COVID-19 is confronting companies around the world with a daunting degree of disruption. In the immediate term, some face devastating losses of revenue, dislocations to operations and supply chains, and challenges to liquidity and solvency. Others are coping with enormous unexpected spikes in demand. In the medium term, we can expect material and lasting shifts in customer markets, regulatory environments, and workforce deployments. Leaders and managers will need a great deal of resolve and resilience as they seek to navigate an economically and socially viable path toward a “next normal.”
The lessons from previous crises tell us there is a very real risk that inclusion and diversity (I&D) may now recede as a strategic priority for organizations.1 This may be quite unintentional: companies will focus on their most pressing basic needs—such as urgent measures to adapt to new ways of working; consolidate workforce capacity; and maintain productivity, a sense of connection, and the physical and mental health of their employees.
Yet we would argue that companies pulling back on I&D now may be placing themselves at a disadvantage: they could not only face a backlash from customers and talent now but also, down the line, fail to better position themselves for growth and renewal. Some of the qualities that characterize diverse and inclusive companies—notably innovation and resilience—will be much in need as companies recover from the crisis.2 Indeed, it could help companies to unlock the power of I&D as an enabler of business performance and organizational health and contribute to the wider effort to revive economies and safeguard social cohesion. In this article, we explore what companies can do to ensure that I&D remains a core part of their agendas during the downturn, and beyond.
The benefits of I&D are clear now—and that doesn’t change in a crisis
Our research has repeatedly shown that gender and ethnic diversity, inclusion, and performance go hand in hand. Our latest report, Diversity wins: How inclusion matters, reinforces the business case.3 Over the past five years, the likelihood that diverse companies will out-earn their industry peers has grown. So have the penalties for companies lacking diversity. Another forthcoming McKinsey report, about Latin America, highlights the strong correlation between gender diversity and positive behavior directly related to better organizational health—which, in turn, is associated with better business performance. Similarly, our previous research found that women tend to demonstrate, more often than men, five of the nine types of leadership behavior that improve organizational performance, including talent development. Women also more frequently apply three of the four types of behavior—intellectual stimulation, inspiration, and participative decision making—that most effectively address the global challenges of the future.
Diversity winners that deploy a systematic approach to inclusion and diversity and don’t fear bold action to foster inclusion and belonging are most likely to reap the rewards. Now is the time to be even bolder.
The bulk of this research on the business case for diversity was carried out during the past five years, when economic conditions have been mostly favorable. Yet the evidence from past crises shows that diversity can also play an important role in recovery. For example, several reports have shown that in the 2008–09 global financial crisis, banks with a higher share of women on their boards were more stable than their peers. This research also suggests that banks run by women might be less vulnerable in a crisis.4 And we are seeing, right now, that cities and countries with women leaders are thought to be facing the COVID-19 pandemic more successfully than those without them.5 It may be, some researchers conclude, that female leadership has a trust advantage giving women the edge in certain crisis situations.6
The challenge: Why I&D may lose momentum during the COVID-19 crisis
Progress on I&D could slow down during and after the crisis unless companies consciously focus on advancing diversity and fostering inclusion. The importance of such continuity is quite intuitive, but it was not the norm during the 2008–09 financial crisis: although gender-diversity programs were not officially deprioritized, they did not benefit from additional effort or interest, and programs targeting all employees became a higher priority among some of the companies in our sample.7 Early signs, this time around, are not encouraging. One pulse survey of I&D leaders, for example, found that 27 percent of them report that their organizations have put all or most I&D initiatives on hold because of the pandemic.8
Representation at risk. As the crisis makes jobs vulnerable, diverse talent may be most at risk. To be sure, we may see an uptick in the number of jobs and, possibly, in pay for some gendered occupations—such as healthcare providers on the front line of public service.9 But these effects are likely to be offset by job losses in the private sector, where low-skill, low-paying jobs in retailing, leisure, and hospitality may be hard hit.
Furthermore, the crisis will probably intensify existing workplace-automation trends that are already expected to take a greater toll on women and minorities. While previous research from the McKinsey Global Institute has shown that automation has a more or less equal net impact on the jobs of women and men, it will vary greatly across sectors and regions. Pervasive barriers to the development of skills and access to technology must be overcome if women and minorities are to get new job opportunities, especially in the tech sector. Avenues for economic advancement will continue to be a challenge for them. And because they typically work in medium- and lower-paid occupations, and demand for such roles is expected to shrink, they are likely to bear the brunt of the transition.
We can see this playing out already in the crisis. McKinsey research has found that 39 percent of all jobs held by black Americans—compared with 34 percent by white ones—are now threatened by reductions in hours or pay, temporary furloughs, or permanent layoffs. That is seven million jobs.
As the COVID-19 crisis makes jobs vulnerable, diverse talent may be most at risk.
Eroding inclusion. A second key risk is that remote-working conditions may erode inclusion. Sending staff home to work, in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19, risks reinforcing existing exclusive behavior and biases and undermining inclusive workplace cultures. McKinsey research analyzing the lessons of remote working in China—an early mover because it was at the vanguard of efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19—found that teams or whole business units working remotely can quickly become confused and lose clarity. Isolation leads to uncertainty about whom to talk with on specific issues and how and when to approach colleagues, leading to hold-ups and delays. In such a climate, there is a risk of amplifying noninclusive dynamics.
Remote-working norms, particularly videoconferencing, could make it difficult for some personnel, such as LGBTQ+ employees, to avoid publicly sharing aspects of their home lives they might not be comfortable revealing to all of their colleagues. Working from home also may put women and minorities at a disadvantage, given challenges such as broadband access, the availability (or lack) of home-office space, and childcare and home-schooling duties.10
The chance: Leveraging I&D in the crisis
These challenges, if unaddressed, could undermine corporate responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Leaders and organizations will need enhanced problem-solving skills and vision to address dislocations in businesses, industries, and regulatory environments. Strategic agility—the ability to spot and seize game changers—is likely to be a mission-critical trait. It is also likely to be stronger in organizations that can draw on the full spectrum of diverse talent available to them.
Our research and the research of others suggest that when companies invest in diversity and inclusion, they are in a better position to create more adaptive, effective teams and more likely to recognize diversity as a competitive advantage.11 Meanwhile, other companies might struggle. Their responses to I&D during the COVID-19 crisis could mirror the broader stances toward I&D described in our report Diversity wins, where three broad categories of approaches emerged.
Diversity winners and fast movers. One-third of the companies in our data set have made significant I&D gains over the past five years and are increasingly pulling ahead of their industry peers in financial performance. Our experience with companies in this group suggests that many of them will view their existing strengths in I&D as a way to bounce back more quickly from the crisis while they actively seek to boost representation and inclusion.
Moderate movers and resting on laurels. A middle group of companies have made only modest I&D gains in the past five years. It’s easy to imagine their continuing to tread water during the crisis, perhaps seeking to protect their gains but doing little new to build on or increase them.
Laggards. Companies in this broadest group have progressed little, remained static, or regressed in their gender and ethnic representation in the past five years. With no momentum, most could well deprioritize I&D efforts during the COVID-19 crisis.
The crisis, in other words, will interact with existing I&D trends. Further separation between diversity leaders and laggards is possible, and companies in the muddy middle could make huge progress (exhibit). Such organizations, by raising their I&D sights, should be able to upgrade their “license to operate” and realize the goals of recovery, resilience, and reimagination.
Source : https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-still-matters