In these challenging times, many companies are seeking authentic ways to increase equity and diversity initiatives within their organizations. Racial tensions in this country have reached an apex, and many US citizens are calling out for a reckoning. This turmoil is occurring in the middle of a pandemic. COVID-19 has caused major impacts across the globe, barreling us into remote work environments and instigating decreases in revenue within those industries that cannot nimbly pivot to a virtual format. With so many uncertainties, many of us are just trying to keep our heads above water. But one clear advantage to the “new normal” is that the increase in virtual teams has made achieving diversity and inclusion initiatives more attainable than ever before.
What is Diversity, Really?
We all are likely familiar with diversity initiatives and protected classes in the workplace. When considering diversity, there are key characteristics that first come to mind. But it is important to note that diversity goes beyond age, race, religion, nationality, gender (and gender identity), or sexual orientation. True diversity also includes considerations such as differences in personalities, ideologies, education level, and work experience (in general and/or within a specific field).
Organizations should seek to hire individuals with varying backgrounds, cultures, and mindsets to foster diversity on their teams. Now that businesses are increasingly going virtual, there is an opportunity to open the hiring pool to essentially anywhere. This allows the team to seek the very best talent, not limited to geography or proximity.
Benefits of Diversity
But why should we? Countless studies have shown clear benefits of increased diversity in the workplace.
The 2020 McKinsey & Company Diversity Study found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity financially outperform other companies that are not as diverse.
And the benefits are not just financial. The more homogenous a group is, the lesser the chance of bold, challenging ideas to emerge from that group – this is why diversity sparks innovation. As mentioned previously, people with different experiences and perspectives will naturally approach the same problem in unique ways. Thus, creativity abounds as a natural consequence of a diverse environment.
A good practice is to actively seek to increase diversity at all levels of the organization - not just at the individual contributor level but within the leadership ranks as well. In this manner, the benefits of diversity can proliferate throughout all levels of the organization.
The terms “diversity and inclusion” are very often lumped together as a single concept, but in fact they are two distinct values that complement each other. Once your virtual team is sufficiently diverse, it is imperative to ensure that all team members feel equally valued and included.
Show Consideration for all Virtual Team Members
Be cognizant of the timing for meetings; consider the time zones of your other team members. Do your best to avoid very early or very late meetings for anyone on the team, and try not to schedule over anyone’s lunch break.
Realizing this guidance may be untenable for multi-national teams across widely varying time zones, a good practice is to alternate meeting times. By doing so, it is not always the same group of team members having to rise at an unreasonable hour or be forced to “eat and meet” during a noon-time session.
If all else fails, consider offering the same meeting two or three times in various time slots to more easily accommodate everyone on the team. Each person is then afforded the opportunity for live interaction during the meeting as opposed to being relegated to watching a recording for a meeting they wanted to attend but were unable to because of scheduling.
Celebrate Good Times – Come On!
If your team members have varied cultural backgrounds, there are sure to be holidays and other events that are unique to certain associates which may be unfamiliar to others on the team. Herein lies an excellent opportunity to get to know one another better and appreciate other cultures that may be vastly different from our own. Again, the virtual aspects of work can make this easier to do.
Team members who are comfortable doing so can share elements of a special holiday or event with colleagues to the extent they feel comfortable doing so right from their living rooms. As we celebrate each other, we may find we are forging deeper connections and opening our hearts and minds to genuine curiosity and increased tolerance.
Lights, Camera, Action
During the pandemic, many people feel increasingly lonely or disconnected. This is exacerbated by shelter-in-place practices, social distancing, and contactless deliveries. When you consider that business meetings are frequently virtual right now, it can be extremely difficult to make personal connections. Consider implementing a company policy to turn on cameras during virtual meetings. Understandably, this may be tough to enforce, but the more associates make it a habit to use their cameras during meetings, the likelihood increases that this will become a part of the company culture and therefore second nature (equaling wider adoption).
Try turning on those cameras during virtual meetings to help build stronger human connections and actively appreciate the diversity on your team!
By: Dr Khatina Brunson