How D&I can help firms grow during a crisis

Many D&I initiatives will be deprioritised, postponed or cancelled altogether in the next three months. That's a mistake.

by Stephen Frost
Last Updated: 07 Apr 2020
Also in:
Hybrid working

Many D&I (diversity and inclusion) initiatives won’t survive the next three months. In some cases, this was predictable. Too many were undertaken to meet legislative requirements. Many more initiatives were driven by a desire for PR and recognition. 

Good D&I work deserves to survive and thrive. Here’s how you can make sure it does:

Link to overall strategy

Many D&I professionals have been advocating remote and flexible working for years. Suddenly, we're all remote workers. BNP Paribas has moved its entire trading floor to a home working solution. Before, this was unthinkable; now, it's a requirement.

Suddenly men are remote workers too when previously it was disproportionately women and they were often penalised for it. What good can now come from this situation and what other possibilities might it open up?

Net A Porter is repurposing its vans to deliver care for elderly people. Deliveroo has an updated app to allow for non-contact deliveries. All of these adaptations build on D&I work, such as Uber introducing Uber Assist for disability-aware drivers and AirBnB allowing choice over accessible accommodation. All these D&I adaptations have helped grow the business. D&I thrives when it is framed as a strategy, not a cost.

Offer the evidence base

We know that in many businesses, minorities are often the last to be hired and the first to be let go. In addition to bias and other factors, this is often due to networks and loyalties. To avoid this "last in, first out" situation, apply the considerable diversity recruitment expertise that has been gathered in recent years to how redundancies are handled.

For example, KPMG developed a simple proportionality tool – that promotions should be in proportion to the talent available. Similarly, the diversity of any redundancies or furloughed workers should be studied carefully. 

Wellcome, the health research foundation, has invested considerably in building the evidence base for D&I. We know that health outcomes are more equitable, and the NHS can save money, when diversity is properly considered in up-front clinical trials and testing. Now organisations such as Sanger are working on sequencing Covid-19, contributing to a cure, and scientists are collaborating as never before to try and build a vaccine. We know that diverse teams, inclusively led, offer superior results.

Impact decision-making

At the start of this crisis, Sports Direct decided to keep its stores open, sending a signal to the public that it placed sales before safety. With a little more reflective thinking, it has now decided not only to close, but to go one step further and offer its vans to the NHS to deliver essential medical supplies.

Morrisons and other supermarkets have clearly considered vulnerable groups in their adaptation of opening hours. Before this crisis, many reserved certain times of the week for customers with specific needs. Saturday mornings had dimmer lights, a silent tannoy, and no beeps at checkout; examples of businesses adapting to autistic consumers, rather than the other way round. Now this has been taken further with the first hour of every day reserved for elderly and vulnerable customers.

Even the Bank of England, with its core role to play in this crisis, needs D&I to ensure robust decision-making. In the past year it has introduced a policy called “Author in the room” allowing any one at any level to be included in top-level meetings to contribute their expertise, regardless of hierarchy or network. 

To survive, D&I needs to be linked to the overall strategy of the organisation. It needs to be evidence based. And it needs to positively impact decision-making. If CEOs can appreciate the contribution it makes in a crisis, there is a better chance of appreciating the contribution inclusion can make when this is over.

Stephen Frost is the founder of global diversity and inclusion consultancy Frost Included co-author of new book Building An Inclusive Organisation, published by Kogan Page. He was named an Agent of Change by Management Today last year.

To nominate yourself or a male colleague/boss for this year's Agents of Change power list, email by 20th April. Winners will feature in Management Today in June 2020.

Image credit: John Lund via Getty Images


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