The Pandemic and the Diversity Gap

The recent news that the new CEO of Citigroup will be the first female ever to head a Wall Street bank was welcome news to many people. Its current CEO, Michael Corbat, is retiring in February and will be succeeded by Jane Fraser. Fraser is currently the President and CEO of Citibank’s consumer banking division, and insiders had been expecting her to be named successor to Corbat. It was nonetheless a surprise to many Wall Street observers. The announcement also comes amidst calls by other business leaders and community activists demanding more diversity in corporate America.

The Pandemic Effect

Media stories and studies have already emphasized that the pandemic has adversely affected minorities more than white workers. In taking this a step further, some argue that the stress and concern for family members by minority workers may likely become a detriment to them and adversely affect their chances to advance in their companies. If their supervisors, who are mostly white, don’t recognize and understand this, resentment that may last for years can build up.

The shooting of George Floyd, protests, other police shootings, and events have heightened anxiety and stress among many Black workers. Add to that an anti-Asian attitude since COVID-19. The Stop AAPI Hate reporting center reported that it had received more than 1,700 reports of harassment, racial slurs, and physical assaults to date against Asian people. The center was founded after the pandemic was declared by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and San Francisco State University’s Asia American Studies Department.

What to Do

Even companies with good inclusion and diversity plans have a challenge. The big question going forward is what leaders might do to ensure that minority workers are heard, understood, and being represented.

Senior staff can do well by performing a self-check and audit of current policies. The big question to address is what the company can do to bolster leadership accountability and inclusion and diversity capabilities.

The CEO must lead by example and can achieve this by hosting and leading workplace conversations about diversity as well as any other perceived racial tension points within the organization. He/she should learn as much as possible about the diversity gap to be in a better position of understanding and awareness.

Employee surveys about diversity can provide valuable and anonymous insight into worker attitudes, fears, and concerns. The data gathered might also be helpful in considering and forging new diversity initiatives. Likewise, creating and publishing a list of inclusion behaviors as part of the company’s core values for all employees is a good goal.

Creating a diversity and inclusion task force that can help create policies on everything from hiring, vendor selection, wellness programs, and even leadership requirements is empowering and will spur enthusiasm internally.

Ongoing company-wide education about diversity and inclusion is a must. With many people working remotely, this can be started virtually and moved in-house after the pandemic is over. The most critical part is vetting the program before it’s launched to ensure that it’s a fit for the company’s values.

Finally, communicating openly and frequently about the results, changes, and improvements in the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts is also critical. Employees must understand and support company initiatives.

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