Pivoting During the Pandemic to Support Diverse Communities

Many organizations now express their support for social issues, such as racial justice, through various impactful initiatives.

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Our nation, amidst and perhaps exacerbated a global pandemic, continues to face race and equality issues. Today, taking a stance is unavoidable for companies and truly a necessity. Consumers have high expectations of businesses to express their points of view as they are eager to support a brand whose views align with theirs.

One company has actively supported the Black Lives Matter Movement and helps our most vulnerable communities through numerous projects. I had the pleasure of speaking with Joan Hanawi, Social Impact Manager at Lyft, a ridesharing leader. She shares her experiences and encourages businesses to take action.

Linda Devonish-Mills: Many businesses are questioning whether to express their political views as we witness the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement. Do you think it is important for companies to address social issues?  

Joan Hanawi: When it comes to addressing social issues, I don’t think there’s a perfect formula for companies, but I think what matters most is ensuring that you are taking care of your community. For example, when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, we have many members of the Lyft community — riders, drivers, and employees — who identify as part of the Black community, so it’s our responsibility to take action when they are being threatened. 

Beyond statements, for us at Lyft, Social Impact and the idea of addressing social issues has always been baked into our company’s DNA. We are constantly thinking about how to use our company’s unique superpower—the ability to provide access to transportation—to make an impact on the lives of people in need. The vision of our LyftUp program is to offer everyone reliable and accessible transportation options to help them get to where they need to go—regardless of their age, income, or zip code. Transportation access has the power to help address our cities’ biggest challenges, including joblessness, food insecurity, and connecting with critical resources in the aftermath of crises. Leveraging our actual product to address social issues is how we can have the most impactful, most authentic response to what’s happening in the world, and that’s the approach we recommend to other companies as well. 

LM: Managers continue to shift their working habits to accommodate long-term remote or permanent work from home employees. What can managers and their organizations do to support their most vulnerable employees during these atypical times that see no end?

JH: One of the unexpected benefits of the pandemic and increase of work-from-home policies has been the ability to see an even more human aspect to your colleagues. With everyone working remotely, you get a taste of your coworkers’ personal lives, from the dog barking in the background to the kid cameos during calls. 

That human aspect is key to supporting our most vulnerable employees. By remembering that everyone is working through these atypical times in different circumstances with different needs and different stressors, we’ve worked hard to adopt policies to make the workplace more flexible. For example, we have emergency time off to allow folks to take the time needed to care for loved ones or deal with unexpected emergencies. For my team, I’ve been encouraging additional recharge days to ensure our hardworking team members don’t burn out. In addition to that, our team hosts regular check-ins and virtual lunches for us to casually spend time together outside of formal work meetings.

Most importantly, I think this is another area in the working world where psychological safety is critical. Ensuring that employees feel safe and supported to open up about some of the more personal challenges they may be facing allows managers to then make the corresponding accommodations to provide actual support to vulnerable team members.

LM: African Americans and Latinos continue to experience more economic repercussions due to COVID-19 compared to other racial groups. Do businesses need to have a corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy to ensure diversity, inclusion, and ethical behaviors in their organizations and local communities?

JH: As I mentioned earlier, one of the most important things to keep in mind when working in this space is who you’re serving. At Lyft, our programs are typically built around critical use cases, like access to the grocery store or access to work, for various communities. When it comes to communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis, like African Americans and Latinos, we don’t assume that we’re the experts. We’ve always worked together with organizations who understand how best to expand access to transportation to communities of color. COVID-19 has introduced an even more urgent need to bring more equitable transportation options to communities when they need them most. 

To help us in our efforts, we formed the LyftUp Access Alliance, a group of prominent partners including National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Black Women’s Roundtable, and the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce who are uniquely qualified to serve the Black and Latinx community with the means and mobility to not just succeed, but thrive, in today’s world. Through this initiative, Lyft will provide access to 1.5 million rides to a network of essential resources and services to help eliminate transportation as a barrier to upward mobility for Black communities.

We’ve also continued to work closely with cities and local organizations to support underserved communities and bridge transportation gaps. For the unemployed/underemployed, reliable transportation to a job interview or to the first few weeks of work can mean the difference between successful, long-term employment and lost opportunities. We recently expanded our Jobs Access Program and our partnerships with Goodwill and United Way to continue supporting job seekers with rides (bikes, scooters or rideshare) to job trainings, interviews or the first few weeks of work in 20 markets across North America. 

At Lyft, inclusion and diversity are at the core of how we make decisions, how we build our teams, and how we serve our communities. Our goal is to build a company that reflects the people we serve, which is highly diverse. A key part of this means making Lyft’s culture of inclusion feel real, where everyone belongs, no matter who they are or what they look like.

In addition to our social impact efforts, we’ve recently committed to introducing more rigor to the actions and commitments we’re making for Inclusion & Diversity and racial equity.

To support Black team members at Lyft, we’ve added more rigor to our hiring, retention, sponsorship, mentoring and progression efforts. For example, we’re doubling down on Director and VP-level hiring of Black and Latinx candidates by committing to what we’re calling “Rooney Rule 2.0.” We will now require that the onsite interview stage for all director-level and higher roles must at a minimum include both one woman and one Black or Latinx candidate. Additionally, by the end of the summer, every Black and Latinx team member will have a clear development plan that supports their personal career growth.

LM: As a manager, it is salient to understand the perspectives of colleagues from different backgrounds. What is your approach, especially in our current virtual environment, to make sure that everyone’s ideas and opinions are valued?

JH: When it comes to making sure everyone’s ideas and opinions are valued, I think this is again where psychological safety is key. Creating an environment where debate is welcome, but respect is foundational allows different points of view to be shared. At Lyft, one of our core values is “Disagree & Commit,” which I love. It means that everyone has the right to bring their honest opinion to a discussion, but once a decision is made, we rally behind the idea as if it was our own — even if it wasn’t. This means we win together, and we learn together.

In a more virtual environment, I think managers have a greater responsibility to understand the conditions in which their team members thrive. This means that the onus is on me to adapt my style versus putting that burden on my team members to communicate solely in a way that works for me. For example, you might have one employee who has no qualms about speaking up on group calls whereas another might be more comfortable drafting ideas in a document and sending it via email. For me, to ensure that we hear from everyone, that means carving out additional time in meetings to call on different team members and ensure they’ve had the space to share their perspectives. It also means focusing less on how the ideas are shared (e.g., verbally, in writing, during meetings, via email or chat, etc.) and instead ensuring that ideas are flowing from all team members. 


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