Saturday, October 7, 2023, will always be remembered as the Saturday when we woke up to an unimaginable reality of hell and horror. This is the kind of event in which each and every one of us will remember exactly where they have been and what they have done while many of us were slaughtered or kidnapped by Hamas. While I am writing these lines I am still not completely digesting what has happened like many others and at the same time I am forcing myself to write about a subject that is so critical, especially in this period - diversity and inclusion during wartime. Let's start.
I want to share with you the reason I decided to write about this topic. Two days ago I spoke with a friend who works for one of the largest international companies in the world and in this conversation, he shared with me the difficulties he has been experiencing at his workplace located somewhere in one of the European countries. To maintain privacy, I am leaving his name and the name of the company where he works under the guise of anonymity since even during this period there is a fear, perhaps even greater, of losing his job.
The same friend works in a diverse team. Meaning, that in the team there are people from different backgrounds, from different cultures, and different countries. Being distinctly Israeli during this period receives a focus that is often unpleasant and accompanied by real apprehension. One of the first things he shared with me was the many pro-Palestinian demonstrations he saw, which made him afraid to do the basic and obvious thing - walk to work. But this is not the main difficulty he encountered...
As I wrote before, his team consists of people who come from different parts of the world. For example, there are people from Italy, Holland, Arab countries, Israel, etc.
- "Italy loves us very much and I feel their support and empathy", he concludes.
- "And what about the other employees?", I made it difficult.
- "Look, I am having a hard time understanding the workers from Holland. They don't share a thing and I don't know what their position is. The Italians love us very much, I told you, but on the other hand, since the outbreak of the war, I had a frightening experience in which I feared for my life in front of one of the Arab workers. After I reported him to human resources, it was decided to let him go."
- "And how does the company deal with this unbearable situation in other, not-so-obvious aspects?", I asked.
- "The company actually didn't do much,", he replied. "They sent a communication that anyone who wants to can work from home, but this instruction also existed before and such an instruction does not solve any of the problems. Another thing they offered us is psychological treatment once a month, but these are local psychologists who don't really understand the situation in Israel and the treatment is patchy and doesn't help."
So now that you understand my motive for writing about this, I want to give you some important tips, which are suitable both for companies and organizations in Israel that employ diverse teams and for organizations and companies abroad that employ Israelis during the war.
Awareness and emphasis - it is very important to make the information and updates accessible to employees in a focused and responsible manner while emphasizing the organization's core values regarding acceptance of others and mutual respect. Each of us may receive different or partial information about the war or crisis and reliable information must come from the company's management, if only to align the workers and show the responsibility the organization has for its employees. At the same time, since the discourse surrounding the war may become heated, it is important to emphasize the company's policy regarding expression in the workplace and the culture of discussion and to take significant disciplinary measures if necessary.
Create safe spaces for employees so they can share their thoughts and concerns freely. There is no point in ignoring what is happening, it will manifest in one way or another, therefore the issue must be addressed, but approached with care and professionalism. Diversity has many advantages but one must be careful in solving fundamental conflicts like the one we are currently facing. Sharing with other team members can clear the atmosphere and allow employees to focus on their work and even show empathy for one another.
The "regular" mental assistance to employees may be ineffective, as in the case above. Check that the assistance is suitable for the need of the hour and make the necessary adjustments knowing that diverse populations have diverse ways of coping. Ask the employees the representatives of the different groups what they need and what will help them during this period and act accordingly.
In conclusion, in recent years we have experienced various extreme situations that test our ability as an organization to take care of our employees while we try to preserve the business activity. This is not a simple challenge at all, so it should be treated accordingly. Following the situation, I am undergoing accelerated training by the Employment Equality Commission of the Ministry of Economy, suitable for consultants in the field of diversity and inclusion, and I hope that we will come out of this training with more tools and insights, which will help companies and organizations succeed in this period in a way that will benefit the business as well as the employees.
Corporate Coach for employee engagement and diversity and inclusion