When diversity isn’t enough: Building the case for inclusion

Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was marked by difficult–but much-needed–conversations around racial inequality and systemic discrimination in America. The Black Lives Matter movement catapulted these discussions into the spotlight as activists urged for broad and sweeping change and forced many business leaders to examine how impactful their diversity and inclusion initiatives really are. If leaders want to enact real change, it must begin with implementing strategies that encourage equality at all levels–from race to gender and sexual orientation.

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In corporate America, the Black Lives Matter movement forced talent leaders to reexamine their diversity and inclusion initiatives. Business leaders from top organizations felt the pressure from stakeholders and the public to step up and take action, resulting in senior executives like Nike CEO John Donahoe vowing to make additional efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive culture. Other businesses pledged additional actions and funding to support Black communities. Netflix allocated 2% of its cash holdings into financial institutions and organizations that directly support Black communities in the U.S.

In addition to issues around race, the pandemic also put a national spotlight on the gender gap that continues to persist in our workforce, including the fact that women have lost 5.4 million net jobs during the past year. In fact, women have lost 1 million more jobs than men during the coronavirus crisis, prompting the coining of the phrase “she-cession” to highlight the workforce challenges women are facing. If only to further highlight the combination of racial and gender disparity, women of color have faced the biggest job losses and been forced to leave the workforce in the largest numbers during the pandemic. Black, Hispanic and Asian women accounted for all the jobs lost in December 2020, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Additionally, workers with disabilities have also found themselves disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The National Organization on Disability noted that since the pandemic began in March 2020, one in five workers with disabilities lost their employment. And alarmingly, only 13% of companies have reached the Department of Labor’s 7% disability representation target, signaling a lack of disability-inclusive cultures.

The reality is there is a lot of work that must be done to truly implement and foster a diverse and inclusive culture in the workplace. For far too long, diversity and inclusion has only focused on hiring targets, whether that’s hiring a certain percentage of women or people of color. But given that such a large percentage of pandemic-related job losses have affected underrepresented and underserved individuals, it raises the question about how effective D&I initiatives really are. Many business leaders are now more keenly aware of this problem, however, and are making a concerted effort to make substantial change.

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According to Randstad Sourceright’s 2021 Talent Trends Report, 80% of HR leaders say it’s either extremely or very important to have a robust diversity and inclusion strategy to attract and retain talent. A majority (68%) already have one in place, and 27% say they are planning on developing one.

To ensure organizations continue to focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives, human capital leaders need to elevate the discussion beyond just hiring a more diverse workforce and adequately address inclusion at work. That begins with companies using an evidence-based approach leveraging data to inform whether an organization’s recruitment and leadership development efforts are actually inclusive. Data and technology can also help leaders reduce bias and create more equitable sourcing, recruitment and screening processes.

It’s also beneficial for organizations to set up a diversity council and hire a chief diversity and inclusion officer or other senior D&I leader to implement and execute a strategy that will achieve desired outcomes. In fact, Tesla’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Impact Report shows that 60% of its U.S. workforce is comprised of underrepresented communities.

Hear how some companies are using benefits to promote D&I at the free, virtual Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, May 11-13.

Creating an environment that fosters growth, success and the ability to bring one’s whole self to work is also critical. For instance, given how the pandemic disproportionately impacted women, and especially women of color, employers can look to explore how initiatives like flex hours, childcare subsidies or job-share programs can assist women in returning to the workforce and make a meaningful impact on an organization’s diversity goals.

As we now move ahead into Q2 of 2021, organizations must not lose momentum and continue to focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives that go above and beyond filling diversity hiring goals. While utilizing data and establishing metrics to recruit and hire more diverse talent is an important first step, it must be coupled with the support needed to make significant progress towards achieving equity and inclusion across all levels of a company lead

Sue Marcus
Sue Marcus is regional president of Randstad Sourceright North America.