DEI and Crisis Management: Staying the Course in Uncertain Times

March 24, 2020 |
2 minute read

The times we are living in are unprecedented. On March 11th, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the spread of COVID-19 constituted a global pandemic. Currently, in the U.S., the virus has officially spread across all 50 states, forcing many cities and municipalities to put measures into place in order to protect the populace. Social distancing, sheltering in place, business closures and other measures are being employed to mitigate the spread of the virus to more vulnerable members of the population. Due to this pandemic, the markets are reeling, having fallen 30 percent from its peak in just a few weeks.

During times of financial distress, many institutions tend to disengage from important Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives (DEI). For example, during the economic crisis of 2009, while some colleges and universities held on to gains made with DEI efforts, many others cut resources to support DEI initiatives.[1] Also, in the for-profit sector, many firms that had made strategic investments in DEI work cut jobs and initiatives meant to support those efforts. When times are good, institutions in the for profit and nonprofit sectors focus on DEI, but when there is distress and uncertainty, often DEI initiatives and departmental budgets that support the work are frozen or slashed.

It is understandable that DEI initiatives might be perceived as “nice to have” when times are good, but the reality is they are even more important when social and economic conditions are uncertain. New research shows that DEI efforts present a potent source of strength for organizations as they weather tough times.

In 2019, Great Place To Work, the global experts on workplace culture, discovered that publicly traded companies with highly inclusive workplaces thrived before, during, and after the Great Recession, and gained on average a 4x greater stock return than the S&P 500.[2]

Great Place To Work also considered employees’ abilities to innovate, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders. In addition, the ranking measured the diversity of the company’s overall workforce as well as across management, senior leadership, and its board of directors. This latest research adds to the evidence that workplace equity is not only the right thing to do, it makes firms more resilient, more innovative, and is ultimately better for business. Research done by the National Council of Nonprofits shows similar advantages. Nonprofits that focus on DEI and do it well are higher performing and are better able to advance the nonprofit’s mission, innovate programmatically, and engage more diverse donor demographics.[3] These advantages benefit nonprofits when times are good and also make them more resilient when social and economic conditions impact funding, programming, and operations.

More diverse and inclusive firms, institutions, and organizations are more resilient, better able to innovate, and keep employee morale and engagement high during times of distress.

In this time of Corona, social distancing is what is being asked of all of us, but really, it is more a matter of physically distancing ourselves. Socially, in a lot of ways, we are more connected than we have ever been. COVID-19 is not an economic issue, a racial issue, a gender issue, an age issue, an LGBTQ issue, it is a collective human issue.

We are still in uncertain times, and the collective strides we are making on DEI are more important than ever before, we must stay the course. By including, honoring and activating the many perspectives, ideas, and identities that we all bring forth, we will take care of business, take care of each other, and weather this storm together.

Visit our Commonfund website today to learn more about responsible investing. 



Above the Law, Recession’s Impact on Diversity Initiatives, 2010

WE Magazine For Women: Diversity in a Recession, 2010

Fortune, New Study Reveals Diversity and Inclusion May Be The Key To Fighting the Next Recession, 2020

HR Dive, Diverse, inclusive companies have an advantage during recessions, study finds, 2020

[1]Diversity Takes a Hit During Tough Times, Chronicle of Philanthropy, 2009

[2] Great Place To Work: What we Learned-Our 2019 Workplace Research Highlights

[3] National Council of Nonprofits, Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matter for Nonprofits

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