Employment and Jobs

How can I create an equitable and inclusive environment for my employees and customers?

November 18, 2020  • Vivian Vázquez, Ranita Jain & Jenny Weissbourd

Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19: A Resource for Small Businesses

#2. How can I create an equitable and inclusive environment for my employees and customers?

This question is an excerpt from our downloadable brief, “Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19: A Resource for Small Businesses.”

Businesses of all sizes are grappling with this critical question. Owners recognize that workers of color are disproportionately experiencing the compounding emotional, physical, and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to an increased likelihood of contracting the virus, 61% of Latinx workers and 44% of Black workers have reported job and wage losses due to COVID-19. Additionally, Asian and Black workers are reporting increased stigmatization because of their race and ethnicity since the Coronavirus outbreak. Many small business owners are taking new steps to create an inclusive workplace where employees and customers of color feel welcome and safe. We’ve captured some of these steps below, and shared tools to help small business owners prioritize equity.

Assess how your equity practices stack up

An assessment can help you identify employment practices your business can adopt to make the workplace more inclusive and equitable. For example, it can help you understand the equity implications of who has been furloughed or had their hours reduced. This guide developed by Associated Black Charities details 10 essential questions business owners can use to examine their internal policies, practices and organizational culture. For restaurant owners, this toolkit developed by Race Forward and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United can help you incorporate racial equity into your business’ operations, practices, and culture.

Speak out to protect your workers

Asian Americans have faced increased discrimination, as many have been wrongly accused of starting and spreading the virus. And as calls for racial justice grow stronger, many Black people have been the targets of heightened racism. As an employer, you can stand up against racist behavior by customers or other employees. The Center for WorkLife Law’s Bias Interrupters, a series of tools to disrupt discrimination in the workplace, may be a helpful starting place.

Bolster supportive management practices

Frontline managers are the people who workers interact with the most. They often dictate what frontline workers experience at work, including whether they feel safe, supported, and included. Supportive management can help to assure your employees that their health and safety is important, and that voicing concerns won’t put their jobs in jeopardy. As Casey Spigel, co-owner of Forever Wireless, explains,

“We’re a diverse group: African American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and Russian. [When the Black Lives Matter protests occurred], I went to individual employees and asked: what can we do as a company to support you? I wanted them to feel comfortable expressing themselves on an individual basis.”

Supportive management is especially important in workplaces where employees deal with customers or team members who exhibit bias. While not explicitly equity focused, Google re: Work – Manager Training Tools and PHI Coaching Approach are two helpful training resources for supervisors looking to strengthen their communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.

Small Business Perspectives

“We talked to our team [about the fact] that [racial equity] is something we are grappling with and continue to. I would love resources on how to support racial justice during COVID-19. As white business owners, it would be really helpful.” –Laura Wagner, co-owner, Well Crafted Kitchen


IMPORTANT: Please note that this resource is not legal guidance about workplace safety. This guide does not provide technical information about regulations that businesses must comply with for reopening. Individual business owners are responsible for complying with their local jurisdiction’s evolving guidance related to COVID-19. The National Safety Council provides a range of resources that you may find helpful, including federal guidelines and state-specific resources regarding COVID-19 and the workplace.


Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19

  1. How can I reassure my workers that we are following appropriate safety guidelines?
  2. How can I create an equitable and inclusive environment for my employees and customers? (you are here)
  3. How can I help my employees communicate and implement safety measures with customers?
  4. How can I help my employees manage increased stress?
  5. How can I help my employees get to work safely?
  6. How can I recognize and respond to my employees’ caregiving responsibilities?
  7. How can I support my employees’ financial stability?

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The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.