2020 has undoubtedly changed how businesses operate, from remote work arrangements to address a wide variety of social issues. This year, we’ve seen companies strive to identify and execute change initiatives to better their employees and organization at large. While change is not easy, it is possible.

Here are some tips for effectuating change in the workplace.

Develop a diversity and inclusion committee. 

A diversity and inclusion committee is a great way to ensure a healthy company culture is maintained by providing insights into employee behaviors, desires, and company shortcomings. Diversity and inclusion committees can help address sensitive topics, such as disability inclusion and social issues (i.e., Black Lives Matter, politics, COVID, LGBTQ+), and collect pertinent information regarding the issues.

To ensure the success of a diversity and inclusion committee, here are a few necessary steps:

Collect and analyze data to establish necessary changes. 

It is essential to understand your workforce demographics. You can’t make effective changes without understanding to whom you’re advocating changes. Demographic data may include, but is not limited to, age, disability, ethnicity/national origin, gender/gender identity, family status, language, race, religion, veteran status, organizational position, personality type, and more. Be sure to consult your HR department before distributing any employee surveys to prevent any compliance issues. Once you have collected the data, you should review trends and identify any concern areas (i.e., underrepresented populations).

Align committee strategies with business objectives. 

To strategize adequately, the goals should align with business objectives. For example, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) made their 2014-2020 plan to “Make VA a Place People Want to Serve.” To achieve this goal, increasing its diversity index scores was one of the VA’s performance indicators. Through improved diversity index scores, the VA is better equipped to serve its diverse population. The best way to build diversity and inclusion strategies, the committee should understand the business objectives.

Implement the committee development. 

Once you have a plan and the appropriate permissions, set your plan into motion. Make sure you have a way to track all the committee’s progress. For example, if you have a mental health initiative, track how many communications are deployed, including how many recipients opened it, which links or items recipients clicked on, etc. This data collection can help obtain buy-in and support from senior management, shareholders, and communities.

Continuously evaluate the committee’s progress. 

The best way to continuously succeed and improve is through regular auditing of the committee’s efforts. After an initiative is completed, employees should be re-surveyed on the committee’s efforts.

Evaluate your recruiting processes. 

It is easy for individuals and businesses to fall into patterns without even realizing it. A typical way is unconscious/implicit bias, specifically in the recruiting process. To reduce bias, you may follow these steps:

Check yourself. 

If you are a decision-maker in the hiring process, you must undoubtedly ensure your decision-making is founded on facts. For example, take an implicit association test to understand any unconscious associations or biased opinions you may have (i.e., men are better managers, women are empathetic, so they excel in customer service roles). The first step in fixing the problem is figuring out what the problem is.

Review job descriptions. 

Crafting compelling job descriptions is complicated, but what happens when you find out that more than 25,000 problem phrases trigger gender bias? Try using a platform to check if you’re using any of the problem phrases.

Evaluate resumes consistently. 

In 2020, it’s hard to believe that a 2003 study showed that candidates with names most associated as white received 50% more interviews. To help combat such bias, evaluate every resume the same way. Many application tracking systems provide a feature to hide candidate names to add another way to remove bias.

Outline interviews. 

Most interviewers are great at lightening the mood for candidates during interviews. However, there may be times when you don’t realize you’re not doing this for all candidates. While you don’t necessarily need to stick to a script, ensuring you follow the same format and include similar icebreakers and easy questions can help deter bias from the interview process.

Incorporate training company-wide regularly. 

A great way to advocate change in the workplace is to incorporate company-wide sensitivity training regularly. Most businesses make the mistake of believing that one training per year is enough. Sensitivity training can go beyond establishing a proactive stance towards acceptance; it can enhance your employees’ knowledge around bias and create a more inclusive environment. Sensitivity training is essential for employees because:

Employees may gain awareness and accept each other’s differences leading to a clearer understanding of each other. This understanding can lead to healthier interpersonal relationships between employees, increasing employee happiness and productivity, for example:

  • It provides behavioral education, such as identifying problematic behavior (i.e., reactive behavior, behavior founded in emotion).
  • It can provide managerial insight into behavior and how to help employees find tremendous success in the workplace. It may also raise awareness and encourage critical problem-solving of workplace issues, such as discrimination and harassment.

