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Although the pandemic has created a dire economic situation across all demographics, it has been especially burdensome for our nation’s communities of color. Hispanic and Black adults are among the hardest hit in the labor market since the onset of the virus, and the financial fallout will likely have a lasting impact on minority communities.

While businesses strive to do their part in addressing the disparity, the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of integrating diversity and inclusion (D&I) into business operations to reach long-term goals.

Even before this crisis, people of color were underrepresented across nearly every industry in the labor market. Now, with the pandemic in full-force, minorities are facing an even greater risk. Studies show that nearly 45% of Black workers have lost their jobs or had their hours cut, compared to 31% of white workers. This is a concerning trend, as the pandemic is making it even more difficult for communities of color to recover.

At the same time, businesses in industries that have been the most impacted are choosing to cut back on integral programs to save money at the expense of their diversity and inclusion goals. However, if our history is any indicator, joint research from Fortune and Great Place to Work found that companies who prioritized diversity and inclusion practices – even in the most economically vulnerable times – were better-equipped to mitigate the financial impact of a recession.

Businesses can play an integral part in creating new job opportunities for those who need it most, all while keeping their long-term business goals top of mind. In fact, studies have found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have better financial returns than national industry medians. These financial returns are driven by the countless benefits of cultivating a more diverse and inclusive team, and they are likely to have an even greater impact during the pandemic.

Randstad found that 87% of professionals prefer working in a gender-diverse team, meaning that promoting more diversity in the workplace positions companies to attract and retain top talent. This talent is critical to the success of any organization, as a more diverse workforce is better positioned to improve the quality of decision making and increase customer insight by leveraging new and unique perspectives.

Figuring out how to integrate these critical practices into business operations will be the first – and most important – step. And while there are countless approaches to cultivating an inclusive working environment, there is one common thread: businesses must not depend on company culture to drive diversity. Human resource professionals should instead take the lead on bringing in more diverse minds through various recruiting and hiring techniques.

And it must not end there. Minorities, especially women of color, continue to face barriers and bottlenecks at their companies even after being hired. Business executives have a responsibility to establish an inclusive culture that permits all individuals to advance and break through the glass ceiling of their organizations. In other words, women and communities of color must be included in strategic conversations and decisions at all levels of business operations. Until then, we risk a situation where these individuals have no opportunity to grow professionally.

Thankfully, we are already seeing encouraging signs as businesses across the nation have recognized the importance of diversity and inclusion in their hiring practices, especially in the wake of a social justice movement. Take, for example, the upward spike in D&I job roles offered from May to June this year. Efforts like these will pave the way in holding businesses accountable for much-needed change.

But our work is far from over. Now is the time for company executives to reaffirm their commitment to diversity, not back away. Once businesses embrace the benefits of bolstering a more inclusive workplace, they will be well-equipped to withstand the economic impact of this virus. Until then, our nation’s most vulnerable risk being left behind.


Audra Jenkins is the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Randstad North America.