WOCA 2021: Fireside Chat: Tale of Two Pandemics

The following session is from Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s fourth annual Women of Color and Their Allies event, held Oct. 21, 2021. This year’s theme was “Sustaining Workforce Positions for Women of Color.” Throughout the day, panels consisting of researchers, thought leaders and executives shared their insights and strategies for helping women of color overcome common workplace barriers and spotlight allies working to sustain their positions within the workforce.

Women of color represent a significant segment of frontline workers and have seen their communities ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic since it began nearly two years ago. With children and families at home, many women had to make difficult choices on how their workforce participation affected their safety and those around them. In this session, we will explore the two distinctly different pandemics experienced by women of color.

Our special guest panelist for the session was David Casey, SVP of Workforce Strategies & Chief Diversity Officer for CVS Health (No. 26 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021). Lynn Cooper, VP of Marketing & Communications at Fair360, formerly DiversityInc, moderated the session.



Key takeaways from the session:


Casey on how to attract women of color to join a workforce

“I think, many times, people assume that the bigger the budget, the better the outcome as it relates to this work. But really, it’s all a matter of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion or JEDI. It doesn’t take a lot of money to cultivate workplace cultures of inclusion and belonging for women of color. What it takes is commitment. It takes active engagement — not just words but active engagement. It takes transparency, and it takes accountability from the top. A strategy without those variables in place is nothing more than a hope and a wish.” 


Casey on retaining women of color in the workforce

“You can’t retain women of color if you don’t have any. I’ll say that again: you can’t retain women of color if you don’t have any! So, you’ve got to start with hiring some!” 


Casey on being an ally to Black women

“You can’t win the game if you’re sitting on the sidelines — you’ve got to get in the game. Start somewhere. If you’re not sure where to start, use the power of the internet. Do some research. Do some work. 

“I remember during the height of the narrative around the George Floyd murder, there were a number of women of color, in particular Black and African American, women who had colleagues reaching out to them wanting to know, ‘How are you doing? What can I do to help?’ And I would say, for the most part, women of color were responsive. They were open to having that dialogue but even more open to having it if they felt that the person asking the question had at least done a little bit of work on their own. 

“It’s one thing to come into a conversation to say, ‘Here’s a baseline of what I think I understand. Can you help me either confirm or build upon that?’ versus, ‘Teach me everything I need to know about women of color because I haven’t done any work on my own.’”


Casey on the effects of the last two years on the business world

“The impact of the last two years has been huge in all parts of life, including business. When you think about it, it’s really been a twin-demic, right? COVID-19 plus racial injustice and travesties. I certainly think they were amplified at a national and even a global level after the murder of George Floyd. But there have also been others like Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland who didn’t necessarily get that attention. And through all of that, women of color really do bear a lot of the burden of the twin-demic and of this narrative that we’re trying to move through around social injustice and inequalities, as well as COVID-19. It’s been a huge challenge and will continue to be for some time.”