When developing sensitivity training, here are some topics to consider:

  • Emotional Intelligence (EQ). EQ is the process of understanding, controlling, and utilizing emotions to impact everyday situations, such as alleviating stress positively, clearly communicating, and de-escalating conflicts. Increasing emotional intelligence in the workplace can improve professional relationships and find greater success through four characteristics: self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship management.
  • Unconscious Bias. Starbucks certainly set an example in their Anti-Bias Training response to a 2018 incident that sparked nationwide backlash. Unconscious bias stems from unconscious associations or feelings integrated into processing information. While it is not a new topic in the workplace, it has certainly been pushed to the forefront of crucial sensitivity training as diversity and inclusion become more prominent in workplace culture.
  • Harassment. Harassment is unsolicited, offensive conduct (defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as “offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name-calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance”) based on sex, national origin, age, religion, race, disability, or genetic information, and can occur in various circumstances, such as a supervisor or any individual affected by the offensive conduct. Harassment training regulations may vary by state, but harassment is generally defined as employment discrimination that infringes on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
  • Workplace Politics. From social injustice and civil rights to discrimination, workplace politics has been a long-standing issue for years and affects businesses somehow. Workplace politics can impact employees’ mental health and engagement. Employees often expect employers to publicly take a stance or express support for their employees during these times. However, businesses usually find it challenging to address as it draws a fine line between taking a political stance and supporting all walks of life. Managing workplace politics is a critical component of workplace sensitivity.

Understanding Personalities. 

Because personality differences account for 49% of workplace conflicts, training on understanding those differences may lead to successfully navigating workplace conflicts with a positive, mutually beneficial outcome. From DISC and Myers-Briggs to The Big Five, there are countless ways to incorporate personality sensitivity training to help your workforce empathize and identify the many facets of personality.

  • Virtual Interviews. Due to COVID, many employers are shifting to a remote work environment, including recruiting processes. Remote settings can often lead to miscommunication and other sensitivity issues. To improve virtual interview processes, check out this blog on tips for conducting virtual interviews.
  • Address mental health. Especially in the wake of COVID-19, mental health and well-being has suffered negative impacts, such as trouble sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), alcohol consumption or substance use increase (12%), and deteriorating chronic conditions (12%).[3] Other mental health issues have included suicide crisis, domestic violence, and depression.[4] Aside from COVID, the recent 2020 presidential election amplified the mental health crisis.

To help combat the impact these abnormal circumstances have introduced to individuals, here are some tips for fostering a supportive and accepting work environment:

Decide what you want to share. 

Whether you’re the business owner, supervisor, or employee, you have the power to decide what you want to share with others. First, you should decide whom you wish to talk to about your mental health – from your manager to HR. Then choose how much you want or need to disclose. Lastly, be sure to initiate this conversation at a time you feel calm.

Ask more purposeful questions. 

It is not wrong or detrimental to ask someone, “How are you?” However, it often does not elicit a detailed response indicating how a person truly feels. Instead, ask questions such as “How are you coping?” or “How have you been spending your free time?” Questions like these can open the door for the recipient to share more and generate a better read on an individual’s emotional stability.

Struggling with mental health is not a weakness. 

Before COVID, approximately one in five U.S. adults has a mental illness.[5] The National Alliance on Mental Health have reported workers who struggle with mental health states that shame and stigma hinder them from seeking help. Mental health does not reflect incompetence and is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you want to disclose your mental health condition, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations.

Foster a safe place for others to share. 

Not everyone likes to share their feelings, let alone in a work setting. Creating a safe place can help promote mental health well-being and foster a more supportive and accepting workplace culture. For example, you could create a private community channel for checking in and sharing mental health resources. Another great resource could be developing an employee assistance program.

Change, especially in the workplace, can be a complex issue that requires a strategic plan, adequate resources, and appropriate support to implement successfully. With these steps, organizations can leverage their success when attracting new talent and retaining their current staff.