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.
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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.
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
- Employee readiness – employees’ comfort and confidence in
- Business readiness – which employees should return and in
- Phased timeline – order in which aspects of operations
- Communications – plan proactive, transparent communication
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:
- 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?
- 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?
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