By Angela Peacock, CEO of worldwide diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global

Low angle view of women with protective masks passing by each other while walking at airport terminal during virus epidemic.

With whole workforces being furloughed or made redundant—and companies clamping down on anything they see as nonessential spending—will diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace join the list of coronavirus casualties? After all, far too many organizations view creating an inclusive environment—where everyone with the capability to succeed can do so—as discretionary.

In fact, the culprit posing a potential threat to D&I is more likely to be the recession that follows the current pandemic. A climate of fear and loss of revenue, bonuses, prestige, and so on is likely to lead to an increase in affinity bias—the unconscious tendency to get along with others who are like us. An inclusive environment is then in danger of becoming a distant dream.

So how can D&I reinvent itself to prepare for the rocky road ahead? And what practical steps can organizations take to rise to the challenge?

The key to success will be recognizing inclusion as a strategic driver. Having an inclusive workplace will be essential as we emerge into the post-lockdown world. D&I leaders need to dissect what their business will need in the months and years ahead. That might be new ways of thinking, new products, alternative routes to market, a clear post-lockdown switch strategy, or more digital expertise. Build a case for each one in a simple sentence that speaks to what the outcome will be if you have an inclusive environment—and what might happen if you don’t.

High Angle View Of Multiracial Friend Stacking Hand Together

Remember, inclusion creates the environment where diversity can thrive. Diversity alone cannot impact business outcomes. These two together can.

Expect everyone in the organization to buy into different aspects of your communications. For example, sales teams will care if the companies they are pitching to make stronger demands on their diversity numbers before awarding deals. Without inclusion, after a redundancy situation, you will find it more challenging to keep your minorities.

In the post-pandemic recession, the natural tendency to keep people you have unconscious trust in will be rife. Minorities lose out at times like this. Having clearly laid out the business case, D&I professionals need to insist on criteria being adhered to when considering who is or isn’t retained. That criteria must speak to a broader caste of people—not crafted for the two guys in accounts who have been there longest. Ensure a team decides who needs to leave.

Shoring up your employee resource groups is also vital. But make sure they align their work to creating inclusion during and after the recession. Think about how they can they add value to the business—from sales to design and clients.

If you are in a company that has corporate clients, reach out to offer discussions and help with their D&I work. Many will have lost their internal teams and may welcome your (free) input. It’s another way you can potentially add value to your own organization’s business results.

You may have realized that I don’t mention anything about this all being the “right thing to do.” It’s not that I don’t think it is. It’s just that I have seen post-recessional behavior before – and the fear driver it brings means those conversations are rarely useful.

However, making your D&I work relevant to community groups is powerful—and useful to the groups. Offering to have your managers mentor individuals provides cross-mentoring, so that they realize how others feel—and see the world from a different perspective. That helps you, at a time when you probably have no D&I training budget, as it does that work for you. And, of course, it also benefits the community, which will be invaluable in the post-pandemic world.

Angela Peacock

Angela Peacock

Angela Peacock, CEO of PDT Global – which provides diversity and inclusion training for large multinationals around the world.