There is not one, but two major health issues at the forefront right now.
The tragic reality that Black people are more heavily impacted by the coronavirus is clear—a recent study by McKinsey & Company shows that Black Americans face a higher risk of getting coronavirus, and also have lower access to testing. That inequity is also seen in death rates: Black Americans have been dying at much higher rates than white Americans.
“The pandemic is shining a really bright light on what’s happening with healthcare disparities, specifically when it comes to the minority population [and] the Black population,” Dr. Ashwini Zenooz, the senior vice president and general manager for healthcare and life sciences at Salesforce, said at Fortune‘s virtual Brainstorm Health conference Tuesday. “That’s not because somebody is Black, it’s because of all of the components that have built up over hundreds of years that have led to the conditions there are today.”
As society works to combat both the pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, employers have a crucial role to play to ensure they are taking care of their employees and addressing the myriad racial inequities within their own workplace.
Focus on your low wage and essential workers
There are many factors contributing to the inequities we see in the health crisis today: “Whether it’s about access to good food, clean air, good water, it’s really about where you live, where you work—All of these things impact your health and wellbeing,” notes Zenooz.
One thing employers can do? “Focus on their low wage employees and see if they’re all getting access to healthcare,” says Zenooz. Of course, she adds, offering healthcare and allowing your employees to work from home if at all possible (even essential employees) are key in combating the health threats.
Meanwhile, providing a safe work environment and safe childcare options for those that have to come in can also help ease the burden for those essential workers with families, Zenooz suggests.
Bring your diversity work out in the open
For many companies, diversity work and commitments aren’t always shared publicly: “A lot of this work tends to happen in the dark—you’re in hush rooms, you’re strategizing, and your people don’t even necessarily know what you’re working toward,” Dr. Erin Thomas, the vice president and head of diversity, inclusion and belonging at Upwork, said Tuesday. But it’s now more important than ever for the business community to work toward solutions together.
Thomas says it’s critical “that we get less precious and proprietary about the work we’re doing within our organizations and start to share what’s working, what’s not, so that we can build collective solutions as we can see more diversity and Black representation throughout different areas of our business [and see] more Black leaders,” she said.
But transparency shouldn’t stop at just practices—it should include data, too, says Thomas. Companies need to acknowledge that “we’ve got a lot of work to do, and that our workplaces are not immune from the inequities we’ve seen in our society or from the inequities that have been unearthed with COVID-19,” Thomas notes. “It’s all connected.”
Leverage technology and data to unearth (and address) inequality
Traditional diversity and inclusion work isn’t so much focused on data—It’s been “pretty soft, pretty squishy,” according to Thomas.
But adopting a data-driven talent plan is “really at the core of an equitable workforce and anti-racist workforce,” Thomas says. That means examining what your workforce representation looks like across different levels (including at the very top)—and digging into data across the organization, from employee sentiment, to business practices, to where you are losing talent.
But it’s not just about using data to find out the what—it’s about understanding the why, too.
“Why is it that we deem [Black employees] as essential workers during a pandemic, and typically not otherwise?” asks Thomas. She offers, “Equity is about getting to the root causes of the patterns that you’re seeing and not stopping short” at what companies can see through analysis, “but rather, why is the context what it is.”
Zenooz echos Thomas: Whether it be acknowledging unconscious biases or looking at diversity in the workplace, using objective data to remove the subjectivity is “the best advice I would give,” she says.
More coverage on the intersection of race and business from Fortune:
- How Ben & Jerry’s activist history allows it to call out white supremacy and police brutality
- The enduring history of health care inequality for black Americans
- The insurance case that helped end the slave trade
- Corporate Germany has a race problem—and a lack of data is not helping
- Insurance redlining is real—and it will hurt neighborhoods hit by looting