As employers around the nation grapple with how to safely reopen their doors amid the coronavirus pandemic, racial justice protests sweeping the nation are presenting HR leaders with another challenging dynamic. The quickly changing situation is affecting employers in myriad ways—and could involve questions of employee safety, as well as ignite workplace conflict, impact engagement and exacerbate already record levels of mental health strain.

While experiences vary, says Jason Averbook, Leapgen co-founder and CEO and HRE columnist, there is a universal truth that the nation has a “history of devaluing life in marginalized communities and recognizing just how deep that runs.” The spark that has ignited the recent unrest—the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by law enforcement—is “terrifying, unsettling and the elephant in the room.”

HR leaders need to speak about that.

“Take a stand for equality, justice and fair treatment for all,” Averbook says. Employees want to know, and be shown, what their company stands for: Do they support change? Do they support their black employees? Are they giving them space to mourn? Has leadership offered resources?

“It is important to make it clear that you are an ally,” Averbook says. “It is not an us-versus-them, an anti-police or pro-police, or a black-versus-white thing. This is about doing what is fair and right in a time of monumental change. This is about protecting humanity: your neighbor, your colleague, your friend.”

Related: Is ‘belonging’ the new ‘D&I’?

Addressing systemic racism in the midst of a global pandemic is a challenge of great magnitude for HR leaders, he adds—and there is no quick fix. The impact of the current environment on HR—and their planned responses—are the subject of Leapgen’s pulse survey this week, conducted in partnership with HRE; click here to take the short survey.

Whether employees are working remotely or returning to workplaces, now is the time to do the work on diversity and inclusion, Averbook says. Have the tough conversations, ensure there’s room at the table for diverse voices, ask for help from experts on diversity—across organizations and industries—and use technology like AI to root out bias in hiring and other areas.

Take the survey: Weigh in on HR’s role in the social unrest

“These protests go beyond politics—this is about people being heard,” Averbook says. “Employees are returning to a workplace where the need for feeling safe and secure has drastically changed around health, physical and economic security. CHROs can remind everyone that listening is the foundation of great leadership and mutual respect.”


Check back for more from HR leaders and how they’re responding to the social unrest. If you’re an HR leader with ideas to contribute, contact us at