Written by Lilian Kikuvi, Commtractor and Diversity & Inclusion Evangelist, harnessing the gifts of diversity and inclusion for individuals & organisations.

 As the pandemic, recession and systematic racism takes centre stage, we are faced with multiple crises. I have spoken to a number of Australian leaders from various sectors and they say that it is challenging to support their people and business in this period. It has been a season dominated by infection and death rates, shattering economies, and staggering unemployment figures due to COVID-19. And just when we think it cannot get any worse, the enforced lockdowns and isolation in Australia are causing what many are calling the ‘silent pandemic’. It is marked by significant mental health ramifications reported by the Black Dog Institute; an increase in gender based violence as predicted by the UN Association of Australia, and a spike in alcohol and substance abuse that was anticipated by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.

The pandemic is a major threat to the marginalised populations. The Australia Institute, Centre for Future Work reported that the pandemic will most likely compound inequality. This means that we will see further regression of disadvantaged groups like the indigenous population, people with disability, culturally diverse individuals, and the LGBTQI+ community. This is deeply concerning for many of us who are in these marginalised groups.

In the midst of the pandemic, Australians cannot ignore the loud and strong call to action to end systematic racism. A call to action that has been amplified by the Black Lives Matter and Aboriginal Lives Matter movements. Many of us are impacted directly by institutional racism. For a long time, most of the responsibility for driving change has been assigned to the victims of racial discrimination and oppression. This is a huge burden to bear by the racial minority who are part of a community that prides itself on being a multicultural society. The recent events have caused a notable shift in the number of people now involved in questioning the entire premise of power and dominance. There are high expectations for leaders, institutions, and individuals to step up and end racism.

How can organisations support their people during an era of multiple crises? I believe one solution is ramping up diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts. Harvard Business Review published a report that encourages businesses to modify their D&I activities to the reality of the pandemic. I believe the same approach needs to be taken to address systematic racism. This adjustment requires employers to go beyond their traditional approach and develop a D&I strategy that focuses on the real issues at hand.

Unfortunately, many businesses have chosen to cancel or postpone their D&I activities as they are considered non-essential services in the present period. I believe, now more than ever, organisations need to do the exact opposite. The nature of D&I work needs to evolve and accelerate in order to address the challenges at hand. This is an opportune time for organisations to work closely with their D&I practitioners to fully understand the new and rapidly changing context, and the unique and diverse experiences of their employees. It is critical that this information is used to redesign the D&I strategy to guarantee that it is current and fit for purpose. This approach will ensure that employers are able to look after their most important asset, their employees. It will also position the business to maximise on the evidence-based benefits that D&I has to offer, for example, improved staff health and wellbeing, staff retention and attraction, profitability, productivity, and performance.

Is your organisation’s D&I strategy current and fit for purpose? Is it delivering the benefits that are on offer to your organisation and your people?

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