my opinion, often work extremely harder than their counterparts and it’s no secret, earn less and receive less recognition.  So taking the “encounters” out of the equation – meaning, giving the biased people less reason to impact the performance appraisals and salaries because gossip and cultural crap is taken out of the equation. And results are clear – it can be a boost for corporate America and people alike!


Empowerment

In my practice, millennials often express their frustration with “old people” and how they think.  Often I hear about the rigidity of managers and the attempts to prohibit transformation of a generation of forward thinking, technically savvy people, into conformists for a paycheck.  This simply isn’t working.  Many people of color that I coach and work with are starting their own businesses at rapid rates because of the abuse they endure by managers.  Netflix produced a film titled “She did that” empowering black women to start their own businesses and it’s a great film.  Being candid, black women work harder than anyone else I know or have seen in my corporate career, and now business owner career.  We are the ones who have endured blatant discrimination while our counterparts and managers, who are the problem, are often promoted and paid significantly more.  So if you are a corporation and you’re struggling for candidates, you are losing them because of this issue.


The coronavirus could be an opportunity for your organization to finally address where the true problem is in your organizations.


Diversity is not a recruiting problem.  I cannot tell you how many times I have said this.  As stated above, your pipeline is drying up even more.  Diversity progress is an ecosystem.  And that ecosystem STARTS with addressing the problem areas of your culture that impacts progress.  This is simply defined.  The challenges of Diversity.  Is.  Other People.


Cindi Bright is a Seattle based speaker and consultant on topics of race, diversity and social justice.   She has spent over 30 years in corporate America as a human resources leader/executive.  She is known for her candor, honesty and humor.   Her work is aimed at personal and business transformation.


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