The workplace is undergoing a transformation following the COVID-19 pandemic and diversity and inclusion need to be a priority for organizations going forward.
Panellists reiterated this message during a discussion billed Future of the Workplace After COVID-19, part of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) first annual virtual conference held recently.
“Organizations are at a point of inflection with the ability to transform working arrangements permanently,” said panel moderator Angela Wojtyla, P.Eng. and enterprise channel manager at Microsoft. She is also chair the OSPE Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. “However, as decisions are made it is important to consider who benefits. How do organizations drive inclusion in this new reality? How will we build mechanisms that prevent attrition of women and other under-represented groups in times of crisis? How has the pandemic changed what skills future engineers must possess?”
Panellists agreed the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women and underrepresented groups.
Jason Brooksbank, senior manager at Hydro One, said diversity and inclusion can enhance problem solving, business and processes, especially in the face of disruption.
“More diverse teams are better at anticipating changes in customer needs and developing work methodologies to maintain and thrive in these times,” Brooksbank said. “Diversity brings new experiences and ideas. People can learn from each other. Diverse teams open dialogue and promote creativity, something that we need in great amounts during this unusual situation.”
Melanie Lalonde, P. Eng., and regional director of engineering — western Canada with Hatch, talked about the link between diversity, inclusion and innovation. In a recent study, Boston Consulting Group surveyed over 1,700 companies across eight countries around the world and found a really strong correlation between diversity and innovation, she noted. Companies with above average diversity were found to have higher revenues from innovation.
“If you don’t have an inclusive culture present you’re not hearing the ideas from the diverse workforce and getting that innovative response,” said Lalonde.
Diversity is very broad and doesn’t just include women and innovation does not only refer to products and services, she added.
“The pandemic has also highlighted innovation just isn’t about developing new products or the latest widget or gadget. What is equally important is being innovative in the way we do work,” she said. “It’s adapting and improving our workforce for the current environment.”
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, it’s critically important to keep your foot on the accelerator pedal, said Dr. Kim Jones, Ph.D., P.Eng. and associate professor at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ont.
“If you have one-time energy and don’t show that continuity and commitment then it disappears and in fact you can go backwards,” she said, adding there is an increasing impetus to go back to the old way of doing things. “I think it’s great that we’re in a place where everybody is recognizing the importance but we really have to be conscious and thoughtful of maintaining the momentum.”
While it’s important to recognize the downside of the pandemic, it’s also important to look at the opportunities it created.
“It’s also critical to support employees with families, with different needs and desires to be successful and to learn from all of the successes that we’ve had in doing these rapid transitions to working at home, to flexibility in our work environments,” she explained. “We’ve had opportunities that we haven’t had in the past and it would be a real shame to lose those. A lot of people have had these opportunities to spend time with their families and don’t want to give that up entirely, they want that flexibility.”
As some people return to the office while others continue to work from home, it’s important to make networking opportunities equally available to all whether they are in-person or online.
“There is good conference call etiquette where you make sure that everyone’s opinion is sought out and has equal opportunity to share their ideas and thoughts,” Jones said. “If there is one person who is not there in-person you still intentionally include them in the conversation. If there is somebody who is working from home they still have intentional opportunities to network and mingle with their colleagues to learn those things that are not put out in company memos.”
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