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Rethinking DEI Strategies in a Recovering Economy

By April 7, 2021No Comments
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As a polarizing election year played out in digital spaces, many companies watched as the pandemic laid bare the limits of their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. It makes sense–if protected class employees already operate with degrees of difficulty, it follows that they’d struggle the most during a period where the entire economy is suffering. And yet, the economy may be on the upswing: sectors across the States are reprioritizing rebuilding the workplace, and companies are busy mapping out their post-pandemic recovery plans. For many, this will mean a flurry of rehiring after over a year of layoffs and downsizing. 

However, given how the radical changes that the pandemic and a socially historic year have played out, it may be time to revisit your hiring process. Is your hiring sequence pivoting with the needs of the post-covid world? 

Start with HR

For a lot of companies, the year 2020 laid bare the weaknesses in HR policy, especially where diversity and inclusion is concerned. As protests erupted across the country and lockdown further exacerbated inflamed political tensions, firings for offensive behavior and threats of violence rose significantly, becoming routine stories in local media outlets. 

As you rebuild recruitment strategies moving into a post-covid world, take the time to strategize your diversity and inclusion initiatives. This of course will be unique from sector to sector, company to company. Sustained political and social unrest has taken a toll on most everyone, which means your workforce is probably exhausted, on top of everything else–unexpected childcare duties, reduced social outlets, sustained health vigilance, etc.–the pandemic brought to employees’ personal lives.  Inevitably these stressors show up in the workplace, potentially contributing to a toxic workplace and only act as further inhibitors for employees to stick around or onboard in the first place. Ask your HR team: how did the pandemic test the limits of your policy? Moving forward, how can policy shift to better support an environment where protected class employees will want to come back to work, or view your company as a welcoming and sustainable option for them in the first place? What do current and prospective protected class employees need to succeed? (Hint: it might have something to do with the next point.)

It may help to start with looking at exit interview data from any covid-layoff periods. Who was laid off? How did that shift your demographics, and how do those demographics shift or set back any previously established initiatives? 

Build hiring policy with remote work in mind

This may go without saying. As the world gets back to work, the question of whether companies will take what they’ve learned from a work-from-home workforce to heart or leave that era behind inevitably comes to mind. The answer may turn out to be somewhere in the middle–as vaccinated employees come back to the office, workforces may discover that they enjoy the option to work from home when it’s useful. Certainly, most companies have fully integrated the technology to make the “virtual office” possible: chat platforms and project management software will be the glue that holds a mixed workforce–part in person, part remote–together, if it hasn’t been already. On the other hand, in the case of the education sector, working remotely may not be a viable future, but there may be valuable lessons in observing how employees have behaved during this period anyway.

What does this have to do with DEI? Employees with protected class identities have a range of differing needs, and flexibility is often the key to working with those needs. Building in opportunities for employees to “take what they need” is a simple, ground-level way of creating equity without putting particular employees on the spot.

To that end, as “virtual offices” continue to be the lifeblood of companies transitioning back to office life, it’s important for hiring managers to know how employees function in online spaces. What are the standards of professionalism that is expected of an employee for virtual correspondence? Have those standards been codified with HR? If not, take a look at your social media policy–you may have all the answers you need there.

Utilize technology in your hiring sequence to weed out bad hires

At the end of the day, remote employees are still using the same tools as in-person employees. Utilizing technology to gauge how employees function online may be useful across the board. Conditions where your most vulnerable employees can thrive are conditions in which everyone can thrive. To that end, an online screening tool integrated into the background screening process may be beneficial for weeding out candidates with a history of intolerant or violent behavior. Remote employees are highly dependent on online communication, but the truth is that every employee, in-office or remote, is capable of offensive behavior that could hinder your company’s recovery. In a post-covid world, companies can’t afford to invest in bad hires that can both hinder DEI progress and create public relations headaches. Social media screening can help foresee potential red flags (think hate speech, violent threats, or sexual misconduct), which could be the difference between investing in a superstar employee and hiring a seemingly ideal candidate that provokes an HR headache down the road.

For more information on how to social media screening might benefit your organization check out our library of resources here.