The TIME’S UP Guide to Equity and Inclusion

Demonstrating Your Leadership

Lead with empathy, transparency, and understanding

While some aspects of the pandemic have been shared experiences during these crises, individuals have faced the effects of the pandemic, the subsequent economic fallout, and state-sanctioned racialized violence in many different ways. Some have been fortunate enough to escape illness and economic devastation but have struggled to homeschool their children and care for elderly parents while keeping up with work. Others have been directly affected by illness or have had loved ones lose jobs and economic stability. Some communities have been hit particularly hard: communities of color are collectively reeling from the disproportionate loss of hours, jobs, and lives due to the pandemic.

On top of this, many are experiencing outrage, pain, and injustice in response to the killings of Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, and so many others whose names we may never know. Do not overlook how painful these acute experiences are for your staff, or how company and leadership reaction — or inaction — to these events may have contributed to or amplified trauma.

Empathetic leadership is especially called for now, and for the foreseeable future. Leaders must recognize that these discrete, but interrelated crises impact each of their employees differently — but significantly. Here are some steps you can take to lead with empathy:

  • Understand that every employee is grappling with distinct challenges during this time, rather than make assumptions about what they are going through.
  • Recognize that the needs of your staff will evolve as these crises evolve and commit to meeting their needs as best you can. 
  • Be transparent about the business decisions you must make and why. Take urgent steps toward transparency by publishing workforce diversity data and make concrete commitments that can be measured over time.
  • Show solidarity with your people, especially those on the front lines.
  • Acknowledge and seek to understand the ways employees up and down the wage scale are experiencing these crises.
  • Make mental health support widely available to all staff, and make sure any employee assistance program or other providers your company uses have clinical expertise and training in dealing with a diverse set of clients.
  • Ensure that your managers are informed, trained, and aware of the issues that the staff they supervise may be facing, and give your managers the support they need to show up for your staff. 
  • Look first for opportunities to add Black leadership and leadership of color to your board of directors and leadership team and know that a lone voice is not enough.

Communicate constantly and transparently about all aspects of your business, including company benefits and policies

At times of great change and uncertainty, strong communication is key. Communicate frequently, utilizing all the modes and channels available to you, and with as much transparency as possible. In the absence of information, employees may not understand the decisions management is making or the scope of their rights and responsibilities.

  • Ensure that your company policies are transparent and easily accessible to all your people — as well as any adjustments made to meet the demands of this moment. Make it clear in all your communications that employees can take advantage of these programs and resources without fear of repercussion or retaliation.
  • Continue to host company-wide meetings and virtual town halls to level the information and communication playing field so all employees return to the office or continue to work remotely on equal footing.
  • When you build these new communication channels, keep the ones that are working permanent — and expand on them. Being intentional in your ongoing communications is key to building inclusive and equitable workplaces.

At times of great change and uncertainty, good communication is key.

Keep diversity and inclusion integral to your economic recovery strategy

Your commitment to diversity and inclusion, and to affinity or Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), has never been more important. Your diversity and inclusion leaders have the expertise and the vision to guide you through these uncertain times, to facilitate important input from your people, and to imagine new and innovative approaches to these new working conditions. At the same time, your diversity and inclusion leaders may be operating shorthanded, so think about how to make sure this crucial skill set and knowledge base is maintained.

As you restructure work, consider what opportunities employees might lose out on in these new circumstances. For example, it may be harder for your people to connect over coffee, shadow a colleague, or build rapport with a sponsor or mentor. Social distancing and other pandemic protocols may prevent people from gaining meaningful access to senior leaders and one another. Account for those lost opportunities by retaining your diversity roles, ensuring funding for ERGs, diversity programs and initiatives, and protecting diverse talent pipelines.

Set a tone of strong and visible leadership from the top

Setting the tone and culture you want for your business always starts at the top. This is especially true now, when your staff will be looking to you for direction during uncertain times. Model the workplace practices you expect your employees to follow. For example, if you are encouraging people to work from home, make sure you and other leaders across the company are, too. Openly discuss both the business and personal challenges that you are working to overcome. And remember to communicate often about the values that are key to your business, including diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Measure the effects on workforce diversity as you make critical business decisions

Companies must continuously track the ways these crises are affecting their staff and measure the impact that critical business decisions are having on the overall diversity of their workforce. Your clients, customers, and investors will want to know this information, as will prospective employees.

In the immediate term, make sure to track the impact of staffing decisions on your workforce diversity, equity, and inclusion metrics so you can assess how your choices impact your company’s makeup. Collecting data in the near term will help you determine if you are falling behind on your workforce diversity goals or staying on track — and enable you to devise a plan to meet or exceed them over the long term.

The metrics each company keeps tabs on will differ, but you should be sure to measure:

  • The demographics of your entire workforce — as you make reductions or furloughs, promote or consolidate, and as you hire;
  • The salaries and total compensation of all your employees, so you can conduct a gender and racial pay gap analysis; and
  • How and to whom you distribute key assignments, opportunities, and workloads as you reallocate work.

Companies that track the impact of these crises on their staff and take steps to improve the economic stability of their employees are likely to see improved productivity and greater customer satisfaction. Tracking and strengthening workforce diversity is essential to your long-term success, so figure out how to measure it now to ensure you have the systems set up for the future.

Now is the time to double down on your values

How you live up to your values now will have future implications on hiring the best talent, attracting discerning customers, and building your business’s resilience over the long haul. Before the pandemic, company leaders were already realizing how their workplace culture and values impacted their bottom line, as more and more workers and consumers make decisions on where to work and purchase goods and services based on how businesses live up to their stated values of community and inclusion. Demonstrating a commitment to your values when times are tough will be noticed and rewarded by consumers who will return more quickly — and with greater loyalty than before.

To read more from the third edition of The TIME’S UP Guide to Equity and Inclusion, click here to download the complete guide.