Actions for Allies to Promote DEI As a Mindset, Even During A Crisis

Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

person of color working on analytics
person of color working on analytics
Image courtesy of black.illustrations

1. Promote DEI as a mindset, not an objective

Earlier this week, I participated in a Community Call hosted by Jennifer Brown Consulting. One of the topics discussed was how DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) should be prioritized during the pandemic, and someone shared this article: If You’re Choosing Between “DEI” and Crisis Management, You’re Choosing Wrong.

While I understand budgets are being scrutinized and even slashed during this crisis, I hope we can all promote DEI as a mindset, not as an objective that can be ignored for the time being.

If you hear someone saying that they need to choose between crisis management and diversity and inclusion, consider pushing back with this phrase from the article: “DEI is not a thing we do, it is the way we do everything.”

In case they need more convincing, point them to this research that found “companies that remained inclusive during the Great Recession (in terms of diverse workers’ experience and representation in different ranks) did better financially during and after it.”

2. Host “All ERG” Forums

On that same Community Call, we also discussed concerns that employees are facing during this crisis and how they thread across demographics. For example, the racism that Asian and Black employees are experiencing. Mental health issues that are unfortunately growing. Parenting and caregiving responsibilities that impact productivity.

One of the participants shared that their employee resource groups (ERGs) have started “All ERG” community calls on topics that are affecting them, regardless of identity.

I love this idea of coming together in this time of crisis.

Is this something you can host for the ERGs in your organization?

3. Keep your underrepresented talent retention programs going

In Virus Crisis Could Be Big Test of Law Firms’ Diversity Efforts, Bloomberg Law reporter Meghan Tribe wrote about how job cuts during the 2008 recession disproportionately affected women and attorneys of color. Now, there are concerns that history will repeat itself with the coronavirus crisis.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the problem is unique to the legal profession.

To ensure we don’t erase any progress we have made in diversifying our workforces, the experts interviewed recommend continuing to focus on underrepresented talent retention programs and make sure they’re adapted given work-from-home policies. For example, encourage leaders to reach out to mentees or people they’re sponsoring. Schedule regular “snack breaks” with employee resource groups or cohorts of underrepresented new hires.

In other words, don’t let this crisis compound any inequity that may exist in your industry. Keep the retention programs going.

(Thanks to Joelle Emerson, CEO of Paradigm, who tweeted about this article.)

4. Rethink what workers need to produce good work

New York Times reporter Claire Cain Miller wrote about Three Things Lockdowns Have Exposed About Working and Parenting:

“Current circumstances, with offices and schools closed because of the coronavirus outbreak, are extreme. But they have exposed uncomfortable truths about working families. One is that parenting is not confined to after-work hours. Another is that raising children is not just a lifestyle choice, akin to a demanding hobby. A third is that working parents can’t do it alone.”

She goes on to explain that many workplaces expect undivided loyalty. They assume employees are available on-demand and paying disproportionately more to people who can work longer hours.

This undivided loyalty has never been compatible with parenting.

She ends the article with a hopeful outlook: That employers will rethink what it takes for their workers to produce good work. For example, paid leave, affordable child care, predictable schedules, reasonable hours, and remote work.

Perhaps your organization offers some or all of these to employees already? Perhaps not. Regardless, can you start a dialog about what your team needs to get the required work done, especially for the parents?

5. Support coworkers observing Ramadan

As Fahmida Kamali wrote on Twitter,

“If you have power, advocate for making changes in work schedules/accommodations this time of year for your [Muslim] team members/staff.”

Okay, but what does that mean exactly?

Because I’m not Muslim, I appreciate that Fahmida created an illustrated presentation with tips to support friends and colleagues during Ramadan. It includes call-outs of how things are different this year, given social distancing.

In the US this year, Ramadan ends on May 23. So, there’s still time to follow Fahmida’s tips.

(Thanks to the team at Aleria, who included this resource in their recent newsletter.)

I wish you strength and safety as we all move forward,

— Karen Catlin, Founder and Author of Better Allies

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Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies™ approach.

Everyday actions to create inclusive, engaging workplaces. Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies® approach.

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