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Will diversity and inclusion become a casualty of the recession?

How can D&I reinvent itself to prepare for the challenging times ahead – and what steps can organizations take to rise to the challenge?

As companies around the world embark on the long road back to some semblance of normality in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, thoughts are turning to just what our new normal will look like. The post-pandemic recession will throw a harsh spotlight on anything that is seen as non-essential business spending.

So is diversity and inclusion (D&I) at risk of becoming a casualty of the recession? A climate of fear and loss of revenue is likely to lead to an increase in affinity bias – the unconscious tendency to get along with others who are like us. An inclusive environment is then in danger of becoming a distant dream.

So how can D&I reinvent itself to prepare for the challenging times ahead? And what steps can organizations take to rise to the challenge?

Key to successfully surviving the turmoil will be recognizing inclusion as a strategic driver. Having an inclusive workplace will be essential as we emerge into the post-lockdown world. D&I leaders need to dissect what their business will need in the months and years ahead. That might be new ways of thinking, new products, alternative routes to market, a clear post-lockdown switch strategy or more digital expertise. Build a case for each one in a simple sentence that speaks to what the outcome will be if you have an inclusive environment – and what might happen if you don’t.

Remember, inclusion creates the environment for diversity to thrive. Diversity alone cannot impact business outcomes. These two together can.

Expect everyone in the organization to buy into different aspects of your communications. For example, sales teams will care if the companies they are pitching to make stronger demands on their diversity numbers before awarding deals. Without inclusion, after a redundancy situation you will find it more challenging to keep your minorities.

In the post-pandemic recession, there is likely to be a huge increase in the natural tendency to keep people who you have unconscious trust in. Minorities lose out at times like this. Having clearly laid out the business case, D&I professionals need to insist on criteria being adhered to for who is or isn’t retained. That criteria must speak to a broader cast of people – not be crafted for the two guys in accounts who have been there longest. Ensure you have a fully planned process that decides who stays and who leaves – and a group of decision makers who are held to account to stick to the process.

Shoring up employee resource groups is also vital. But make sure they align their work to creating inclusion during and after the recession. Think about how they can they add value to the business – from sales to design and clients. Ensure they are part of the transparency process in making the decisions.

Companies with corporate clients should reach out to offer discussions and help with their D&I work. Many will have lost their internal teams and may welcome free expert input. It’s another way organizations can potentially add value to their own business results.

You may have realized that I don’t mention anything about this all being the “right thing to do”. It’s not that I don’t think it is. It’s just that I have seen post-recessional behavior before – and the fear driver it brings means those conversations are rarely useful.

However, making your D&I work relevant to community groups – now, that is powerful. And useful to the groups. Offering to have managers mentor an individual provides cross-mentoring so that they realise how others feel – and see the world from a different perspective. That helps you, at a time when you probably have no D&I training budget, as it does that work for you. And, of course, it also benefits the community ­– which will be invaluable in the post-pandemic world.

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