IF NOT NOW, WHEN? – Inclusive leaders in the era of Covid-19

By Angela Amodio

There is no doubt that the current global scenario has forced organizations to face new and unprecedented challenges. In most countries, the first major effect has been the huge increase of the number of employees that have been invited to work remotely. According to Eurostat, before the pandemic, the 5.2% of employed persons aged 15 to 64 in the European Union (EU) usually worked from home. The best performers were Netherlands (14%), Finland (13.3%) and Luxembourg (11%).

In Italy, this percentage dropped to 3.6%, which accounted for around 650.000 people. In the new situation affected by the Coronavirus emergency, the Italian Ministry of Labor has measured 554.754 new remote workers (March 13, 2020). All of them have had to adapt to a new way of working and most of them have struggled and they are still struggling each day to try to combine this new condition with the their full-time job of family caregivers. Another crucial circumstance, especially for the manufacturing companies, has been the emergency to arrange the shop floor with exceptional hygiene measures, in order to create highly safe working conditions and to prevent the impacts of infection on the employees.

These two urgent actions have been combined with the need to take fast and effective decisions to protect the sustainability of the business and, ultimately, to mitigate the effects of the economic downturn connected to the pandemic, while dealing with a high and still unpredictable level or uncertainty. EY has just published in the Global Capital Confidence Barometer that the 52% of global companies are taking steps to reconfigure supply chains in response to Covid-19 and that the 73% of executives agree that the pandemic will have a severe impact on the worldwide economy. This global public health emergency has put managers and employees in front a new reality, that is very complex to analyze and navigate.

They have to suddenly think of how to adapt to the new contest, they have to develop a new set of knowledge and competences, they are asked to increase and show their level of responsibility and they need to rely more and more on trust. Also, most importantly, they are obliged to learn how to govern a common sensation of fear and loss, that has never been present in their lives in such an aggressive way. Personal feelings and emotions are now definitely mixed with the professional side of our existence. The way in which we are able to dominate and leverage on this mix will affect our ability to squeeze value and effective learnings out of this era.

In the latest years, since when companies have started to put in place tools and actions that aim at improving the way in which employees can manage their unique life and work, they have simultaneously become a pragmatic and reliable point of reference for the people and their families. And this social role of corporations is now receiving a new boost that can not be ignored. Company leaders are the only ones that have the potential to help employees to be aware of the change they are living and to inspire them for the future. In such a context, also diversity and inclusion becomes strategically important. Managers whose leadership is inspired by a high level of inclusion will have more chance to succeed and smoothly integrate in this new work environment.

More precisely, how can diverse and inclusive leadership play a role in the new scenario?

  • 1. Leaders that are used to manage diverse teams are more adaptable to changes.The variety of experience, background and behaviors that generally characterizes their diverse teams have already obliged them to be flexible. Leaders in this position are used to question their decisions and convictions more often and they are open to approach unknown situations, generally with a stronger “out of the box” thus innovative approach.
  • 2. Inclusive leaders are also authentic and, in this scenario, people are looking for a high level of transparency and authenticity. Especially when teams are forced to work remotely, the reasons underlying communications must be clearly presented and leaders must be visible and purposeful.
  • 3. Diversity asks for resilience. All the managers that have experience in leading diverse teams or that have been involved or interested in D&I programs promoted by their companies will tell you how much resilience has been crucial to them. If patience and perseverance have always counted among their leadership drivers, they will be more effective in motivating and engaging people in difficult times.
  • 4. Inclusion also means empathy, collaboration, support, which can all play a crucial role in this changed context. At this time, it is even harder than usually to keep people on board with a directive leadership style. They are living one of the most difficult periods of their life and will appreciate any kind of collaborative and supportive approach.
  • 5. Caring about diversity and inclusion makes leaders care about people. And it is undoubtful that caring is a keyword when it comes to health and safety. These are just some of the reasons that can make all of us aware of the importance of leaders and leadership in an era of new challenges. Depending on how long the outbreak lasts, and how severe its impact is, long-term changes will occur. And if not done yet, in the future organizations will recognize the value of being more adaptable to volatile environments. D&I is just one of the drivers that can support companies to become more people oriented and that can push them to be definitely diverse. It is now time to make it happen. The world we live seems to be stopped but that has never moved and changed so fast like on these days.

Prysmian Group is worldwide leader in cable manufacturing and, as a Group with a global footprint, is constantly promoting an inclusive environment, while developing a shared common culture and identity, in line with the objectives of the business. 

Side by Side is the global Prysmian Group’s project with the aim to promote Diversity and Inclusion at all levels of the organization. Side by Side was launched in 2016 and it addresses gender, age and culture diversity. It has five key objectives:

  • 1. Supporting meritocracy as main pillar for the development of the business
  • 2. Giving value to diverse teams because they are able to think differently
  • 3. Creating an inclusive and supportive work environment
  • 4. Improving the workplaces and lives at work
  • 5. Linking our corporate image and reputation to diversity and inclusion, hence attracting more talents.

It is developed along three main pillars: Recruiting, Training & Career, Internal & External Communication. Prysmian Group is also aiming at achieving diversity targets by 2022. The major set of targets refer to gender diversity, so the goals are to reach the 40% of white collar women hired (37% in in Q1 2020) and to increase the percentage of women in all management positions (from junior to top management) from the current 21.5% to 25%. 

More specifically, our focus is on the percentage of women in executive (from 12% in March 2020 to a stretched target of 18% in 2022) and in top management positions (from to 2.5% in March 2020 to maximum 12% in 2022). 

Also, the company is careful to exploit its cultural diversity. Our 29.000 employees already represent more than 110 nationalities, but there is a strong commitment to increase the number of countries represented in the Group’s Head Office and among the managers across the globe.

PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN DIVERCITY VIII September 2020

Spread inclusion all around the globe