While the world battles to heal itself, COVID-19 has revealed some hard truths about our biases and the widening gaps of inequality in this country.
The pandemic has injected the words “essential” and “nonessential” into our daily vocabularies to determine which businesses stay open, which employees can work from home and which employees are laid off or furloughed.
We must fight against the inclination to label diversity, equity and inclusion as “nonessential” at a time when it is more relevant and pertinent than ever.
An Outbreak of Microaggressions
Over the past few months, Chinese people around the world have found themselves under attack, verbally and physically. They have been maligned by some of the world’s leaders and their residents, and have had to passionately defend themselves against the claim that they are carriers of the so-called “Chinese virus.”
The result is an ugly wave of ignorance, naiveté and meanness that has been callously brushed aside. Rude, demeaning and alienating behavior is counterintuitive to the spirit of “alone together,” intended to embrace everyone – regardless of race, ethnicity, income or faith.
A Continued Commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Many businesses are laying off, furloughing or cutting the pay of employees, with a disproportionate number of these employees being minorities. Communications executives, who are charged with shaping, sharing and creating images, must take every step to ensure that the sorely needed diverse voices are not silenced or eliminated.
The number of diverse employees, at any level, at many agencies or within corporate communications is abysmally low. As companies seek to replace, hire or promote, executives must continue to push themselves to ensure a diverse pool of applicants and slate of employees who are eligible to rise up through the ranks.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Must Be in the Room
We are all working aggressively to communicate with our clients and our employees about how best to navigate this COVID-19 reality. What’s critically important during this rapid pace of decision-making is for diverse voices to be included in these conversations. The spirit of diversity allows us to listen and learn from people with different perspectives. It’s these new ideas, innovations and solutions that only happen when diverse people are in the room. If there is no diversity, then communications’ executives may be making decisions about messaging and imaging that fail to account for all factors, particularly since we live in a world that is more diverse than ever.
Now is the time to allow COVID-19 to serve as a tool for us to strengthen our resolve around the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion – not a time to ignore it as nonessential.
Neil Foote is president of the board for the National Black Public Relations Society. He runs Foote Communications, a media consulting firm.