Discussion Themes from Weekly D&I Action Calls: COVID-19 Business Response 


With a dozen past meetings on today’s most relevant diversity and inclusion topics attracting the attention of D&I leaders worldwide, attendees of this week’s i4cp Diversity & Inclusion Action Call (joining from as far as Belgium) featured Susan Schmidlkofer, Global Director of Diversity and Inclusion at UPS.   

Interviewed by i4cp Chief Diversity Officer Board Chair and call leader Jacqui Robertson and i4cp VP of Membership Madeline Borkin, Schmidlkofer spoke to some of the ways the global logistics and delivery firm is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest.  

1.     A new leader is a high-profile champion of D&I. New CEO Carol Tomé, formerly with Home Depot, is the first woman to head the 113-year-old UPS, and brings with her excellent credentials, a stellar reputation for producing financial and business results, and a firm commitment to D&I.   

In a company town hall in early March, Tomé quoted Nelson Mandela, telling retiring then-CEO David Abney, “It seems impossible until it’s done. Today UPS has told the world that it’s not impossible for all of us. Regardless of our gender, our ethnicity, our sexual orientation, our disabilities, everything is possible at UPS. You’ve been a huge champion of D&I at UPS and I will carry that forward.”  

2.     Clear messages underscore UPS values and ongoing commitments to D&I. Noting that Tomé’s first day on the job coincided with news of George Floyd’s murder, Schmidlkofer says the new CEO sent out a powerful message across the global organization, expressing her feelings of sadness and anger amid the reality of social unrest, discrimination, fear and violence in the U.S. Tomé declared her desire to channel that anger into action for change.   

“The message to us as UPS-ers fell back on our core values,” says Schmidlkofer. “UPS has always valued D&I, equal opportunity for everyone, non-discrimination, integrity, and safety. We put drivers on the streets of more than 220 countries around the globe. It was a matter of recognizing we are living through a tough time when it’s especially important to stay true to our values and live up to them.”  

Thoughtful actions, meetings, brainstorming, and conversations that followed have seen a cross-functional leadership group review the extensive support UPS already provides people and communities, and seeks to identify how it can further build momentum internally and externally to influence positive change.  

3.     Help leaders engage with employees. In a time when leaders are called upon to initiate and guide conversations with employees about difficult or sensitive topics, Schmidlkofer says UPS is helping its leaders connect effectively. The company uses resources from i4cp and its Employer Resource Center, along with those offered by other organizations. She points out that it is important to use existing outreach mechanisms and be proactive about communicating.  

UPS uses its internal employee portal ( as a site to post messages, videos, toolkits, and other resources for its workforce. Daily messages from the company provide guidance on safety and updates of relevant information. Frontline employees receive daily pre-work communication meetings that give drivers and inside workers face-to-face contact with managers for guidance that enables everyone to get safely to what the company calls the most important stop of the day – home.  

4.     Wield the power of BRGs. Business Resource Groups at UPS sponsor events, facilitate virtual networking and coffee breaks, meet-and-greets, etc. They also invite external speakers to address the company on community happenings. Asked about particular practices of BRGs at UPS that have proven powerful, Schmidlkofer says the company’s African American BRG secured a professor to speak about racial inequities and social system structures in an hour-long webinar that attracted more than 1,000 employees. The even was recorded for wider distribution within UPS and for those unable to attend the original event. A follow-up program is planned.  

She makes the point that such events don’t have to be spearheaded by senior company leaders. At UPS, employees who feel passionately about current events and concerns are encouraged to shape activities. The company’s head of public affairs is doing another webinar on social injustice, sharing what her global team is doing to affect legislative issues, and describing how individuals can become involved.  

5.     Leverage external sources as needed. According to Schmidlkofer, UPS has brought in outside experts to lead town halls and courageous conversations but is considering how to also tap into internal resources to implement materials from CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion.   Also happening on today’s Action Call:  

·       An instant poll during the call asked attendees how the recent shift in focus after the murder of George Floyd impacted their organizations’ Pride Month observances. The greatest percentage (36%) said that Pride activities would express solidarity with social justice movements currently in the spotlight, while 29% said Pride would center on overlap issues (systematic inequities, intersectionality, black trans lives matter, etc.).  

·       A second poll explored Juneteenth plans, asking if organizations anticipated observing the June 19th commemoration of the abolishment of slavery in the U.S. While 26% of responding attendees said they had no observances planned, 23% reported that an event would be hosted by one of their organizational BRGs/ERGs, and 13% planned a town hall meeting or other employee forum. Only 7% of attendees said their organizations had declared the occasion a company holiday.  

Among other topics explored and attendee questions:  

o   Business continuity during the pandemic

o   Plans for perpetuating or furthering current positive practices in the future

o   Lessons learned from responses to the pandemic and social unrest

o   Use of employee engagement surveys to sample current worker sentiment

o   Corporate responses to employee requests to display the Black Lives Matter flag

o   Implications of corporations’ making (or not making) Juneteenth a paid holiday

o   How organizations are factoring D&I considerations into return-to-workplace plans  

Visit i4cp’s Employer Resource Center to access a recording of the full Action Call.   


Guests Christopher Rowland, Global Diversity Officer and Dessa Johnson, Diversity & Inclusion Leader, NA at ManpowerGroup joined a more somber D&I Action Call this week to share their organizations’ response to the murder of George Floyd on May 25th and subsequent social unrest. Floyds death, as well as several other recent high-profile murders and racially charged incidents, have spurred two weeks of protests and demonstrations across the U.S. and around the world – all with a potential resurgence of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic looming in the background.

i4cp’s CDO Board Chair Jacqui Robertson lead the discussion – attended by over 220 D&I leaders – which ranged from the impact on employee’s immediate psychological well-being to potential long-term responses organizations can use to help in remedying social injustice and inequity. As was pointed out several times on the call, I&D leaders are at the front of two pandemics; one a disease that unequally targets black and brown communities by capitalizing on social inequities, the other a continuous struggle against systemic racial injustice and racism that too frequently bubbles to the surface both in the U.S. and abroad.

