The UN has warned that the Coronavirus pandemic will exacerbate inequalities for women and the progress made towards gender equality is at risk of being undone. The lack of mandatory gender pay gap reporting could also mean organisations systemically lose sight of their positive intentions.
No-one knows how and when we are going to come out of the current crisis and the economic ramifications are well debated even if little understood. As we move deeper into this unprecedented pandemic it is critical that we avoid losing focus on our gender and inclusion agendas.
Keeping an eye on our fundamental principles and what makes business sense is the only option. Uncertainty and economic turbulence is going to be distracting, but it’s a mistake to let it displace what we are certain about: the need to create greater gender balance across business and society. To build more inclusive workplaces and societies, which could not be more important at this time.
We know from experience that it’s easy to lose momentum when the economy is challenging, particularly when resources and investment are redirected. In the financial crisis of 2008, many organisations lost years of hard-earned progress and alarmingly fast. Not just as a result of investment in key initiatives being put on hold, but also because during times of recession it’s often the minority groups that get hit the hardest. That pattern is already starting to unfold with alarming consequences to progress made this last decade.
In times of crisis, it might seem to make sense for inclusion and leadership development initiatives to take a back seat, but this discounts that these initiatives have a very significant impact on employee engagement and productivity. No more so than when organisations, leaders, and their employees face uncertainty and the anxiety this brings. Now, more than ever, cultivating a sense of shared purpose, belonging, and alignment with the company’s vision and strategic response is fundamental. It will mark out the companies that succeed and fail.
During periods of organisation change, minorities are often hit the hardest, so we must work through the inevitable need to pivot and restructure in a conscious and inclusive way. Otherwise, we will repeat the mistakes of previous downturns where those individuals on the periphery, the most vulnerable, people outside of the majority who make decisions are disproportionately impacted. Guesswork and quick fixes don’t work. You need to continue to address the structural barriers to inclusive decision making, even when operating at pace and in crises.
Here are some things to consider:
- Agree which initiatives need to be maintained no matter what; be rigorous in understanding the work that is still fundamental to achieving more inclusive organisations and better gender balance. Be honest with yourselves as to the impact cutting key initiatives will have at this point in time and the loss of momentum. What it will say to your colleagues and about the employment brand.
- Look at your governance structures to avoid unintended consequences, and to ensure they’re working fairly and inclusively. There will be some critical strategic decisions being made in organisations at this time. Don’t keep that work confined to “specialised” teams because they may lack the diversity of perspective and thinking required; be sure to involve diverse stakeholder groups from line managers to staff members. The businesses who have the greatest levels of creativity and innovation will come out on top. You can’t achieve that with monocultures or closed teams. It’s also vital to get the human picture and be clear the impact that decisions may have on key stakeholder groups. We know from previous downturns the compound effect of decisions with dramatic unintended consequences on women and diverse talent.
- Set the tone at the top. As Napoleon Bonaparte said, “A leader is a dealer in hope”. There is no more important time for more human and inclusive leadership than through an existential crisis! Leaders need to be more vulnerable, accept that they do not have all the answers, and look to innovative, diverse teams to find solutions. Aligning organisations, functions, and teams behind a shared purpose brings a sense of belonging, community, and engagement. When that happens, individuals go the extra mile to solving the “collective” problem. Where not, flaws in decision making will have dramatic consequences both economic and human.
Let’s not let Coronavirus undo all of the great progress made this last decade. We have the power to make more conscious and intentional decisions if it matters to us. Collectively we all play a part in intentionally keeping gender balance and inclusion front and centre, no matter what else is happening. So, what are you going to do?
Chris Parke, Talking Talent, Co-founder, and CEO