Many companies (and employees) are bracing for a wave of layoffs and restructurings due to the coronavirus. Some difficult decisions lay ahead. Our goal is to support you through this time and help you sustain the diverse and inclusive company culture you have built.
It turns out that the best workplaces have found a way of turning mergers and restructuring into moments to build and deepen a sense of inclusion across an organization.
Why diversity matters when companies restructure
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategies tend to focus on recruitment, hiring, promotions and pay. These moments are essential for diversity in the workplace where all employees feel they belong and can bring their best.
However, to create a truly equitable workplace, D&I leaders need to reach beyond these traditional areas of concern and get involved in other key areas of the employee experience.
Restructuring is one such area. When companies restructure, the gap between the experiences of different demographic groups in the workplace grows.
Using data from Great Place to Work®, researchers at The Wharton School and Harvard Business School analyzed employees’ workplace experiences based on their race and gender.
As you might expect, they found women and minorities typically have less positive experiences than white men. But they also discovered something striking.
These gaps in experiences widen in companies that engage in corporate restructuring, specifically mergers and acquisitions (M&As), divestitures and layoffs. In fact, companies that engage in one or more of these activities typically have experience gaps 45% larger than companies that did not restructure.
Remarkably, it only took one event to expose the larger gap. With just one layoff, merger or divestiture, the gap grows.
Leaders usually seek to grow profits, not differences. But regardless of leaders’ intentions, their subconscious biases can color decisions around reorganizations and resulting job changes.
The lack of transparency that typically surrounds M&As and other restructurings can also impact the experience gap, breeding fairness concerns among groups that have been mistreated historically.
How can we prevent or lessen these negative effects?
Three ways D&I leaders can step in and help employees navigate change:
1. Give human support
Restructurings create high stakes, high pressure and isolation for everyone, including executives.
Find moments to offer empathy and support to top leaders.
These human moments strengthen your relationships with leaders, adding credibility to the perspectives and advice you share about how to create belonging and connections. They can also provide leaders an example to follow as they extend the same support to others.
2. Bridge Perspectives
Restructuring is a crisis moment for many leaders.
It’s a natural reaction to that crisis for executives to collaborate primarily with people they know and trust already. Unfortunately, that behavior restricts thinking and creates blind spots.
As a D&I leader, you have unique insights and connections in the business that let you see things that other leaders won’t.
Encourage the executive team to include other stakeholders in restructuring decisions and to explore questions like, “how will different employee groups experience this change?”
3. Leverage your networks
The networks and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) you’ve built up to support D&I are powerful. Tap into their strengths to help get the messages out about the restructuring.
These networks can act as a reality check on whether employees believe they’ve been heard by leadership or whether decisions are being widely and clearly communicated. In many cases, you’ll find that employees do not feel the company is telling them enough about what is happening and what to expect.
Making sure the company communicates clearly about the restructuring can go a long way to promoting transparency, building up a sense of safety and minimizing gaps in the employee experience.
Change is hard — but you can make it easier
To learn more about diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the effects of restructuring on employees, get our latest D&I report. For advice on how to weather your workplace and employees’ experience through the current crises, see our resources here.