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Employee engagement during civil unrest: From Day One conference recap

It's never been a more crucial time to create – or improve upon – your company's DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) strategy.

Whether your employees are sitting further apart due to social distancing or working remotely in their homes, they crave connection from their employer and from each other. They also want to know their company's stance on the important issues du jour, from anti-racism to public health.

It's a lot to tackle, especially with the success of your business also in mind.

I attended From Day One's virtual conference last week, one that would've been held in person in different times. (I attended their conference in Chicago last year.) The theme was keeping employees engaged in an environment unlike any we've experienced in our lifetimes, and that's unlikely to change soon.

Below are a few highlights from the sessions.

Keia Clarke, CEO of the New York women's Liberty basketball team, boasts an uncommon staff that is entirely BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color). She suggests offices mirror that of their customer base, and actually aims to add a couple of white staff members in 2021.

On diverse hiring for corporations: It’s about not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. “[Actively] seek out the diversity that you hope for," Clarke said.

An employee holds a baby while on a Zoom conference call
How can you keep your employees engaged when they have so much to juggle?

Rachel Ernst of Reflektive presented her company's annual survey results around employee engagement. The study gathered responses from 445 HR pros and business leaders, and 622 employees on performance trends, employee needs, and sentiment around the future.

One important insight from the report is that employees want even more transparency from leadership during these uncertain times: Only 21% agreed that their organization is transparent about salary freezes and potential pay cuts.

And middle managers have the most power to change attitudes: 64% said middle management has more of an impact on engagement than execs do. Middle managers struggle the most with engagement: Squeezed between execs who set the vision and employees questioning that vision and its execution.

Invest in your company's middle management for maximum growth and impact. Dive into the report here.

One attendee's comment: "I work in a school, and since religion can be an important part of a student's identity, we celebrate every holiday with a presentation to the school community. We believe an understanding of traditions helps create a safe space for sharing."

A panel, moderated by Fast Company's Lydia Dishman, discussed ways to keep employees engaged during civil unrest and a pandemic.

While the responses shared by the representative from Delta Airlines sounded like lip service, Avenica, an employment agency for college graduates, came out smelling like a rose.

CEO Scott Dettman said “family comes first” at Avenica, and mentioned his four children more than once. He offers his staff flexible scheduling, and if a family matter unexpectedly comes up during the work day (don't they always?), it claims top priority.

A program they offer for new graduates comprises about 60% of students from diverse backgrounds. And at end of their often-issued employee surveys, they ask, “what one thing can Company X do to make it a better place to work?”

Questions the panelists suggested companies ask to improve their DEI programs:

  • What practices have you started during this time that will remain after this is all over?

  • How do you maintain your company's culture when most workers are remote?

  • What is said about your company digitally, by your employees and outside the organization?

  • What new benefits can your company offer that are relevant during this difficult time? (Sick leave, day care benefit, flexible schedules, etc.)

Walking away from this virtual conference and with my decade-plus career behind me, I'd suggest every company take at least one meaningful step forward before the year ends. What's a meaningful step? Well, one that involves multiple stakeholders, and takes more than one email chain.

This could include updating your company's values, adding a diversity statement to your website's careers page, or creating a new affinity group for your underrepresented employees.

Need help managing one of these initiatives? It's what we do, so drop us a line.

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