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The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion During Uncertain Times And what leaders should do about it.

By Alissa Carpenter Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Nisian Hughes | Getty Images

As inclusion strategist Vernã Myers says, "Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance." But what if it's a virtual dance party, where you're unsure who to invite, how to send the invitations, who can DJ or what online platform would work the best? That is the situation many of us are finding ourselves in these days. We are in uncharted waters trying to float without knowing how to use the life vests.

Having diversity among races, genders, generations, ethnicities and thought within an organization is one thing. But including employees with these experiences in the conversation can help leaders and organizations find the answers to these questions during trying times. If you're still not convinced, check out these statistics:

  • Racial and ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely and gender diverse teams are 5 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
  • Companies with above-average diversity had 19 percent higher innovation revenues.
  • Companies with the most ethnically and culturally diverse boards worldwide are 43 percent more likely to experience higher profits.
  • Diverse teams (of three or more people) outperform individual decision-makers up to 87 percent of the time.

Making the conscious effort as a leader to make diversity and inclusion a priority during uncertain times is not easy, but here are some ways to get started.

Related: Why Diversity In the Workforce Is Imperative

Create partnerships.

Reverse mentoring is a great way to create partnerships between older and younger employees. This mutually beneficial partnership provides the space for employees to learn and grow from one another. A baby boomer employee might be able to include a millennial employee on a virtual meeting that they would otherwise not be invited to, while a millennial employee can provide assistance with using a new virtual platform. These conversations help to create new ideas, narrow the learning curve and build relationships among employees of varying generations.

Be conscious of representative leadership.

It's even more important than usual to be aware of who is being represented during meetings, conference calls and conversations about "what's next." Make a conscious effort to recognize who thinks, acts and experiences life differently from you and give them a seat at the virtual table. Think about:

  • What departments are being represented, and who else should be included?
  • Do we have individuals of diverse races, ethnicities and genders in our conversation, or does everyone have a similar background?
  • Are employees of various levels and experiences invited to share their thoughts?
  • Do we have people who challenge the status quo and think outside the box who can provide ideas and suggestions?

Related: Want to Improve Your Company's Diversity? Go Remote.

Keep employee resource groups alive.

Employee resource groups (ERG) are made up of employees who have shared life experiences or interests. Their goal is to provide support, education and ongoing professional development for this population and educate employees across the organization. During the switch to virtual work, many of these groups will likely not be considered a priority in workload and might be put on hold or have events postponed.

Putting these conversations on hold is doing a disservice to employees who were already looking for a community of people with similar experiences. Advocating for the continuation of these groups virtually and hosting and supporting these events is essential to keep diversity and inclusion at the forefront of the organization. When we shift back into "usual" practices, employees want to know that this is a still priority and can be part of their professional development plans.

Call attention to your hiring practices.

If your organization is hiring, be aware of the decisions you're making. When things are uncertain, we tend to gravitate toward the familiar for safety and assurance. This goes against the principles of diversity and inclusion and requires a conscious effort to not just hire people who think, act, and experience life like you. Look for people who will challenge you, help your organization grow and will be an asset to the team. This may involve bringing in people from employee resources groups and other departments to help make the best decision.

Related: How to Commit and Turn 'Diversity' into 'Inclusion'

Limit assumptions.

Don't assume that you know what employees are thinking, what they're going through or what they need to perform their work. People are coming from various socioeconomic classes, life experiences, caregiving responsibilities and much more. Even though everyone is in a shared situation, it doesn't mean we all need the same support at this time. Ask questions:

  • What do you need from me at this time?
  • What additional resources do you need to perform your job?
  • What is working well?
  • What can be improved upon to enhance the efficiency of our team?

You can do this through one-on-one conversations or even an anonymous survey. The situation is constantly changing, so make sure you're getting an updated pulse on your team and not making assumptions that something is still working (or isn't). During uncertain times and otherwise, these are good practices to put into place to show that you are a leader interested in getting to know your employees and remove barriers for them to be able to do their jobs.

Related: 4 Ways Diversity Is Directly Linked to Profitability

Leading in uncertain times takes a more active communication effort, transparency and a willingness to acknowledge you don't have all the answers. Employees who already felt underutilized and unappreciated might feel even more separated from leadership and the mission of the organization. This is not the time to push them away, but to bring them in, acknowledge their contribution and provide them a space to be valued and heard. Let's not forget that the hope is to go back to "normal." If we are not taking diversity and inclusion seriously now, how will employees feel about it as a priority when they return to the office?

Alissa Carpenter

Learning Facilitator and Keynote Speaker

Alissa Carpenter is a multigenerational workplace expert, owner of Everything’s Not Ok and That’s OK, and author of How to Listen and How to Be Heard: Inclusive Conversations at Work. Her work helps to bridge communication gaps across generations, job functions and geographies.

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