In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, most people are focused on three things: health, finances, and the question of when life will return to normal.
These are valid concerns, and it’s no wonder that together, they’re occupying most of our attention almost completely.
However, for those of us who are focused on coproate culture, office environment, and human capital, it’s absolutely essential that we consider that this pandemic has a disproportionate impact on people of color. This reality should impact how you treat the virus in your own office and community of workers.
The following are just a few points worth keeping in mind:
Minorities are More Likely to be Affected by this Pandemic.
The idea that the coronavirus affects minorities differently (and more) can seem counterintuitive at first. Unfortunately however, the numbers are clear: people of color are disproprotionately impacted.
- The Covid-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 3.8 times higher than the rate among whites.
- In one study of 580 patients hospitalized due to the coronavirus, 33% were Black even though Black Americans make up only about 13% of the population.
- Latinos make up about 17% of the U.S. population but account for 26% of COVID deaths.
- Indigienous people are 3.2 times more likely to die of COVID compared to whites.
- The Navajo Nation has seen infections rates roughly 5 times higher than the U.S. as a whole.
There are numerous reasons for this inequity. But it largely comes down to pre-existing conditions, access to healthcare, and living conditions. Black Americans are known to have higher instances of certain conditions that can worsen the effects of the coronavirus. Additionally however, members of this community are also more likely to live in denser conditions and with less access to healthcare — making them both more susceptible to the virus and less likely to have the means to fight it.
Financial Recovery Efforts are Less Likely to Reach Minorities
Recovery efforts are taking many forms around the country (and the world for that matter). However, some of them are less likely to reach members of minority communities than others. Inequity in recovery is worth mentioning because it means that the Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) in your office or company may be struggling more financially that you think.
Lenders can actually be helpful during times like these. A look into shifting interest rates during recessions shows an effort to stimulate some spending and borrowing. Basically, in tough financial times, people may be less inclined to seek personal loans, credit cards, mortgage agreements, etc. But by lowering interest rates, banks and other lenders can make such agreements more appealing, and offer a helping hand at the same time.
Unfortunately, however, minorities may be less likely to be aware of these programs, less likely to take advantage, and they may experience discrimination when they try to. Generations of discrimination have left members of these communities less likely to seek credit (or presumably other types of financial assistance). So, even if there is available assistance presently, many minorities have essentially learned not to pursue it due to unfair conditions in the past.
The National Dialogue Ignores these Issues.
We should also note that as real as these inequities are for minority communities, they go largely ignored in the national dialogue and within many workplaces.
Certainly if you watch national news or read articles about the coronavirus crisis, you will see occasional mentions about the disproportionate rates of hospitalization and death for different racial and ethnic minorities. It is entirely possible that when rates do begin to decline meaningfully we will celebrate — even if, as seems likely, minority rates take longer to even out or decline. This sort of imbalance in the dialogue is what keeps many of us from even considering racial and ethnic inequity as part of this crisis in the first place.
Hopefully these points have made the scope of the issue more apparent. When you consider these points, on top of the general movement for racial justice the U.S. has been experiencing alongside the pandemic, the need for company-level diversity and inclusion as part of the recovery effort becomes clear.
Here are a few particular steps we’d recommend for businesses organizing their own adjustments and recoveries.
Seek Resources for Racial Equality
The first step for any business hoping to address this situation fairly and productively is to be fully aware of the problems at hand.
Awareness starts with understanding some of the points made just above, and recognizing that minorities are likely to face greater health risk and deeper financial woes in the midst of this crisis.
Awareness continues, however, with the ongoing search for information and techniques that can help practically.
Here are more resources for advancing racial equality in the workplace that can help get a business off on the right foot.
The Harvard Business Review reports that “internal diversity initiatives have stalled” at many companies. It doesn’t have to be the result of any kind of malicious intent to be damaging. The unfortunate reality is that as businesses cope with the recession and ongoing difficulties, they’re shuttering certain programs and letting certain employees go. It appears that in this process, D&I practitioners are losing work and/or resources.
While it’s understandable that businesses need to make difficult adjustments, this sort of backward motion regarding diversity and inclusion cannot be tolerated. D&I efforts need to be prioritized now more than ever, when certain segments of the population and workforce are being affected disproportionately. Businesses will benefit just as much as individual employees, because diversity is good for business.
Consult with Minority Colleagues
Last but not least, it is important to consult with minority colleagues and employees about their difficulties and needs. Whether or not a business owner or manager is a member of a minority community him- or herself, this sort of dialogue is essential if diversity and inclusion are to be addressed appropriately. Input from the people who are being affected is simply a must.
Take care not to create extra work or emotional labor for minority employees as you ask these questions. According to Njoh Tita-Reid in Forbes, “the responsibility of dismantling systemic racism must not be placed solely on black employees by asking them to fully lead diversity and antiracism efforts . . . be mindful of the physical and emotional bandwidth of black employees and leaders—and first take responsibility to be the change before asking black workers to lead the change. We can’t afford a mass burnout.”
Diversity and inclusion are ultimately topics that businesses cannot lose sight of, no matter how many other things are competing for our attention right now.
Despite the challenges we’re all facings and have faced throughout the year, consideration for diversity and inclusion — in workplaces and elsewhere — needs to be among the highest priorities.
About the Author
Heather Denise is an HR consultant with a degree in business management and a passion for workplace inclusivity and diversity. Currently based in Chicago, she also enjoys swimming and volunteering at the local shelter.