Key Takeaways:

1.       The impact of recent events has been both personal for employees and culturally challenging for many organizations. ManpowerGroup - named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere in 2020 – was no different, with many employees who contacted our guests saying that they were wrestling with the moment. Rowland shared that he was pleased to see many leaders willing to reach out and address the issue head on and to tackle uncomfortable conversations. This was done initially through multiple internal and external statements. An i4cp pulse survey focused on the current social unrest showed that at least 85% of organizations have been impacted in some way, with 56% reporting that the main impact was to employee stress and productivity. With mental and emotional well-being as a pevasive factor, showing employer support through formal statements, training leaders in how to recognize signs of stress, and creating portals for discussion were some of the ways shared to help create a more psychologically safe work environment.

2.       Formal statements issued by ManpowerGroup’s CEO Jonas Prising were sent out organization-wide early on, and they specifically mentioned racism and the murder of George Floyd by name. Several external statements were also issued, and ManpowerGroup’s President in North America, Becky Frankiewicz, sent out a communication discussing some of her feelings about what was going on and the responses the company had planned. One powerful bit of transparency Rowland shared was that the president received some negative feedback about not mentioning George Floyd or racism by name in her statement, but was able to role-model listening by addressing those comments in a follow-up statement. He echoed comments shared previously that it’s OK to ask for a bit of grace in statements and townhalls, as it’s hard for many to hit the perfect note and that communicating authentically about difficult topics always involves risk.

3.       Forums, town halls, and courageous conversations have been a big part of ManpowerGroup’s response strategy and is rooted in the need to listen to employees and other stakeholders before taking further action. The decision was made to have conversations in three forums. The first are small, family-style chats with five to 10 people from different levels of the company and from different backgrounds. Those meetings – focused on personal experiences – leverage a professional facilitator and will eventually go out across the U.S.. The second forum is a townhall meeting hosted by a business line leader, with some preparation for what could come up in a difficult large-group conversation. The third forum is more of a panel discussion that’s still a two-way exchange led by a consulting firm specializing in bias. Several other organizations shared their townhall experiences in the chat, most focused around courageous conversations. Many in chat mentioned that their leaders directly referenced George Floyd and racism in either their written statements or townhalls, while several others noted that those who didn’t mention the incidents directly received some negative feedback.

4.       Community partnerships. Rowland shared that ManpowerGroup has several partnerships, including the Urban League and CEOAction for Diversity & Inclusion, but that they are specifically working in Milwaukee with their local Chamber of Commerce. After identifying racial disparity as the number one liability in their region in 2018, the CoC interviewd CEOs and did focus groups to help develop a pledge to increase representation by 15% at the total employee level and 25% at the manager level by 2025. Rowland said that they would definitely partner more to accelerate this work, and that these partnerships were critical to bringing people together to take concrete action on racial justice and to supporting their core values.

5.       Leveraging ERG/BRGs. Johnson shared that ManpowerGroup has also heavily leveraged it’s multicultural employee resource group – Merge – to help with developing materials and talking points for their various forums. Merge has also helped to advance the conversation by creating a hub of resources such as films, books, and articles that can be shared internally. They are also partnering with a local group called the Greater Milwaukee African American Employee Resource Group Connection (link unavailable), who will be hosting a virtual call series called Wellness Wednesdays that will focus on topics like Black Lives Matter as an ally, as well as others that will help address racial inequities and injustice. Support from ERGs/BRGs was widely cited in the chat, with many hosting their organizations courageous conversation forums.

Other topics from the call:

Many on the call were interested in resources and discussion guides available from CEOAction, with many on the chat (as well as ManpowerGroup and i4cp) sharing that they were signatories with the group.

Results of an i4cp pulse survey were also shared on the call, providing insights on impact and responses to the recent unrest, including:

·       At least 85% of organizations report some type of impact from recent social unrest

·       68% of organization have released and official statement from their CEO or other executive team member internally

·       56% have provided some type of forum for employees to voice concerns

·       Almost 60% of organizations have some form of formal crisis response team in place to address social and political events

·       And only 8% had partnered with community-based organizations to help address unrest in the areas in which they operate, though another 25% were discussing it.

Resources shared on the call and in the chat include:

·       “13 mental health resources for black people trying to cope right now”:

·       A Fast Company article discussing LinkedIn’s challenging town hall experience:

·       A guide from the National Museum of African American History & Culture on talking about race:

·       A TEDTalk by Amy Hunger titled “Lucky Zip Codes”:

·       Two guides for talking with children: Book "Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America" by Jennifer Harvey: and a guide “Children Are Not Colorblind: How Young Children Learn Race:

·       A vendor-sponsored guide from Calibrated Lens titled “Navigating Uncertainty and Unrest in 2020”: 


We held a special meeting to address the escalated racial tensions and social unrest. Nearly 450 executives attended the call. Please read our recap of that meeting, titled 5 Ways Companies Are Responding to Escalated Racial Tensions & Social Unrest.


Karen Carter, Chief Human Resource Officer and Chief Inclusion Officer for the Dow Chemical Company spoke about her organization’s commitments to diversity and inclusion, and its responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in a spirited interview on i4cp’s May 19th D&I Action Call. Conversing with i4cp CDO Board Chair and call leader Jacqui Robertson, Carter engaged the audience in topics ranging from the activities of employee resource groups (ERGs) to return-to-workplace strategies and ensuring inclusion’s place as a business imperative.

 Key Takeaways: 

1.     ERGs are drivers of engagement. During the health crisis, Dow has moved half its workforce to work-from-home status, and ERGs have stepped up to help keep people engaged. The groups are at the center of the company’s inclusion strategies. Because Dow is deemed an essential industry, 40% of its workforce (of more than 36,000 people) has continued to work onsite in company facilities. 

