Now more than ever, applying an equity lens to leadership and decision-making is essential.

In times of crisis, it’s easy to stop or disregard diversity, equity and inclusion work as less relevant or an unnecessary luxury. But now more than ever, applying an equity lens to leadership and decision-making is essential.

Here are six ways you can apply an equity lens to your organization in times of crisis.

  1. Use Inclusive Communication. In a crisis, it’s easy to resort to ‘telling’ communication: “Leadership met; here’s where we are; here’s what you’re going to do.” An equity lens in communication means first asking and listening, and then responding. Ask what people are experiencing and needing. Listen to what people say without interrupting, explaining or telling. Respond by explicitly addressing people’s concerns in your follow-up communications.
  2. Honor Differences in Response. Different people, communities and cultures have different ways of handling stress and expressing emotion. An equity lens respects all responses, not just the ones we’ve historically deemed “professional.” Allow space for both the doomsday-predictors and deniers. Recognize the highly-distracted and hyper-focused. Acknowledge both the expressive emoters and stiff-upper-lippers.
  3. Coach on Working Remotely. Not everyone is comfortable with technology. Helping your team be successful in this environment takes more than, “Here’s the link to our Zoom meeting. Follow the instructions for downloading.” Coach your people on Technology 101, the etiquette of phone and video conferencing, and practical ways to be productive while working at home amid multiple distractions. Allow time for some people to process new ways of working virtually.
  4. Community Relations. We’ve all received them – the “Our Response to COVID-19” emails, many of which are generic in content. An equity lens means being transparent, clear and specific so that your constituents have the relevant information they need. Explain how you are caring for your people, which products, programs and services continue to be available, how you are handling your suppliers and vendors, and how and when you will continue to communicate.
  5. Reductions in Force. If reducing your workforce is necessary because of declining revenue, consider the economic situation of your employees, and explore the pros and cons of furloughs vs. lay-offs. Ask your employees about their situation and needs. Furloughs allow people to remain employed with reduced hours and access to benefits, and be quickly re-activated when business picks up again. Lay-offs sever the employment relationship, enabling people to seek unemployment.
  6. Paying Vendors and Suppliers. When making decisions about paying vendors when revenue gets tight, consider the financial capacity of smaller businesses to weather financial storms. While striving to honor your commitments and being fair to everyone, an equity lens recognizes the possible differential impact on some businesses. Pay attention to under-represented groups such as women-, minority-, veteran-, disability-owned and emerging small businesses.

What are your thoughts and experiences of applying an equity lens to your organization in a crisis?

Thomas Bruner, Bruner Strategies and Lillian Tsai, TsaiComms