Like many living through this period of global unrest, inflation, and suffering, I am often unsure of a clear path forward to help, especially when it comes to those impacted by the war in Ukraine. It seems that each news cycle never lasts long enough to pause and reflect on how each of us can use our resources, financial or otherwise, to aid those who have been displaced. Wema Hoover is a progressive DEI executive who helps organizations to advance diversity, equity and inclusion capabilities at each level of their employee population. By sharing her knowledge, she empowers all of us to reflect on our individual areas of expertise and how they can be put toward the common good. Her compassion-in-action approach leverages her knowledge in the DEI space to create implementable plans for organizations to provide means and opportunities that extend far beyond the companies local employees. Here's what Wema says about how companies can and should aid in the humanitarian crisis that is the Ukrainian war:
Do we still care or have we already forgotten? In today’s politically charged environment, it’s hard to know what to prioritize and all too easy to quickly move on from one thing to the next. Yet Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February rages on with its far reaching effects beyond what might appear today as more out of sight, out of mind. But this is fact: We are still experiencing this war first hand. The U.S. feels it in the increased fuel and food prices, escalated inflation, and the sheer grief of witnessing massive violence and the horrifying displacement of a people. However, the conflict has effects that many of us don’t think about or hear about on the nightly news. As a global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practitioner, my mind goes to how DEI and corporate sustainability work can help the more than 3.5 million refugees who have sought protection outside of Ukraine since February 24, 2022 and the recorded 9 million refugee border crossings from Ukraine since the invasion. With the large number of refugees flooding Europe and other countries, there is a continued need for expanded social services, employment, housing, and childcare. Global DEI practitioners are in a prime position to influence organizations to create the means and opportunities for those in need. But what should we be thinking about? What are the challenges and frameworks for providing solutions to support and help those directly impacted by the war?
What is needed of organizations is an integrated approach to diversity, equity, inclusion, and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Organizations can use their CSR efforts—while incorporating DEI best practices—to impart and empower solutions for the millions of refugees who need them. Currently, from a CSR standpoint, the European Union (EU) has offered Ukrainian refugees the right to stay and work in any of its 27 member nations for up to three years including access to healthcare, welfare,schools; we are seeing companies such as Apple, Mastercard, and Coca-Cola suspending operations in Russia; we are seeing creative solutions such as Airbnb funding free, short-term housing for up to 100,000 refugees while Elon Musk’s company SpaceX provides Starlink terminals to access its satellite-based internet service after a plea on Twitter by Ukraine’s vice prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov. We are seeing upward of 50 major global companies, such as Pfizer launching a refugee initiative and the staffing firms Adecco and Manpower, signing a pledge to provide for the immediate and long-term support for the millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine, with Adecco setting up a free jobs portal for employees and employers.
Nearly six months since Russia’s invasion, This remains a watershed moment for companies who have the opportunity to use their corporate social responsibility and sustainability efforts to understand and affect the social, economic, and employment challenges that Ukrainian refugees are facing. DEI can help them do that. In the face of a people so personally impacted by war, how do you bring the cultural sensitivity and EQ needed to facilitate job training? How can companies be agile in their approach to skill and experience assessment so that talent and people don’t get sidelined? How do we prepare not just for tomorrow or next month, but also years into the future, as the cultural landscape will be forever changed?
DEI practitioners are tasked with just that. They are uniquely equipped to help businesses and their managers and leaders gain the cultural agility, fluency, and awareness to be able to embrace the community of refugees and set them up for success. Additionally, the pandemic’s silver lining (if there was one) gave companies the increased awareness, appreciation for, and emotional intelligence to address the mental health challenges of a population dealing with ongoing trauma. These efforts need to be continued and amplified for the refugee community.
In onboarding and transitioning a new workforce, DEI should work hand in hand with CSR efforts, creating a culture of compassion and inclusion. Everyone is impacted by war (obviously to different degrees). Business leaders should lean on their DEI practitioners in a multitude of ways, as they are equipped with the resources to support diverse populations during transitions (such as creating psychologically safe environments). There are many cultural differences at play with regard to work, leadership, and management—not to mention different communication styles, values, approaches, and language. DEI practitioners will need to (and need to know how to) address these differences to ease the transition for all involved.
Furthermore, DEI practitioners can help companies identify transferable skills, abilities, and untapped markets that this influx brings with it—not opportunistically, but in a way that engages and amplifies their corporate social responsibility and mission. A central component will be examining the ways that companies can engage this broad range of skill sets and experiences and do so within different industries and functional areas (similar to the way an MBA program works). This is where the mission, vision, and integrity of an organization come to life. Not only will companies be expected to do this, they should want to—and building a strong partnership between DEI and CSR will allow it.
Now more than ever, countries, municipalities, and states are requiring and expecting organizations to positively impact the communities that they operate in. Employees are expecting the same. There can no longer be a divide between corporate profit and responsibility. When companies help their communities, people flourish—and subsequently, so does the company.
For organizations that do not have their DEI and CSR in place or meaningfully integrated, partnership is key. There are large global organizations such as the International Labor Organization (ILO), the World Economic Forum, and the United Nations that have structures and systems in place that are regionally directed. Local partnerships from a humanitarian and jobs training perspective can be made, in addition to outreach with the local offices of the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. By tapping the experience of these organizations, companies can quickly build the framework they need to make a difference.
In fact, all of us can make a difference. It is critical that the Ukrainian refugees are not left behind in our thoughts and actions as we move further away from the country’s invasion in February. You don’t have to be a DEI practitioner to do so. But as a DEI practitioner, I know that each of us has an important part to play in creating a better world. Here are some ways you can help.
Most of us can point to the most visible things impacted by the war in Ukraine: increase in fuel and food prices, inflation, social unrest, etc. But the effects of the conflict have much greater and deeper reach than what we hear on the news. As a global DEI practitioner, I think about the impact of this war on those of us supporting DEI and corporate sustainability work. With the large number of refugees flooding European and other global countries, there will be a great need to help them get back on their feet. A need for expanded programming and solutions for education, employment and social services. Global DEI practitioners can and should play a key role in creating the means and opportunities for those in need. But what should we be thinking about? What are the obstacles? And what is the framework for how we can provide solutions to support and help those directly impacted by the war?
WRITTEN BYAn Phan