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


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

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

Quick takeaways of this article:

  • Keep in mind that when people say “Only those with underlying conditions should be concerned,” those people are hearing you be dismissive of the fact they face a serious threat.
  • It can be more difficult for people with disabilities to quarantine or take necessary steps to protect themselves.
  • Impact on caregivers can also impact a disabled workers independence.
  • This could have larger implications on long-term issues on workplace accommodations and flexibility.
  • Awareness and concern for special needs will communicate that you “have their backs”