ERGs have done things for employees regardless of work location: virtual coffee breaks, weekly virtual happy hours, an ERG in Michigan donated needed supplies to the National Guard in hard-hit COVID-19 hotspot Louisiana. Another group put together a survival series for working couples. An ERG provided recognition for Dow frontline workers, and some ERG members are training to enhance their effectiveness in providing mental health support to colleagues through one-on-one phone check-ins and connecting people with professional services if needed. 

“ERGs are keeping us socially connected while we remain physically distanced,” says Carter. “They are our first responders to engagement.” 

2.     Inclusive behavior is important. As Dow navigates through the pandemic, Carter says, the importance of inclusive behavior is paramount. That means “making sure we trust our colleagues even though we can’t see them”—understanding that working from home or working varied or non-traditional hours still means that people are working. They are simply doing so more flexibly to accommodate family or other responsibilities. Leading with those inclusive behaviors, reminding leaders of that expectation, and “extending grace but not tolerating exclusive behaviors” keeps inclusion at the forefront. 

3.     Ensuring that inclusion is a business imperative. The company CEO incorporated inclusion into Dow’s ambition to become the most customer-centric, innovative, inclusive, and sustainable materials science company in the world. His dedication to making inclusion an imperative included selection of a business leader (Carter) to become Chief Inclusion Officer. Leaders engage at the top, from the top, and are out front on inclusion, actively participating in the company’s Inclusion Council, serving as executive sponsors for Dow’s 10 ERGs, and including their own I&D strategies in their respective businesses and functions. 

Accountability is also an important ingredient. Inclusion is embedded in Dow’s annual Performance Award for top company leaders. Further, inclusion is reflected in financial, safety, and customer experience metrics. In the last three years, ERG participation has tripled and Dow is #22 on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity list.

 4.     A phased return to the workplace. Dow has made its Return to the Workplace plan public and available on its website as a potential source of assistance to others. The company’s plan is structured in three phases and differs by region. It also allows for flexibility for employees with family responsibilities, risk concerns, or other factors affecting their readiness to return. 

Phase 1 will only return employees who actually need to work onsite, and safety remains the company’s top concern. Screening of employees already takes place before admission to work facilities and protective gear is required in some situations. Pay continuation policies address financial concerns of those who become ill or need to care for loved ones who are ill. Phases 2 and 3 will not be implemented until the first phase is successfully completed. Further, actions to retract the return will take place if a second wave of the virus occurs. 

5.     Empowering women … everyone. Women are being impacted at greater rates by the pandemic, as are people of color – especially Native Americans and African-Americans – and individuals with low incomes. Experiences differ for women versus women of color, women with low incomes, etc. Inclusion progress must be made for all. 

“This is about everybody and ensuring that everyone has a fair chance,” Carter says. At Dow, it isn’t about women speaking up, she explains, but about everyone speaking up. Focusing on inclusive behaviors, transparency, diverse hiring practices, and a “speak-up culture” enabled by psychological safety are key strategies. 

6.     A view into the office of inclusion. Carter created a small office of inclusion, reasoning that she wanted to bring together a minimal staff that could infiltrate the rest of the organization and embed inclusion. It is outside of HR and reports to the CEO. There is an Office of Inclusion Director, a Regional Inclusion Leader for each region of operations, a person focused on data analytics and insights, one focused on public affairs, and one focused on global supplier diversity. With fewer than 10 people, the department is small, tight, and powerful, Carter says. 

Other topics from the call: 

·       A poll during the call asked attendees about actions their organizations had taken during the pandemic that they’d like to see continue. Top responses:

o   83% - Increased focus on some or all aspects of employee well-being (physical, mental, financial, career, community, and social elements)

o   79% - Greater flexibility in accommodating employees’ work/life balance

o   69% - Increased understanding of employees’ lives outside of work

·       Reiteration of the need to sustain focus on D&I during and after the pandemic and expression of interest in challenges encountered in sustaining diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies.

Dow’s Return to the Workplace Playbook is available to the public at:

i4cp Return to the Workplace resources are available at:

Interest was expressed in trust, psychological safety, and employee comfort with disclosing their disabilities.


Two special guests joined the May 12 D&I Action Call for a conversation with i4cp CDO Board Chair Jacqui Robertson: Eloiza Domingo, Executive Director and Head of Engagement Diversity & Inclusion at Astellas Pharma, and Brian Fishbone, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at San Francisco-based autonomous vehicle firm Cruise, shared insights into the roles of employee resource groups (ERGs) in their organizations and responded to audience questions. 

Key Takeaways: 

1.     ERGs rise to the COVID-19 challenge. At Cruise, employee resource groups have been instrumental in multiple ways during the current health crisis. For example: Families at Cruise is a group for working parents and others with familial responsibilities. Active before the pandemic with an internal communications channel where members interacted, the group mobilized to spread word of local school and daycare closings. Group leaders escalated issues to the CEO and his direct reports, driving helpful communication from the CHRO about policies and support for employees with parents. An HR business partner also spoke to the group about topics of interest to parents. At the end of one call, group members took turns unmuting and introducing their children, reinforcing inclusion and authenticity. 

2.     Bring Work to Your Family Day puts a virtual spin on a workplace tradition.  Business professionals are familiar with Bring Your Son/Daughter to Work days, but Cruise adapted the idea for a work world relegated to home offices. Bring Work to Your Family Day saw Families at Cruise members posting pictures of their “coworkers” (employees’ kids at home with them) and sharing family experiences. The event enhanced appreciation for colleagues and their situations, again reinforcing authenticity. 

3.     Post-pandemic return to the workplace could offer an opportunity to strengthen D&I and its roles. Fishbone shared two benefits he sees for D&I when then health crisis subsides: 

  • Greater adaptation to and de-stigmatization of working from home, enabling more remote work and greater acceptance of it by companies that may have been hesitant in the past.
  • Big win for working parents by opening a window into the sense of belonging those employees need in the workplace and greater acceptance and openness about melding their family care responsibilities with work. 

