There’s one thing every single leader in the DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) space mentions when talking about the pandemic, and you’re probably tired of hearing it – how much it has accelerated flexibility in the workplace.

It’s the big hurrah for DEI that came out of this volatile period, and whilst it’s hard to think back to the ‘normal’, pre-pandemic times – it really is a revolutionary impact, especially in countries like Japan where changing a ‘norm’ has historically required a decade-long marathon.

With 2020 being the year of sprinting to a ‘new-normal’ and pivoting – what further learnings can leaders take from the pandemic to accelerate their DEI initiatives?

1. Any rule can (and should) be re-examined

COVID-19 has given us a lot of breathing space for how much more flexible we can become to build up inclusive workplaces. Now is the time to question everything – some questions organisations took time to re-examine during this period include:

  • Is there a need for core-hours? Can we monitor weekly goals instead of setting a time everyone has to be online?
  • Do work days have to be weekdays?
  • Does that contract have to be printed and stamped?

Sans Pandemic, these may have never been brought to the centre of debate – but when nothing is ‘normal’ or ‘standard’, everything can be adapted. Now is the time to stop and question every ‘normal’ there is, and push for that change to keep DEI at the forefront.

2. Trial first, adjust later

For those organisations who had an extensive 5-year plan of gradually transitioning into remote working, and having meeting after meeting to discuss the detailed execution – look at what happened in a day after state of emergencies were issued globally. The actioning of remote work was made in an instant – and the adjusting came later.

We see that in the DEI space there is always an overflow of discussion and knowledge-sharing. We all dream of making a big change and have it roll out perfectly – but often, organisations spend too much time planning out the intricacies and those ideas get washed over by other priorities.

Achieving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a long-winded road – it won’t happen in one day, and it won’t always be a straight journey forward. That’s why action needs to happen first. If there have always been comments around how your organisation’s male leaders have a low rate for taking up parental leave – try implementing mandatory leave first and adjust with the uptakes. If you see your female leaders needing more advocacy to advance in your organisation – trial a sponsorship program.

It’s almost like OJL – but for the company policies. We will never know what the real challenges are for new initiatives unless we experience them, and that is the best way to learn and adapt – there is a lot more improvement that can eventuate from action than from sitting on paper.

3. Diversity in decision making has never been more important

If we are re-examining and trialing ‘new-normals’ – are we making sure that we aren’t creating blind spots when addressing changes and improvements?

Innovation comes from having those uncomfortable conversations and challenging our diversity in thought. Addressing the imbalance of diversity in leadership isn’t a ‘nice to do’, it’s a strong strategic imperative. 

Our research shows that 50/50 leadership teams outperformed majority female-led and majority male-led businesses by as much as 6%-12% points respectively across all measured areas.

The first step to continue thriving is to make an active choice to put DEI as a priority across the organisation, and to balance out the diversity of the decision makers.

There’s a saying in Japanese that goes, ‘After rain comes a firmer ground’. The meaning behind it is that even if something is a nuisance or inconvenience, enduring it can result in producing more stability after it passes. Although we continue to get rained on with the pandemic, stopping us from stepping outside (quite literally), we can take this opportunity to recalibrate and prepare ourselves to embrace the firmer ground when the sun comes out.

We help businesses attract, retain & advance their emerging female leaders through training, strategic advisory & employer branding solutions. If you’d like to know more about how we can help your business create a more inclusive workplace, let’s talk!

Written by Natsumi Funabiki,
Japan Client Lead at
The Dream Collective