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How business leaders are designing for inclusion in the post-pandemic workplace

June 24, 2021, 12:00 PM UTC
From left: UNCMMN founder Stephanie Piza; Accenture Interactive managing director Abbie Walsh; Amazon Alexa VP and COO Debra Chrapaty; and WarnerMedia SVP of enterprise inclusion, content strategy, Samata Narra.
Courtesy of UNCMMN, Accenture, Amazon, WarnerMedia

Last year, Samata Narra joined WarnerMedia as a new leader and dealt with the challenge of hiring a diverse team over video chat.

Narra, who is senior vice president of enterprise inclusion, content strategy, started her new job at a time when corporations were dealing with a racial justice reckoning and employees were adapting to the temporary new normal of working from home.

“What I’ve realized is we have a unique opportunity to not waste this moment and not waste the process to create systemic change,” Narra says.

She joined Abbie Walsh, managing director at Accenture Interactive, Stephanie Piza, founder of talent agency UNCMMN, and Debra Chrapaty, vice president and chief operating officer of Amazon Alexa, for a breakout session on Wednesday during the Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Gen virtual summit to discuss how they are bringing equity to the core of their teams.

With many companies implementing policies for a return to the office or hybrid schedules, the women on the panel say they are bringing empathy into the workplace, prioritizing mental and physical health for employees, and working with them to help them find work/life balance.

“I think COVID and working from home has shined a bright light on this for all companies,” Chrapaty says. “We have a more geographically and diverse workforce with many different kinds of needs.”

For Amazon, that involves asking employees for regular feedback. Piza says working remotely during the pandemic taught her and her employees how to be productive and collaborative even if they weren’t in the office, changing a “preconceived notion” she’d had before the pandemic.

“I’ve learned to be so much more flexible with my group,” she says, adding that mental and physical health will always be a priority. “We have our off days. We’re human. It’s about learning to be flexible as a leader in order to continue to grow your team and for the well-being of the group and what you’re trying to do.”

While some people have adjusted to the past year of working remotely, there are still some tasks that are much easier in person. Narra, who works with diverse storytellers, says she prefers in-person meetings versus letting someone down over video chat when she’s passing on an idea they’ve had for years.

As a designer, Walsh says the past year has also shown there are many tasks that can be done from afar, but nothing beats the feeling of collaborating on visual concepts in person with a diverse team.

“Design for me is everything from the experience you design for customers, but also increasingly for your employees,” Walsh says. “It’s everything from the interface to the space we operate, whether it’s a store or a workspace. We design those to be an opportunity to connect, an opportunity to engage.”

While the pandemic has prompted leaders to think differently, Walsh says her team is excited to return to the office and be a part of designing what comes next. This will involve some experimenting, testing, and figuring out what works best for the next five years.

“The world is about to go through the biggest redesign it has ever had, and I would love for my team to be at the heart of that,” she says.

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