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Pandemic Polarization and Leadership

Impact on Inclusion and Diversity

We are certain that the pandemic, in addition to all the harm and damage it is bringing to the world, has also accelerated the adoption of certain positive trends such as remote work. However, an increase in inequality and loss of gender parity is also expected.

At Friisberg Brazil, we started to wonder if the pandemic could harm the adoption of such practices and policies. When we raised this hypothesis, we reflected on possible causes of this negative effect and identified as one of the worst and prolonged side effects of the pandemic the intensification of polarization.

Is your Company polarized as well? Probably  – and you do not even know it.

In a recent survey conducted by Friisberg Brazil among more than 5000 respondents, we asked:

“Are policies and actions towards inclusion and diversity promoted by some companies examples of political-ideological manifestations?”

The result: 52% said YES and 48% said NO.

Wow, what does that mean anyway? One possible understanding is that half of them believe that inclusion and diversity are themes originated and defended by some ideological wing, which in turn is related to a specific political position. Thus, business leaders, according to the opinion of half of them, would be adopting actions towards inclusion and diversity following their political-ideological positioning. Another takeaway is that there is no consent and alignment regarding if inclusion and diversity is or is not linked to ideology.

But what is the impact of this for companies that are adopting or planning to adopt such measures and policies?

The polarization arises from the simple fact that there are diametrically opposed ideologies and beliefs coexisting in the same environment, which can be a country, a city, a neighborhood and even a company. These differences oppose autocrats and democrats, religious extremists and moderates or atheists, progressists and conservatives, communists and capitalists, left-wing and right-wing.

As business leaders possess their own view of the world and opinions, which reflect their core beliefs and values, it is reasonable to conclude that polarization exists also within companies.

After all, is the effect of polarization positive or negative for companies?

In a situation in which people are not encouraged to expose their opinions and beliefs, keeping the polarization submerged, the subjectivity present in the proposition of team composition will be rationalized by metrics, KPIs, etc.

On the other hand, in recent years, it is much clearer to distinguish ideological groups within a company, which somewhat and paradoxically helps top leadership to make decisions aligned with the strategic agenda.

The absence of the CEO’s agenda of inclusion and diversity does not mean that polarization is not present. It is in fact submerged and will sabotage any future initiative to adopt diversity and inclusion policies. On the other hand, with the CEO’s agenda in place, it becomes much clearer for top leadership to make decisions.

Among the countless challenges that have been presented to the leadership in this pandemic, the explicit polarization brought new variables to the equation.

The remedy is not straightforward, but we work hard to help our clients realign their strategies to retain inclusivity and promote diversity in the face of ambiguity brought by the polarization.


Luis Saverio Stateri
Partner, Brazil

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