There is an ongoing debate as to whether the fallout from the coronavirus will  hurt diversity and inclusion in business. Indeed, women accounted for 55 percent of the 20.5 million jobs lost in April, with especially high unemployment rates for women of color. However, I am more optimistic that we will come out of this crisis with a more flexible and mindful work environments that will help diversity and inclusion thrive. As more companies get a handle on remote work, women (who statistically handle the disproportionate burden of family care) will benefit. Additionally, with the need for physical proximity eliminated, businesses will benefit from geographic diversity.

With the expansions of telework, though, comes a new set of challenges for businesses and individuals wanting to create diverse and inclusive cultures. To get at the heart of these challenges, I recently spoke with Scott Beth, Intuit’s Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. Scott, who has been shaping Intuit’s culture as it shifts to remote work during the pandemic, pulled from his recent experience and 15-year career to share how we can keep D&I top of mind in a crisis.

Linda Devonish-Mills: In the wake of the coronavirus, many employees are working remotely. Do you think working from home enables or inhibits inclusivity initiatives at organizations?

Scott Beth: This experience of working from home has put our mantra of ‘bring your whole selves to work’ to the test. We’ve found that employees have been more honest about what they need, whether it’s mental space, revised work hours or extra time off with their family. The situation has led to richer, more honest conversations between employees and managers and it’s shining a light on the importance of flexibility and open, honest conversations not just during a pandemic- but always. Flexibility and honesty are part of fostering an inclusive environment, and we feel that intimately right now due to our current situation with COVID-19.

This increased inclusivity shouldn’t end with remote work. Organizations need to rethink their policies and become more inclusive once offices reopen, allowing increased flexibility for working parents and more opportunities for people with disabilities to work remotely if needed.

LM: Managers are now almost entirely reliant on online connectivity tools like Zoom and Slack. What advice can you give managers using these tools to become more inclusive remote leaders? 

SB: Here are my tips for all managers to be more inclusive remote leaders: 

  • Inclusive Facilitation:
    • It can be easy for voices to get lost during large remote meetings. As much as possible, try to keep group meetings small and as the meeting leader, encourage teammates who haven’t been able to speak to voice their opinions. Keep an eye out for visual cues from colleagues on video who are trying to add to the conversation but aren’t able to. 
    • Make sure to vocalize praise for team members during meetings. Because everything is happening in the virtual environment, it can be tough to track who is working on what and managers should give credit and praise vocally and frequently.
  • Transparency and Authenticity
    • Many employees are juggling multiple roles while working remotely. Be mindful of this and encourage employees to be transparent about needs. When appropriate, share your own struggles or tips for adjusting to this new work/life balance.
    • Create an open dialogue and method for tracking when an employee needs to be offline, and ensure your whole team uses it. Some employees might need to be offline for chunks of the day to care for kids, extended family, deal with mental stress, etc. Be flexible in these situations but more importantly, give employees an easy way to indicate openly and regularly that they plan to be offline. This allows the team to continue work and normalizes work life integration across a team (vs. employees hiding it).
  • Caring and Respect
    • Schedule virtual check-ins with employees to see how they’re doing and lead conversations with empathy. 
    • Don’t make assumptions. This is a fluid situation and you don’t know what employees are going through and it can be hard to gauge stress levels virtually. Just because an employee doesn’t have what you perceive to be extra stressor (e.g. kids), doesn’t mean he/she is doing well. Talking to employees on how they are feeling is best rather than drawing any conclusions based on her/his perceived scenario.
  • Balance
    • Work life balance has never been more important. For managers, it’s easy to see how parents need extra work-life balance right now. However, it’s critical that managers support work life balance not just for these employees, but all employees. Avoid giving extra work to those without kids for example. Each and every employee must find balance in their personal and professional lives, regardless of their situation. 

LM: Many employees are expressing feelings of isolation and depression. How can managers address accessibility and mental health during the work from home period? 

SB:It starts with trust. And trust takes time to build. At Intuit we have some creative ways for trust-building between employees and managers, that existed before COVID but are just as useful now.

One example is journeylines, which employees create as a visual representation of the ups and downs in their professional and personal lives. Teams tend to leverage journeylines as part of teambuilding, with individuals presenting their history as a way to share openly and honestly.

More often than not, teams that do this exercise begin to see both how they are similar to their team, and why different experiences make the team stronger. These types of exercise go a long way in building trust and creating an environment where employees are comfortable sharing with one another.

  • Managers can remove the stigma around talking about mental health by making it an everyday conversation. People have a fear of being treated differently, so providing a space for employees to feel comfortable sharing how they’re doing and saying things like ‘I have been feeling anxious’ can help break down the stigma and make it a part of everyday language. Adjusting language leads to greater inclusion and allows for a sense of belonging. It’s also important that managers are regularly meeting with employees so there is a normal cadence of communication with check-ins as simple as “how are you feeling?” This leaves the employee space to share comfortably, without having to proactively set up time with his or her manager.
  • Encourage everyone to take a mental health day. With employees working from home and the line between work and home being blurred, people are working longer hours and may feel guilty or discouraged to take time off, even if they already had planned PTO. Managers should stress that they won’t be looked down on for taking time and it won’t be a burden to teammates. In the wake of COVID, Intuit has offered all of our current and newly hired employees additional paid time off for mental health, to care for children or others in their family, etc. 
  • Managers can address accessibility and mental health by providing resources and education. Companies can host trainings and share resources, so people understand how to engage with people with mental health issues or disabilities. Intuit has a remote Lunch and Learns series on topics including special needs parenting in the age of a pandemic, designing for dyslexia and other mental health and accessibility focused workshops, to help address this.
  • Ensure all leaders/managers model an environment for change. During a recent company-all hands (video conference style), our CEO Sasan Goodarzi shared with the company that he’s found it better for his mental health if he takes a walking meeting and regularly gets out of his desk chair throughout the day. Just by making this statement, it’s quickly become the company norm for employees to take at least a meeting per day while walking. It’s critical to have this sort of modeling happening from the top, so all employees know it’s okay to prioritize mental and physical health. 

LM: Organizations are now figuring out how to hire a diverse workforce entirely remotely. What can hiring managers do to attract a diverse workforce and facilitate an inclusive onboarding experience? 

SB: Companies are realizing that their vitality is dependent on having a diverse workforce and that means recruiting from schools that have a diverse body and qualified applicant pool — especially HBCUs and HSIs/Lantinx communities. 

Many young workers are looking to work for companies with missions that align to their interests. Be sure to have a mission that resonates and is meaningful in this remote work period.  

To facilitate an inclusive onboarding experience, employers need to build a support system for new employees, introducing them to employee resource groups and ways to get involved. Intuit uses “journey lines” to help managers get to know new hires. The exercise allows new employees to share more about their background and path to the company, giving managers visibility into the employee’s past and facilitating a deeper connection. 

LM: Next month is Pride Month and many organizations are trying to determine whether and to what extent they will participate. Why is it important to still celebrate Pride month?

SB: It’s never been more important to celebrate Pride month. Pride Month represents far more than parades and events, and coming together in new, unique ways shows the resiliency of the LGTBTQ community and its allies. 

At its core, Pride month is a key moment every year to advocate for allyship and safe spaces, and especially during this period of remote work and isolation, we must find ways to come together. We plan to host a panel to kick-off PRIDE month with leaders across our company to ensure employees feel connected and ready to celebrate progress and continue on the journey of reaching parity for LGBTQ.