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COVID-19 and Diversity & Inclusion

Let’s talk about COVID-19 and Diversity & Inclusion

COVID-19 and Diversity & Inclusion

Laura Hay | Leadership,

There is nothing more important than those who we hold near and dear to us, and moments like these really bring our true priorities to the forefront. We are all facing into important roles in our lives. My personal focus is being a loving mother, a caring wife, a patient caregiver to an elderly parent, mentor, coach, teacher and so much more. Of course these many and varied roles combined with day-in-and-day-out remote working really brings new meaning to work-life balance.

On the broader D&I front, it’s been noted that women are disproportionally impacted by COVID-191.  What I have observed, since COVID-19 really started to pick up in intensity around the world, is that the number of discussions, articles and social media posts around D&I seems to have declined. Clearly, previously organized in-person events have been cancelled or postponed out of necessity. All of this has raised several questions for me.

  • Has the D&I agenda been put on the back burner as very pressing matters like remote working have taken over company agendas?
  • Are women struggling with a new or current normal in terms of work-life balance, whether it be taking care of kids or others during the workday while trying to be productive themselves?
  • How is this impacting women from a mental health perspective, including and especially those who live alone that may be feeling socially isolated?

And there are so many more questions about how our women are coping in these extraordinary times. I have been thinking about all these questions for the women around the world as I myself live this new and highly unusual quarantined life.

Recently I participated in an executive leadership roundtable discussion entitled “Quarantined in its Tracks: Did Covid-19 end D&I Momentum?” This roundtable was sponsored by Kingsley Gate Partners and was comprised of executives and board members from a variety of different industries. I found the discussion fascinating and wanted to share a little bit about I heard with all of you.

  • All the companies who attended the conversation strongly agreed that an even more intense focus on D&I will be critical in a world where COVID-19 is impacting all of us
  • Companies that were deep in their convictions around supporting the D&I agenda are moving forward aggressively in their initiatives and flexing approaches from in-person to more virtual
  • Conversely companies that were not as deeply rooted in making a difference in D&I have de-prioritized D&I in the short term, with no specific plans on future re-engagement
  • Everyone has different circumstances that they are dealing with and it is important not to judge each other, but to support each other, in these confusing times
  • Finally there was a concern about moving backward - that we need to work hard to protect the strides that companies have made around D&I, like watching performance conversations for women that may have disproportionately been impacted by childcare responsibilities or simply mental health challenges triggered by this situation

I just came across an interesting article released on April 23rd in a publication called The Lily, produced by The Washington Post. It addressed gender-specific observations in the Education sector: “Women academics seem to be submitting fewer papers during coronavirus. ‘never seen anything like it’ says one editor. Men are submitting up to 50 percent more than they usually would”. The article goes on to quote Leslie Gonzales, a professor of education administration at Michigan State University “this [phenomenon] threatens to derail the careers of women in academia."2

What resonates with me about this article is that I honestly do not think this is just the education sector that is experiencing this issue. It is not true for everyone, but there is no doubt in my mind that women are more likely to be picking up more domestic duties - which in turn disproportionately impacts work productivity for women.

What this means is that we all need to be very sensitive to people’s individual situations when assessing performance, considering promotions and even making assignments on different and varied projects at our workplace. The last thing that we should be doing as managers, peers or team members, is judging women during these difficult and unforeseen circumstances. This is the ultimate in women needing to support women at all levels, in my mind.

There are of course many techniques out there for how to address circumstances around work-life balance, which is now an issue on steroids for some. I’d just like to share a few of my thoughts:

  • Speak up – try to make sure that if you are shouldering more at home, or are feeling like it is impacting your productivity, let others know how you’re feeling and brainstorm about solutions.
  • Set boundaries – maybe mornings, lunch-time or evenings are difficult times. You can establish work black-out times for you and let others know that you will not be available during those times.
  • Re-balance the load – you may wish to address re-balancing duties with other responsible parties in your household. This could be sensitive, but then again, it could be an opportunity.
  • Claim your space – set up specific areas in your home for work and try as much as possible to protect your space. Always best if a closed door is possible!
  • Involve your family – today more than ever, it may mean that you need to hold your child or even your pet while on a work call. Don’t apologize for it, just do it! Now more than ever people understand, or they should understand.
  • Share your work – this is not time to be superwoman, it is okay to delegate to get something done if you can. Maybe give a junior person a chance to work on something new under your guidance.

Finally let’s talk about others ways that we all can practice self-care for the betterment of ourselves first and foremost, give us strength to help others and to be productive contributors to our workplace and societies. Wow that is a boatload of giving! Here are ten tips for you to consider:

  1. Mentoring is on the rise – reach out to someone you admire for a one-time mentoring session (I’ve had a lot of these recently with women all over the world), or focus on your regular monthly or otherwise mentor and ask for some video-enhanced discussions.
  2. Make a schedule – just trying to adhere to some level of organization can make things feel even a little more normal.
  3. Meditate – if you meditate regularly, you’ve no doubt already embarked on more commitment here. But for those of you who have not tried it, now is a great time to start and there are many apps to support you.
  4. Forgive yourself – it is hard to balance everything and to be highly productive. Take the brakes off your self-talk and just live in it. At this point, many of us know someone who has passed or know someone who knows someone who has passed. This is stressful, let’s gives ourselves a break.
  5. Quarantine cocktail parties – I’m a fan and can I tell you a secret? I don’t even drink! Just connecting with some female pals can be a wonderful thing, I currently participate in a weekly cocktail party.
  6. Get out of your sweatpants – dress up a little, put on make-up and smile big for the video camera. It can change your mood to put on some nicer clothes and jewelry.
  7. Go outside – this one may be more or less difficult depending on where you live. Masks are a life saver, not a deterrent, in getting a little fresh air. Or even open a window and breathe in!
  8. Learn something new – I’ve always been a little afraid of technology, yes I admit it. So I’ve been challenging myself to learn a few new things each week. Video conferencing virtual moving backgrounds are my latest conquest.
  9. Read a book – in this technology era filled with more TVs, screens and devices, it is nice to sit down and just read. I’ve missed it and am enjoying coming back to it.
  10. Be thankful – this one speaks for itself!

I’ll end by saying that “this too shall pass”. It will likely take longer than we expected and that when it is finally over, we will all be facing into a new reality. I wish you and your loved ones safety and good health.

For more inspiring stories from women leaders in financial services visit home.kpmg/mindthegap.

Footnotes

Dishman, L. (2020, April 9). Women are disproportionately impacted by the economic fallout of COVID-19. Retrieved from this webpage.

2 Kitchener, C. (2020, April 24). Women academics seem to be submitting fewer papers during coronavirus. 'Never seen anything like it,' says one editor. Retrieved from this webpage.