4.     A name tweak links ERGs to the results they produce. At Astellas, ERGs are known as EIGs – Employee Impact Groups. The company’s Diversity and Inclusion Governance Council, composed of senior leaders across global Astellas, drove rebranding of ERG as EIGs. As an evidence-based institution employing many physicians and engineers, the pharmaceutical firm focused its groups on creating impactful and measurable outcomes. The name change for its groups reflects that element of organizational culture. In a similar vein, a call attendee noted that their organization uses the title Associate Impact Group. 

5.     Groups act on the pandemic-driven need for greater focus on mental health. Astellas’ Abilities EIG took a leadership role by partnering with Aetna to provide 4 and 8-hour training (in-person prior to the pandemic and virtual now) designed to elevate visibility of mental health issues, such as depression and how it shows up at work. The sessions aren’t meant to be diagnostic in nature, but rather provide instruction on recognizing symptoms of emotional issues (an i4cp-identified next practice in workforce well-being). They empower employees and leaders with tools, scripts, and resources, teaching them how to take action and provide constructive help when needed. 

6.     Employee groups are helping bridge the intersections in workers’ lives. At Cruise, the company’s Asian Pacific Islander Group commemorated National Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by sponsoring an Origami Night for Cruise employees and invited their children. The group had materials shipped to participants’ homes. The event explored the history of origami and enabled individuals to create and show the items they made while also celebrating culture and emphasizing the intersection of the group with parenting. 

Other topics from the call: 

  • A Fortune article noted that women are suffering extreme expectations to complete work, be available to family, help with schooling, etc., resulting in the equivalent of a 71-hour week. Domingo shared the link:
  • EIGs/ERGs/BRGs have more opportunities now to drive inclusion and belonging and to help transform workplace cultures.
  • An attendee says his organization began COVID-19 conversations around intersectional identities in order to spark dialogue about differences in impact.
  • Comments on the necessity to understand and address root causes (privilege, bias, etc.) in order to tackle equity issues.
  • Cruise is creating a Harvey Milk and Cookies event, profiling historical figures in LGBTQ history over cookies and is shipping cookies to participants' homes in a show of virtual PRIDE support.
  • Ways employee resource groups promote belonging and whether they or senior leaders are more responsible for doing so sparked conversation. Importance of executive sponsorships in groups is noted. 


Cheryl Kern, Director Global Diversity and Inclusion for Lockheed Martin Corporation, was the guest on the May 5th D&I Action Call. Speaking with i4cp VP of Membership Madeline Borkin and i4cp CDO Board Chair Jacqui Robertson, Kern provided insights into her company’s efforts to include women in leadership and to normalize conversations about emotional well-being. 

Key Takeaways: 

1.     Readiness is a smart strategy. Lockheed Martin is proud that it already had a strong foundation around D&I and had focused on preparation regardless of whatever business condition might unfold. This approach aided the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because Lockheed Martin’s mission is to protect others, the company tends to emphasize readiness perpetually, Kern noted, adding that applies to supporting clients, customers, and the internal workforce. 

For D&I, this meant that, under the leadership of CEO Marilyn Hewson, the company was looking toward the future of work and how to remain strong, relevant, and impactful in D&I, keeping focus on women and diverse talent. Some considerations: 

  • Ensuring higher degrees of representation
  • Enabling workplace flexibility
  • Putting support relationships in place (such as mentoring, sponsorship) to support women and diverse talent 

2.     Internal design reinforces organizational relevance in leadership development.  Lockheed Martin created the framework for its leadership program for women internally. This enabled a structure that emphasized content of greatest importance and relevance to the company and its goals. That said, Kern notes that the company reached out to external partners for help in building out the program. An already established and consistent focus on the future and succession across Lockheed Martin’s four business areas has resulted in plans for women to step into senior-level leadership roles in the near future. 

3.     Initiatives already underway contributed to agility during crisis. A future of work symposium held late last year by Lockheed Martin enabled a deep dive into flexible and remote working arrangements and the how the company would shape change around that. Working teams were formed at that time to explore what that would look like for the company. This gave the company a head start in considerations now necessitated by the COVID-19 health crisis. For example: 

·       Performance management: How to fairly evaluate people who have always worked onsite, but now work remotely – making sure that evaluation processes and assessments support those employees equally

·       Staffing: How to determine which workers will take on remote roles and which will not

·       Employee experience: How to design employment offerings that will keep people engaged and fully connected while also ensuring the company meets its business objectives 

4.     Multiple efforts center on normalizing the conversation about mental health. People are still not naturally comfortable talking about different abilities. The pandemic has heightened that discomfort, especially in discussing mental well-being. Lockheed Martin is intent on equipping its leaders and employees with more inclusive behaviors and greater awareness of the different dimensions of diversity in the workplace. Some of the company’s strategies:

 ·       Acknowledging that employees need/want to talk and share their experiences/challenges during the health crisis

·       Inviting all company business resource groups (BRGs) to have conversations within the employee communities they represent and across communities

·       Representing employees with disabilities and those who are caregivers, Lockheed Martin’s Able & Allies BRG has taken a leading role. Already planning a 2020 focus on mental health, the group has reached out and issued a call to action for leaders and other employees within the company to join that campaign

·       Collaborating internationally within the company’s markets to define a mental health strategy

·       Asking leaders to create a safe environment for dialogues and sharing personal stories about well-being issues

 Other topics from the call: 

·       Responses to a poll question during the call confirmed that organizations have significantly increased their activities/benefits/programs to support employees’ mental well-being as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of call attendees said they’d done so to a high/very high extent. 

·       Some of the actions organizations are taking to provide greater emotional support for employees as shared by attendees: 

·       We are providing an 8-week series on mindfulness for employees

·       We are offering a week’s leave specifically for COVID-19

·       We are leveraging BRGs to host virtual events to address the impact of COVID-19 on various employee communities: Asian, LatinX, African-American, LGBTQ, Women, etc.

·       We have a care-giver charge code and have looked into Talkspace, a remote counseling tool

·       We've created a well-being SharePoint and partnered with Headspace

·       We use Virgin Pulse and it has tools for well-being. We also have a Well-being team

·       We waived all co-pays for Teledoc use so associates can call in to have access to all types of doctors, therapists, COVID-related, etc.

