Diversity and Inclusion Remain Important Initiatives

By Adrienne Way, Edcor Owner and CEO

Initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion may be among the business concerns that are being set aside due to the effects of coronavirus.

Right now, businesses face many concerns, all vying for the top of the priority list. The coronavirus has changed how businesses can operate, slowed demand for their products and services or accelerated the need for them. The coronavirus may have also pushed businesses into a survival mode, instead of keeping them in a growth cycle, and forced them to rethink forward-thinking initiatives such as increasing diversity and inclusion.

During this crisis, businesses must make decisions about how to safely operate in an uncertain environment, how to economically thrive in uncertain marketplaces, and how to have the right talent to recover from this health and economic crises. Maintaining diversity and inclusion initiatives could be a solution to these issues.

A McKinsey Report states that diversity and inclusion may not be a strategic priority during a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic. This is understandable when changing and adapting to current conditions is a top concern. However, the report states, “Companies pulling back on I&D now may be placing themselves at a disadvantage; they could not only face a backlash from customers and talent now but also, down the line, fail to better position themselves for growth and renewal.”

In the US which is becoming a more multicultural society, diversity and inclusion are important to business success. McKinsey’s 2017 data on diversity shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the lowest quartile. Companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity were 33 percent more likely to outperform companies that were in the bottom quartile.

Building diversity and inclusion helps companies maintain top performance and profitability through increased access to recruiting talent and the ability to retain talent that offers multiple viewpoints. Increased diversity and inclusion in workforces helps companies relate to an ever changing marketplace and customer base. Diverse workforce talents can offer perspectives that inform creative flexible thinking and problem solving. Businesses that strategically develop their workforce will be strong, resilient and rebuild the economy after the coronavirus pandemic.

Businesses that offer education benefits to their employees are in a position where they can use their benefits to design their future workforce. Offering tuition assistance to employees increases the diversity of students that attend school. Business that need employees with specific skills and knowledge will benefit when diverse employees use these benefits. For example, the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board data shows that Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in graduate schools, especially in STEM field. Supporting these student enables businesses to build a workforce that mirrors the US population in diversity and inclusion, while building a talent base. Minority students represent “a rapidly increasing segment of the population that will be needed to sustain the economy, and they need to have the knowledge and skills”  to do that, said JoAnn Canales, dean in residence at the Council of Graduate Schools.

Building gender equity also will build a faster recovery after the pandemic is over. Tuition assistance can help women become qualified for higher work positions and responsibility, as well as overcome barriers such as salary inequality. Women often fill low- and medium-paid jobs, and a large percentage work in manual labor. Past economic recoveries show that these jobs often disappear and are replaced with jobs that require more education and skills. Women often face greater economic challenges paying for higher education. Most single parents are women. Childcare and family expenses leave little money for higher education costs. A tuition assistance plan that supports women will strengthen this segment of the population and ensure they are a viable part of the economic recovery.

The path for economic recovery is uncertain right now. However, to ensure that all employees, including women and minorities, can access higher education is an insurance policy. Education benefits will attract talented employees. Education benefits will help businesses retain talented employees. Business will benefit from diversity and inclusion and a workforce with multiple abilities and perspectives that can face uncertain conditions and problem solve effectively.