COVID-19 and crises like these have a far-reaching global impact, but there are direct effects for colleagues in the workforce too. During health crises, different and often underserved communities can be adversely impacted, challenging the way we create diverse and inclusive workplaces. During the Ebola outbreak, there were many individuals of African descent who were blamed for Ebola while the LGBTQ community has continued to experience AIDS discrimination, as examples. Unfortunately, now during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is blame being directed toward our colleagues in the Asian community.

Equally as tragic is the negative behaviors shown to those testing positive for the virus or to now-healthy patients who have been released from quarantine. A recent article from Diversity Best Practices, “Implications of COVID 19 and Bias,” stated that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recognized this widespread fear and stigmatization of people even after they are released from quarantine and declared healthy. This can not only impact the mental health of those already coping with having had COVID-19, but also their ability to reenter society.

Fear and stigma have a multiplier effect when it comes to making a situation worse. Historically stigmatized groups are more reluctant to seek medical treatment when symptomatic because of fear of harm, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This behavior can prompt possible social isolation of groups, which might contribute to a situation where the virus is more likely to spread. If people are covering, or trying to hide their illness to avoid discrimination, they are less likely to get tested or treated.

At our company, our focus during this challenging time is to not only keep all our employees safe but to ensure there are safe places for employees. Many companies have D&I Champions, who are dedicated to making the workplace one where all people belong. We need D&I champions now more than ever—and we need more people to be champions, especially with the current decentralization of the workforce. During times of crisis, we need employees to speak up when they see these types of behaviors. If we don’t all take a stand to reduce this type of bias, then it will continue to prevail.

At our company, our focus during this challenging time is to not only keep all our employees safe but to ensure there are safe places for employees

During challenging times such as these, we have to ensure that we are continuing to drive an inclusive culture. Consider these guidelines from the CDC and how best to champion them in your organization, so it is as inclusive as possible:

Maintain the privacy and confidentiality of those seeking healthcare and those who may be part of any contact investigation.

Quickly communicate the risk or lack of risk from associations with products, people, and places.

Raise awareness about COVID-19 without increasing fear.

Share accurate information about how the virus spreads.

Speak out against negative behaviors, including statements on social media about groups of people, or exclusion of people who pose no risk from regular activities. 

Be cautious about the images that are shared. Make sure they do not reinforce stereotypes.

Engage with stigmatized groups in person and through media channels, including news media and social media.

Thank healthcare workers and responders. People who have traveled to areas where the COVID-19 outbreak is happening and have performed a valuable and brave service.

During these trying times, we must go the extra mile to be inclusive, stop discrimination and harassment when we see it and promote goodwill. Supporting each other and taking personal accountability to be a diversity and inclusion champion is just one way.