Like many, I have been living on autopilot for the past few months, only able to focus on the immediate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests happening outside my window calling for social justice and change. It’s tough to see past tomorrow in my own life, and my work.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what someone like me—who is fortunate enough to still be employed, but who is suffering from short term vision—needs from their employer to thrive. Plain and simple, with all the uncertainty around us, leadership needs to present a clear plan for the benefit of the organization and the staff. Below are three recommendations based on my own experiences and observations.

  1. Organizational leadership needs to acknowledge when they don’t know exactly how to approach a situation—and bring in experts to help. This may involve reaching out to current staff to gauge their expertise and willingness to help, or setting up seminars with external experts, trainers, or coaches. At IYF, this came in the form of our leadership calling on our Diversity & Inclusion Council to help pool resources and to educate staff on race relations and systemic racism. A one-off lesson or seminar may not be enough, though, so it’s important that support is ongoing. Leadership may not have all the answers, and that’s okay. Willingness to accept guidance, support, and action is key.
  2. Response from leadership should be strong, supportive, and clear—both internally and externally. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and after the murder of George Floyd, IYF’s CEO, Susan Reichle, engaged with staff at various all-hands meetings and through direct video messages sent to all our offices. Her messages have all been in support of safety during the pandemic and not shying away from addressing the tough facts when it comes to racial injustice. Messaging like this, along with support and advocacy from other leadership, can help make clear internally where an organization stands on important issues. However, the bigger picture here is not only letting employees know through internal messaging where you stand but going a step further to show the world as well. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, we’ll be defined not by where we stand “in moments of comfort and convenience,” but where we stand “at times of challenge and controversy.”
  3. Leadership needs to provide open channels of communication to hear from all staff—listening is critical. It is important for leaders to know where staff stands on certain issues, and to hear honest feedback. Providing clear channels where employees can communicate up is essential. Recently, the HR department at IYF conducted a Global Pulse Survey to learn opinions on working-from-home and re-opening after the pandemic. The survey results informed our leadership and led to the decision of not re-opening our offices until later this year. Beyond surveys, it is important to have a forum for continuous feedback that is monitored and addressed by leadership. IYF has an anonymous inbox where the entire organization can voice their thoughts, concerns, and recommendations. Even virtually, inbox submissions and responses are often addressed at all-hands meetings, reassuring staff that their voices are being heard.

Now more than ever, it is important to make sure your whole team is on the same page and everyone feels supported and validated. If you're a leader reading this perspective, I’d urge you to think about how many points your organization has addressed and how you can further empower someone like me to make sure everyone is moving forward as a unit.

Learn about IYF's COVID-19 response and the organization's priority areas for addressing systemic racism.

Laura Mendoza is Program Coordinator for the Americas team, based in IYF's Baltimore office.