·       We've curated and compiled a list of therapists and doctors who specifically have experience serving black and LGBTQIA folks because empathy gaps in care are important especially in a time like this. 


David Kim, Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Gilead Sciences spoke with i4cp CDO Board Chair Jacqui Robertson for the April 28th D&I Action Call, and the conversation was fueled by the biopharmaceutical company’s commitments to put patients first and to put employees first.

 Gilead’s research into COVID-19 drug remdesivir puts it squarely on the front lines of the world’s response to the novel coronavirus. Kim shared some of the ways the health crisis is providing the company with opportunities to put its people commitments to the test.

 Key Takeaways:

 1.     Rapid response teams demonstrate agility. Early on, the company created two rapid response teams, one focused externally and one, internally. Leaders from Gilead’s highest levels are active team members which enables rapid decision-making on issues that supported putting patients and employees first. In turn, that made it possible to prioritize, support and enable the company mission and live its culture as Gilead made its supply of remdesivir available to pandemic victims worldwide, jumped into real-time clinical trials, and donated $20 million to help support non-profit organizations affected by the crisis. Internally, similarly generous attention was turned to the needs of the company’s workforce. 

2.     Take a priorities cue from Maslow. Using Maslow’s hierarchy as a sort of baseline to guide focus and decision-making, Kim says Gilead unfailingly placed people’s safety first. Internally, that manifested in thoughtful attention to employees’ needs, while, externally, it ensured that patients—including those in need of treatments aside from those related to COVID-19—remained at the center of Gilead’s efforts. 

3.     Immediate actions to help employees. Empowering employees (other than those essential workers who remained on the job in Gilead facilities) to shift to remote work was the first order of business. Guided by what its people would need to feel safe and supported, the company provided $1000 stipends to employees to create home workspaces and secure needed technologies. Childcare, counseling services, removal of caps on leave time, and special leave for doctors and nurses on staff to enable them to offer support to their communities illustrate a few of the initiatives implemented. Support extends to employees and contingent/contract workers, alike. 

For those critical workers who remained onsite, concerns centered on safe conditions, personal protection, and immediate needs, such as free food in the workplace. 

Once initial safety needs were met, Gilead’s attention turned to more advanced needs around psychological well-being, targeting employees with ill family members and other challenges. Kim says the company even provides help with funeral expenses for those who’ve lost loved ones to COVID-19. He adds that the idea of extreme empathy is at the core of many of Gilead’s current actions in support of employees. 

4.     Strategies to address stress. Kim says some of the best ideas for meeting challenges come from employees, and an internal social channel has been a great way to share thoughts. ERGs are active in planning and providing resources for working parents. Constant communications with company managers ensure that expectations of performance are adjusted – that employees can freely take time off when needed, that it’s okay if children or pets appear in the background during virtual meetings. 

Virtual sessions on mindfulness and meditation help address stress. Company leaders and a third party organization enable Gilead to provide a regular online story time for families. Virtual workout classes, dance workouts, and other well-being offerings are open to employees, contractors and their family members. 

5.     A huge opportunity for I&D. As the company thinks about eventual return to the workplace, Kim sees opportunities for the I&D function to re-evaluate its goals, perhaps considering more robust objectives as the future of work is reimagined. Some of his team’s considerations include hiring more interns, placing a diversity lens around the workforce from an early talent perspective, expand hiring and capability to increase numbers of diverse talent, especially in those communities most hard-hit by the pandemic. Because remote work means hiring is not limited to location, broader access to talent globally can further contribute to expansion of diversity. 

Other topics from the call: 

·       A poll during the call built on Kim’s idea that the pandemic offers D&I functions time to consider their priorities. Asked about the degree to which the health crisis would necessitate shifts in their D&I priorities, 53% of call attendees said they expected to make major changes to a high or very high extent. Another third of those in attendance anticipated at least a moderate likelihood that their priorities would be significantly altered. 

·       Collaborative overload, and Zoom fatigue in particular, were discussed. i4cp pulse survey results were shared; those found 28% of people are overwhelmed with online meetings and 79% blame video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom and WebEx. 

·       Strategies to combat overload were shared by call attendees: one company established a 12 – 1 pm offline time for employees, limited emails and meetings, and enlisted the CEO to advocate for workers’ taking time off. Other organizations are instituting days in which no meetings are scheduled, and removing caps on time off. One company CEO gave employees a Friday half-day off with no charge to their leave time; another firm has a weekly blackout for its national team every Friday from 2 pm to close of business, freeing the time for employees to catch up or just regroup. 

·       ERGs are being enlisted in many ways. One person noted: “Our Disability Alliance ERG will host a Mental Health Awareness virtual session with an external speaker on best practices.” Said another: “Our ERGs have been having weekly or bi-weekly informal meetings to check-in with one another. The support staff have also been sending out positive weekly messages to all of the ERGs, which many of them have appreciated.” And: “Our ERGs have also launched Slack channels as an informal way to connect, pulling that engagement towards you vs having it pushed at you like email.”

 Xenophobia, failure to have important conversations about disproportionately affected groups, micro-aggressions, 


When CDO Board Chair Jacqui Robertson interviewed Action D&I Call guest Tiana Carter, Senior Director of Culture and Engagement at Waste Management, the conversation centered on two topics that are top of mind for many business leaders: employee engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic and forward planning for a return to the workplace.

Waste Management employs about 45,000 people across the U.S. and has operations in Canada and India, as well.

Key Takeaways: 

1.     When 70% of your workforce is on the front lines, putting people first is important. As essential workers collecting trash in communities, Waste Management employees have a substantial level of stress due to unknowns about COVID-19. Prior to 2019, there was no strategy for engagement. Carter arrived that year and helped rollout new company values, including putting people first, which drove focus on strategies to bring that value to life. The pandemic was a catalyst for implementation. 

