“My colleagues are reporting that they feel isolated and excluded.  This is really problematic. Whether intentional or not, people are being dropped from distributions for e-mails, calls, and other communications. They are not being included in discussions and decisions in which they should have a say.”

Sadly, in this crisis, such sentiments are not uncommon.  Social distancing and remote working create many challenges to fostering an inclusive culture – when in fact, diversity with inclusion may be the key to your organization’s survival. 

As we all deal with the mayhem that has resulted from this pandemic, many businesses are struggling with how they can survive or potentially adapt, should they even have the financial runway to make the required shifts.  Unprecedented times call for innovative solutions – creative and different ways of approaching unexpected business challenges.  To achieve this, you need people of diverse perspectives and backgrounds to contribute their ideas to help navigate and survive these uncertain times.  Just as importantly, these perspectives must be heard and included.  Hence, to survive, we and our organizations must be intentional by acting now to foster a culture of diversity with inclusion.

Here are some key steps for leveraging diversity with inclusion for your organization’s survival:

Step 1: Recognize the diversity and greatness of your existing team

  • Understand and appreciate your team’s current diversity: While hiring more diverse talent is not likely to be an option for most in this challenging environment, organizations should focus on leveraging their existing diversity.  Diversity is not just apparent or primary diversity (such as race, gender, or age).  Critical to innovation is diversity of thought, which may be influenced by various primary as well as secondary diversity (such as work experience, skills, education, or communication styles).
  • Be intentional in ensuring diverse perspectives are represented in important discussions, decision-making, and initiatives: Prior to scheduling brainstorming or problem-solving meetings, review invitee lists to ensure that diversity will be represented.  Where internal reallocation of employees is required in adapting your business to the needs of the market, consider the mix of employees in driving innovation and creativity for that initiative.

Step 2: Ensure the required technology infrastructure is in place to foster an inclusive culture

Fostering a culture of diversity with inclusion is often challenging enough when employees are able to spend time together in the office, with opportunities to interact face-to-face.  The need for many employees to work remotely and to practice “social distancing” creates challenges, but also provides opportunities for organizations to implement new approaches and tools. In particular, this is a great opportunity for organizations to further leverage technology to tackle business challenges while building inclusive and high-performing culture.

For many years now, I have been working with remote and inclusive teams to tackle key business initiatives. I’ve found a few technologies particularly helpful:

  • Video calls: Encourage meetings to be conducted by video calls (rather than just audio calls).  The ability to see each other will encourage more active engagement and listening by participants.  It will also foster greater connectedness among participants relative to audio-only calls.  Some great video call platforms include: Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Webex;
  • Virtual whiteboards: Leverage tools that enable everyone to provide input and contribute ideas virtually, even while on video calls.  For example, Miro.com offers a virtual whiteboard.  Such whiteboards help facilitate the inclusion of ideas from all participants; and
  • Other collaborative tools: In addition to e-mail, see how you can leverage other collaboration, productivity, and messaging tools (such as Slack or PO-LING POWER) to communicate, move initiatives forward, and achieve goals as teams.

To be inclusive when leveraging such technologies, please confirm that all members of your team have access to and the ability to use these technologies. If they do not, help facilitate that equal access and training. This will allow everyone to be engaged, included, and productive.

Step 3: Be intentional with respect to your own inclusive behaviors

Culture is the sum of the individuals.  Therefore, to create an inclusive and high-performing culture, we must each be mindful of how we think, act, and interact with respect to inclusion. Many of the same behaviors apply whether you are working together in-person or collaborating remotely.

For example, here are some simple and effective tips for behaving inclusively with the technologies noted:

  • Ensure different perspectives are voiced: Have person(s) leading the calls or managing the collaborative platform actively encourage and solicit input from as many participants as possible to ensure that different perspectives are considered in tackling issues at hand. For example, the leader(s) should set expectations early on that each participant should be prepared to contribute and/or employ a “round robin” approach. Even if you are not the designated leader, where appropriate, ask those who have not had a chance to contribute for their perspectives and input;
  • Be present and actively listen: Remove distractions (such as phones) to focus on listening and being present in the discussion/forum. To indicate your active listening on a video call, lean in and look at the person speaking. (Even on video calls, people can tell if you’re paying attention or not!);
  • Recognize and explore ideas with merit, irrespective of contributor: Acknowledge ideas/input that are being contributed with visual cues (nodding head) and/or verbally recognizing (and attributing) what has been said. Explore ideas with merit, regardless of who contributes them; and
  • Understand individual circumstances and concerns: If possible, set aside some time on calls to discuss how team members are managing in this challenging environment and if there is anything with which they need help.  To the extent that anyone does not share, you may wish to consider scheduling a one-on-one discussion to ensure their perspectives, circumstances, and concerns are heard as well as understood. Doing so will build greater empathy and lead to more effective teamwork.

At the end of the day, we are all struggling through these times in our own ways. Let’s appreciate one another and what we each bring to the table. 

Diversity with inclusion is critical to navigating these challenges as organizations and as a society more broadly. Let’s conquer this together!