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Opinion: Inequities may come to forefront during coronavirus pandemic

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I recently completed a four-part webinar produced by the National Inclusive Excellence Leadership Academy’s Center for Strategic Diversity Leadership and Social Innovation. The training focused on how leaders can manage the COVID-19 public health crisis with support for diversity, equity and inclusion.

One may ask, “What does this have to do with the business community?” I believe everything.

The framework for the webinars was based on limiting unintended consequences to individuals or employees by 1) making culturally relevant decisions; 2) supporting diverse communities; 3) communicating intentionally and inclusively; and 4) digitizing inclusive excellence.

Springfield business and community leaders have stated on several occasions their intentional focus to increase diversity, address inequities, and to become a more inclusive and welcoming community. However, in many cases, business owners and community leaders may not be aware of, or know how to address, the heightened inequities that have been brought to the forefront because of COVID-19. It is important to understand the cross-cultural differences and experiences of individuals.

The Springfield community has four major subgroup populations, with one being larger (those who identify as white) than the other three major subgroups (those who identify as African American or black; Hispanic or Latino; and Asian American). All groups have many intersections, such as male, female, LGBTQ, veterans and those with disabilities.

COVID-19 has exposed nationwide structural inequities, racist practices and xenophobia (the fear or hatred of those who are perceived as foreigners, manifested by suspicion of their activities, a desire to eliminate their presence, or seen as a threat to their national, ethnic or racial identity). Some of these practices have impacts to individuals who work and live in the Springfield area.

Employers may see increased levels of discriminatory behaviors through verbal harassment, shunning or physical assault. Did you know that prior to COVID-19, the United States had an increase in hate crimes to 940 cases reported in 2019 from 784 reported cases five years earlier? According to data cited in the National Inclusive Excellence Leadership Academy webinars, worksites were the main locations for discriminative behaviors.

Rather than wait for incidents that we hear about nationally to happen in our community, there are strategies that business owners and leaders can implement now. Dr. Damon Williams, who created the webinar series, noted the environmental context of a business shapes reality that leads to governing organizational diversity logic and the strategies used to develop tactics to implement strategic diversity goals. This approach gives businesses the opportunity to define and understand their environment, and reconsider and frame how they’ll govern their organizations.

There are so many uncertainties as our community moves forward. However, business and community leaders can use proactive approaches as they reopen businesses to make sure they are not putting people who were already behind further behind.

Now, is a good time to see how businesses can help furloughed employees increase their skills and develop transferable abilities by earning industry-specific certificates or degrees. With so many online classes now, what a great way to help employees increase their job skills by furthering their education.

Francine Pratt is executive director of the Missouri College Access Network and part-time director of Prosper Springfield, a poverty reduction and postsecondary increase initiative led by Community Partnership of the Ozarks and United Way of the Ozarks. She can be reached at fpratt@cpozarks.org.

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steve counts

No one mentions the church as a source for helping people look at the heart of a person.

If you want to change behavior indeed education is a good tool. The Bible, especially the New Testament and the words of Christ are an excellent message for accepting others

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