The practices around diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are widely supported in principle but more action is needed, especially in the communications industry. So it’s regrettable that, given the COVID-19 situation, many companies are scaling back their DE&I efforts when those same circumstances are, if anything, presenting an opportunity for an urgently needed reset. 

CCOs need to be thinking holistically about what it means to manage all stakeholders through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion, including providing opportunities for employment growth and advancement on their communications team. This was the focus of a Page Hot Topics call earlier this week, led by Page chair and former Bechtel CCO Charlene Wheeless.

Here are some takeaways from that conversation:

  • Diversity is broader than gender or ethnicity.  Diversity encompasses the distinctions that make us human. As companies manage the changes in work that COVID-19 has accelerated, they need to think through how the changing conditions will impact diversity, equity and inclusion for all stakeholders. For example: 

          - Age. Are younger employees more susceptible to being let go and under more stress
             about that possibility? Are older ones less comfortable working and managing people
             remotely and less adept with the digital tools of virtualized work? Should the increased
             infection risk among older populations, or those with underlying health issues, affect
             strategy on a return to physical workspaces?

          - Gender. Are women under greater stress given the higher likelihood they’re balancing work
             with additional family care duties? (They are.) In what ways can we make sure this doesn’t
             disadvantage them professionally? 

          - Geography. What should staffing and recruitment look like if physical proximity to an office
             is no longer essential? What local cultural norms should be considered? For instance, work
             from home can be regarded as a benefit in the U.S. but may instead be seen in Europe as an
             intrusion on one’s private life and space. This is a considration in the response to the virus
             as one speaker called it a “patchwork pandemic.”
  • Emotional and mental health must be a priority. As one speaker said, we’re all experiencing COVID-19 in some way but not all in the same way. Many are grieving, if not the loss of loved ones, then at least a loss of social connection and maybe a way of life. Couple that with anxiety over job security, stress over work/life balance, and the natural fear of living through a pandemic and a lockdown, and there is a real risk of emotional burnout. Companies must have programs and channels in place to address this growing problem.
  • Diversity is the reality of the composition of your workforce; equity and inclusion are how you unlock the benefits of diversity. Remote work is allowing others to know more fully who they are, as pets and children make cameos on Zoom calls. This is great, but not everyone’s “whole self” is equally welcome when there are implicit biases at play. COVID-19 is also revealing systemic inequalities and inequities that need addressing, as well as opportunities for creating an inclusive culture where all people can feel empowered to be themselves.
  • Rewriting the corporate “narrative.” DE&I should be a core value, and as such should be woven into the corporate brand narrative. This helps it become part of critical discussions across the enterprise – HR, Marketing, Legal, Operations, Product, etc. – and puts it on the strategic agenda in terms of allocating resources. 

Page is proud to be supporting the Diversity Action Alliance and the industry commitment it asks of companies. More information will be coming on this soon. 

Special thanks to our guest experts on today’s call: Sheryl Battles of Pitney Bowes; Joe Cohen of AXIS Capital; Margenett Moore-Roberts of IPG’s Constituency Management Group, and Dr. Bey-Ling Sha of California State University, Fullerton.