2.     There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to engagement. When the pandemic occurred, the company recognized that engagement and living its putting people first value weren’t one-and-done efforts. Consequently, Waste Management instituted multiple initiatives to address both: 

·       Employee health and safety were made top priorities.

·       A 40-hour pay guarantee, regardless of the duration of the current crisis and any resulting fluctuation in demand for the company’s services, ensured that employees needn’t worry about their financial well-being and freed them to focus on their families. Extensive communications publicized and supported the effort company-wide.

·       Massive investment in remote work—a previous company aspiration—provided the equipment and resources needed to enable call center agents and other employees to work from home and was accomplished in less than one week.

·       Additional resources support employees’ needs, including implementation of MDLIVE, a telemedicine provider.

·       An employee hotline, initially established to provide answers to COVID-19 questions, has since morphed into more of an emotional-support tool, enabling employees and family members to access a live person when support is needed. 

3.     Extra help for parents. Although Waste Management already provided childcare benefits through Bright Horizons, the company adjusted their offering to enable employees to pay family members (or others) to care for their children. In situations where the family member caregiver lost employment due to COVID-19, the benefit ($100/day) enables them to earn money, thus extending assistance beyond the Waste Management employee. 

4.     Engaging a decentralized workforce calls for teamwork. To facilitate communication across the enterprise, the company’s digital team created an employee engagement app housing information and resources, and enabling Waste Management to get messaging out to employees in real time. The CEO does a fireside chat each week that is shared with each employee, texts are used to communicate critical updates, and resources for managers are supplied to enhance their virtual leadership skills. 

To heighten engagement in an organizational culture of gratitude, Carter’s team used the new communication capabilities to launch a special campaign: Employees who work from home are encouraged to create selfie videos, then send them to drivers and technicians working on the front lines to say “thank you” and express their gratitude. Thousands of views by employees speak to the campaign’s success. In addition, managers working from home are making masks for drivers and others on the front lines. 

5.     Return-to-the-workplace: A time for business evolution. Carter is chairing Waste Management’s Workforce Evolution Task Force of senior leaders and VPs from across the enterprise to explore: How do we not just return to work as it was pre-pandemic, but instead, how do we evolve how we operate as a business? This initiative is examining such issues as new approaches to flexible work arrangements and the technology, resources and infrastructure needed to support that across the enterprise. This includes looking at work differently, along with use of gig workers, job-sharing, staggered scheduling, facilities preparation, and other strategies for re-opening workplaces and expanding remote opportunities. A survey to employees will solicit their input. 

6.     “Progress is better than perfection.” A lesson learned in trying to respond to the needs of the workforce is transparency, a commitment to taking action quickly and providing feedback to update employees on that action. Even if an answer isn’t yet clear, it is important to let employees know issues are being addressed. Carter notes that D&I leaders must be connected to the business to help inform strategy and must also be ready to respond and address needs. Recognizing that everything can’t be done perfectly in a time of such uncertainty enables organizations to avoid undue delays and be responsive – hence, progress is better than perfection. 

Other topics from the call: 

  • Discussion of poll results indicating more than 60% of attendees are moderately/highly concerned about engaging diverse employees. Possible contributing factors: loss of funding for hiring from talent pools of marginalized populations; disproportionate COVID-19 risks/effects for communities of color.
  • Companies are relying on ERGs to help engage employees and their families. One company’s ERGs send newsletters with resources for employees and families; in other companies, ERGs are doing virtual hangouts and panels to maintain engagement; another organization is doing webinars for ERGs. One firm has their ERGs “spearheading fun events like spirit weeks (get families involved), talent shows, book clubs, and spotlighting employees’ family members on the frontline like doctors, military, or EMS workers.”
  • To address concerns about xenophobia, Alaska Airlines is hosting a panel discussion; other firms with operations in China are seeing discrimination toward people from Wuhan where the pandemic began and actions are being taken to re-set expectations about inclusion.


CDO Board Chair Jacqui Robertson introduced guest Katie Juran, Senior Director Diversity and Inclusion and Experience Communications at software firm Adobe. She shared a presentation on her team’s efforts to build inclusion in the COVID-19 environment. 

Adobe calls its D&I initiative Adobe for All, affirming its belief that when people feel appreciated and included, they can be more creative, innovative, and successful. 

Key Takeaways: 

  1. Strategies for employee support. Among the HR-related strategies Adobe is using to support its employees during the pandemic:
    • Using the company intranet to provide COVID-19 information and resources
    • Providing employees a work-from-home expense fund to obtain needed equipment/supplies for home offices
    • Granting time-off grace periods to deal with childcare and other needs so employee leave time need not be used
    • Providing emotional well-being resources
    • Offering virtual summer internships
  2. CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategies include offering employees virtual volunteer opportunities, such as pro bono advisory work for start-ups and non-profit organizations. Adobe also does a two-for-one match for employees who donate to select COVID-response non-profit entities. 
  3. D&I strategies have aimed to keep employee networks (ERGs) engaged and active by ensuring their ongoing connection through Slack. Delivering training specific to network communities provides extra resources, and manager enablement is a push to remind and empower people managers to keep their teams engaged while work is done virtually.  
  4. The power of storytelling. Last year at its Adobe for All Summit (an internal, D&I in-person event), the D&I team began a focus on storytelling. A handful of employees were selected from those interested in sharing. The group was provided training and given 10 minutes on stage to do a sort of Ted Talk about their life stories. Audience impact was immense as participants shared emotional stories and their vulnerability. The approach resulted in heightened empathy and appreciation for others and their experiences. Ultimately, in fewer biases and greater inclusion. 
  5. Adapting storytelling to the virtual environment. The pandemic necessitated adaptation of the storytelling to the remote work environment. The Adobe for All Coffee Break takes place live every Friday at 10 am Pacific Time (with replays available for other time zones). Duration is 30 minutes, and the D&I team invites an Adobe leader (known to have a diverse background) to be interviewed by Juran. Interview is streamed on a live platform with the guest seen in her/his home. 

