Sarah Fisher Gardial

Sarah Fisher Gardial is the dean of Belmont's Massey College of Business 

The dean of Belmont’s Massey College of Business says businesses will need creativity and innovation as they adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, making diversity more important than ever.

On Tuesday, Williamson Inc. hosted a virtual event with dean Sarah Fisher Gardial to discuss how a diverse workforce could help companies move forward during the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has totally upended the normal way of doing business for many companies, and Gardial said that means creativity will be critical to success.   

According to Gardial, a diverse workforce can generate an enormous number of benefits for an organization, like more viewpoints, better problem solving and more effective teams. Most importantly, she said diversity helps organizations break out of the way they have always done things. 

“It doesn't serve us to continue to do things the same way we've always done them, to bring the same mindset, the same perspective, the same experience and background to the tables that are making decisions about the future,” Gardial said. “We must throw a wider net and a more diverse net to get more perspectives at the table.”

Many of Williamson County’s largest employers were easily able to transition to remote work when the pandemic reached Tennessee. However, the pandemic has also closed schools. As employees start to come back to the office they may struggle to find child care. 

Gardial said that challenge will most likely affect women. That could make it harder for women to play a role in decision making, which Gardial said will hurt the bottom line. 

“Look at your policies that might disadvantage women who might need more flexibility to stay at home occasionally to do family care,” she said. 

Gardial also encouraged businesses to revisit their hiring procedures. She said poorly written job titles or job descriptions could lead to a less diverse pool of candidates, resulting in businesses filled with people who think the same way. Gardial suggested that companies implement training on unconscious biases to improve hiring decisions.

"We've got to go back and revisit everything that we do in the hiring process, from how we write the job description, what terms, what adjectives we use," she said. "We've got to look at what we're asking for in terms of the experience that we're brining." 

She also expects that the pandemic will make the workforce younger, as millennial and generation Z employees take on leadership roles. Gardial said that group may not want to work in the same way as older employees. That could push companies to make flexible work hours and remote work the norm going forward. 

According to Gardial, just creating a more diverse workforce isn’t enough. Companies also have to make sure those employees have a voice in how the company operates. 

"The bottom line on this is, as we move forward in the next months and years, innovation and creativity are going to be essential.

Williamson Inc. started planning this workshop on diversity in January, but the coronavirus outbreak made the topic even more salient as businesses confronted a completely new environment that required creative thinking. 

Over the last week, protests against police brutality across the country, including Middle Tennessee, further highlighted the extent of racial inequality in the U.S. Those protests centered around policing, but Gardial said business should play a role in reversing those inequalities. 

“At a time like this the voices at the top of the organization are critical,” she said. “If there is silence from the leadership of the organization … That silence speaks volumes, doesn't it?”

Gardial acknowledged that it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to huge, systemic problems, but she encouraged business leaders to start by tackling issues of racial equality within their own organizations. 

“I believe there's a deep wound in the community, and all communities, around this. The healing starts when the conversation starts and when we open ourselves up for dialogue,” she said. “Those conversations start in organizations. They don't necessarily have to start in the streets. They don't necessarily have to start in the middle of the protest or the riot. Start having conversations in your organization about how to do things better there."

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