We’re all aware (and if you get CNN text alerts to your phone, very very aware) of the increasing impact of COVID-19, or “Coronavirus,” around the globe. Best practices and opinions range from “everyone is overreacting” to “time to go into the bunker.” Regardless of your personal reaction to the epidemic, the emerging situation can have Inclusion impacts at work and beyond.
In the context of Diversity & Inclusion, here are five things to consider about the outbreak:
1. Taking precautionary steps can be about the greater good.
It can be helpful to remember that precautions and protocols aren’t necessarily put in place to solely benefit individuals. In an outbreak, the concern becomes systemic. It can help to elevate your thinking beyond the likelihood (or unlikelihood) that you or someone you know will be exposed, and to focus on the healthcare systems that can be overloaded and under resourced during events like this. By taking extra precautions, even if they seem overwrought, we are minimizing the potential strain on the entire health system by minimizing our exposure to ANY illness, not just COVID-19.
2. Try not to minimize people’s reactions.
How you process stress and conflict is likely different than the person sitting next to you, or than members of the team that you manage. Even if you are skeptical of the hype around the outbreak, consider keeping it to yourself. Other people may have different factors that increase their vulnerability in an outbreak situation - things like suppressed immune systems, vulnerable children or family members, or past trauma with illness and disease. Even without those extenuating factors, we aren’t allowed to dictate how others process or deal with their stress. If you’re concerned about panic, consider constructive ways to manage reactions. Offer meditation apps as a temporary benefit, provide access to balanced and scientific news sources, or remind employees of any available mental health benefits.
3. Maintain awareness of how this may impact individuals in different ways.
Beyond the stress, the actual precautionary measures can have an impact on individuals in different ways. This is a great moment to consider the identities that you hold and those that you do NOT hold (for those who have been through a Nova training, use the MICE method!). For example, if you are able-bodied you likely don’t have the perspective of an individual with a disability and how they will need to navigate new protocols. If you have an emergency savings account, you aren’t necessarily thinking of someone without a safety net and what income insecurity might mean for them. As your organization reacts to the ongoing situation, invite those perspectives into the conversation if they aren’t already included.
4. Use this as an opportunity for self-reflection.
As you build perspective in your response to the outbreak, there is an opportunity to learn and grow from what we may or may not experience in times of crisis. When our systems are so heavily impacted, it can shine a light on privilege and marginalization in ways we don’t often see. And as you or your family prepare and take necessary precautions, consider this experience as an opportunity to build empathy towards any individual or community experiencing crisis. What would or wouldn’t you do to stay safe, and to ensure your family stays safe?
5. Get creative and adaptable in continuing your work.
As we feel out the situation day-by-day, do your best to maintain your program’s momentum. “Soft” programs like Diversity & Inclusion can be the first to falter, while things like sales meetings, numbers reporting, and other “Hard” business functions run full speed ahead. Advocate for your program and find creative ways to keep the work moving forward. Consider webinars, video-based learning cohorts, or other forms of virtual learning. This work is critical and has top and bottom line impact - don’t let the powers-that-be forget that!
At Nova, we are thinking of all of you in the Diversity & Inclusion, Human Resources and Talent spaces as you are thrown into the work of maintaining calm and order during global crisis. We hope you are able to take care of yourselves and protect your own health as a priority.
Additional resources and reading on health, safety, and the intersection of COVID-19 and Inclusion: