Editor’s note: As we ended a difficult and unique year and entered a new one, the Training Industry editorial team asked learning leaders to write in with their reflections on 2020 and predictions for 2021. This series, “What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?: Taking Stock of 2020 and Planning for 2021,” is the result.

2020 has been a tough year for human resources (HR) and training professionals. The pandemic made complicated jobs even more complex, the unprecedented and massive move to working from home disrupted routines, and employee health and safety took on new implications. HR leaders had to manage reorganizations, and training professionals had to dramatically overhaul programs. Now, we’re moving toward a “new normal” that no one can define with any certainty.

As we confront a still-uncertain business environment in 2021, it would be easy to go off track and allow earlier goals to slide. After all, many priorities have changed, and businesses are under stress. It’s possible to lose sight of program objectives created during “normal” times. But when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals, they are more important than ever now.

The pandemic is taking an outsized toll on the health and finances of communities of color, and it has had a disproportionate economic impact on women. The murder of George Floyd and the deaths of other unarmed Black Americans by police inspired people across the U.S. and around the world to rise up and demand justice. For these reasons and others, HR and training professionals should ensure that DEI programs remain a top priority in 2021 and beyond.

Proactively Promote Racial Equality

This moment demands a renewed commitment to DEI, which requires more than feel-good statements. Companies need a multilayered strategy with built-in accountability. Now is a great time to review your current DEI programs, including training curricula, employee resource groups (ERGs) and more, and make sure they still supports inclusion goals, recognizing that you might need to make adjustments due to work-from-home protocols.

DEI programs typically include best practices for hiring a diverse and inclusive workplace. It’s also a good idea to look for relevant experience when hiring HR and training professionals. Ask candidates about how they identified and addressed racial inequality and bias allegations in past positions, and gauge their success.

Look for HR and training professionals who are comfortable discussing racial discrimination, harassment and unconscious bias in the workplace. Comfort discussing these topics is an important qualification, since they’ll be responsible for ensuring that company leaders and frontline managers are handling this critical aspect of their jobs as effectively as possible. To combat potential fatigue among the staff leading these efforts, companies should reward them with extra benefits, compensation and recognition.

Being “not racist” isn’t enough now — achieving racial equity requires companies to be anti-racist. Review your company’s values, training, messages and actions to ensure that they are actively addressing inequality. The company’s policies, behaviors and vendor partnerships should reflect anti-racism. If they don’t, it’s time to change them.

Keep in mind that anti-racism won’t be a familiar concept to everyone, so be prepared to train HR, employee relations and training teams to promote an anti-racist environment. Make sure they have the tools they need to handle any allegations that are made and to serve as a role model to others.

Using Data to Drive Accountability

Employee relations data is critical for DEI success. It provides a baseline for benchmarking so you know your current status and yields insights on where you need to make a change. Take a look at the data to create a baseline: Evaluate racial equality incidents by leader and geography, compare your organization’s current status to the status of other companies in your industry and size group, and create key performance indicators (KPIs) to help monitor progress toward your goals.

To ensure accountability, report what you’ve found, and share your plan to address any problems and achieve progress overall with key stakeholders. This crucial accountability step is one that too many organizations don’t take. HR Acuity’s recent employee relations benchmark study found that only one-quarter of companies report this information to their boards, and fewer than one-third report employee relations data of any kind to their employees.

One explanation for this discrepancy is that too many organizations lack a formal process for investigating allegations of bias or racism, and the majority of organizations — more than 60% — use spreadsheets or no system at all for tracking and managing incidents. Data and consistent processes are essential to drive accountability, so make sure you have the tools you need to document, record and analyze incidents so you can identify opportunities to make progress.

Now isn’t the time to let DEI programs fall off the radar. On the contrary, now is the moment to transform a commitment to equity into a solid plan that accommodates new workplace realities and ensures accountability by measuring progress. With a plan in place and a system to measure progress toward goals, you can drive meaningful change.

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