Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Time of COVID-19: Q&A with Christy Johnson (Part One)

In light of the impacts that the coronavirus pandemic is having on many businesses, including many of our own tech companies here in the Seattle area, I’ve been curious to understand how it may affect diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. To learn more, I spoke with Christy Johnson, founder and CEO of Artemis Connections, and a long-time friend of the New Tech community.

Hi, Christy! Thanks for taking the time to chat about this issue that is near and dear to our hearts. What are you currently seeing and hearing as it relates to how current events are impacting diverse communities?

If you’re looking at the numbers on those filing for unemployment, having jobs eliminated or being furloughed, it is hitting diverse talent and women really hard. Some are calling this a “she-cession” because women are being laid off at a much higher percentage compared to men, given the sectors in which women disproportionately work. In addition, we’re seeing impacts at both ends of the age spectrum. At the younger end, we’re seeing delays in start dates for new hires out of college by as much as two to four months. And at the other end of the spectrum, people who are older are finding they are more likely to get furloughed or laid off.

Are companies putting DEI initiatives on hold in light of current events?

I expected – and we are seeing – that some companies are pausing DEI work right now. But many observers are watching to see how companies deal with corporate social responsibility and DEI in the weeks and months ahead. Will they keep investing in these initiatives? If there are some intentional actions taken to demonstrate that you care about DEI, people will remember that.

Companies that are smart and savvy can do some significant things around DEI, and then come out of this looking really great because this DEI trend is going to accelerate. This is a really interesting opportunity for values-driven tech companies right now. On the talent front, we’ve been seeing interest in DEI start with the Millennials, but it’s a lot stronger with Generation Z – the group up to age 25. This younger cohort cares about the DEI efforts of the companies they work for and the companies they buy from.

For those individuals still fortunate to have their jobs, what challenges are they facing?

One thing that isn’t being talked about quite as much as I had hoped – but Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures is trying to drive this – is caregiving. A key to economic recovery involves workers’ ability to find care for their loved ones. For parents – particularly those with young kids – it’s challenging to navigate homeschooling while working. As a result, there are parents who can’t go back to an office right now. These working parents are grateful for companies like Twitter who are allowing employees to work from home forever. So, this is something that companies can do to acknowledge that people might need more flexibility.

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