September 14, 2021

There have been extraordinary opportunities and challenges to advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) over the past 18 months. A roundtable session at last week’s SHRM21 Conference & Expo on “Building Effective Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategies for 2022 & Beyond,” explored how DEI efforts have progressed during the pandemic. Samia Kirmani, principal at Jackson Lewis P.C., and Joseph Morano, senior director, faculty/labor relations and legal affairs, Title IX coordinator and Diversity Council Co-Chair for The Culinary Institute of America, were among the panelists discussing the impact of COVID-19, as well as other challenges in the changing workplace.

Here’s an excerpt of their insights:

Have DEI efforts been helped or hurt by COVID-19?

SAMIA: During the middle of a pandemic, we went from #MeToo, to #BlackLivesMatter and the killing of George Floyd to #stopasianhate. All those things led us to this moment when more attention is being paid to trying to understand and advance diversity and inclusion within industries and organizations than ever before. Diversity and inclusion are no longer just words, they actually have meaning, and that’s really important because a failure of either can result in business mistakes. Businesses have begun to see DEI in a competitive light and are doing more than just the bare minimum.

When offices went remote due to COVID, all the scheduled in-person training pivoted right away to online training. That was a positive, and even with people now coming back to work, demand for remote training continues to skyrocket. Additionally, organizations now think of DEI in much broader terms than individual course training. There’s a recognition that they need to not only do training, but to also provide follow-up curriculums that facilitate discussions between managers and employees. People are saying, “We don’t want to stop with unconscious bias training, that’s level setting. We want more training sessions because employees are talking about DEI.” 

JOE: When looking at the last 18 months, everything has changed about the way we’ve had to move forward with diversity, equity and inclusion. One positive to come out of the pandemic was learning how to harness new technologies like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. A lot of companies were not so keen on working from home. Today remote learning is a game-changer. Although the future with COVID is still uncertain, I’m confident we’re in a better position to conquer whatever comes along because of this technology.

Doing everything virtually has been challenging. I’m looking forward to having one-on-one conversations and group discussions to supplement training. Gathering around the water cooler or passing people in the hallway can lead to some great DEI conversations — why something was shown in the training vignette, why a person reacted the way they did and why that’s a problem, and why situations still happen on campus and what can we do about it. 

Diversity is a whole different ball game today and it’s forcing organizations to evaluate their DEI strategy. Are they at the beginning of their journey and focusing on compliance to avoid being sued?  Are they even sure what the ultimate goal is? As the world evolves and more unfortunate events happen which spur everyone into action, more intense reflection, efforts and conversations will occur about how to move forward. I’m hopeful that organizations will work towards a goal of total inclusion because it’s the right thing to do and an embedded part of their culture.

Want to learn more from the DEI panelists?

Watch for our next blog on the roundtable session “Building Effective Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategies for 2022 & Beyond,” featuring Nichole Hoskins, director of people and culture at The Mars Agency. Nichole shares her perspectives on the steps organizations should take to lay the foundation for DEI success and maturity.

Sign up for a free trial of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Training course: 

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