times up

Working from home is not created equal for everyone,’ says head of ad industry efforts

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, American businesses were dealing with a diversity problem, struggling to hire and retain talent from underrepresented groups. Agencies and brands, hurt by the downturn in spending across the economy, are in danger of losing the gains they’ve made. Many companies have frozen new hires, promotions and raises—the very tools they rely on to promote diversity. And nearly 40 million Americans have lost jobs or income, with women and people of color disproportionately affected by layoffs, furloughs and salary cuts.

New guidelines released today from the Time’s Up Foundation, the organization created in the wake of the #MeToo movement, offer advice for businesses looking to protect the diversity of their workforces, even as they may be downsizing or restructuring work schedules and policies.

“This is an opportunity for businesses that pride themselves on being progressive in diversity, equity, inclusion,” says Christena Pyle, vice president and head of Time’s Up’s efforts in the advertising industry. “This is a chance for them to double down on the work that they’ve been doing as part of their economic recovery and resilience strategy.”

Companies should regard layoffs as a last resort, according to “The Time’s Up Guide to Equity and Inclusion During Crisis,” as those often hit new and low-level employees hardest—who are more likely to be women, people of color or LGBTQ. Instead, they should consider salary cuts for executives and employee retraining. Delay performance reviews or factor in the effects of the pandemic, including new stressors from working at home, illness, family responsibilities and new assignments employees have taken on due to reorganization.

“Working from home is not created equal for everyone. Some people may be unsafe working from home,” Pyle says, referring to the rise of reports of domestic violence globally during lockdown. Other employees may not have access to the right technology to work from home effectively.

Even plans to return to the office can inadvertently worsen existing inequities, due to the requirements of social distancing. The guidelines include information about “making decisions on who’s returning back into the office and how you’re physically spacing the office so that you’re not moving women and people of color into positions that are not close to leadership or into places where people just don’t want to sit,” Pyle adds. “So you will find guidance in here around flexible work schedules and paid sick leave. The document is meant to match the moment. It’s meant to be practical.”

Many of the recommendations are best practices for companies during better times, too. Comprehensive sexual harassment policies protect workers all the time, but perpetrators may take advantage of a crisis when victims are removed from their typical support systems, like the open door of human resources or affinity and employee resource groups that usually meet in person. Transparency is also key, especially since furloughed workers or rehired staff may have missed important communications while they were gone or just be out of the loop on projects or policies.

The pandemic, however, can also be an opportunity for progress. “Now, in this moment of crisis, we as employers have a responsibility to rebuild our economy and society to be more inclusive and equitable—not just for women, but for all of us,” said Tina Tchen, president and CEO of Time’s Up Foundation in a statement. “Leaders must recognize that COVID-19 impacts each of their employees differently—and keep diversity and inclusion integral to their economic recovery strategy.”

Since companies are already reevaluating partnerships, it can be a good time to develop new relationship with minority-owned suppliers and vendors. Keeping one eye on the demographics of the workforce not only prevents a loss of diversity but can identify places that need improvement—and a time of change is perhaps the best time to implement those changes.

“There are companies who have always wanted to push themselves to improve and who feel like now is certainly not the time. We can’t afford that,” Pyle says. “I think we can’t afford not to. When we talk about the future of work, we know that decisions are being made in this moment that are going to have implications in the future. They’re going to have implications on attracting the best talent. They’re going to have implications on consumer sentiment. And people are going to be held accountable for the values that they espoused in the moments before and how they operated and navigated their companies through this crisis.”

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