The subject line of one recent email caught my eye, though: "Inclusivity in COVID-19 messages." I wrote plenty of articles for the staff newsmagazine over the years on diversity & inclusion issues, and I came to realize (along with my own awakening on such matters) that while we often heard about ageism, sexism, racism, ableism, hetero-centricity, etc., awareness of pronatalism -- and, on the flipside, discrimination against people without children -- was extremely low to non-existent. Jody Day of Gateway Women has called childlessness "the biggest diversity issue HR has never heard of."
And it seems that COVID-19 has only exacerbated the parent/non-parent divide, inside & outside the workplace. While I'm not part of a workplace myself these days, I've heard/read plenty of childless women in various forums recently commenting about how they've been expected to continue working in the office while their parenting colleagues are allowed to work from home or given other flexible options... that workplace communications speak of encouraging flexibility and consideration for parents' needs (but no mention is made of accommodations for other employees)... that it's commonly assumed that everyone has a family around them for support & companionship... that even during Zoom business meetings, employees are talking about, being interrupted by, and/or proudly showing off their offspring on camera.
Meanwhile, little consideration is given to employees who don't have children but might have elderly family members they're supporting through this crisis, or who may be living alone and feeling very isolated while listening to their coworkers complain about how their kids are driving them crazy, seeing photos on social media of families enjoying cozy movie nights together, and reading media articles suggesting other fun activities for families to do while sheltering in place together.
While I seldom do more than glance at the subject lines of these newsletters, I clicked on this one and scanned the contents. I was amused/annoyed to notice that while there was indeed a blurb linking to an article about inclusivity in COVID-19 messaging ("Inclusive language shouldn’t take a back seat in your crisis messages... D&I is an essential consideration no matter what struggles your organizations faces.") it came below THIS blurb for an article about how parenting is great training for crisis management (!):
Parenthood offers insights for crisis communications best practices. Being able to respond creatively in a tight spot is a skill that many parents pick up—and the lessons of parenthood can be easily applied to many crisis situations. Here are some rules to follow, whether you are bandaging boo-boos or easing employee anxiety.
(You simply can't make this stuff up, right?)
I clicked over to the article... and I found myself mentally doing a word substitution exercise, as Pamela used to do on her Coming2Terms blog. :) Some excerpts, with my rewording &/or commentary in italic (boldface in the text comes from the original):
Being a parent (being a loss &/or infertility survivor/involuntarily childless person) is essentially a decades-long exercise in crisis management.
Whether you’re quelling tantrums, mending boo-boos, shutting down squabbles, striking bargains, delivering bad news, enforcing discipline, or ensuring equitable distribution of attention and resources, (whether you're making excuses for missing work because of fertility clinic appointments, ducking out of your colleague's baby shower, delivering bad news about your latest ultrasound, or trying to speak up to ensure equitable distribution of attention and resources for non-parents in the workplace) it all requires strategic communication. This is why parents (bereaved/infertile/childless-not-by-choice people) tend to make great communicators and PR pros.
...so much of surviving and enduring this difficult season with reputations intact goes back to basic tenets taught by mighty moms and dear old dads (mighty infertility, loss & trauma survivors) around the world. Let’s review some of these fundamentals of crisis management through the lens of parenthood (loss/infertility/involuntary childlessness):
Give people choices. ...Especially during this period of widespread insecurity and uncertainty (as when going through loss, infertility treatment or coming to terms with permanent childlessness), employees crave some semblance of control—whether it’s to do with how or when they work or getting options for messaging preferences. Instead of dictating “how it’s gonna be,” ask colleagues “how they’d like it to be.” (Non-parents would appreciate this well as parents!)
Give people a choice and a voice in matters large and small. (Especially when so many choices -- that so many others breeze through easily -- have been been denied to them already.)
Treat people with respect... Respectful communication is about honesty and transparency and not providing false hope... (Infertiles/loss survivors/CNBCers have endured enough false hope already!)
If you’re struggling with crafting a crisis message, ask yourself: How would I like to be told or treated in this scenario? The Golden Communication Rule is a potent workplace tool.
Be willing to pivot. A big part of parenting—and communication— (and surviving loss, infertility & involuntary childlessness) is being humble or self-aware enough to learn from mistakes and change on the fly... Now is a great time to try new things.
Think of others... Aside from the personal benefits of giving, consider the long-term reputational risks of bailing on those “core values” your company (or family) touts so proudly. If you fail to walk the “CSR” talk now, when it really matters, your people will remember. Of course, if you step up in times of need, they’ll remember that, too.
Perhaps the writer of that article needs to read the subsequent article on diversity & inclusion in crisis messages (the one whose headline initially caught my attention) -- and think about how messages will read to both parents and non-parents in the workplace. A couple of excerpts:
If we are not intentionally inclusive in our communications, then we are probably discriminating unintentionally.
...everyone has unconscious bias: We’re still good people, and it’s not enough to just be aware of bias. We must be proactive in making more inclusive choices in our behavior and, most specifically as professional communicators, in the words we choose. We have a responsibility to role-model inclusive language...
If we don’t pause and think about what we say, we’re often reinforcing stereotypes that can work against ourselves, our leaders and our employees.
Language can unite or divide. Words can hurt or heal; reinforce or dismantle the status quo. It’s time to disrupt the status quo of traditional communications...
When we know better, we do better (usually).
If we want diversity, inclusion and belonging as a result, then diversity, inclusion and belonging must be part of the process. However, good intentions do not mitigate negative effects. The offense is in the eyes of the offended and we have to start by learning about our own unconscious biases.I've heard about how several CNBC women have recently spoken out -- politely but firmly -- when confronted with pronatalist messaging in advertising & marketing communications, as well as in the workplace. In many cases, eyes have been opened, apologies issued, and changes have been made. In the U.K., the University of Bristol recently added a section on supporting childless employees to the diversity and inclusion section of its website. It's a start!
What do you think?