Not Enough: Diversity and Inclusion and Why It’s Falling Short Right Now
Jun 9, 2020 | Change Management|
We thought we were getting our feet under us and settling into the new normal the pandemic pushed us into. But the protests and unrest of the last few weeks are forcing further self-assessment. They are highlighting additional changes that need to happen. Over the last decade, there have been a flurry of HR initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion. We've sought to recognize and raise minority voices at workplaces across the country and around the world. But what's happening now proves that what we've done so far hasn't been enough. Workers will once again be watching their employers and HR. They're waiting to see what steps we'll take to address these renewed concerns affecting life in and outside of work.
People Have Had Enough, Proving We Haven't Done Enough
There have been plenty of protests over the past decade. They've taken various forms and have sparked conversations and debates in many workplaces. The response, in a lot of cases, was for HR to organize training and seminars around diversity and inclusion. There were greater efforts to recognize the efforts of employees from minority demographics. Companies encouraged underrepresented segments of the workforce to pursue leadership development. Some shared statements acknowledging there needs to be change. Some companies went further with their efforts to increase diversity in hiring and among management teams and the C-suite. These efforts have led to improvements within many of the companies that have implemented them.
But they've only ever been a starting point. The workplace is where HR can have the greatest and most immediate effect, so it's where our focus has stayed. We can train employees to do better in their interactions with one another and with customers. We can implement policies and guidelines for behavior within the boundaries of conducting our businesses. But systemic issues aren't on a nine-to-five schedule. They don't vanish when you reach the parking lot. For many employees, recognition and diversity and inclusion programs are ringing hollow.
A big piece has been missing from diversity and inclusion discussions and it's only addressed indirectly by employee recognition efforts: accountability. When it comes to these difficult issues, there's still an easy way out and we've been taking it. We focus on raising voices and recognizing achievement. In other words, we focus on the positive. Which means we continue to overlook equality as it applies to accountability when things go wrong. Addressing accountability gaps may help take existing D&I and recognition programs further. It's also a concept that's pretty universally understood (even if it isn't universally applied). The accountability imbalance appears in areas beyond race, too. For instance, the #MeToo movement continues to inspire workplace reforms around sexual harassment policies.
Policies and processes exist to support accountability. They lay out expectations as well as the consequences for failing to meet them. Mistakes happen. We refine policies and processes to reduce risk and increase accountability. The nature of the infraction or mistake informs the nature and degree of the consequence. But for accountability to carry its weight, it can't be unbalanced in its application. Luckily, we're relying more and more on data as a guide while writing, reviewing and revising policies. We can see what changes are having the desired impact, and which can be abandoned as ineffective. By collecting data and examining the results, we can ensure policies evolve to address shifts in need and demographics.
Stress and Mental Health
The current pandemic made us more aware of how events and even small changes in circumstance affect our mental health. Extra precautions, like wearing masks in public and social distancing alongside limits on where we can go and when, have been an adjustment. The precautions add stress most of us aren't used to dealing with on a daily basis. But they also present new ways to have conversations about experiences and how individuals are impacted by their race and gender. The American Psychological Association has made note of how, "the unique psycho-social and contextual factors, specifically the common and pervasive exposure to racism and discrimination, creates an additional daily stressor for African-Americans." Drawing comparisons between our new daily stresses and those experienced by those from communities with a history of being oppressed and discriminated against can help reframe the issue for those without first-hand experience.
The stress of living through this pandemic may also be helping the recent protests resonate so powerfully for so many. The impact of all of these things create stress on our mental health. It doesn't matter what employees' personal positions on recent events are. Their constant presence in the news is probably affecting your workers' mental health. From anger and frustration to fear and isolationism, there's a lot of negativity to go around these days. HR leaders need to continue checking in with workers, helping them take care of themselves and their mental health needs.
Finding a Way Through
It's always been the case that HR must be aware of and acknowledge the ways outside events impact workers. None of us work in a vacuum (except astronauts but that's only part of the time). That's true of major current events and the everyday lives that workers live. We need to continue listening, learning and finding the best ways to address the health and wellbeing of employees. It's our job to empower every employee to do and be their best.