Why Moving Diversity Forward In Talent Acquisition Is More Important Than Ever

Diverse workers have been a casualty of the economic downturn, but it doesn’t have to be this way

There’s no denying the harsh professional reality of the pandemic — an estimated 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment in just two months. Many of those workers have been furloughed or laid off, and it’s unclear if they’ll have jobs to return to. On one hand, some companies don’t have the capital to hang on until society returns to “normal”. J. C. Penney is just the latest retailer to file for bankruptcy in recent weeks, and small businesses across many industries are threatened. But for black, brown, LGBTQ, Veterans and differently-abled workers, a different set of circumstances could leave them on the sidelines — employers using COVID-19 to pivot away from diverse hiring.

The fear is that, as companies assess their bottom lines and look for ways to cut costs in the face of the economic downturn, diverse hiring initiatives will be among the first programs to go. This was already a concern before the pandemic. In early May, several current and former Google employees called the company out for scaling back or shuttering its diversity and inclusion training programs.

Now, it will be easy for companies to justify the cuts, not as a lack of commitment to inclusion, but as a last-ditch effort to save their businesses. However, if companies really want to safeguard their profits for the post-pandemic future, they should turn toward diversity, not away from it.

Companies with diverse employees tend to emerge stronger after recessions, compared to companies with more homogenous employee populations. Among the many reasons, these teams have a mix of perspectives, ideas, and opinions to pull from. Imagine a company attempting to reach out to a COVID-19-ravaged community of color, but without any people of color on staff. The message could be perceived as tone-deaf or irrelevant. With people of color in the room making decisions and pitching ideas, the company can craft a message that resonates and connects.

Diverse companies also tend to attract and retain more board members, who help steer a company’s more critical financial decisions.

If companies use this time to drop the ball with diversity and inclusion, the danger is that irreparable damage will be done. There’s already a perception gap about diversity’s importance in the workplace — we’re still doing the work of proving to leaders why it matters. If programs and initiatives disappear, this becomes an even steeper uphill battle.

But perhaps what’s most troubling is the pool of extremely talented and valuable candidates who will be left behind. It goes beyond their inability to earn a living and care for themselves and their families. They’ll miss out on opportunities for professional growth, and both the companies and the public will miss out on opportunities for groundbreaking innovation.

If we cut these programs and we turn our backs on diversity and inclusion, we also turn our backs on a brighter future. The new “normal” will be one without collaboration, without bold, new ideas, and without a workforce that reflects the people it serves.

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Founder/Principal of Diversity Forward Talent Solutions and OutNSocial