The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new changes and accelerated already existing ones in the ways we all work and interact with one another within organisations as we adjust to the new ways of working and work at breakneck speed to manage and respond to the coronavirus emergency.
For many businesses, from small start-ups to large multinationals, the pandemic has meant switching from business as usual to survival mode. Corporate bosses who before COVID-19 focused on growth and hitting annual targets are now focused on stopping the carnage and leading their organisations out of life support.
Captains of industry who in early 2020 planned for takeover deals, are now struggling to keep their organisations afloat. Leaders across the world are utterly focused on the challenges facing their businesses. Yet as the survival of the fittest takes over the corporate world, we have worryingly started to hear, albeit privately, high-level executives whisperingly question whether we should still be prioritising diversity and inclusion during the current pandemic.
As I heard someone in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) of a bank recently say, ‘we just can’t talk to them [the leadership] about diversity right now. It doesn’t seem appropriate with all that’s going on‘.
Unquestionably, the current crisis is the most severe disruption most of us will have faced in our lifetime. The world is a different place, and even some fantastic leaders who lead their organisations exceptionally well in peacetime are facing unprecedented challenges leading through turbulent times.
From the different ways in which they engage and communicate with their diverse workforce in the midst of a global pandemic, to holding on to diverse talent through a major disruption. From working at breakneck speed to salvage the business, to ensuring employees remain well-informed, confident and looked after. Leading through turbulent times requires an entirely different set of skills that many leaders sadly lack, simply because they were never in a situation where they needed to acquire such skill sets.
But as the world starts to re-emerge from the crisis and we face the post-C world, it is more important than ever before for businesses to champion inclusive growth. Indeed, diversity and inclusion must be at the heart of our recovery plans in what Gary Hamel calls humanocracy and described as creating organisations that are resilient and daring, organisations that are as amazing as the people inside them.
The brave new post-pandemic world will require businesses to adapt and operational models to change to face the new realities. The presence of inclusive growth is crucial to challenge organisations to look at problems differently and consider a wider range of issues and impacts that they might otherwise miss to consider. For example, employees with school-age children or other family members to care for will require very different levels of support from employees without such obligations.
Adequate levels of support
How will leaders ensure that employees with specific needs receive an adequate level of support knowing that the failure to provide it risks alienating them from the organisation? As another example, with many people likely to continue working from the safety of their homes for the foreseeable future, how will leaders ensure employees retain their sense of organisational belonging, comradery and shared goals? It is easy to feel part of the company and its mission when one is sitting in an office surrounded by the optimism and dynamism of their colleagues. It is a very different thing to feel the same level of engagement when sitting at home and having a much-reduced level of communication with colleagues.
As we adjust to the new ways of working, interacting, collaborating and sharing information, a focus on inclusive growth will be crucial. How can leaders best navigate this transformation?
Roxana Mohammadian-Molina is Chief Strategy Officer and Board Member at London-based P2P lending platform Blend Network and sits on the Advisory Board of Women in Finance UK.