Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is all about making everyone feel welcomed and engaged. Inclusive and diverse environments enable increased productivity, loyalty, creativity, and positive work cultures. Where better to turn for help than the welcoming practices of D&I in this time of COVID – where with empty streets, extreme isolation, and an unclear future, it couldn’t feel further from welcoming.
Many of our D&I tips designed to create more inclusive hiring practices can be modified to boost morale and keep your employees engaged. In the first blog we covered sharing mental health benefits, offering a range of virtual events, and issue guidelines of acceptable behaviors to combat COVID-related discrimination. In the second blog, we added sharing simple, actionable information, designate a point of contact for information, and train the management team in how to answer questions and handle conversations. Here are a few more.
1. Avoid references without context
References are a common tool when interviewing candidates for a job. They quickly establish scenarios, emotions, meaning, personality, and can add a little fun. Unfortunately, references are not universal. They only work if everyone involved knows the reference and has the same emotional and intellectual reference. For example, “it’s the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs…” conveys a high-pressure situation where you win or lose everything – if you know baseball. If you don’t, it is just a bunch of nonsense. For inclusive hiring, all references should include context and explanation so that candidates understand the meaning with or without the reference point. The same goes for discussing COVID-19 and other highly impactful situations with employees.
COVID-19, and the impacts of it, have been compared to events including the 9-11 attack, the 2008 stock market crash, the SAARs and Swine Flu outbreaks. All these events have relevant lessons and experiences. But they are also not shared experiences. Some were too young to have any memories of the events, others may have had very personal and painful experiences, while others watched them unfold in the news and felt the fear but were never touched directly. How people lived through these events (or not) will greatly color the reference.
Tip: Add context to references addressing COVID-19
When using references, especially highly emotional, loaded references such as past disasters and threats, be sensitive to the range of experiences of the employees. Don’t assume what you mean by the reference is what they will receive. Include context such as what happened, and why you are making the reference so it is clear to everyone.
For example: “like in the 2008 stock market crash when our stock dropped 38%, it will recover again, and we will come out a stronger more prolific company.”
And, keep in mind, powerful references could stir up equally powerful emotions. If a reference is not working well or not having the effect you intended, stop using it.
2. Be flexible
A key to inclusive hiring is to be as flexible as possible to the needs of the candidates, whatever those needs are. Needs can be anything; a wheelchair accessible bathroom, a shift in the interview time to accommodate the daycare schedule, access to a refrigerator to store insulin, a peanut-free meeting space, etc. Often small requests can make a big difference. Unfortunately, for candidates, asking for something outside of the ‘standard’ process can be uncomfortable. Singling candidates due to suspicion that they may require an accommodation or waiting until there’s a problem only makes it worse. The solution is very simple. Ask all candidates if there is anything they need to ensure they have a great experience. When it comes to COVID-19, flexibility to ensure positive experiences become paramount.
With most of the world in shelter-in-place lock-down, work-life is no longer balanced but rather it’s in full-on collision. ‘Office mates’ now include significant others, children, parents’, other family members, pets, or no one at all. Privacy may be at a premium with many sharing one small space, or it may be all someone has. When functioning within this COVID-19 environment, flexibility is a must.
Tip: Ask all employees what they need and accommodate as much as possible within reason
Ask all employees what they need to be successful during the COVID crisis, both in general, and for specific events, meetings, or assignments. Not every need can be accommodated, but better to know up front and work out accommodations as best as possible than to wait for a problem and then scramble.
For example, here are a few common accommodations:
Give employees plenty of notice before a meeting so they can coordinate with other schedules.
Specify which meetings are ‘private’ and should not be overheard.
Adjust deadlines and meeting schedules to accommodate for productive time (such as when children are sleeping).
Relax dress codes and forgive background noises.
Set aside time in meetings to say hello to extra attendees (such as children and pets).
Most importantly, accommodations must be done in empathy and acceptance, not grudgingly and or with annoyance. Employees who feel valued and part of the team even during this difficult time will be far more loyal when this is over than those that feel ‘dealt with’ when they needed support the most.
3. Prepare for different home technologies
For inclusive hiring, it’s important to remember that not everyone has access to the same things. From technology to transportation, processes need to focus on evaluating candidates, and not their levels of access. In COVID-19 when much of the workforce is suddenly remote, the differences in technology can affect how employees can perform, stay connected, and respond.
There are technology assumptions lurking beyond the hardware and software necessary to do the job.
For example, how will a video conference work if the employee doesn’t have a camera?
Arranging a social event in a virtual game environment - what about that employee without a game system? Switched to Interviewing remotely - what happens if the candidates or interviewers don’t have the right audio/video equipment on their computer or they don’t have a personal computer at all?
Just because the technology is common, doesn’t mean everyone has it.
Tip: When adjusting processes and plans for a remote workforce, don’t assume all tech is equal.
Avoid accidentally leaving people left out or called out for not having the latest gadgets with a few simple steps.
Take inventory of what technology is required for events, processes, or tasks.
Identify any technology not provided by the organization (which is all technology in the case of candidates).
Have a plan for what to do about the gap. This could be checking first to make sure everyone has what’s needed, defining alternative processes, or changing the plan.
For example, an organization plans for a virtual happy hour in a popular game to celebrate someone’s birthday. The virtual happy hour requires the game which is only available on certain game systems and a microphone for that system. Take a quick poll to see if everyone has access to the game, the system, and a microphone, and, if they don’t, shift to a video conference or add a second event that everyone can participate in.
Bringing it all together – D&I wisdom to help manage during COVID-19
These are unprecedented times of global fear, uncertainty, and isolation. But, while there are days where we feel alone being stuck in our homes or standing six feet apart, behind masks and with staggered breaks, we are not alone.
Help employees with wisdoms of D&I like including context to any references so that everyone remains informed, being as flexible as possible to the variety of new home and work-life balance situations, and ensuring that technology (or lack thereof) doesn’t inadvertently exclude anyone.
We are all in it together, and together we will make it through.