Leadership in a time of crisis

The coronavirus pandemic has heaped even more pressure on leaders tasked with keeping their employees healthy and safe, while also trying to keep diversity, equity, and inclusion at the top of a growing list of priorities.

shapes indicating more colorful options taking a different path, diversity in leadership.

“Both of them are exhausting, and we only have so much in our reserves to be able to continue down this path,” says Wharton Dean Erika James.

The collective energy around racial and social justice that was sparked earlier this year by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two Black citizens killed by police, has slowed in the last few months amid competing worries and fatigue. But James hopes it will return stronger once the virus is under control.

“Right now, I think it’s really hard to conjure up the fortitude that’s required around something as hard as race and racial justice while [we are] also dealing with all of the impacts associated with the pandemic,” she said.

James spoke with Wharton management professor Stephanie Creary, who is a diversity and identity scholar. Corey Anthony, senior vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer at AT&T, also joined the conversation, “Inclusive Leadership in a Time of Crisis.”

Inclusive leaders must build trust in an organization and value those who have shown trustworthy behavior, says James. But how do you establish those personal relationships when the COVID-19 crisis has moved everything online?

She relies on “swift trust,” which she defines as suspending doubt about the dependability or capability of people you do not know.

Asking a lot of questions and giving feedback can help guide people, but trust is still required.

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.