A new whitepaper from a faculty researcher at University of Phoenix College of Doctoral Studies looks at the unequal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color and the opportunities for businesses to take clear steps to implement and grow diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts as they restructure and rebuild. The paper represents work with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce along with a number of corporate partners including Amazon, Cox Communications and Southwest Gas.
The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which underrepresented groups suffered the highest percentage of illnesses, deaths and job losses, called attention to the racism and inequality embedded in our existing social structures. This message was further solidified in the police shootings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as well as the massive nationwide protests that followed.
Kimberly Underwood, PhD, MBA, Associate Faculty member in the School of Business at University of Phoenix and co-author Dr. Mike Slavin wrote that this spotlight on the nation’s inequality forced businesses into a moment of reckoning. “In this environment,” they write, “many major companies have expanded their corporate social responsibility paradigm to include social consciousness and forward thinking on how to leverage their positions to support social equity and justice.”
This historic moment, the authors explained, offers an opportunity for companies to rethink how they value and promote employees. The time is also ripe to consider how they can strengthen and grow productivity and financial success by driving DEI initiatives and hiring practices.
As companies compete for new investments, they are increasingly expected to show how they are actively advancing DEI initiatives in their organizations. Studies show that a diverse business is more likely to be a financially sound investment. Whether looking at gender, ethnic or cultural diversity within organizations, a study by McKinsey & Company found a direct link between diversity and profitability.
Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC) said in the whitepaper that “in addition to taxes, costs of doing business, incentives, labor analytics, there’s now a component of DEI. New companies want to assess whether we’re sitting it out or if we have really strong projects advancing access. That’s now in the RFI process, and that was not the case a year and a half ago.”
The whitepaper proposed six areas of opportunity for businesses to start DEI work in earnest and make actionable progress. The authors noted that this is really about “transformational change” which is a long-term effort and won’t happen after a single training session.
Businesses must first make a business case for DEI, communicating effectively what it is and its strategic importance for business success. The authors recommended that companies offer training sessions and workshops to introduce DEI concepts and provide employees with a means to contribute to the conversation. This is about shifting the culture, the authors explained, with leaders sending regular signals about the “types of thinking they encourage.”
The whitepaper defines inclusive leadership as being where all stakeholders are treated equitably, feel a sense of belonging, and receive support to help them pursue their career goals. This means that every member of an organization has a valuable role to play in creating a more diverse workplace and inclusive company culture where everyone is valued.
To achieve this, companies may require leadership training as well as new recruitment strategies and the development of holistic plans. “We look at DEI at all levels of the University, including our leadership team and people leaders,” said Dr. John Woods, provost for University of Phoenix. “We look to identify those areas where we might need to give more attention and awareness in hiring or promoting and develop action plans around that.”
Creating an inclusive workplace culture is a long process and can have its successes and failures. The whitepaper’s authors expressed that this is part of the process. “The beauty of the journey is that it is about continuous growth,” said Leila Zaghloul-Daly, PhD of Arizona Public Service. The important thing is for companies to be transparent, admit their strengths and weaknesses and remain open to input.
There’s a difference between implementing DEI initiatives and creating an organizational culture of belonging, but it’s the latter that should be an organization’s ultimate goal, the authors wrote. In order to achieve belonging, which is linked to “enormous benefits for individuals and companies…a 56 percent increase in job performance,…[and] a 50 percent drop in turnover risk,” it must be clear that DEI is a strategic priority and is reflected in leadership and stakeholders.
For DEI efforts to succeed, they can’t happen in a silo. The authors shared that these initiatives must “impact every facet of a company, spanning depth and breadth” and include all members of the organization.
The authors saw the transformational effects of DEI efforts as impacting not only the company itself but the broader community. This is about driving real positive change and “strengthening the communities from which it draws both talent and customers, creating positive feedback.”
This applies to not only drawing from a diverse candidate pool for open positions but also evaluating supply chains to find opportunities to promote diversity. The process requires holding other companies accountable. Camacho profoundly shared, “It becomes a truly civic expectation where these companies large to small raise their hand and say, ‘I’m committed to this.’”
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