Time's Up Releases COVID-19 Equity Guide for Employers: "Now Is Not the Time to Lose Any Ground"

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Recommendations from the organization tackle layoffs, performance reviews, socially distanced offices and video and text chat "microaggressions."

As the novel coronavirus has prompted mass layoffs, brought production to a near halt and squeezed traditional talent pipelines, some in the industry have expressed concern that these changes will dial back Hollywood's diversity and inclusion efforts. Now, the Time's Up Foundation is releasing a guide to help employers maintain equity during the pandemic and as companies begin to rebuild and return to work. 

The Time's Up Guide to Equity and Inclusion During Crisis, which went online Wednesday, offers recommendations for how to factor diversity into layoff decisions as well as how to avoid those layoffs in the first place, handle performance reviews in a crisis, implement social distancing without alienating staff and manage microaggressions over text and video chat, among other concerns in the age of self-isolation. The 17-page document, which the organization says draws from conversations with diversity experts, researchers and more than 20 company leaders, emphasizes in its introduction that "now is not the time to lose any ground" on inclusion.

First, the document enjoins employers to consider the effect that layoffs will have on the diversity of their workforce (even as, per last week, almost 39 million Americans have already lost their jobs over the course of the pandemic). The organization suggests leaders consider who is "in the room" making layoff decisions and suggests they create a task force where all levels of employees are represented to advocate for their interests. "Neutral" criteria for layoffs, the document adds, are not so neutral: "It is often the case that new hires are disproportionately women or people of color — especially if you were intentionally diversifying your workforce pre-pandemic — so using a 'neutral' criteria like tenure could unintentionally eradicate your diversity gains," it says.

When rehiring, diversity should be considered, while pay cuts (especially executive pay cuts), a hiring freeze, bonus pauses and other cost-cutting measures should be considered before enacting layoffs, Time's Up recommends.

During performance reviews, employers might consider the new pressures that employees face while social distancing and extra responsibilities they have taken on during the pandemic, Time's Up says. (The organization additionally advocates for companies to conduct a pay equity assessment during their review period.) When returning to work and creating more social distance between workers, companies should also take care not to isolate certain workers from others, should perhaps take the opportunity to increase workspace inclusivity (such as gender-neutral bathrooms) and offer flexible work schedules. 

While still working remotely, the organization recommends leaders keep an eye on "microaggressions" and/or harassment via text or video chat and work with employees with unique home circumstances on a work schedule that they can handle.

Leaders, the organization adds, should communicate frequently with employees about decisions they are making during and due to the crisis while also realizing that when employees return to work, many may feel out of the loop if they have not been in particular meetings or video chats and have also missed out on overhearing conversations in the office.

"We impact culture so meaningfully through storytelling and one of the things that we've seen through this crisis is that there are so many people that it's unfortunately affected, particularly women and women of color," Time's Up head of entertainment Ngoc Nguyen said regarding why Hollywood could use these recommendations in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "Those underrepresented voices have stories that can be told and should be told when people are going back to work in terms of entertainment."

Nguyen added that she hoped company leaders would set both short-term and long-term goals from the document. In the coming weeks, leaders could consider diversity and equity in decisions like seating arrangements and layoff and furlough decisions; long term, she argues companies could perform a pay gap survey, implement paid sick leave if they don't already have it and perhaps more flexible schedules. "I think that people who approach this as not just as a return to work but really reimagine this as a new version of work will end up being the companies that thrive in the long run," Nguyen said.

The Time's Up's guide arrives as states and entertainment companies are beginning to publish their plans for how to return to production amid the pandemic. Georgia released its guidelines last week, while California is set to publish its own this week. Atlanta's Tyler Perry Studios has shared its protocols, while The Hollywood Reporter has reported on those of Discovery, Inc. as well.

"Now, in this moment of crisis, we as employers have a responsibility to rebuild our economy and society to be more inclusive and equitable — not just for women, but for all of us," Tina Tchen, the president and CEO of the foundation, said in a statement about the guide. "Leaders must recognize that COVID-19 impacts each of their employees differently — and keep diversity and inclusion integral to their economic recovery strategy. The companies that get the commitment to their people — starting with their most vulnerable people — right are going to be the ones that survive in the long run, emerging stronger from this moment than ever before."