As the country confronts two overwhelming crises, the need for organizational cultures that prioritize diversity and inclusion has never been greater, says one association D+I leader.
Until the current wave of protest and outrage over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, some in the association community were raising concern that diversity and inclusion efforts might be getting sidelined because of COVID-19. But the renewed attention to racial injustice is showing that “now more than ever, there is a need for diversity and inclusion initiatives,” said Linda Devonish-Mills, CAE, director of D+I at the Institute of Management Accountants.
As with COVID-19, the civil unrest is raising stress and anxiety to levels that organizations can’t ignore. Devonish-Mills said senior association leaders need to be transparent and make themselves accessible to staff and members so they can express their feelings openly. “Make them feel like you care about what they are experiencing,” she said.
A desire to promote social justice is usually what spurs diversity and inclusion efforts, but research has shown that D+I is also good business practice. Companies with more culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams were 33 percent more likely to see better-than-average profits, according to a 2018 McKinsey report [PDF]. At the board of directors level, more ethnically and culturally diverse companies were 43 percent more likely to see above-average profits.
“Any organizations that are not open to expanding their horizons to develop diverse teams—not just in terms of ethnic backgrounds but skill sets, too—will not see the same results as you would see with organizations that have diverse teams,” Devonish-Mills said.
COVID-19 has raised its own D+I challenges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the pandemic has caused a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups. And women made up 55 percent of the 20.5 million jobs lost in April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women of color were particularly hard hit, with unemployment rates for black women at 16 percent and Hispanic women at 20 percent.
Despite these bleak numbers, Devonish-Mills said she is optimistic that the country will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with better work environments that will help diversity and inclusion thrive. She predicted that the widespread implementation of remote work will benefit women, who often bear the responsibility of caring for elderly parents, family members with disabilities, and children. And without the need for employees to be close to offices, companies will benefit from geographic diversity.
Her optimism about better days after COVID-19 does not extend to the current crisis over racial injustice, however.
“It’s hard to be hopeful because you see history repeating itself,” she said, adding that a better future will require more people to “make the commitment to expand their horizons and educate themselves about the unfortunate outcomes of racial injustice and unconscious bias.”