COVID-19 Spotlight on Communities of Color
Diversity and Inclusion Must Be Strengthened Amid Pandemic
As we continue navigating our “new normal,” diversity and inclusion will undoubtedly need to be a critical component of any forward-thinking office culture. Perhaps more importantly, cultivating inclusive spaces in the workplace that celebrate our differences and unique skill sets not only makes “business sense,” but “common sense” - simply put, it’s the right thing to do.
Recent developments, none so highly-profiled as the global pandemic, have made this ever more prominent in both our personal and professional lives. The COVID-19 crisis forced many of us to adopt new habits and lifestyle changes in a broad attempt to mitigate future outbreaks. Unfortunately, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted during this time.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that African Americans account for 30 percent of COVID-19 deaths, despite the fact that they represent only 13 percent of the population in the US. There are a multitude of systematic and often underlying issues at the root of these findings, including inadequate housing, lack of access to healthcare and close living quarters. Additionally, African Americans and Latinx communities comprise a vast majority of the essential workforce, often operating in low-paying, frontline roles in food service, hospitality and healthcare. The pandemic has laid bare the social inequities we already knew were tied to race and class.
Meanwhile, other minority groups, such as the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, are experiencing an increase in racist incidents and xenophobia, as misinformation and fear incites hate. In April, a family of three - including two children ages 2 and 6 - were stabbed at a store in Midland, Texas. Another woman in Brooklyn was attacked with acid in April.
It is not surprising that stress and anxiety are on the rise, as people grapple with job loss, threats of infection and a general uncertainty about the future. It’s true that roughly 20% of the population will experience some sort of mental illness during their lifetime, but for communities of color, who remain part of an extremely at-risk population during this time, the risk that COVID-19 poses to mental health and wellbeing is significant, if not more than the general populace. May is typically celebrated as Mental Health Awareness Month, but lately, unprecedented circumstances seek to cut off those in most need of support.
We should not lose sight of long-term objectives, such as addressing inequities in the workforce and healthcare system, but can propel these along with the following near-term strategies:
- Strengthen D&I Programs and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Now - more than ever - is the time to lean into diversity and inclusion groups and ERGs to foster important dialogues around mental health and wellness and offer safe spaces to discuss issues related to racism, xenophobia and inequity. This is also a moment to consider creating a Mental Health ERG or taskforce, which can be a strong source of insights and resources for those in need.
- Display compassionate leadership: As leaders, it is incumbent to check-in on staff and keep a pulse on how they are holding up, particularly as some (or all) of the workforce may be operating virtually. This can be in the form of an email, call or video chat. A simple “thinking of you” will go a long way.
- Work to reduce stigma: Addressing mental health has long been taboo in communities of color, so creating an open and inviting environment for colleagues to share personal experiences can be beneficial.
- Speak out against hate: If you see something say something. We must all take a stand against hate. Words matter.
- Offer resources and encourage staff to seek help: Share resources available and encourage staff to seek help if they are overwhelmed and need it.
- Support organizations mobilizing change: Donate to organizations that are helping communities of color that have been impacted by COVID-19. You can find a list of reputable organizations here.
How we adapt our new normal will be dictated by what we do to foster a sense of safety and community, particularly for people of color. It is not only the right thing to do, it is the humane thing to do.
Francesca Weems is an Account Supervisor at FleishmanHillard, where she supports a cross-industry portfolio of executive communications teams and provides media counsel in the healthcare, tech, gaming and sports industries. Beyond her client work, she leads the office’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee, which works to foster an inclusive environment for all staff. Previously, Francesca was a local sports anchor and reporter. She graduated from UC Berkeley with her Bachelor’s in Mass Communications and Master’s in Education on a full academic scholarship as a Gates Millennium Scholar. She is based in San Francisco. You can follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.