The TIME’S UP Guide to Equity and Inclusion

Caring for Your People

Factor in diversity when making furlough, lay off, and return-to-work decisions

Maybe you were making great progress in diversifying your workforce before these crises or maybe that was a commitment you were just embarking on. Either way, a diverse workforce is critical to your business. Given the ebb and flow of restrictions as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, you may find yourself continually evaluating whether to grow or shrink your workforce. As you confront decisions around layoffs, furloughs, who to bring back to work, or who to hire, you can prioritize diversity by:

  • Paying attention to the impact those decisions may have on the diversity of your workforce, and including this factor in your decision-making;
  • Thinking about who is in the room when you’re making critical decisions; and
  • Organizing a task force that includes a cross-section of employees at all levels to advocate for and represent the people you employ.

As you consider who to hire or lay off, consider how to make your workforce more diverse. Examine “neutral” criteria like tenure as a basis for deciding who to furlough or lay off to make sure it does not have an unintended, disproportionate effect. It is often the case that new hires are disproportionately women or people of color — especially if you were intentionally diversifying your workforce prior to these crises — so using a “neutral” criteria like tenure could unintentionally eradicate your diversity gains.

As you hire, take the time to look for and build a diverse pool of candidates. And if you are in an industry that is growing and hiring, stay vigilant about protocols that promote the consideration of women and people of color, even when you need to staff up quickly.

COVID-19 has forced millions of qualified people — especially communities of color — out of work due to layoffs and increased caregiving responsibilities, among other reasons, so don’t assume that an applicant who is unemployed doesn’t have what it takes to get the job done. Instead, look at their recent employment history to assess their credentials.

Implement other cost-cutting measures before laying people off

If the latest COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions have you reconsidering layoffs, first consider reducing executive pay, enacting a hiring freeze, pausing bonuses, and pursuing other cost-cutting measures that could save jobs. This would enable you to retain your diverse workforce and capitalize on their skills, knowledge of your business, and productivity to get through these crises. Or you can turn to job sharing arrangements that retain employees while lowering costs. If you do enact pay cuts, start with the highest earners and do what you can to avoid reducing pay for your lower-paid employees who likely have fewer financial resources to fall back on. Your staff will appreciate you going the extra mile for them, and will respond in kind.

Your staff will appreciate you going the extra mile for them, and will respond in kind.

Reimagine roles in order to retain staff

Major multinational corporations in retail, finance, tech, and telecommunications are taking action on reskilling — not with small pilots, but rather with comprehensive plans to retrain large segments of their workforces. These programs signal that the “future of work” is no longer on the distant horizon.

Even if you are not making those large shifts, your business priorities may still evolve to meet this moment, and you may find that employees’ current roles and responsibilities must shift too. Rather than furlough or lay off your people, you can retain them and reimagine their roles so they match your current business needs by:

  • Training your employees on new skills and offering them opportunities that you might not otherwise;
  • Stretching more junior employees and giving them the chance to grow in their roles and showcase different skills; and
  • Analyzing the salary of those remaining in their jobs and taking on more work, making sure their compensation is still fair and not discriminatory.

As you make these shifts, constantly evaluate how these decisions may disproportionately impact the diversity of your workforce. Is one work unit fully occupied while another is languishing? Are there individuals who are being left out as work is reallocated?

Rethink the timing of your performance management process

Even in good times, performance reviews can be stressful and anxiety-producing. Recognize the pressures on your staff right now and delay performance reviews if you can.

When you are ready to conduct performance reviews:

  • Consider how the work employees are doing may differ from their “usual” assignments. Take this into account in your reviews at all levels.
  • Be aware of how this unprecedented work environment may have limited your employees’ ability to perform or deliver results when considering pay increases or promotions. Women, caregivers, and other vulnerable employees can be particularly disadvantaged by unintended consequences or assumptions about their work performance. For example, employees with kids at home may be viewed as less committed to their work right now, when the reality is that they’re spending more hours online than ever before.
  • Conduct a pay equity assessment – and make sure any adjustments in pay and compensation do not disadvantage women, people of color, or other employees who are historically underpaid and undervalued.

Prioritize diversity when hiring contractors and vendors

Permanent staff are not the only way to create a diverse workplace. Your company’s purchasing power can help strengthen the diversity of your contractors and vendors. You can show your commitment to diversity by expanding purchasing or investments in small, BIPOC, or women-owned businesses or by prioritizing investments in communities hard-hit by these crises. Consumers, customers, and clients are looking for businesses that are stepping up during this challenging time, so it could give you a competitive advantage.

To read more from the third edition of The TIME’S UP Guide to Equity and Inclusion, check out our practical actions on Equalizing Your Workforce or click here to download the complete guide.