The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Diversity Initiatives

The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Diversity Initiatives

As companies trim their workforce and cut costs to weather a faltering economy, women and minorities brace as they bare the possible brunt of the layoffs. Subha Barry, managing director of global diversity and inclusion at Merrill Lynch, has worked to maintain the initiatives she’s helped to implement.

“Every aspect of the way we built our [diversity] strategy was tied to increasing revenue,” Subha says. We worked on “embedding diversity so firmly into the business that it meant when the economic crisis hit, we knew there was be an impact on our diversity initiatives.” Subha says fortunately the company has not cut internal programs, instead its scaled back support with partner organization.

The discussion was part of Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.’s 12th Annual Rainbow PUSH Wall Street Project Economic Summit. The panel “The Economic Crisis on Diversity and Diversity Initiatives” explored the economy’s impact on women and people of color in the cooperate world.

Terri D. Austin, chief diversity officer at American International Group, says public scrutiny of the troubled insurer has forced the company to pull back some of the company’s diversity efforts. “We can’t be seen as spending money,” Austin says. But she’s confident company layoff in many large organizations including AIG present advancement opportunities for women and people of color.

“As senior level [managers] leave, many of whom tend to be in white male category, minorities and women can move up,” she says.

Many of the panelists weighed whether women and people of color are disproportionately affected by downsizing due to the weak economy. “I have not seen enough stats to say yay or nay,” Austin says.

But she other experts stressed the importance of transparency when cutting jobs.

“The process has to be clear,” says Karen Chouhan director of Equanomics UK, an activist organization. Companies have to look at the impact.”