The diversity dilemma of COVID-19: the unintended positive result for D&I

With businesses battling the immediate challenges of COVID-19 will the diversity agenda be pushed back or accelerated?

DiversityQ asked leading workplace practitioners how the current health crisis would impact the longer-term objectives of a more inclusive and diverse workplace. Here, Fiona Daniel, CEO and Founder of FD2I, and Co-Founder of Inclusive CEOs, shares her thoughts.

Diversity and inclusion thrive in adversity

Like most people, we have been glued to the screen following the daily updates regarding the ‘war against COVID-19’. A new language and words have entered everyone’s vocabulary some striking fear and division some highlighting the seriousness of the situation and the need to act.  

It will have an impact on the economy, society and our way of life. To what extent right now we do not know, it is quite ‘unprecedented.’ However, there is something which is clear; diversity and inclusion are more relevant than ever.

When fighting a crisis, other things tend to slip off the business agenda diversity and inclusion being one of the potential casualties.

In the face of adversity, diversity and inclusion thrive, because when different kinds of minds work together, challenges are much easier to overcome.

Diversity and inclusion a certainty for uncertain times

Right now, leaders are making decisions as they have never made decisions before. Decisions made in a crisis often calls for fast decisions, fast implementation with a lot of moving parts, uncertainty, fast-changing data and with no precedent to draw on.

This is not the time to make decisions alone, but it is at these times when the dreaded unconscious bias and reverting to type often creeps in.

The evidence is clear that diverse and inclusive teams have more creative ideas, solutions, fresh perspectives, make better decisions that lead to more innovation and better outcomes.

It is a struggle to understand why any organisation would take this off the table when these are key essentials for businesses who value innovation and divergent thinking, more so in times of crisis.

Most people are facing anxiety, stress, uncertainty, fear in these strange, unexpected times and are looking to their leaders to provide support and guidance. How leaders act today will have a profound impact on how they are seen and judged post the crisis. Those actions will influence their ability to attract and retain talent and impact their growth strategies which they will most definitely need on the other side of COVID-19.

Challenging times call for diverse actions to address the many varied situations business leaders and government are facing. When making business decisions in the current climate, leaders should ask themselves

•            How inclusive I’m I being?

•            Why I’m I including the individuals I have chosen in my decision-making process?

•            Who is excluded from my business decision making process?

•            Why I’m I excluding them?

•            What are the real and actual capabilities I need?

•            Who do I need to bring into my business decision process?

Leaders who connect to the diversity they already have by including more diverse employees in business decisions at all levels, will be well on their way in fostering an inclusive company and stand a better chance at coming out the other end.

Emotional intelligence and inclusive leadership in the new normal

Inclusive CEOs lead inclusive companies, and I believe there are three things which set them apart from other CEOs, these are how they Commit, Act and Lead© the core standards of Inclusive CEOs.

This crisis has tested CEOs and leaders to look at challenges differently to make as sound a decision as possible as quickly as possible and lean into their teams and specialists. But it is these three behaviours which serve as their compass, enabling them to rise to the challenge of a bigger cause above their business priorities to adapt and respond accordingly.

These three behaviours require a certain amount of emotional intelligence which post-COVID-19 will be more amplified than the traditional leadership capabilities. Inclusive behaviours and Emotional Intelligence will be integral in how decisions are made in business and how we lead, manage and work with others. Company leadership capabilities/competencies should include demonstrable behaviours such as;

  • Kindness, patient, understanding and being genuinely interested and curious about others
  • Empathy, listening and understanding others, ability to tap into the talents and motivations of their teams
  • Builds trust, empowers, influence and inspire others
  • Self-awareness including knowing own biases and triggers and taking action to minimise them
  • Caring and wellbeing of employees/others
  • Seeks inputs, connects, collaborates inclusively and recognise the contribution of everyone
  • Adapt and be able to take the initiative, persevere in the face of challenges
  • Positive mindset, courageous, skilled at easing uncertainty and managing own emotions
  • Role model inclusive behaviours

The D&I blueprint for COVID-19

The approach played out via the daily updates, mirrors the approach many D&I professionals have been implementing in UK Plc companies. Now we know it is truly effective, and there are no more excuses not to move from talking to action. We can see the many benefits too, with the removal of red tape, out the box thinking and so much more.

  • Strategic priority: Make it a strategic priority and on the strategic agenda.
  • Follow the Data: If you really want to create belief, facts and figures, quantitative and qualitative data is needed. Belief drives commitment and commitment drives action.
  • Collaborate: Work in partnership with subject-matter experts who are visible front and centre with leaders driving the activity.
  • Government Intervention: Government intervention provides teeth, more so when they set aspirational public targets!
  • Consistent message: Create a consistent and simple narrative the whole organisation can get behind with supporting behaviours. The more it’s said and demonstrated by the top, the more people will exhibit the behaviour.
  • Transparency: Provide a clear rationale for a course of action and what it means for all.
  • Consequence: Failure to comply carries a consequence, linking diversity and inclusive behaviours to performance and reward.
  • Connect with your front line: You may lead, but never forget who you are leading and who truly faces the customers/public and communities we serve. The decisions you make about them, without them, will be the breaking of the organisation. But the choices you make with them will be the making of the organisation.
  • Everyone has a role to play: Create opportunities for all to get involved and take action, equip them with the guidance, tools, resources and capabilities to do it.
  • Pressure from diverse communities: Stakeholder groups and employee networks are ideal for driving change and speaking up for underrepresented groups.
  • Plan forward: Workforce and succession planning and inclusion should always be at the forefront of strategic planning. This is not just about succession planning in senior or key roles; the reality is, it could be roles that until now, were never thought of as critical before.


Now is not the time to have diversity and inclusion off the table, we still need a different mindset and organisational transformation underpinned by diversity and inclusion now more than ever.

Diversity and creating a culture of inclusion and belonging, connecting all to a common shared goal is by far the best way to face adversity and win.

Who knows, maybe post COVID-19 diversity and inclusion will be given the respect it duly deserves.

Join us at the Women in IT Summit June 30 – July 2 to hear more from Fiona.

Fiona Daniel is a qualified diversity and inclusion practitioner, inclusive leader and D&I award winner with over 15 years’ experience of leading and growing the global diversity & inclusion agenda at HSBC, including leading the UK as the Head of Diversity and Inclusion.  After great success at HSBC Fiona founded FD2I, focused on driving action which aspires to move from diversity to inclusion and belonging. She is also the co-founder of Inclusive CEOs a first of its kind peer to peer member network.

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