    Goal: build inclusion and empathy through personal stories. Particular emphasis on senior leader participation demonstrates to diverse employees that there are leaders who also embody diversity and share similar experiences. Series is likely to continue until employees return to the workplace or until a drop-off in participation signals waning interest. Average attendance: 1,000 – 2,500 stream the live event, additional numbers view the recorded version. Employees respond well to the informal, unscripted approach, which also includes participating leaders’ responses to a few questions submitted through chat. 
  6. Looking beyond D&I. The Adobe for All Coffee Break can be adapted to other groups beyond the D&I audience. Similar events can be crafted for the organizational level, done at the team level, for ERGs, or other groups. The point is to establish connection between people and enhance empathy. Further, participation by interviewees who are willing to demonstrate their vulnerability elevates those individuals, enhancing their visibility within the organization. 

Other topics from the call chat: 

  • Organizations are providing special support to minorities in communities within and beyond the enterprise through:
    • Childcare grants, temporary shelter, administrative pay for COVID-19 positive employees
    • One company has reached out to all its nonprofit partners and asked that they complete a survey providing information on their emerging needs as a result of COVID
    • Best Buddies is engaging employer partners in virtual jobs readiness sessions with program participants who are furloughed or seeking work.


Today’s guest was Jackie Hunter, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Banner Health. CDO Board Chair Jacqui Robertson led a Q&A session with Jackie to open the call. That blended into discussion of this week’s D&I pulse survey findings, and incorporated excellent comments via voice and chat from attendees.  

Key Takeaways:

1. Stay informed. Jackie noted that Banner Health is responding to the current volatility by making a concerted effort to stay updated and is working with the system’s Chief Medical Officer who is also tied into state information updates. The CMO sends out information daily, and the company has created toolkits for employees.

2. Maintain connections with remote workers. Jackie’s team is fully remote and her leader, Jami Allred (AVP HR Strategy and Organizational Effectiveness ), who also oversees staffing, has set the standard across the Banner Health system to ensure that everyone, first and foremost, is safe. The team meets several times each week to stay connected. Jackie meets with a leadership group weekly, and she emphasizes the importance of video-conferencing. Video meetings also enable her team to see that others are okay. Online icebreakers are used as well.

3. Childcare for frontline health workers. With schools closed, Jackie says that Banner Health has worked with community partners (such as Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA) to make sure that frontline employees had childcare assistance for their children. Childcare also is a consideration for people working at home – such as greater flexibility to deal with kids who are in the home, also. 

4. Upskilling and skills inventories fuel greater agility. HR at Banner Health is working to support staff redeployment as staffing needs increase. A clinical team helps define needs and the company taps into new nursing graduates, travelers, and contract labor. Banner Health has a state-of-the-art simulation center for learning, and clinical educators inventory the skills of new employees. This enables identification of transferrable skills and helps guide redeployment, matching talent with needs outside their usual areas of work.

5. Looking ahead, keep people engaged. In the next month or so, Banner Health will emphasize ongoing employee engagement. For diverse groups, Jackie’s team has established four ERGs which they will call on to assist in that effort. A speaker will talk to the LGBTQ group about managing through COVID-19. Other topics: How do you manage through diversity to build a stronger community while going through the pandemic; How can the company encourage and help women (52% of COVID-19 cases in the company’s HQ state of Arizona are female)?

In essence: Look at statistics and other information related to the pandemic and find ways to creatively discuss and apply it through a diversity lens. And once the pandemic is over, look at healthcare disparities and how social determinants of health impacted particular diverse populations (state and national levels).

Select topics and questions raised via chat and during the call:

  • Cleveland Clinic is helping reduce stress of remote workers who have kids at home by taking a moment to let a child participate in virtual meetings – just to share quickly how they are being affected by the pandemic.
  • Tim Ewing, VP Employee Diversity, Inclusion and Experience at Brigham Health, says his organization is working with community partners, leaders and influencers to promote messaging about social distancing and other important information. This has helped reach people through their own social networks.
  • Several attendees reported disproportionately high COVID infection rates among diverse populations in their areas.

Question: Do organizations have ERGs for parents working with school-age children at home?

  • One company started a Yammer group.
  • RetailMeNot has a Parents ERG that has been very deliberate about supporting parents with children at home who are home schooling and/or have younger children to care for while working from home.
  • This week, i4cp’s Total Rewards group call will feature a child psychologist discussing impact on children.

Question: How are people remaining visible while working at home?

  • CIGNA piloted an ERG in their personal branding initiative to help their employees stand out with voice, presence and visibility on the job.

Question: What are companies doing to help support emotional health of remote workers?

  • Trinity Health’s Ability! BRG is doing a webinar on stress reduction strategies.
  • A company CEO is doing weekly videos to employees and did one with his teenaged daughter in which she gave him feedback on what he needs to do better to support those at home.
  • Another company is conducting well-being webinars.
  • An organization’s Green Team (focused on sustainability) has continued modified Earth Month activities, including a display case outside a high-visibility, high-traffic location to afford a semblance of normalcy.
  • PeaceHealth is building a direct helpline for trauma services, staffed by its internal psychologists.
  • An attendee’s organization is partnering with the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness to deliver webinars on how to maintain mental health in the midst of the stress and anxiety of current affairs

Question: How are firms addressing questions about job security or insecurity in today's environment?

  • How is D&I working with frontline health workers and clinical staff? What type of programs or initiatives can we implement to help them?
  • PeaceHealth is building a $1M hardship fund for its front line employees, available in multiple languages. The company will also have COVID-19 Resource Navigators providing direct support for financial support, food resources, behavioral health and childcare.
  • Brigham Health is checking in with frontline staff managers daily to determine what their needs are and is escalating their issues.


Jacqui Robertson—Global Head of Talent, Diversity, and Inclusion at William Blair and Chair of i4cp’s CEO Board—kicked off the call with the guest interview.

Today’s guest: Neddy Perez, Global head of Diversity & Inclusion, Talent management COE at McCormick & Company.

