Layoffs already hitting women, minorities harder 

Recent workforce reductions are already compromising diversity, numbers show.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Alexandra Kalev, PhD, professor of sociology with Tel-Aviv University, assesses where the U.S. economy stands in face of a threat she previously advised companies to avoid: workforce reductions undoing gains in diversity and inclusion, with minorities and women feeling the pinch most. 

March data from the U.S. Labor Department shows the unemployment rate for women grew by 0.9 percent compared to 0.7 percent for men, and 60 percent of the 700,000 jobs eliminated in March were women's. While the overall unemployment rates for women and men were equal, Dr. Kalev described the trend as "unsettling." 

The numbers for minorities are even more troubling: Overall unemployment rates for black men and for Hispanic and Asian men and women were 7 percent, 6 percent, and 4.1 percent, respectively, versus 4 percent for whites.

To keep the "economic recession from turning into a diversity recession," as Dr. Kalev describes it, she advises boards and leaders to:

1. Heavily scrutinize layoff lists. Review them to ensure that decisions do not disproportionately hurt women, minorities or any other group coincidentally concentrated in targeted jobs.

2. Consider what people can contribute, not just their current titles. Look beyond the position and tenure to factor in performance evaluations. Keeping top performers can better maintain diversity. 

3. Redeploy talent where needed. Southwest Airlines didn't need its job recruiters during the Great Recession. To avoid losing employees with good interpersonal skills in a female-dominated position, the company redeployed recruiters to front-line customer service jobs. 

4. Don't cut your diversity team. Keeping a diversity management staff in place will help the organization get creative about reducing labor costs while maintaining diversity and inclusion and continuing to enhance those efforts when hiring resumes.

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