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Diversity + (Virtual) Inclusion Are More Important Than Ever

Empowering Employees Through ERGs

April 27, 2020

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed the way we work. It’s changed the way and frequency in which we interact with our families, community members, colleagues, businesses and customers. It’s even changing us — in ways we may not yet realize.

When our routines, expectations and assumptions are pulled at the seams, we must be particularly mindful: of which qualities we want to hold onto, which habits and traits we want to strengthen, which individuals are at greatest risk and how we can safeguard the success and wellbeing of all employees.

Virtual inclusion solutions are more important now than ever, in part because they provide ways to help employees thrive in diverse environments and ultimately support our customers. Here are a few ways my colleagues and I are leaning in to bring value to the organization.

Stay the Course

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are part of our DNA at Principal because we know we’re best positioned for success when we have a diverse but tight-knit workforce in which everyone has an opportunity to do their best work. The way in which we deliver some of our short-term D&I solutions will shift in response to the current crisis. But our long-term and steady commitment remains unchanged — as have the core values that underpin every decision we make, including doing what’s right, focusing on the customer and owning and investing in the future.

The guiding principle is to adapt in ways that are necessary, but hold on to what’s essential. In many respects, this is a similar message to the one our financial professionals have been offering to investors: Stay the course.

Help People Be Apart, Together

Although we’re all going through this crisis together, social distancing measures have us feeling farther apart both physically and socially. The D&I team can play an important role in sustaining community and helping employees adjust to their new reality. Inclusive organizations are finding ways to support the workforce broadly, while also identifying and supporting individuals with unique circumstances. The spirit of the social distancing philosophy is really about physical distancing, not social distancing. eSocializing has become one of our new norms. Our teams are utilizing technology to stay connected via eCoffee chats, eLunches, eDinners and even eHappy hours.

Our team has taken many community-building activities online and published articles on thriving in a remote work environment. We’re hosting virtual sessions on financial wellness and mental health to help colleagues navigate stress. A new global mentoring program — already in the works prior to the crisis — will help employees connect with and learn from colleagues around the world.

Employees who are disproportionately impacted by this crisis could include single parents; people with disabilities; people of color; people who struggle with depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses; employees who face barriers of language or technology and even extroverts. There are as many ways to support these coworkers as there are coworkers — but a guiding principle is flexibility. Workplace flexibility has long been a driver of inclusion.

Listen + Interpret

During challenging times, it’s essential to hear what our customers and employees are saying and more importantly, to hear what they’re not saying. Inclusive organizations encourage transparency by modeling transparency — in this context, that means being open about the ways the crisis is impacting the organization and the ways we may have to adjust. Another inclusive step for garnering feedback: Don’t forget to ask! Start with open-ended questions like, “How can we help?” and “What do you need?”

Our team is focused on empowering employees to share feedback and ideas — and our mission is to use the ideas to bring added value to the organization.

Principal’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are an important channel through which we gather and respond to feedback. These groups provide a supportive environment for employees to focus on issues such as gender equality, LGBTQ+ issues and racial equality, while enabling all abilities and valuing military experience. These groups help employees from all backgrounds to feel welcomed and add to the culture — and during difficult times like now, they are a safe place to share challenges and fears and to learn how others are coping with like situations. They’re also channels for understanding the needs of our customers.

We are continually developing and refining intentional processes that empower our ERGs to identify innovative ideas, connect ideas to business needs and drive business outcomes.

Focus On What’s Best For the Customer

Many organizations, including Principal, are shifting their processes and policies to support customers and communities who are hit hard by this crisis. Although D&I teams may not be directly involved in these business decisions, they can draw on their deep understanding of customers and employees to provide valuable insights.

One company that has clearly identified an area of need and responded quickly during this crisis is Accenture. They saw that many companies in the U.S. and abroad were laying off employees due to COVID-19, while other companies had a surge in demand for talent. Accenture partnered with a large group of Chief Human Resource Officers to develop People + Work Connect, an AI-driven platform that connects companies laying off employees with companies looking to fill positions. This is a win-win solution that helps companies minimize harm to employees during an already difficult time.

Create a Better Norm

Like many of my colleagues in the D&I space, I’m an optimist by nature and by profession. Simply put, my job is to make life better for everyone. So, I approach every situation as an opportunity to preserve or improve. COVID-19 is not wasted on us. I’m encouraged that many of our best traits are being amplified: Creativity, adaptability, resilience. And we will continue to nurture those traits, even after the crisis has passed. A new norm is not enough. Let’s create a better norm.

You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.

Find these tips useful? Find more business tools and information by visiting the Business Resources page.

Miriam Lewis

Miriam Lewis is chief inclusion officer at Principal Financial GroupĀ®. She is responsible for strategies that foster a more inclusive workplace, increase employee performance, drive better customer outcomes, and ultimately improve business results. She also serves as chair of The American Council of Life Insurers' D&I strategy group.