Why we need diversity and inclusion now, more than ever

By
Lisa Annese, DCA CEO
Blog
A group of diverse people's hands on a table

2020 has been a difficult year. The COVID-19 global health crisis has created economic shocks which will continue to be felt for some time. People are grappling with fear, uncertainty, and constant change.

There is a strong business case for diversity and inclusion, but at a time when businesses are having to consider cutting back, why should D&I be a priority?

D&I gives us the tools for implementing team-based flexibility

As entire offices closed due to social distancing, one of the first shifts faced by many was pivoting to remote working, often for the first time. There is plenty of evidence to show that flexible work is a key enabler of gender equality and other forms of inclusion. But when flexibility is implemented at the team level and used as a business tool, it can also increase profit and performance.

Flexibility is also more than just telecommuting or remote working. Manufacturing plants in the U.S. have been using work design principles to stagger shifts to ensure social distancing of employees across the day. As well as increasing the health and safety of their employees, they have seen benefits in increased productive time.

Workplaces are now considering what a post-COVID office environment will look like. Many workers have indicated they don’t want to return to office-based working when restrictions ease and organisations who have seen major projects delivered successfully by home-based teams are considering a permanent move to remote work either in part or fully. Twitter in the U.S. has stated that its workers can work from home if they want to, forever.

DCA’s research shows that for flexibility to stick, it requires organisations to move away from ad hoc flexible work arrangements for individuals and towards involving their teams to redesign work. And it is D&I that gives us the tools for team-based flexible work design.

Inclusive organisations are better able to adapt and innovate

DCA’s research has shown there is a strong link between innovation and inclusion. What’s more, inclusive teams are more willing to work extra hard to see their team succeed. DCA’s Inclusion@Work Index found that workers in inclusive teams are almost ten times more likely to report that their team is highly effective and nine times more likely to indicate their team is innovative.

At DCA we have had to quickly shift the way that our organisation operates. For us, the shift wasn’t to flexible working, instead we needed to quickly adapt the way we provide services to our members: in-person events and networking had to be quickly become virtual. We could make this happen more easily because we have invested a lot of time in building an inclusive organisation. Similar adaptations are being seen in workplaces around the world.

Change is difficult. But right now, we all need to be agile and innovative to adapt to the constant challenges we face in the workplace and how work can be performed.

D&I helps leaders manage in a crisis

Inclusive leaders are flexible and agile, two characteristics which have been essential in navigating this crisis so far. We know from DCA research that inclusive leaders also excel at creative problem solving through encouraging a diversity of staff to come up with new and better ways of doing things.  But they are also identity aware and learn about their own and other’s identities. Understanding what is going on in the lives of your team members is critical at a time when we all have so many conflicting demands placed upon us – whether it’s being the target of racism, homeschooling, juggling elder care and family, or being worried for family and friends overseas in COVID-19 hotspots.

COVID-19 won’t impact everyone in the same way

No-one has been left untouched by the impacts of COVID-19. But understanding that everyone is impacted does not mean that everyone is affected in the same way.

Recognising that there will be some groups in our society that bear the brunt of the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 is essential for ensuring an inclusive recovery that doesn’t leave some groups behind.

D&I gives us the tools to understand the diversity of our workplaces, and our communities, and the ways that our identities will impact how this crisis is felt.

D&I can help us with our mental health and well-being

Mental health issues are being called the ‘second wave’ of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research from around the word is showing that there has been a significant increase in mental health issues associated with this pandemic.

Mentally healthy workplaces have reduced costs, improved productivity and are valued by employees. Mentally unhealthy workplaces can foster poor morale, high staff turnover, poor staff engagement and potential penalties for breaches of work health and safety legislation.

D&I can help us recognise the importance of mental health, in ourselves, and in our workplaces.

We know it’s a priority because demand for D&I is up

Since mid-March, DCA has witnessed our engagement with members skyrocket. Registrations to our events have almost tripled and requests to access our website have more than quadrupled.

This tells us something about the importance of diversity and inclusion at a time like this, and even more so as we move forward into a recovery. 

Inclusion isn’t just a nice to have. There is a recognition that the principles of inclusion – respect, connection, progressing and contributing – are essential in responding to the immediate challenges, and planning for the future.

Right now, business leaders are facing tough decisions about the future. But despite all the predictions, the only thing we know for sure is that none of us know what the future holds.

That’s why now, more than ever, inclusion is so important, for all of us. 

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