10 Tips for Leaders to Inclusively Support Their Teams

May 21, 2021

Written by: Dr. Lesley Shannon

(With contributions from Vanessa Hennessey)


The COVID-19 pandemic has been a reality for over a year now, and while there is hope on the horizon with 376 million people vaccinated worldwide and counting, only time will tell how long this will be at the forefront of our society. The pandemic has created unique challenges for all of us, but women and other underrepresented groups (not just in STEM) are getting hit the hardest. (For an in-depth article on this, visit Forbes.) Now more than ever, we have to create caring workplaces with individual approaches and regular check-ins for self care and the care of others. The following list was written by WWEST Chair Dr. Lesley Shannon and includes some great tips for navigating work in the pandemic – whether physically apart of together. (These tips are also not pandemic-exclusive!)

Source: Yan Krukov,

1. Check in with all your faculty and staff to identify if they have any unique situations of stressor (dependents in need of care - whether they be older or younger - or dependents who are ill).  I can’t stress how important this step is.  Leaders need to know the status of their team as we are not working from home, we are at home during a pandemic trying to work.  Without getting an on-the-ground understanding of their basic situation, then you can’t provide empathy, support and understanding.  Also make sure that people are aware that if their situation changes, they should feel empowered to share so that this isn’t a one time only opportunity.  Do this for everyone so that you are creating space for both partners to share the load where possible and identify real stress situations for people without partners.

Source: Olya Kobruseva,

2. Universal solutions do not work - the variety of challenges people face mean that there is not a one size fit all solution.

3. For people who have additional working challenges, find out what times/days are the best (or extremely challenging) for working so that their real availability (during normal work hours) is understood.

4. Allow people to create a flex schedule that works for them.

Source: Roberto Hund,

5. Empower partners to take on more “at-home” work (so that it does not all fall on the traditional care givers).

6. For individuals with dependents (and people without partners), be extremely aware of what support structure they have and what they might need to be able to contribute and feel supported.

Source: cottonbro,

7. Prioritize mental health (for those who have challenges, they may be more aware of what they need; for those who haven’t suffered mental health challenges previously, this may be a really challenging situation for them to understand and navigate).

8. Make sure that people are taking breaks (make them feel empowered to do so).  Even though it won’t be a vacation, working non-stop to try and get it all done will not work.

9. Accept that things are going to fall behind so let go of what you don’t need right now (allow people to feel ok with the fact that they may be less productive).

Source: ThisIsEngineering,

10. Check in regularly with the team - make sure that those who are in critical situations don’t lose their voice (make an effort to communicate with them, or help them to identify someone as a proxy voice for them if that works better).


11. People’s new work situations may mean that certain vehicles are more difficult for them (for example, phone calls for me are much easier than anything that requires being in front of a computer right now as it is harder to get computer time).

To summarize, this all comes down to:

1) Stop focusing on processes and the rules we normally use, and focus on people.
2) If you want people to be able to work, you have understand that there is more to their life than work and right now. The non-work part of their life is going to need to be a priority considered at work (and is going to directly impact mental health).

3) Focus on what you need and not what you want your team to do (just because it is how you normally do something, doesn’t mean it has to be done this way).

4) Recognize that there is no one way or universal solution that will work except to provide care, support and understanding.

All the tips above are ideas and actions that can help you do this, but at the end of the day these last points are the goal.

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