Alireza Kohany
Alireza Kohany
Alireza Kohany

We face the very real possibility of entering a depression. Workforces are displaced and confused. Millions have lost their jobs, and thousands have lost their lives. In what seemed like an instant, we went from discussions around innovation and disruption at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to spiraling down to the bottom of the pyramid, where many of us feel like we are barely able to protect the well-being of ourselves, our loved ones and our employees.

In crisis mode, all hands are on deck to triage the most urgent challenges, including retaining customers, enabling people to work from home, comparing the best options to navigate the dip and planning for the inevitable rocky recovery. Initiatives that were critical to mission, vision and values, as well as to organizational longevity, are now on the back burner. For many HR departments, diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives are sidelined until further notice.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Starting with these four steps, HR can leverage D&I as an accelerator to go from surviving to thriving — with the business outcomes to match.

Related: The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in Uncertain Times

  1. Resist the urge to devalue D&I.
    “The tendency to retreat, minimize attention, shift efforts and restrict resources out of fear and scarcity is often the norm. My hope is that leaders approach D&I the way that activist investors approach decision-making,” says Torin Ellis, a diversity strategist and public speaker. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of all invention. Rather than viewing D&I as an option saved for optimal circumstances, creating a newer and stronger normal will require all voices to be represented and heard.

Kent Plunkett, founder and CEO of, agrees. “We are in a time of major disruption. We are now in the difficult downward spiral of the dip,” he says. “As we face planning for recovery, we can make major gains by resetting the table.” Diversity, inclusion and belonging can no longer be siloed or devalued. Leaders who actively integrate D&I into their talent strategies will create goodwill and trust with the increasingly diverse talent pool and customer base that are critical to success. Our own in-house research shows that a simple way to start integrating D&I is through a recognition program. Receiving recognition leads to a greater sense of belonging and belief that diversity is valued.

  1. It’s time for radical thinking.
    Conventional thinking will not get us out of this mess. Rather than telling leaders and employees what to think, let’s upskill to create new approaches to current business challenges. There are a lot of great books that challenge traditional mindsets. Ellis suggests HR leaders use this time to cultivate their business acumen. Blue Ocean Shift, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, expands individual thinking toward achieving results. The authors introduce the ERRC (Eliminate, Reduce, Raise or Create) grid, and diversity strategist Ellis calls it “a must-read for every D&I advocate.”
  1. Lay a new, solid foundation.
    Diversity is not an option — it is a reality. What are you going to do about it? “It has always been clear to me that the journey of the underrepresented was different, often ignored and had not been made a priority in far too many corporate corridors,” says Ellis. He believes right now is the ideal time to reinforce how your company approaches diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

Alireza Kohany suggests igniting leaders to lead by deconstructing demographic representation, creating inclusive models of employee personas for hiring managers, challenging the value of merit-based decisions and partnering with business leaders to redefine HR practices along the employee lifecycle. Ellis further suggests that this crisis represents an important catalyst for HR to infuse transparency and value-based decision-making into people practices.

This can be done by analyzing and sharing insights about people resources in terms of representation and redundancy, creating value at every decision point, evaluating the employer brand-value proposition starting at the point of talent acquisition and increasing the capabilities of cultural inclusion and emotional intelligence as a core cultural construct.

  1. Set a new table for equity in your workplace.
    This pandemic will leave its mark on how we live and work. HR leaders are already considering new workplace designs and tools that will help their leaders and individual contributors to more easily collaborate and stay connected whether they are working from home or the office.

Plunkett sees an additional opportunity for HR: to rid discriminatory behavior from current people practices and procedures, including pay inequity. “Over the next three to six months, companies will be looking for ways to cope with the economic hit,” he says, “including potential decreases to salary ranges across organizations and industries.”

Related: Correcting and Dispelling the Myths About Diversity and Inclusion Hiring

Rather than conducting this exercise with an inkling toward efficiencies in spend, Plunkett suggest HR factor in closing the pay gap through new salary models. Research from Workhuman has shown even investing 1 percent of payroll into peer-to-peer rewards can have a significant impact on equity in your organization. This is not only because rewards will directly address equity by compensating those who deserve it, but also because the data gleaned from crowdsourced rewards and recognition — when triangulated against pay and performance data — gives deep insights into the current equity in your company.

Everything HR does moving forward matters more than ever. HR leaders and practitioners have a choice to make: Reinstate antiquated people practices that perpetuate a downward spiral or create a new reality where everyone can thrive.