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How to Advance Diversity & Inclusion in Uncertain Times

Lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic: how to continue advancing diversity and inclusion during periods of uncertainty

By Keisha Bell, Managing Director and Head of Diverse Talent Management and Advancement, DTCC

Keisha Bell, DTCC

It’s been more than a year since the pandemic necessitated a seismic shift to not only our ways of working but also to almost every aspect of our lives. At a time of continued uncertainty, now more than ever, it is important to ensure that the workplace remains inclusive. Unfortunately, when businesses are under stress, diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) initiatives can be de-prioritized, but they shouldn’t be. Here’s why: inclusive policies and maintaining a collaborative and inclusive work environment and culture play key roles in attracting and retaining talent, and therefore have a direct impact on  the achievement of corporate objectives. If you want your firm to attract and retain the best talent and achieve the best business results, DEI must continue to stay top-of-mind within organizations.

As I reflect on what has been a challenging year, here are three practical lessons how to continue to progress DEI in the workplace as the landscape continues to shift and work practices evolve:

  1. Do your research. Use data to understand the needs of your workforce and measure progress.

Look at your internal data to measure your organization’s progress on diversity and inclusion, and then compare those results with the needs of your workforce. The optimal approach considers a number of metrics, including attrition among different demographics, promotions planning and the talent pipeline, all measurements should be reviewed intersectionally.  For example, at DTCC, we conduct reporting around hiring, measuring the rate of diverse candidates, and assessing where we may have lost or gained them in the process. We also carry out regular surveys of existing employees to gauge sentiment and find out if underrepresented groups feel they are being treated differently or unfairly. Twice a year, we report our representation data to our Board and we have an honest conversation about where we need to improve and how we can do so. Given the continued evolution of workforce culture during the pandemic, it’s important to use data to inform decision making and goal setting, while ensuring that underrepresented groups do not get left behind. 

  • People are at the centre of DEI. Promote dialogue in the workplace by engaging with experts and listen to the needs of underrepresented groups.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in conversations about race and racism in the workplace. 2020 was a turning point for corporate America: with the murder of George Floyd, and issues around race and systemic racism were propelled to the top of the agenda by mainstream media. At DTCC, we’ve actively encouraged conversations about race because we believe that real change starts with honest dialogue.

To that end, we launched a Perspectives Programme, an initiative we began last summer to increase dialogue around race in the workplace.  Within the programme, we provided black and brown employees with a platform to share their personal stories and perspectives and engage the entire organisation in conversations about race.  The programme included a cross-section of black and brown men from all levels of the organisation who shared their real-life experiences of negative interactions with the police, and black and brown women who spoke on how they interact with law enforcement and how they talk with their children about racism and interacting with law enforcement.

In a similar vein, and in response to the rise in anti-Asian violence in America, we recently worked with Ascend, the non-profit Pan-Asian membership organization for business professionals in North America, to facilitate conversations with Asian-American employees. We’ve found that working with professional facilitators who understand the industry and the needs of our employees have been critical to creating an open dialogue in the workplace, and that providing opportunities for employees to voice their concerns through these channels is incredibly important. 

  • Real change requires action at all levels. To develop and retain talent, we must provide opportunities for minorities at all stages of their careers.

Recruitment and professional development are key pillars in any DEI programme, and hiring diverse talent and providing opportunities for minorities to upskill and move through any organisation is crucial to talent retention, developing a strong work culture and ultimately achieving business objectives. All employees want an equal opportunity to succeed, and we’ve found that creating targeted programmes that support underrepresented communities in the workplace is crucial to retaining and attracting talent across the board.

One example of this work is related to advancing women within the organization. Our 18-month long ’Advancing Women Leaders’ development programme, a cohort of 16 women at the director level, was focused on helping them build their leadership and individual skills and progress through the company. The programme saw immediate results: 6 of the 16 women were promoted, with the remaining participants well prepared for advancement opportunities. Similar programs could also be provided for other underrepresented groups.

Ultimately, corporate America has a necessary role to play in improving race relations, promoting equality and fostering understanding. After all, our organizations and our staff should be reflections of our communities where we live and work. Change takes time, but actions and focus must be deliberate. As we look ahead to a post-pandemic future, it is important for conversations about DEI to continue, and for companies to seize this opportunity to redefine the workplace to advance inclusive cultures that enables all employees to feel valued and equal, do their best work, and drive superior business results.