COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on business plans and flipped our social structure on its head. Founding members of the Diversity Project North America recently gathered to explore how to foster employee well being in this new work-from-home environment — all while keeping the spotlight on inclusion.
Nicsa’s Diversity Project North America is an active, cross-company group of leaders, that works toward the promotion and acceleration of diversity and inclusion (D&I) within the asset management industry.
The discussion featured experts from Ameriprise Financial, and BMO Global Asset Management, and Aon. (Listen to a replay here.)
“While there’s uncertainty around us, we need not only to take care of our physical health but our mental health,” said Rodolfo Rodriguez, Vice-President, Diversity & Inclusion at Ameriprise Financial. “Member firms of Nicsa’s Diversity Project are looking at ways to provide human-centered experiences where employees can express their concerns and vulnerability.”
In a recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45 percent of Americans said that worry and stress due to the pandemic has affected their mental health.
“Clearly, this is an alarming statistic and part of the reason we are here today,” Rodriguez said. “In this new work setting, the need to prioritize mental health has never been greater. Empathetic leadership is key, alongside proactive efforts to increase mental health support for employees.”
HELPING EMPLOYEES ADJUST TO A NEW NORMAL
Niamh Fitzgerald, MD, Head of Client Management at BMO Global Asset Management (U.S.) said, “As with all of our D&I partners, mental health and wellness are always top-of-mind — not just during a time of crisis. However, it’s rarely been more widely needed as it is today.”
BMO is taking a wide-ranging approach to its focus on wellness and is looking to managers and employees to collaborate and connect with intent across the organization. The firm has added resources to its wellness app, set up a new employee partnership program, worked with health experts to host calls addressing employee concerns, and increased flexibility such as excused paid time.
“We’re really seeing people use this time to care for themselves and others,” Fitzgerald said.
Paul Olschwanger, Associate Partner, Strategic Initiatives & Human Capital Development at Aon, said that beyond official wellness programs and benefits, leaders at his firm are being intentional about inclusion and more willing to embrace different perspectives — whether they’re coming from a working parent or someone living in complete isolation.
“It’s still about getting the work done, but there has to be balance,” Olschwanger said. “We encourage our leaders to add a personal touch and spend one-on-one time with their people. The first questions should always be: ‘How are you and your family, and what are your challenges?’”
INCLUSIVE LEADERSHIP IN A VIRTUAL WORLD
What does inclusive leadership look like during a crisis? To that end, Olschwanger said inclusive leadership is about creating a sense of safety and trust that empowers employees to go further together than they could by themselves.
“For leaders who have been strong in the past in terms of inclusiveness, this will be the time to shine,” he said. “They will already have a community that realizes they are all in this together.”
Fitzgerald said decentralizing the decision-making process by building trust in teams and individual employees is crucial — as is leading with empathy.
“A leader in this virtual world needs to be quite humble,” she said. “They should be able to reach out and say, ‘I don’t know, how would you suggest we do this?’ — the key is asking questions, learning on-the-go, and adapting to this situation.”
Rodriguez said Ameriprise Financial’s leadership teams in marketing and human resources have created unique videos that bring the firm’s leaders into the homes of employees in an authentic and inclusive way.
“Those videos have had such a profound impact on our employees, because they were delivered with a great sense of humility, authenticity, and care,” he said. “It’s possible that this will redefine how we communicate with employees moving forward beyond our current crisis.”
HOW TO GET INVOLVED IN THE DIVERSITY PROJECT NORTH AMERICA
The Diversity Project North America promotes a diverse and inclusive asset management industry to deliver the best possible results for clients, reflect the society we serve, and ensure long-term business sustainability. Goals of the Project include driving innovative change through sharing and creating best practices, identifying gaps in the industry, and initiating actionable initiatives to eliminate inadequacies.
If your firm is interested in participating through collaborative leadership and strategy from executive business leaders, contact Nicsa. Follow the Diversity Project North America on LinkedIn for more information and updates.