Centering Equity and HR in COVID-19

“There’s nothing like starting a new job in the midst of a global health pandemic! This is what Irina Meza, our new Chief of Staff stepped into on her first day on the job, March 13th (and our first day of COVID-19 lockdown at Mission Capital).

Irina Meza, is a SHRM- SCP (Society for Human Resource Management, Senior Certified Professional) and while she reiterates the importance of having sound human resource policy, she also reminds us that threading equity throughout our human resource practice is paramount as best practices and policies can also create inequities.

We are grateful for Irina’s leadership in all things HR & Operations and wanted to share her HR wisdom below.” – Madge Vasquez, CEO Mission Capital

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused all of us to think about how we interact and care for each other in new ways in both our personal lives as well as our professional lives. We are seeing inequities being exacerbated as families try to deal with food insecurity, lack of medical access, housing instability, pay cuts and job loss. However, now is not the time for us to pause or freeze or remain silent, but it is time for us to move forward with bold action and create connection in ways we never have before.

At Mission Capital our focus is to equip and connect mission-driven leaders, organizations and networks to advance equity and opportunity in Central Texas. In our last blog, we shared the results of our Nonprofit Pulse Survey. We will share the highlights of our second Nonprofit Pulse Survey, in a webinar on Friday, May 15th.

In this blog, I wanted to offer another way to continue to equip you on advancing equity by focusing on how to center equity in your human resource practice.

Address Anti-Asian Racism and how the pandemic is affecting communities of color.

According to STOP AAPI HATE, over 1500 national reports of coronavirus discrimination against Asian Americans were received in one month. Further, 44% of incidents took place in businesses including workplace discrimination. It is not enough to have policies in place to address harassment or have an EEOC statement, we must address anti-Asian racism and xenophobia. Encouraging your staff to participate in Bystander Intervention to stop anti-Asian/American and xenophobic harassment is a good beginning but requires intentional follow-up. There needs to be an ongoing conversation about how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting people of color. It is imperative that you make it clear in action that anti-racist behavior will not be tolerated, and provide your team with opportunities to learn the history of xenophobia and pandemics.

Economic downturns are disproportionately affecting people of color.

If you have to initiate a furlough or layoff, it is imperative you revisit your HR policies and, as you determine your criteria for reduction in hours, salaries and/or layoffs, ensure your actions do not create disparate treatment or adverse impact. Data shows that job losses are higher among people of color. Data for Progress reported that 45% of black workers have lost their jobs or have had their hours cut, compared with 31% of white workers. According to Pew Research Center, Latinx folks (49%) are more likely to have received a pay cut or lost a job due to COVID-19. Specifically, when you are creating strategies around your workforce don’t automatically chose criteria such as seniority-based selection which uses the last hired/first fired concept creating not only risk for discrimination but also disproportionately affects people of color. Also, don’t immediately choose to eliminate your staff in support roles which historically are held by higher proportions of people of color. Consider salary reductions only for staff on Leadership Teams and or capping reductions to only staff whose salary is above a certain range. If you do have to lay off staff reach out to organizations like Workforce Solutions who can assist with explaining unemployment and other resources.

Be aware of the digital divide and support your employees in multiple ways as you work remotely.

Being able to work remotely is a privilege that some of us and our organizations can access. However, don’t assume that because your staff have work-issued laptops or computers and access to video-conferencing that it eliminates the digital divide. Fastly, Inc., found that 22.3% of people in lower income brackets do not have acceptable internet performance for work and school during COVID-19. At times, we can move so quickly that we don’t take the time to make sure staff have everything they need to connect, from their internet access to whether they are open to sharing their personal space on video calls. Take the time to ask your staff candidly for what you can do to better support them in their virtual workplace and take action on their feedback. This creates space to deepen trust and build relationships.

Empower your staff to maintain their wellness and develop self-care strategies.

Lastly, don’t just tell your staff to focus on wellness and develop self-care strategies. Model how you are taking care of yourself. Set cultural norms around taking breaks and lunches and talk about work life balance with staff individually. According to Bloomberg, employees are now working 3 hours more each day which is creating overworked and stressed staff. It is easy to tell your staff to take care of themselves, but it is another thing to make sure you model taking care of yourself and that you follow up to make sure they are doing the same.

Centering equity needs to continue to be a priority in COVID-19, and should be in everything we do including in our human resources practice. For more insights into how to center equity in human resources, join me, Irina Meza, Chief of Staff, in our May 29th Member Meeting Up.

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