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Not talking about race and gender today is like not talking about 9/11

NAREIM Talent Management meeting 2020

October 13 and 15, 2020 - key takeaways

Senior leaders need to engage in conversations about gender and racial equality today, because employees will see it as coming too late to wait six months or one year to speak up.

Big picture: NAREIM members attending the Talent Management meeting last week, were advised to help executive officers to talk about diversity and inclusion within the organization – because not doing so in 2020 was akin to not talking about the September 11 terrorist attacks almost two decades ago.

Specialist diversity, equity and inclusion leaders advised NAREIM members to understand what it meant not to engage today, but to help leaders acknowledge that no conversation would be perfect and to provide tools to handling more difficult conversations. “You don’t have to do something big, but you do need to do something,” members were told.

Ideas for promoting better engagement and empathetic conversations with employees, included:

  • Ownership: Ensure any D&I strategy is embedded across the business and isn’t just owned by HR and talent management. Always bring the strategy back to the executive leadership, so they own the strategy.

  • Resources: Create a race, ethnicity and/or gender page on corporate intranets.

  • Provide documents and resources on company intranets helping employees engage in conversations on race and gender. Many resources have been provided free by companies such as Harvard Business Review, Korn Ferry, among others.

  • Create and better engage with resource groups within your own organization that focus on race and gender.

  • Provide executive leaders with phrases and tools for managing more difficult conversations: “I understand you feel that way. Let me step back. I never considered that.”

  • Help executive officers have peer conversations with fellow leaders of other firms on equality, diversity and inclusion.

  • Vendors: Make small choices that matter – choose vendors, such as caterers, that are women and minority-led. For example, supporting a woman or African American-owned firm for all corporate catering.

Interrupt bias in the moment: Encourage all employees to interrupt any bias witnessed in the moment, rather than allowing it to become hallway conversations and gossip. Step in as it happens. It doesn’t mean having to shout – it means speaking up for the culture of the corporation.

The NAREIM Talent Management meeting, which took place in two sessions over two days, also focused on best practices for operating in today’s hybrid remote environment. Members shared solutions to key challenges of communication and Zoom fatigue, highlighting ideas such as:

  • CEO/C-suite listening meetings with no more than 5 employees. The meeting has no agenda and is led by employees chatting to the CEO and/or executive leader about issues on their mind – and how they have been coping with remote or hybrid working during Covid.

  • Frequent town halls on the strategy around Covid is being replaced with conversations and newsletters focused on the business and business strategy. Employees want to understand succession planning, where that’s an issue, returns and budgets and the future strategy of the organization.

  • Create the spontaneity of office life and collaboration by encouraging teams to have virtual team meetings for one to two hours where they have their videos on as a group but focus on the individual work they are doing. This allows members of the team to ask one another questions as they arise and recreate part of the office dynamic.

  • Cold calls from the CEO. No agenda and no calendar invitation – one member firm is having the CEO call employees at home to simply chat.

  • Performance reviews have largely been kept the same – and is being welcomed as a sense of normalcy. Rather than introduce a new system, specific for Covid, members are largely keeping reviews the same, with no changes other than training for managers on conducting performance reviews online.

  • Employee review roundtables. One member firm had brought together senior leaders to review the profiles of all employees to remind themselves of each person at the firm while remote. The reviews were a guide for the senior team members about employees outside their direct team, and a chance to raise specific issues and how each employee was dealing with remote/hybrid working.

  • Junior employees at one member firm were being offered presentation skills training as part of a learning series – to help them with their virtual communication.

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