TIME’S UP Guide to Equity and Inclusion During Crisis

Equalizing Your Workplace


Abide by social distancing guidelines – but don’t isolate staff

Most companies are resuming operations under new conditions, with social distancing recommendations on site and limitations on the size of gatherings. As you implement these safety measures, make sure that they don’t unintentionally roll back your work culture or exclude women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, people with disabilities, older workers, and other vulnerable employees from career advancement. Consider how your actions may have a disproportionate effect on some of your people by:

  • Being aware of which employees are moved out of “better” spaces — further from amenities, less visible to clients, off the senior management floor, or away from key leadership and collaborators, if you must reconfigure your workplace to meet social distancing guidance; and
  • Committing to include a diverse group when you convene people, and making sure women and other vulnerable employees are not unintentionally excluded if meetings or events are limited in size.

Seize opportunities to promote inclusive workspaces

Empty, or nearly empty, workplaces can provide the opportunity to promote diversity and inclusion in the long-run. Take advantage of this moment to make renovations, such as accommodations to enhance accessibility for disabled employees, converting gendered bathrooms into inclusive spaces, designating private spaces for nursing mothers, and displaying signage that is more welcoming and inclusive.

Offer flexible work schedules and working conditions to meet your people’s needs

Working from home during this crisis has given many companies direct experience in how their business can still function with staff out of the office. Allowing that arrangement to continue as workplaces reopen can help you retain your employees and make them more productive. If your employees continued to work from home or you leveraged flexible scheduling in recent months, don’t abandon these tools. Alternative work arrangements can make it easier for employees to balance the sustained demands of home and work during the COVID-19 pandemic, and can even increase productivity as they are able to focus on completing tasks at a time that works best for them.

Keep in mind that some employees may not feel comfortable coming back to work right away due to health concerns for themselves or their family. Allowing employees to work remotely – if possible – is one way a company can show concern for its workforce, while also avoiding questions about private health information. If possible, consider giving your people the option to return to the office – send out a survey to learn who wants to come back to the office and when, so you can plan ahead in a way that meets your company’s and your employees’ various needs.

Flexible scheduling allows people who cannot work from home the ability to adjust their schedules, so they can tend to caretaking or other demands at home. Flexible scheduling can work for large and small companies and benefit salaried and hourly workers alike. If you lead a large company, set up systems that allow your staff to select shifts. If you lead a small business, work with your employees to come up with creative ways to adjust their work schedules to meet everyone’s needs, such as allowing your team to work with each other to cover shifts. Finally, bear in mind that whatever scheduling system you use, you should provide your employees with notice and predictability in their work schedule – given the demands people are juggling at home, planning around a predictable work schedule is more important than ever.

Supply your teams with the tools they need to work at home effectively

Working from home is not created equal for everyone. Pay attention to any inequities in resources or technology that may make working from home more challenging for some. Perhaps they do not have high speed internet access or have to share one computer in the house with another working partner or children completing school work from home. Because they may not volunteer these challenges on their own, employers should take the initiative to raise these issues up front with the entire workforce and work with employees individually to create tailored solutions.

Working from home is not created equal for everyone.

Manage microaggressions in virtual and in-person contexts

When hosting virtual meetings, emailing, messaging, conducting one-to-one check-ins, or engaging with staff in person, watch out for microaggressions. A microaggression “is a subtle way of showing one’s bias and discriminating tendencies. Any statement, joke, or inappropriate inquiry alluding to someone’s gender, race, or age can be a sign of a microaggression, especially if it’s said in the context of one’s weakness.” These are the frequent, often overlooked, behaviors that cause so many people, including women, Black workers, and other people of color, to feel excluded at work.

Microaggressions can happen anywhere, and remote work is no exception. In remote meetings, as in in real life, microaggressions can include talking over or cutting off women, junior level team members, and people of color; not giving time to introverted thinkers; or soliciting input from some team members more than others.

To combat microaggressions, think expansively about who should be invited to virtual meetings and pay attention to who may not be speaking – or who’s getting interrupted or talked over during those conversations. You can correct those behaviors in the moment by calling on people who have been ignored or going back to points they raised earlier.

Microaggressions can also take place between individuals, such as inappropriate jokes or comments. Remote communications channels (emails, text, chat) may make it easier for aggressors to take license and harder for leaders to spot, so extra effort may be needed.

You can help root out microaggressions from your workplace by:

  • Educating yourself about the many ways microaggressions show up in the workplace, acknowledging they exist, and recognizing how they can harm individuals and erode your company culture;
  • Holding conversations to bring awareness to the issue and create safe spaces where people can share their experiences openly; and
  • Adopting a zero tolerance policy for this behavior. If you notice microaggressions happening in your workplace, address them immediately.

Acknowledge the added responsibilities that caregivers have at home and co-create custom solutions to support their success

The pandemic has highlighted a struggle that many employees, especially working women, have confronted for years – the “second shift” of unpaid work that awaits them at home, where there may be children, ailing relatives, or older parents who need care and support. The challenges caregivers face are worsening as workplaces open – even as many schools, summer camps, and day care centers remain closed.

Recognize caregivers’ additional responsibilities and work with employees to help them balance these competing demands. This can take the form of alternative work arrangements or informal arrangements that allow a worker to go home early or come in late on occasion.

Don’t make assumptions about people’s availability. For example, you may hold a 6 p.m. meeting online to support employees who remain remote, without considering how that decision prevents parents from preparing their children’s dinner on time. Conversely, don’t assume that an employee cannot make a late evening meeting because they have children at home. Allow your people to freely express their challenges without fear of disapproval or prejudice, and work with them to co-create custom solutions.

Watch out for workplace harassment and take action when it happens

As employees return to work with higher stress levels, anxieties, fears, and uncertainty, be aware that incidents of sexual harassment, discrimination, and/or bullying could increase. What’s more, the fear of retaliation that prevents people from reporting these incidents, even in good times, is all the more real with unemployment at record highs. As workforces shrink, companies may have fewer people in place to prevent or address workplace harassment, but confronting harassment head-on is as important as ever.

There’s also evidence that COVID-19 is putting people at risk in their own homes, with the National Domestic Violence Hotline reporting that about half of all calls they received in April 2020 mentioned abusive and controlling behavior due to the pandemic. Employers can help by providing survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking with information about emergency resources, access to the employee assistance program (EAP) service, and the ability to use their sick leave as safe days to get the services and assistance they need. Assure employees that if they or someone they know are living in an unsafe or violent home environment, they are not alone. Remind them that there are resources available to them, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which is open 24/7 and is both confidential and free. Seek out those resources yourself, so you can learn how to support a colleague who is being abused by an intimate partner.

Offer permanent paid sick days and paid family and medical leave

The COVID-19 crisis has illustrated the importance of building in paid sick days and paid family and medical leave for all workers as a regular part of your business plan. In this period of tremendous economic difficulty, these policies are critical – and must be made permanent to keep your staff safe and supported over the long term.

Paid leave improves worker retention and increases worker productivity, and companies that implement this policy report that the rewards outweigh the costs. By investing in your workforce, you can retain your trained and committed employees and emerge stronger and ready to move forward as our economy comes back.

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