In light of the demonstrations for racial justice, stemming from the murder of George Floyd and countless others, diversity and inclusion is top of mind for many, not least of all employers. Presently, many companies are working to become more inclusive, while also grappling with the realities of closed offices and remote workforces. A recent study found that 43 percent of companies with diverse management had higher profits, and racially and ethnically diverse teams perform 35 percent better than less diverse competitors. Terri Cooper, PhD, chief inclusion officer at DeloitteMita Mallick, head of diversity and cross cultural marketing at UnileverGina Hadley, cofounder of The Second Shift, and Kathleen Entwistle, private wealth advisor at Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management, recently joined Worth to discuss how the events of 2020 are changing the workplace for us all and how leaders can continue to engage top talent in our new virtual world.

“For me, it’s really about creating an environment where every individual feels as though they’re connected,” Cooper explained. “For us, as a professional services firm, networking is so important…that [employees] have that connective tissue, that they can network, that they feel as though they belong, that they can truly be their authentic self. I certainly believe that those are the two magic ingredients, that create an environment where people can grow. So, as a result of that, you can see greater representation at all levels within the firm.”


Hadley thinks the moment we’re currently in presents us with a unique opportunity to make a better workplace for all.

“At The Second Shift, we see this enormous opportunity to change the way that the workplace could look after this pandemic,” Hadley said. “We just have to remember that this is not the future of work. This is quarantine.”

“And I think before this moment, the idea of working remotely, working on projects, was one that seemed almost revolutionary,” Hadley said. “And we were working with companies that were bravely embracing this, but here we are now. And I hope that we have lots of different choices about how we work. And The Second Shift is very happy that maybe something will come out of this moment. And we will realize that not everybody needs to be in the office to be a contributor.”

Elaborating on that, Hadley pointed out that for many, the typical office-centered work life we’ve all become so accustomed to really isn’t suitable for many people, and the pandemic has made this clear.

“I think everybody’s working even harder than they were before,” Hadley said. “It doesn’t have to be bed check. You don’t have to stay at the office until the boss leaves, you don’t have to be the first one there to make the pot of coffee so that everybody knows that you are invested. And for our members, who are women roughly between the ages of 35 and 50, those career building moments are sometimes in direct opposition with what the American workplace has looked like—the 60 hours, Monday through Friday, away from home.”

“So when we do get to a point of, I hope, normality, or at least stability, managers will look at their teams and say, ‘Look, I’m going to leave it up to you. We all have to have a meeting. I need you in the office, but there’s no reason for you to come in and close your door and crank on your computer so that I know that you’re here and then get on the train and go back to be with your family if that doesn’t work for you,’” Hadley said. “The workplace has been stressful for a lot of people who don’t fit the archetype for whom it was created. And I think it’s not just women. I think it’s people of color. I think it’s the LGBTQ community, anybody with a disability. And so, this has given a lot of people, a moment to breathe and focus on doing their best work instead of trying to fit into what they think the workplace is expecting of them.”


Mallick also spoke of the importance of allowing your employees the ability to voice what’s going on at home—especially with many having to parent and educate their kids, while also working from home.

“There’s really no such thing as core operating hours anymore. It’s core individual hours,” Mallick said. “So really allowing people to think about what your workday will look like and being supportive. And I think that starts with psychological safety. So, I can say to you, ‘My seven-year-old is probably going to get tired of Moana and come run in here at some point.’ And that’s OK, that’s the center of her life.”

“But if I say that and I come in and I say, ‘I’m really struggling because my seven-year-old is struggling.’ I allow for a safe place to other people to let me know what’s going on in their lives, because everyone’s on their own COVID-19 journey. Behind the best banana bread you’ve ever baked and drive-by birthday party pictures on Instagram, you don’t know what’s happening in people’s homes and in their lives. So, allow a space for people to talk to you about it. And then that ties to the final piece, which I know Gina will relate to as we think about what The Second Shift does in their role, is like ruthless prioritization—what do you need help on? What is the work that needs to get done? And for me, I wake up every morning and this is what I talk to my team about, it’s like, ‘What are the two things I’m going to get done for Unilever? And the two things I’m going to do to keep my kids alive today?’ Really operating, and the rest of it doesn’t matter. And maybe it never mattered before. And that’s the gift of thinking about what’s the work that really needs to get done right now.”

Cooper asserted that this transition from an in-person workplace to a digital work environment will likely become the norm, even beyond the pandemic.

“I know we’re in [a] pandemic right now, but this way of working around more of a virtual [setting] is going to become more of a norm moving forward,” Cooper said. “And if you want to be successful in managing and moving up to more senior levels, you need to actually hone the skills that enable you to really generate more of that inclusive environment and being recognized and thinking about how we measure or hold individuals accountable, for creating that greater flexibility.”

“We’re on a journey and there are individuals that really need a lot of support and guidance around ‘how do I make this work?’ Because they haven’t necessarily experienced this before,” Cooper continued. “And they are used to be in the office or at the client site with the person right next to them and they can direct the work immediately. So, I think there’s a fundamental shift that’s happening right now. And we do have some lag outs, it’s going to take a little longer to bring them along on that journey. I think we do need to have more focused education in that regard.”

And throughout this COVID journey, one thing that has become important is realizing who’s in your meetings and evaluating why someone might not have been asked to join, along with checking in on those employees who are keeping their head down during meetings.

“I think what really concerns me right now is that it is too easy for women to come into meetings, stay on mute, keep your camera off,” Mallick said. “And it’s like you were never in these meetings, and you can quickly disappear off of the radar screen of your organization…When you’re thinking about sponsorship programs and those moments where you would grab a coffee or have a hallway chat, as people who are looking after someone in your organization, we’re looking after so many people, just check in, ‘Why haven’t I seen this person? Where have they gone? They’re in meetings, but they’re not speaking up.’ So, I think that really is concerning me…that’s something to watch out for.”

And one last big tip for proctoring greater workplace diversity and inclusion?

“Check your calendar for tomorrow and see who’s invited to what meetings and why,” Mallick said. “There’s no excuse anymore. It’s a virtual table, right? So, this idea of, ‘Oh, you can’t come to this meeting because there’s not enough room or it’s with the CEO.’ I’m meeting with my CEO every day, and I haven’t washed my hair in I don’t know how long, and he’s showing up in a hoodie and we’re chatting and we’re connecting. And I think that’s been the great equalizer. I think also there’s a really great opportunity now to work on all different kind of work.”