What happens to diversity efforts during an economic crisis?
Looking back at the 2008 economic crisis to drive lessons for the post confinement period

Out Leadership joined other diversity efforts ten years ago in rallying for a more open and diverse workforce, C-suite, and Boards [Read our post on Quorum, our initiative on Corporate Boards representation]. While progress has been tremendous over this period, the LGBT+ journey is far from over. As we enter an historic and potentially sustained economic crisis, it is legitimate to ask ourselves how we can keep this momentum and avoid backsliding on the gains we made.

As we discussed in multiple previous posts, the COVID-19 crisis actually further highlights stark inequalities based on race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics [our post from April 8: COVID-19 is NOT the “great equalizer” after all].  The pandemic and associated economic crisis are putting increased pressure on minorities – the same communities we are targeting through diversity efforts. We also see signs that politicians are using the crisis both to restrict the freedom of LGBT+ people (think Uganda) and scapegoating them [our post from March 31: Anti-LGBT+ bigotry knows no truce].

Concretely, fostering diversity in the post-confinement period will be more important than ever. Yet, it will require from D&I (diversity and inclusion) practitioners to make a compelling case for companies to continue their investments in this area despite constrained resources.

The risk is best illustrated by evidence that the gender pay gap widened after the 2008 financial crisis. In the UK as an example, Eva Neitzet, deputy CEO at the Fawcett Society was claiming in 2014 that “Since the crisis in 2008 we have seen a nearly two-fold increase in the numbers of women working in insecure, part-time and temporary jobs where they would prefer to be in secure full-time roles.” Similarly, racial discrimination and the crisis-resulting economic inequality were only furthered in the United States after 2008 [Read: African-Americans’ economic setbacks from the Great Recession are ongoing – and could be repeated].

Out Leadership and the Center for Talent Innovation are working on an analysis and set of recommendations for anybody interested in corporate engagement on LGBT+ issues. The goal is to help others better understand the role of LGBT inclusion in recovery efforts and equip them to advocate internally for continued engagement by companies on LGBTI-related issues in 2020/2021.

This paper will explain how LGBT inclusion efforts played a role in the post 2008 Financial Crisis recovery efforts; how to preserve private sector LGBT engagement in a difficult economic context, including both technical and financial resources; and how to frame inclusion efforts in ways that will appeal to the private sector’s post COVID-19 priorities. It will also offer guidance on how to monitor and evaluate the impact of conclusion efforts in the recovery period.

Considering diversity and inclusion is a nice-to-have feature only good for a strong oil economy, is short-sighted for the obvious reason that business runs on people and people will be central to the economic recovery efforts. The Center for Talent Innovation – our partner in this study – found that employees at large companies who perceive prejudicial bias are about three times more likely to be disengaged at work than other employees [Read: Disrupt Bias, Drive Value: A New Path Toward Diverse, Engaged, and Fulfilled Talent by co-authors Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Ripa Rashid, and Laura Sherbin]. In fact, employee well-being might even become more important when financial incentives will be lower, and people will carry with them the psychological trauma of the crisis.

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