While COVID-19 dominated headlines over the past year and drove the bulk of most HR leaders’ work, it wasn’t the only issue changing the world of work. As the pandemic gained steam in spring 2020, so too did the push for greater corporate action on diversity, equity and inclusion, particularly in the wake of several high-profile killings of unarmed Black victims—an evolution that, in many organizations, found its footing in 2021.
Companies turned to a range of avenues to deepen their DE&I commitment: from hiring chief diversity officers to becoming more adept at using people analytics to hire and advance diverse employees. Just as they have throughout the pandemic, many also urged their employees to cope with the fallout of the social unrest over the last year by relying on the organization’s employee assistance program, says Dr. Marlette Jackson, global director of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion at Virgin Pulse.
However, many of those programs historically lack diversity, making the effort moot, Jackson says.
“If the EAP providers are not diverse and don’t have that lived experience, they won’t be as helpful for minoritized folks, and their ‘support’ can actually be detrimental,” she says. “We have to have a proportionate amount of EAP providers who can connect with your employees on a deeper level of that life experience and who have the cultural competency to navigate these really sensitive conversations.”
Another potential misstep some employers confronted this year involves the value of incentivizing and rewarding minoritized employees, Jackson says, “who are doing the emotional labor of your uncompensated DEI work.”
As companies increasingly recognize the value of DEI initiatives, they’re often turning to employees themselves—BIPOC individuals, LGBTQ folks, disabled employees—to lead the work.
“Sometimes, they just don’t want to do it,” Jackson says. “Sometimes, folks are like, ‘Yes, I’m Latina and an engineer but right now I don’t have the bandwidth or the expertise to be your DEI manager, or lead your DEI council or be your DEI recruiter or run your Hispanic/Latinx EIG.’ And that’s completely OK.”
Taking on the added responsibility isn’t just a logistical challenge for many employees, but an emotional one, as they have a personal and often painful connection to the work they’re being asked to do. When employers don’t recognize the emotional stress that places on their minoritized employees, it compounds the issue, Jackson says.
Organizations should adopt new models of compensating DEI volunteers: additional pay, PTO bonuses, new development opportunities, the incorporation of DEI into performance evaluations.
Virgin Pulse recently started a Pulse Points program that rewards employees for DEI work with points that can be used to lower insurance premiums or to support donations for charities of the employee’s choice.
“It’s about saying, ‘You’re doing this for our company so we should reward you and issue you something that’s tangible in exchange for your work,’ ” Jackson says.