By: Licy Do Canto, Executive Vice President for BCW Global;
Why Embracing Diversity Will Lift Us Out of This Crisis Faster
– As an African-American public affairs, lobbyist and communications strategist, I have seen firsthand the impact of diversity and inclusion on organizational performance and success. But in my current role as Executive Vice President and Managing Director of one of the world’s largest communications firms, working with Fortune 500 companies, start-ups and everyone in between, I have never been more convinced that diversity and inclusion are critical for successful leadership and communications, especially in these extraordinary times of unprecedented crisis and uncertainty.
COVID-19 is the most serious health crisis the world has experienced in more than a century. As the multidimensional impact of this crisis mounts, leaders in the public and private sectors are taking urgent steps to manage the growing human toll and socio-economic fallout. Immediate action is critical, but easily lost amid the chaos is the opportunity for leaders to embrace a new agenda — one that is not temporary but permanent — aimed squarely at diversity and inclusion and what comes next.
The global pandemic has brought to the forefront in brutal fashion the structural inequalities that have long existed in our educational systems, in healthcare and in so many other facets of our lives and areas throughout our country. As Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation describes it, “The virus doesn’t discriminate between people, but the accompanying economic shock certainly does.” Despite large stimulus dollars from Congress, it is the least advantaged — communities of color and vulnerable communities — who are suffering the most.
The presence of diversity and the practice of inclusion is critical to challenge us to view problems differently and consider a wider range of issues and impacts that we might not otherwise.
Inequality is not just about individuals, it is about companies, too. And now is the time for business leaders to think about what kind of company they want their organizations to be, to examine not only how they could be more diverse and inclusive to employees but how they could be a better, more inclusive and engaged business for the diversity within their communities, customers and audiences who may be disproportionately impacted by this crisis.
As the winds of recovery begin to accelerate, organizations need to think about the new business climate they will face, the new psychology that will drive new priorities for both communities and business, and how they want to prepare and position themselves to lead and engage in it.
The COVID-19 crisis is forcing companies to rethink, rewrite and rebalance their social contract with employees, the communities they serve and shareholders. One key focus of this rebalancing must be to help companies accept the responsibility and embrace the opportunity the current moment provides to unlearn stale patterns, confront limited narratives and champion the “we” agenda that is the foundation of diversity and inclusion and is the necessary part of every company’s innovation and relevance.
“The virus doesn’t discriminate between people, but the accompanying economic shock certainly does.”
Now more than ever, the presence of diversity and the practice of inclusion is critical to challenge us to view problems differently and consider a wider range of issues and impacts that we might not otherwise. Diversity within communications and public relations is particularly important for companies as we oversee some or all of the strategic thinking and reputational risk management for many companies, and often serve as an essential voice in guiding the strategic communications direction of a company, especially during crisis. Ours is a critical seat at the table right now.
The positive impact of diversity and inclusion in all its manifestations is particularly powerful as businesses and communities come together to consider the myriad profound challenges directly affecting us all, especially the most vulnerable, and the smart solutions needed to help us adjust with urgency to the new realities of the world.
The crisis gives companies the opportunity to reevaluate the structure of work and support lasting changes to improve conditions for everyone. By extension, it also gives companies the opportunity to ask themselves who they help, what problems they solve and how they communicate their value. As Fiona Daniel, CEO and Founder of FD2I, a diversity and inclusion consultancy, puts it, “How leaders act today will have a profound impact on how they are seen and judged post the crisis.”
The COVID-19 crisis is forcing companies to rethink, rewrite and rebalance their social contract with employees, the communities they serve and shareholders.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1993, Warren Buffett highlighted the business failures exposed by the storm’s impact, famously saying, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.” The fallout from COVID-19 exposes—and threatens to widen even further—longstanding inequality in America and raises questions and places a spotlight on the behavior of companies and what role they desire to play during and in a post-COVID world.
Getting the right answers will require leaders to embrace a new and resilient diversity and inclusion agenda—one that is rooted in diverse professional expertise, diverse personal and life experience, and a willingness and commitment to be inclusive of other ideas. In times of crisis, business can knit the economy together, but it also can, and has a responsibility to, knit communities and people together, too.
Licy Do Canto, Executive Vice President for BCW Global
Licy Do Canto is Executive Vice President and Managing Director of BCW (Burson Cohn and Wolfe), the third-largest public relations agency in the world, where he drives healthcare policy and helps shape strategic direction on diversity, inclusion and belonging.#BCW is in the business of #movingpeople on behalf of clients. To learn more about BCW’s inclusive approach to recovery visit here.