3 ways to reach across the economic divide in 2021

Many in the tech world have been safe from the 2020 economic downturn due to the ability to work remotely. In 2021, it's worth considering how to bridge the gap with those who are less fortunate.

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Image: iStockphoto/Deagreez

Of all the strange and unexpected circumstances that battered the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps the most painful and potentially long-lasting is an economy that rather dramatically separated between the haves and the have-nots. While this phenomenon is not new, millions of people in relatively secure jobs or businesses lost their livelihood in a matter of weeks, while others experienced little economic disruption beyond perhaps diverting their gym expense to a Peloton subscription.

I find myself firmly in the latter category and I've had conversations with friends and acquaintances in similar circumstances. Nearly everyone is wildly thankful to be thriving by most objective measures and there's almost a sense of shock that we were "spared" while others were not, feeling perhaps a tinge of the survivors' guilt one might have felt in WWII-era London when their flat was undamaged while a neighbor's was leveled. In addition to remembering to feel gratitude for my good fortune, I humbly ask tech leaders who are with me on the positive side of the economic divide to consider the following tips.

Support local small businesses

As leaders, we tend to unthinkingly spend rather large sums of money on everything from office supplies to food and snacks to services for everything from technology to meeting planning. In more normal times, I would spend six-figure sums on business travel. While it might be easy to purchase these items from a national chain or large company, there are also opportunities to support local small businesses.

A stack of box lunches for your next meeting are probably just as tasty (or perhaps even more so) from a local restaurant and you might even get better service and support from a local meeting planner or designer than a large national chain. Consider urging your peers in procurement to make it easier to work with smaller businesses, as spending the extra 10 minutes to "buy local" just might help save a smaller business in your community.

On a larger scale, consider how your key vendors and partners support the local community. While it might be impossible to find a local consulting provider for a multi-month global software implementation, it's not unreasonable to ask that provider what they do to support the communities in which they operate.

One of the starker aspects of the current economic divide is that some industries have not only rebounded, but are experiencing explosive growth and madly hiring to fill any gaps. If you're in one of those industries, consider using this growth period to expand or start an internship or apprentice program. Partner with local universities or technical colleges, or even your local government employment agencies, as both are entities that sometimes struggle to connect with local businesses and can have a vibrant and well-qualified pool of talent. 

It's rather shocking that our ability to connect those with skills to jobs that need them is substandard, but there is likely local talent that could quickly help your organization given the opportunity and with some research, in conjunction with your HR colleagues, you just might be able to establish a partnership or two that becomes a rich source of local talent.

Be kind

It sounds incredibly trite, but kindness is in short supply these days. While I have no empirical data, in speaking with people around the country, many have commented on everything from increased aggressive driving to a feeling of emotional distance due to the lack of interpersonal interaction that comes from the necessary evil of hiding one's facial expressions behind a mask. I've certainly found my own fuse has shortened, despite having a job, a healthy family, and an inconvenienced, but otherwise comfortable, existence.

Despite the generally stressful time of year, I've resolved to be kinder. It costs nothing and takes nothing more than a half-second to thank people around me, take a deep breath, and say show gratitude to everyone from the grocery bagger to the myriad delivery people that keep our world running. Simple acts like asking your team members how they're doing, and actually providing focused attention and interest on their response, or thanking them for a job well done can have far more impact than you might imagine.

Pause for reflection

With many workers taking time off and many of the usual holiday gatherings downsized or on hold, carve out some time for reflection, either individually or with your loved ones. Reflect on how you might reach across the economic divide, providing time, treasure, or simply a bit of kindness and gratitude. The world could certainly use it as we move toward recovery.

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