Diversity and Inclusion

COVID changes: paving the way for DEI

Courtney Thompson
April 1, 2021

Last fall, I shared an insight about how the COVID-19 pandemic was changing us for good—“good” meaning for forever and for the better. I’ve been thinking about these changes in relation to companies’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts.

Paving the way for DEI culture shifts

DEI, as we know, focuses on fairness and belonging. A key part in making this happen is recognizing and respecting cultural diversity—ways of being that are different from our own. From this we gain new thinking, learning and solutions—and new ways to understand and appreciate one another.

Here are three ways the COVID-related changes in your workplace can help pave the way for DEI culture shifts:

1. We’ve been open to change. For more than a year now, all of us have been working in new ways—adhering to new health and safety protocols in work environments, working in new locations and settings, cobbling together multiple work spaces at home, and learning virtual working platforms like WebEx, Zoom and MS Teams. All of this required a lot of flexibility and patience within each of us, our families and our colleagues.

2. We’ve gotten personal. Through virtual meetings, many of us have been guests in each other’s homes for some time now. We know what Zoom backgrounds we use, what our home offices look like, and even the names of spouses, partners, kids and pets. And in many cases, we’ve “met” them—often unintentionally—in the background of a meeting. We’ve not worn makeup, or a collared shirt, sport coat or tie. Our hair may not be perfect—in fact most often, far from it and in need of a trim! And it’s been great. It has been friendly and natural. It may be remote, but it has gotten personal.

3. We’ve been vulnerable and willing to problem-solve in real time. We are now so much more comfortable showing our fallibility, making mistakes and finding solutions together in real time. It is now very OK not to be scripted, in a controlled 100% quiet space, or in typical office attire. It is now normal not to come off as perfect.

Embracing change to move the DEI needle

We have had to become more open and accepting of one another in so many ways—open to who you are and where you are—both literally and figuratively. We are all a little bit freer. And ironically, this occurred while we were holed up in our homes.

Let’s take this knowledge and apply it to our DEI efforts and platforms. We have begun to share something much closer to our “full and authentic” selves.  

Here are some steps you can take that ROC Group has been using to bring these traits to life for our clients:

Use inclusive language as suggested here by my ROC Group colleague, Erin Gorman

Demonstrate understanding by using personas (research-based representations of your target audiences) when crafting communications

Create training/support materials for managers that foster these traits in team meetings

Encourage leadership to be authentic with “at-home” style videos

Communicate your DEI goals and progress to date, and be open about finding a path forward together with the understanding that it is a journey, and there will be missteps along the way

Have you seen other ways that this pandemic has impacted DEI efforts?

Courtney Thompson
Managing Consultant
A former communications executive at Boeing, Courtney Thompson has spent nearly two decades helping large employers communicate with clarity and urgency during a wide range of crises and change.