Key Takeaways from the call:  

Find your balance. Ms. Perez, who has a background in PR and crisis management, noted that the current pandemic is the first time recent history has seen a disaster situation that is so widespread – affecting people in every part of the world. Because of the 24/7 news focus on COVID-19, and the many channels of input available, as well as the radical changes in daily life and the social isolation some are experiencing, it can be easy to become overwhelmed.  

Perez recommends that people work to find balance in news consumption. Limit the amount of news – much of which is repetitive anyway – so that it’s manageable. Find a way to frame it, disconnect and get some distance from it. This enables people to cope more effectively and frees them to support and help others.  

Look for lessons learned. Perez explains that McCormick has operations in 26 countries, including China. That presence gave the company an early view into what other countries are now dealing with. McCormick used that China connection as a learning experience that helped them observe what people and businesses went through and enabled them to better prepare for outbreaks in the U.S. and other locations.  

One lesson learned: involve all of an organization’s mission critical functions in planning responses and actions. McCormick tapped into teams in HR, safety, supply, crisis management and other areas. In addition, senior leaders issued proactive communications to employees and employee ambassador groups (EAGs) provided additional support.  

Implement talent strategies that focus on employees. McCormick’s primary emphasis has been on its employees and their safety and well-being. That approach, spearheaded by the global head of HR, mobilized the company in multiple ways. Some examples:  

Early on, employees where given the opportunity to choose whether they wanted to work from home or go into company locations

When situations moved beyond choice, all employees who could were asked to work virtually

HR teamed with IT to ensure employees quickly received equipment and support needed to work from home

Because McCormick operations are viewed as essential to the food supply chain, some locations must remain open. In those settings, Plant Operations and Health and Safety teams work to ensure extra precautions are taken to protect workers’ safety  

Think ahead and plan the return. A major topic of interest expressed on the call centered on what companies are doing now to anticipate/work toward eventual return to operations after the COVID-19 danger has passed. One potential six-step preparation process was shared with the caveat that it is still evolving and changing, and that such procedures will be unique to every organization – no one-size-fits-all. The six steps (plus 4 phases) to consider:  

  • Government approval – all levels: local, state, federal
  • Facilities readiness – cleaning needed, protective equipment required, etc.
  • Employee readiness – employees’ comfort and confidence in returning
  • Business readiness – which employees should return and in what order
  • Phased timeline – order in which aspects of operations should resume
  • Communications – plan proactive, transparent communication with employees  
Proposed Phases for reintegration:

1. Determining when to return
2. Preparing for return
3. Process to return to work
4. Post return considerations    

Other topics and questions raised during the call:  

  • What steps do companies take to tailor communications to be inclusive of hourly and/or salaried employee populations? (line workers vs corporate remote workers)
  • What are organizations doing related to D&I to keep associates engaged during this time? (specifically non-COVID-19 related)
  • Prior to COVID-19 teams were struggling to find ways to connect with remote teammates. Due to COVID-19 changes, some organizations are seeing much more digital social connection points (team happy hours, trivia games, birthday celebrations for teammates held via Zoom).
  • How are companies championing/training on resilience?
  • May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. How can organizations use this month to lift up and support teammates who identify in those communities and share the resilience of partners in Asia who are now starting to return to the office?
  • One company is educating on xenophobia and asking Asian BRG members to create conversations with others to educate.  


The first virtual gathering of the D&I action call covered many topics to include: 

Innovative Practices:

  • Retailers are offering shopping days just for seniors at grocery stores
  • Waste Management is using a daycare partner to help with child care issues and providing $100 a day to employees for childcare needs.
  • Pitney Bowes has a mature employee relief fund that has been in place for a while to deal with not only national emergencies, but also personal emergencies.
  • Zimmer Biomet and Pitney Bowes are treating contingent workers the same as FTEs re: paid sick time

Diversity & Inclusion Concerns Raised:

  • Has this shifted to more of a generational issue about attitudes in response to risk? Concern on the part of business leaders and local officials that younger people are still going out. How to address internally with our teams?
  • Workplace discrimination – an existential discussion.
  • Need to be on the alert for potentially discriminatory messaging/ responsible messaging
  • How are we dealing with people with disabilities? How are HR departments doing accommodations for those working from home who need work accommodations?
  • Disproportionate number of women losing employment; disproportionate amount of care issues falling to women. We will likely see greater instances of domestic violence against women and children

Remote Work Challenges:

  • Work from home parents need resources; educational resources – partnerships, etc. Greater access to childcare/homeschooling will be a continuing issue
  • There’s a need for greater awareness around equity and access; are we assessing equity issues we need to deal with – disparities?
  • What are you doing for parents working from home – resources for education from home?
  • Looking for online resources and sharing them with employees
  • Zoom is letting public and private schools use services for free
  • How can we do more? Like resources for older workers, caretakers, etc.
  • How are we using the different communities to keep people connected and engaged?
  • How do we maintain a healthy environment for those in jobs that can’t go virtual?

Long-Range Thoughts:

  • Now thinking more about prevention for future incidents. We skipped over the prevention phase and went directly into mitigation with this.
  • Partnerships with companies to help employees on the lower end of the economic spectrum
  • How can we use ERGs to push out resources?
  • To what extent do you think policies and practices now will become the new normal?

Curated Best Practices Articles

King County Public Health (Seattle) is pairing clinical information with anti-stigma information for the public

NBC News: 3 Ways to Promote a Virtual Work Culture that Prioritizes Inclusivity

TIME: Why Wearing a Face Mask Is Encouraged in Asia, but Shunned in the U.S.

Forbes: How To Create Effective Online Diversity Trainings 

Forbes: 5 Things To Know About Coronavirus And People With Disabilities

From CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion: Inspire Action: Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers

ICYMI: Replay of Ascend’s webinar on the role ERGs play in addressing COVID-19 

Companies: Now Is Not The Time To Put Diversity And Inclusion On The Back Burner (Forbes) 

Why This Economic Crisis Differs From the Last One for Women (NY Times)

8 Benefits Employers Should Zero In On During the COVID-19 Pandemic (HR Executive)